by Mike McHugh
There’s nothing like a tank full of tropical fish. It’s a living work of art, certainly more so than any of those modern sculptures that appear as if the artist assembled it from random scraps he’d picked up off the road following a major car accident.
But sometimes a fish dies, thus marring the work. That’s the way it is with fish. I only wish it were the same with those sculptures.
One of our fish died not long ago. One day, he’s swimming around merrily in the tank, and the next he’s lodged belly-up in a plastic fern. But unlike a Renaissance masterpiece, this work is easy to restore. You just scoop out the dead fish and replace it with a new one.
Unfortunately, my wife doesn’t see it that way. She sees the dead fish and wants to have a wake service. Maybe get a priest over and lead us in the rosary. Meantime, I’m thinking a burial at sea. Make the Sign of the Cross and flush.
I don’t know what it is that makes her attached to each and every fish in our aquarium. They and we inhabit completely different worlds—theirs of water and ours of air. They’re not like our cats. You can’t pet them, and they won’t cuddle on your lap and purr while you’re watching TV. They’re not even three inches long. We’ve got bigger roaches than that here in Louisiana.
And so, while she’s in mourning—posting testimonials on Facebook and contacting the newspaper—I’m sitting there thinking. Tomorrow I’ll go to the pet shop and get a new fish. It’ll look and act just like the old one. It’ll cost two bucks. The old fish didn’t even have a name—not by itself, at least. Being one of five in a schooling species of tetras, I’d named the whole lot “Yale.”
But just replacing the deceased is not enough to put my wife at ease. In her eyes, I am the fish serial killer. She blames it on all the drops of various concoctions that I’m constantly adding to the tank. That much is true. Having spent thirty years as a chemical engineer, I can’t resist treating any container of water as my own personal chemistry set. This explains why our swimming pool has the color and consistency of a bowl of split pea soup.
“You’re poisoning them with that stuff,” she says. “If that tank were the Gulf of Mexico, you’d be British Petroleum.” Suddenly, it became clear to me why she never lit any candles in the room where I kept the aquarium. Every other room in the house she has lit up like the Grotto of Lourdes.
“But it’s not the Gulf of Mexico,” I answer. “It’s a work of art.”
“Well then, you painted a mustache on the Mona Lisa.”
I feared that she might report me to the authorities for animal cruelty, an offense that, in her mind, is more heinous than setting up a boiler shop and defrauding elderly people of their life savings. But she didn’t, probably because, the whole time I’d be I the slammer for killing a three-inch fish, she’d have no one around to blame whenever she mislaid her eyeglasses.
Which just goes to show you, an art-defacing scapegoat is better than no scapegoat at all.