So then…I open the freezer and see dead fish. Lots of dead fish.
Not the delicious kind that you cook for supper like salmon or swordfish.
No, these are dead aquarium fish of assorted colors and sizes, just randomly hanging out in my freezer.
A couple are in baggies, a small attempt at respect for their little frozen corpses, I suppose. The others are just lying about, exposed to the elements — tucked next to the box of popsicles, or plopped into the little shelf on the inside freezer door.
This glacial graveyard is my husband’s handiwork.
David is not a fish murderer.
But he IS the one who bought the enormous aquarium, 3 dozen exotic fish, cleaning supplies, fish food, and tank instructions – then plopped it all on my kitchen counter.
Flashback to 3 weeks ago…
I walk into my spotless kitchen to see half the counter space taken up with “All-Things-Fish.”
“What the hell?” I sputter.
“Mom, look what Daddy bought us!” Chloe is beaming.
“Yeah, Mom, look how cool this is!” Tucker is beaming.
David walks over to the kitchen with the kids. He is beaming.
I am seething. Inside.
Outside, I say, “Wow! This is amazing! Look at all those fish!”
The kids, aged 5 and 8, press their faces up close to the aquarium.
I steal a quick glare at David so the kids don’t see. He feigns innocence.
David knows I don’t like fish. (Sorry, PETA — and fish people.) Look, fish-tank fish don’t appear very smart; you can’t cuddle with them on the couch; and they can’t fetch anything meaningful. Fish tanks can be smelly, dirty, breeding grounds for bacteria and well…dead fish. And I especially don’t like the idea of this swimming cesspool in my kitchen — next to the food we eat.
“Have you named them?” I ask the kids brightly. They prattle off some names. I appear intensely interested.
But inside, I am sending David a telegraphic message. A message that says, “Why in the world would you buy this elaborate system and all these fish without at least MENTIONING it to me?”
David must be picking up on those brain waves because he blurts out, “The kids and I thought fish would be good low-maintenance pets.”
“Yeah, Mom, isn’t this a great surprise?” asks Chloe.
I agree that is this is indeed, a surprise — and of course, a really great one.
We all ooh and aah over the fish; the kids agree on a feeding schedule; David shows me the instruction booklet about the care and cleaning of the aquarium and filter tank.
I smile. I admire. I ask the kids which are their favorites.
As soon as we’re out of earshot of the kids, I say, “David, what the hell? This is a very generous gift for the kids, but you know I don’t want this huge monstrosity in the kitchen — and I don’t want to deal with all this tank-cleaning, fish-feeding nonsense for these damn pooping fish!”
He says, “Well, we were at the pet store and they really wanted a pet. At least I didn’t get them a dog.”
I pale. (Again, sorry PETA – and dog people.) I’m allergic to dogs.
So now, instead of being incensed about the fish, I am relieved that dogs were not delivered.
I return to the kitchen and make my peace with the little swimmers.
I am a mother. I shall carry on the tradition of all outwardly-cheerful, internally-long-suffering martyr-mothers who endure daily indignities like cleaning out the frikkity-frik fish poop filter.
OK seriously — the fish make my kids happy — so I’m happy.
Life goes on.
Until it doesn’t. For the fish.
They start dying, one by one.
Not several at a time. ONE at a time.
It’s like a bad horror movie. “No, Rainbow, don’t swim in that corner of the aquarium! Louie swam there last night and was never seen again!” “Crystal, use the buddy system at the feeder. Don’t go there alone!”
So every morning, someone is floating face up to greet me at breakfast time.
And, of course, in David’s eyes, I am the prime suspect.
He interrogates me about the tank cleaning and the water refilling and if I’m overfeeding them. He complains about how expensive it was to buy the exotic fish and their habitat. He reminds me more than once that I didn’t want the aquarium in the first place.
“David, I swear to you. I.am.not.killing.the.fish!”
So he calls the pet store to ask why all the fish are dying.
They put him on hold.
Maybe they’re depressed, I think. Maybe it’s a mass suicide, executed slowly, one day at a time.
But I imagine David glaring at me like: Mass suicide? More like mass genocide.
OK seriously — I am not killing the fish.
So then…the pet store tells him that maybe the mechanical or chemical filtration is off a little. They tell him if he brings the dead fish in, they will refund his money for those particular fish.
I’m surprised that the pet store makes you bring in your dead little fish to warrant a refund. Aren’t your receipt and your word of honor enough during this time of tragedy?
Are there that many people faking out pet stores that their fish have died, when in fact the fish are at home happily swimming and eating and pooping in their tank? And what if you flushed the little fella without realizing you had to bring his dead carcass in to the pet store for the manager to ID the body? Then what?
Would it go something like this?
Customer: My fish died. Here’s my receipt. I’d like a refund please.
Pet Store Manager: Sorry, sir, we don’t believe you. We need to see the body.
Pet Store Manager: Autopsy, sir. We need to rule out foul play.
Customer: Foul play? What are you accusing me of?
Pet Store Manager: Sorry, sir, just doing my job. You know the owner is the first and most obvious suspect. Once we rule you out, we can move on to other potential culprits based on the autopsy – teeth-marks from a cat perhaps; toxic cleaning fluids on his scales from an overzealous housekeeper; check his blood alcohol level – you can’t imagine how many times white wine is “accidentally” spilled into the tank.
Customer: Well, I don’t have the body anymore. I flushed it right away.
Pet Store Manager: Company policy, sir. We need to see the body. Or at least a death certificate from your local veterinarian? A picture of the funeral, perhaps?
Customer: [shows manager pics on phone]
Pet Store Manager: Oh, respectful ceremony, sir. The seaweed wreath is a nice touch. Lovely toilet bowl, sir. Is that a Kohler?
I imagine that would work, but David’s not taking any chances. If they want bodies, he will bring them bodies.
So he takes a few of the fish to the pet store and gets his money back. Then when another one dies, he puts it in a baggie in the freezer since the pet store is far away, so he’ll take care of it “later.” And then another dies and another. And “later” turns into a week and another week. And pretty soon, the kids are completely immune to another fish kicking the bucket.
It’s practically like this each morning:
Kid 1: “Pass the cereal and – (pointing) oh, Jazzy’s bit the dust.”
Kid 2: “No, I think that’s Buster. Jazzy croaked a few days ago. She’s in the freezer.”
Kid 1: (takes closer look) “Yeah, that’s Buster all right. Pass the cereal, please.”
So now the fish are stacking up in the freezer and David has already made 3 trips to the pet store for refunds, so I imagine that he’s just waiting for the whole herd to go belly up before making the last Refund Run.
But I’m tired of seeing these little colorful fish popsicles in my freezer, just cast about willy nilly.
If he does not return them soon — I will thaw them, make ceviche, and serve it to him.
— Darcy Perdu
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(Any funny fish stories? Tell us your tales about pets, martyr moms, or well-meaning spouses whose impulsive actions drive you batty! I love to read your comments!)
Illustrations by Aaron Wardell (www.aaronwardell.blogspot.com)
I’m so excited this story features the clever illustrations of the amazing and talented Aaron Wardell!