Wednesday, July 20, 2005

My fish story

Last Saturday, Joan bought feeder guppies for my red-eared slider, Lox. She immersed the plastic bag in the tank water to acclimate the fish before releasing them. So I got a look at them. About 20. These were not the "ordinary" ditch-colored minnows she has brought before. They were wide and silvery, calico orange and rainbow hued. I couldn't imagine my darling turtle eating these beautiful creatures. No, he would see their beauty and restrain his appetite, allowing them to flourish in his home, appreciative of the ambience.

Joan released the fish after a few hours, working to open the bag and let them fly off in Lox's tank before they drowned in a plastic crease. Then they were out and moving about in small groupings, not yet safely independent of the crowd. I watched. Such loveliness in their simplicity. Lox watched too. His senses alerted, he jettisoned his big carapace, turned and leaped for one of the goldies, swallowing it whole. I was stunned. Without chewing, he immediately chased another, caught it between his zebra-striped mouth and swallowed. And another went the same route, gone in a dap of water and flash of green.

"He's hungry," says Joan, happy with her contribution. I cannot stand the slaughter. Lox is chasing one of my favorites, and I bang against the glass to quell his advantage.

"Stop watching," says Joan. But I can't. Instead, I capture four of the loveliest and transfer them to the outside pond Joan created. This is a blue plastic children's pool, outlined with wood edgers and rocks. The fish swim happily under a broken clay pot. I have saved them. They will grow big and become my backyard koi.

After Joan leaves, I inspect the fish again. There they are, chasing each other's tails, spinning across the expanse of pond, bright orange and black in the afternoon shade. I feed them flakes of food. They flee, wary now of anything, having witnessed the engulping of their relatives, having swam for their very lives just minutes before.

Sunday morning I check the pond. It's no longer the bright greenblue. There's a murkiness that arose overnight. Now I see at the bottom, clumps of clay-colored shit. "What creature would shit in the pond?," I ask Joan in an email. "Racoon," she answers. Probably right. There's a family in the big pecan tree nextdoor. One of my rescued fish is floating, eye to the sky. I remove it and fertilize my bleeding hearts. Joan says she'll place a screen atop the pond.

Monday, another rescued fish is floating. Its kin are in hiding. But no more shit. What will I find today?

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