Friday, May 14, 2004

Fried chicken heals all wounds.

We had no sooner survived the dreaded Y2K, than my family was forced to face a tragedy so heart breaking, so senseless, that the memory still haunts us today.

The untimely and unexpected death of Fred, my son's cherished Beta fish.

Actually, it was not entirely unexpected. I had noticed some changes in Fred only days before his death. He was moving around that tiny octagonal tank a little slower than usual, and he didn't seem nearly as excited to see me sprinkle his little Beta oats on top of his murky water.

I had a bad feeling.

That may have been because I have what you might call a history with small fish. I tend to do to them what I do to flowers. I love them and love them until they die from the suffocation of it all. If I only could have loved some of the men from my past to death, I'd be a life insurance millionaire by now.

It's a fact that I have been known to cause sudden fish death syndrome in any of the tiny creatures unfortunate enough to wind up in my house. I killed my first goldfish when I was only six or so and it's been down hill from there.

I won him at a fair by successfully throwing a ball into his tank. What chance did that fish have, really? I'm sure most of the fish won in that manner suffered some sort of fatal stroke after having been beaned in the head with a ping pong ball. That's no way for a fish to have to make a living.

The second fish I had was given to me as a gift by a friend that thought herself very clever. In Germany, I worked for Central Accounting on our base and one of my duties was to keep tabs on the fish fund. The fish fund was something club members contributed to in order to keep the fishing lake stocked. This friend thought it would be funny to bring me a goldfish in a bag as a hostess gift. Hey, why bring a nice wine or some flowers when you can give a fish in a Ziploc Baggie?

She hands me this living, breathing thing in front of a house full of people that I was desperately trying to impress. And of course my cheap friend didn't even think to bring a tank or a bowl or any fish food. I could not rest knowing that fish was living in a plastic baggie. I imagined him in there, gasping for air, trying to mouth the word "help" to everyone that peered inside.

I tore my cupboards apart looking for something resembling a suitable fish dwelling. I finally chose a crystal punch bowl I had recently purchased at a German crystal factory. I was pleased with myself because I was sure the fish would think he was living in high cotton. He may have started out in the Ziploc projects, but he was about to start living large in the 90210 of the fish world.

I poured in fresh, cool tap water and promptly moved him into his new home. I'm told that this could have been my first mistake. Apprently fishies do not respond well to fresh, cool tap water. Who knew?

Once he was safely settled in his new digs, I noticed that he seemed a little too thin. It had certainly been a long day for him, what with fighting his way out of his watery ghetto and all and I could tell that he was starving. Believe it or not, I don't normally make it a habit of keeping fish food in my cabinets with the cinnamon and the sugar. What a dilemma. A starving fish and me without anything fishy to feed him.

Not to worry. Being the resourceful woman I am, I did some logical thinking to solve the problem at hand. I am widely known for my ability to think logically in a stressful situation. I thought about fish food, it's consistency, it's texture, it's flakiness. And then I thought about the food items I actually did have.

Instant potatoes. Hmmm. Flakey? Yes, but too white. Fish food should almost never be white.

Oregano? Certainly the right color, but I was afraid my gilled friend may become confused and see me as some sort of drug dealer and the oregano falling from Heaven as his big score. There's nothing worse than a fish hooked on oregano.

Italian bread crumbs! Of course! Why hadn't I thought of it before? They look similar to fish food, they come in tiny, fish bite-size pieces and they smell way better than regular fish fare.

What a lucky fish this was to have landed in my capable care. I really needed to get him some teensy waterproof postcards to send to all his old buddies back in the Hood.

"Dear guys,

This is the life. I thought I was a goner when I was snatched out of the old neighborhood by that giant net, but boy was I wrong! I'm living in the lap of luxury in my new mansion and I get all the Italian food I can eat.

Wishing you were here,

I fed Melford about 3 heaping tablespoons of Mama Maroni's zesty Italian bread crumbs... just enough to give his crystal pond a new spicy roof and went back to my party to attend to my guests. I was fully satisfied that the next time I saw Melford, he'd be up on his hind fins Shamu style, waving a great big thank you to me.

Imagine my surprise when I awoke the next morning only to find my beloved new pet doing a motionless back stroke with little x's over his eyes with the faint odor of pizza on his breath. Isn't that the way it always is for fish? Inexplicably struck down in the prime of their lives, through no fault of the woman that gave them enough Italian bread crumbs to coat four pounds of chicken breasts.

Deeply saddened, I gave Melford a proper burial at sea and gave one of my neighbors the gift of a slightly used crystal punch bowl.

So, you can imagine the guilt I felt at the very idea that I may have, however innocently, murdered again when years later I found Fred doing a Melford imitation.

When I told my seven-year-old son the sad news, he burst into tears and immediately demanded a funeral. When I told him how we'd respectfully gather together around the toilet and flush Fred into Heaven, his eyes nearly rolled back in his head. There'd be no flushing his precious friend.

For a child that had thankfully never had to attend any sort of funeral, he had very specific ideas at how the ceremony should go. First, we'd need a suitable burial plot... somewhere near the bushes by the picnic table would be lovely. Then we'd have to find the smallest weatherproof wreath for a headstone. Naturally, we would need to inform his two cousins, who although didn't know Fred as well as we, would certainly want to pay their last respects. And finally, we were going to need fried chicken and a cake. Preferrably chocolate.

We invited the cousins and found a tiny craft wreath that we sprinkled with glue and gold glitter. Fred was always a little on the flashy side. We dug the grave and laid him to rest, along with his beloved multi-colored rocks and his favorite plastic tree.
Finally, as we placed the bedazzled headstone, my little boy tearfully asked each of us to say a few words.

"He was a good fish," I began. "A mighty fish. A happy fish." I figured I'd better stop before I started reciting "Red Fish, Blue Fish" by Dr. Seuss.

My son gave an absolutely eloquent eulogy about the wonder that was Fred and when it was over we all walked away heads bowed from the graveside. And then, in true southern tradition, we ate our weight in chicken and chocolate cake.

My fear that my son had taken the loss of Fred unusually hard was soon laid to rest, so to speak, when his cousin came back over to play soon after the funeral.

"Momma, Momma!" my little boy was yelling as the two of them burst through the front door. "We need your little garden hoe and a butter knife!"


"Because we think maybe Fred was murdered and we want to dig him up to solve the mystery."

Note to self: Limit the time son spends watching Scooby-Doo. And don't talk to anyone without your lawyer present.

Copyright © 2004, Sherri Bailey
This blog may not be reproduced in whole or in part without the express written permission of the author.

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