A fish story

September 16, 2009.
A few weeks ago I volunteered to feed fish for a friend of a friend.  And the fish-owner and I both ended up startled.

See, my friend told me that his friend Tricia was going out of town for a few days and was seeking someone to feed her fish, could I help? As a fellow pet lover I gave a resounding yes. I had two adorable cats, and I knew how stressful ’twas to leave town and worry about your pets’ care. Plus, Tricia’s place was only two neighborhoods away and a welcome, hearty walk. ‘Twas en route to my favorite wine store to boot.

This was arranged last minute. I didn’t meet Tricia. We exchanged voice mails shortly after she left town. In my message I expressed empathy being a pet owner of two adorable cats. In her message she said she’d left an apartment key at her building’s doorman station, in an envelope marked “fish feeder.”

Fine enough. I arrived  twice a day for two days, and fed the fish in two tanks. A small pinch for the small tank; a big pinch for the big tank. It was fun to watch the fishies rise from their hiding places among the ornamental logs and rocks, to swim and catch food flakes. And yes, I talked to them.  Nothing serious or revealing, just warm chatter to assure them I’d take care of them till their mom returned.

The fish that rose for their meals were small, skinny, the height of horizontal pencils, and the length of paper clips. They were dark colored and silver-rainbow, and they didn’t look as happy to see me gaping as I was to see them.

I considered it a nice experience, helping a pet-owner and learning to appreciate pet fish. Tricia left a thank-you voice mail after she’d arrived home.

A few days later she called again; for the first time we talked voice to voice.  In the initial hello she sounded as if she had been crying. She proceeded to politely ask if I’d seen a white fish in the large tank when I was there.

“… No ….” I replied. I described the fish that I did see, in both tanks, and asked her to describe the white fish. Well, she said, it was bigger, and white.

I hadn’t seen it, I said, in all the times I’d been there. Tricia hung on the line, trying to get answers. I hung on the line, trying to give them. I’d been there twice a day each day, I iterated, and the fish I saw were small and skinny. Each time I returned the key to the front desk. “That’s all I know,” I said.

I wasn’t accusing the door staff. I was merely an interogatee surrendering any fact she knew regarding the case at hand. When I got off the phone I thought, “That woman thinks I took her fish.”

The poor dear wondered what kind of crazy stranger she’d allowed into her home. She envisioned me taking it as a prize to my cats. And poor me had no grounds to prove my innocence.

A couple days later Tricia called again. Voice to voice she informed me that she found the missing fishy. “For some reason I decided to clean the tank,” she said, and she discovered the white fish trapped in the filter.

I gasped. Was he alive?

Yes, she said. She’d thought surely he was dead, but he started wiggling. Once released he seemed dazed, yet he’s back to normal now.

I asked her, what was his name? “Cutie,” she said. The same name given the danios and rainbows I’d seen. This distinguished white “Cutie” was an albino bristlenose pleco.

I’ll see him next time I feed Tricia’s fish, she and I agreed.  He’ll be new to my gaping, as will the cherry barbs and phantom tetras she’d gotten since. All named “Cutie.”

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