taking the passive out of passive-aggressive

Monday, December 13, 2004

We have fish. I don't know why we have fish, but there they are, in a forty-gallon tank, taking up precious counter space in our tiny kitchen. We used to have five, and they all had names, but for the life of me I can't remember them. Now we have two. Mr. T. and Bob Dylan, who is a tetra. I don't know what Mr. T. is. He is yellowish, and I suspect he ate one of the other fish, who died but whose body was never recovered.

No, I know how we got to this place. In the sad, dying days of my last office job, we had two unnamed tetras in a tiny tank brought in by a very strange intern, who then left them there with no instructions for their care and feeding. The sad little lot of us office moles, leftovers from various layoffs, tried our best to feed them and clean their tiny tank, but soon enough it became too much for us. And so, when I left to begin my exciting new career as Pregnant Mom, my friend Julie handed me the tank, ceremoniously, and told me they were mine.

This would have been fine and dandy--tetras are hardy, and don't require much, even from a dolt like me who occaisionally spaces out and puts them in cold water while I'm cleaning their tank. Really, tetras can survive anything. But one day my daughter came home from a Science Fair clutching a baggie with a goldfish.

Turns out goldfish are delicate. I thought you could just put them in a bowl, but the boy at Petsmart told us no, no way, they need a tank. So my husband hauls home a tank for "Crystal", which is what my daughter had named the fish. (Crystal! I kept wondering if she'd been sneaking Dynasty reruns on the Soap network.)

Well, we went to get Crystal out of her baggie and put her in the tank. But Crystal was strangely lifeless. Limp, actually. In fact, quite dead. My daughter began to weep. "Crystal! Crystal! You were my favorite friend!" My husband and I exchanged puzzled looks. "She didn't cry this much when the dog died!" I whispered fiercely over her head. "She knew her for a total of four hours!" my husband replied. "How do we even know Crystal was FEMALE?" I demanded.

Well, in the tradition of good (or inexplicaby guilty) parents everywhere, we promised new fish, better fish, fish with more... um... life in them than poor Crystal. After a very serious Burial At Sea (the toilet), my husband ran out and bought more fish. Three of them, actually. And a heater. And a thermometer. And special shipwreck dioramas, trees, stones, and a filter pump. By this time, we were exhausted and broke. But dammit, these fish were going to have a good home.

One fish died immediately. Was it the pH? The temparature? This was becoming tragic, a slaughterhouse of fishes. Clearly we were unsuitable fish parents, or else the sixteen year olds at Petsmart were giving us bad advice. No matter: we had three fish still to go. And then that other one died, never to be seen again. I started regarding Mr. T with suspicion, knowing he was in some way responsible for the deaths of the others. Unwittingly, we'd begun a Darwinian experiment in three cubic feet. This was no lesson for children.

Luckily, our daughter lost interest quickly, leaving us to feed and clean and otherwise slave away for creatures whose only thought was "eat". And even that, we haven't been so good at. We clean the tank--a week later it's full of algae. The fish seem desultory and weak. My husband keeps forgetting to turn the light off, and I have no idea what temparature they like--hell, I don't even know what kind of fish they are any more--and so the tank has become a scene of true despair, depressing the nanny and pretty much anyone else who walks into the kitchen. And yet, what can we do? Become ichthyologists in our spare time? Flush them to sea along with Crystal? We have doomed ourselves to a responsibility we can't deal with, and so we look quickly away from the tank as soon as we drop in the little stinky fish flakes.


At 6:50 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You know, I'm no linguist, but I'm not sure that fish can be both weak AND desultory. Listless, perhaps. Maybe sullen. But desultory? I'm incredulous.

ps. I had to look up desultory in the dictionary, so I could be wrong.

At 9:12 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

If you really want to off them, drop some tinfoil in there.
But I know, that's horrible, I'm horrible. Horrible!

At 6:43 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Desultory is EXACTLY what those fish are:

WordNet Dictionary

Definition: [adj] marked by lack of definite plan or regularity or purpose; jumping from one thing to another; "desultory thoughts"; "the desultory conversation characteristic of cocktail parties"


Synonyms: purposeless

2. Jumping, or passing, from one thing or subject to another,
without order or rational connection; without logical
sequence; disconnected; immethodical; aimless; as,
desultory minds. --Atterbury.

Paw Print,


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