Really, fish sitting is stressful.  I am the temporary guardian of two lively goldfish and one nearly dead beta fish for family friends while they are away on vacation.

Yesterday, the dad dropped them off with clear instructions, “A pinch of food for the goldfish and four pebbles of food for the beta fish each morning and they should make it through the week.”  That was it.

“Wait,” I cried, as he was halfway out the door.  “Doesn’t this purpley one look a bit, um, unwell?”

“No, it’s fine.  Look.”  And with that he tapped the side of the bowl and the limp fish looked up, shook its left fin, and then sank back down to the festive faux stone bottom.

This was supposed to make me feel better?  The two healthy goldfish were practically performing a full synchronized swim routine while “purple thing” was too weak get up from under a single pebble.  If this fish doesn’t make it through spring break, will I ever be able to look at my friends’ kids again?  Will they forever remember me as Betsy the Fish Killer?

The door closed and it was just the three fish and me.  I put the bowls on a counter in the breakfast room.  Suddenly I panicked.  Was the under-cabinet lighting going to make the fish water too hot?  Everything on that particular counter always gets a little toasty from the high intensity lights.  Where should I move them?  If they go in the laundry room there is too much activity and they might accidentally get knocked over.  What about the center island in the kitchen?  Too tempting for the kids to overfeed them.  The dining room?  Too easily forgotten.  OK, they will stay where I first put them and I will leave a big note informing everyone not to turn on the under-cabinet lights.
This morning, I crept downstairs and peeked at the fish.  Lots of movement from Mr. and Mrs. Happy Goldfish.  Nothing from Nearly Dead Beta Fish.  Deep sigh.  Just as my friend had done, I tapped the side of Beta’s bowl, and sure enough, that left fin limpidly waved good morning.  Phew.
It was officially feeding time.  I threw in a pinch of flakey food for the goldfish and four tiny pebbles for the beta fish and they all perked up and chowed down.  Was that really enough food?  They seem to really like it, should I give them more?  How do I know my pinch was the right size?  And four tiny pellets, really, that is all?  Suddenly I felt sorry for these captive creatures.  What kind of existence is it to float in a tiny bowl  with nothing to look forward to but some dried up flakes once a day?
Feeling sad about the poor life of a domesticated fish, I ate my breakfast staring at the bowls. Each bite made me think of how these helpless creatures eat the same freeze-dried food day after day.  Maybe if the fish die it would be a blessing.  Then I mentally checked off day one of fish-sitting, turned my chair to face the window and went back to eating my breakfast.  Maybe today was the wrong day for lox on the bagel.

Betsy Brint

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