The fish died last night, which is rather ironic given that he had survived three weeks without us, all alone in his bowl in the gloom with no-one to disturb his silent vigil.
We wondered if he would last for such a long period of time with no-one to tend to him, but there he was on our return, still swimming around. Well, not so much swimming, truth be told, more like the occasional twitch and glide and rather a lot of stationary floating as well. But at least he was alive.
And then this morning, there was even less swimming and his floating was of the motionless upside down variety. My first thought was that maybe he had been depressed by our return which so rudely interrupted his serene isolation. Marooned in solipsistic stillness, he found our in-rush of noise and light and movement too much to bear and decided he couldn’t face returning to our humdrum daily routines. On the brink of nirvana, our presence was, for him, an unwelcome reminder of quotidian existence.
I had tried to make the transition a welcome one. I changed his water, almost as a reward for his tenacity, and gave him some fresh food but obviously it was not enough to lift his spirits. He turned his nose up at it, and then simply turned over completely.
Without wanting to sound too personally aggrieved, I do feel it was rather an over-reaction.
How ego-centric though to regard his death as having anything to do with us being here or not. Life goes on, or not as the case may be, regardless of the role we play in it.
No, as far as the fish was concerned, he couldn’t care less whether we were home or away. He was a fish. He didn’t pine for company nor relish his abandonment as a blessed relief from the intrusive ministrations of human ‘care’. He experienced neither excitement nor disappointment at our return, unexpectedly and so suddenly one Friday morning. Whatever you may think happened (which, in all likelihood, is very little), the fish cared nothing for us, whether present or otherwise. I repeat, he was a fish. He existed in his fishy-ness, the limits of which surely do not stretch too far, and when the end came that fishy existence simply ceased to be; there is one less piece of fishy-ness in the world today, just one amongst billions of such pieces that will also cease to exist today.
Of course, in one hugely significant sense, his death has everything to do with us because it was probably my action of changing the water – what was supposed to be a fresh start – which precipitated his end. (Although how was I supposed to know that? Water refreshment should be a good thing. The real question is whether or not I did it correctly. Did I stuff up my water-changing technique? Probably, but it's impossible to say for certain.)
And yet, and yet… while I am more than willing, perhaps even eager, to ascribe his death to my clumsy husbandry practices – a topic on which I am surprisingly ignorant for a long-time fish owner and master – perhaps our return in itself was not totally unrelated to his decision, forced or otherwise, to peg out. Maybe he simply got used to being by himself in a place with no sound, no movement, only the regular, stealthy shifting of the light, so that the shock of our return with all its rattling, raucous, unpredictable intrusion, was simply all too much for him to bear.
I can believe that fish are sensitive that way, nervous about unforseen events, poorly equipped to deal with abrupt upheavals in the same way as we humans are taught to ‘suck it up’. Living in a small bowl all your days and nights is unlikely to leave you well-disposed to cope with sudden life changes.
So perhaps it was all too much for him. And as such, it could be said that our very presence here, our being in this time and place, was enough to kill a fish.