One of our exceptionally sweet coworkers has been out for the better part of the last two months on a serious medical leave. She is finally returning tomorrow, and everyone is anticipating her return. While she was gone, she asked staff to look after her fish, Stanley, which she left at the office. It’s a Betta – one of those male Siamese Fighting fish that lives it’s existence all alone in a fish bowl.
This particular one, dark blue with a purplish hue to it, has taken up residence in the middle of the table in our lunch room. While you are eating your lunch, Stanley comes up to the side of the bowl and stares at you. That’s about the extent of any communing that happens with him.
Unfortunately, this morning Stanley was discovered belly up in his bowl, this sad fact reported to us by a woman answering a job advertisement who happened to be filling out an application at the lunch room table. I think she was a little distracted trying to do this in front of a dead fish, and duly informed our secretary. Wouldn’t it figure that the fish had made it all these months and then dies the day before his recuperated owner returns?
Feeling badly, staff kicked into action, ran out and bought another blue Betta to replace Stanley. The thing is, nobody wants to tell her it’s not the real Stanley, but I can’t imagine how she will not know. This faux Stanley is a radiant blue with almost a turquoise hue to him. His fins are long and luxurious. The original Stanley was almost anemic by comparison. I will be interested to see if she will realize right away that something is a bit off.
This situation brought me back to The Story of Petal. We had stopped at a pet store on our way home from visiting someone that day and my first-born child, an insightful and social little sprite who had reached the precocious age of two-and-a-half, became mesmerized by the goldfish. Not your regular .99 cent garden variety of mini-carp that you win at the local carnival, but the fancy $9.99 type with all the fluffed out fins and sweeping tail. This fancy fish even had a thirty-day guarantee! Just bring the deceased fish back for a refund or replacement! She looked up at me with that little face and twinkly, imploring eyes and of course, I just caved. (This was just the first of a number of cave-in’s concerning my kids). So we bought the fish and the bowl, the net and the gravel, the food and the little plastic castle and headed home.
Bright, articulate, first-born wonder child actually did spend hours contemplating her fish. She decided to name it Petal, “Because he looks just like a flower petal” (Oh, observant, creative first-born!). She made up little tunes and sang these songs to Petal. She told elaborate stories about Petal (“Honey, quick, grab the video camera!”). She said good night to Petal before bed and ate her breakfast in front of Petal each morning.
And so, early one Saturday, barely over a week later, when I awoke to find Petal doing the belly up, I was beyond dismayed. Imagining sadness in that shining little face, in my mom-craziness I decided to take the departed Petal all the way back to the pet store (a thirty-five minute drive), exchange him (Free Exchange or Refund!), and get the imposter Petal back in the bowl before she got up to start her day. I scooped out the dead fish, put it in a plastic bag, set it on my dashboard and hit the road. OK, first kid, so I got a little crazy.
I was barreling down the highway and making great time when I and the five or so cars travelling around me were all pulled over in a speed trap. I could not believe it. When the officer came over to my car and said I was going 15 miles over the speed limit, I sputtered and waved the clear plastic baggie containing a curled up orange lump at him. “Fish! Dead Fish! I am on my way to return this dead fish!” I said. He did not look surprised, nor sympathetic, nor amused. I guess these guys really have heard it all. With an expressionless face he wrote the ticket.
I got to the pet store, exchanged Petal for a live replacement and drove all the way back home at a sober speed. When I got in the house, Precocious child was already up and had discovered that Petal had vanished. I explained the situation. She was at first a bit taken aback, then rather philosophical about it. She named the new fish “Petal-too” and embarked on a lengthy, very chatty discourse about the new fish (“Honey! Grab the video camera!”).
The ticket cost me $150.