Over the years, the fish population of our humble home has rivaled that of the Seven Seas, which is no fluke considering that the average lifespan of our fine finny friends has been approximately the length of the Super Bowl halftime show.
When my daughters, Katie and Lauren, were kids, our goldfish would go belly-up so often that you could set your watch by them, although only if your watch was waterproof.
As two little girls sobbed uncontrollably, my wife, Sue, and I would perform a solemn toilet-side service that involved flushing the deceased to kingdom come.
We did have one fish, however, that lived a good, long life. His name was Curly. He was the bowl mate of Moe and Larry, who died within minutes of each other, probably in a suicide pact. Curly lived for weeks, only to meet a tragic demise.
One day I opened a kitchen cabinet and a bottle of vitamins fell out. It plummeted into the fish bowl and brained Curly.
“You killed our fish!” Katie and Lauren wailed.
Naturally, I felt terrible and offered them comforting words: “They were Mommy’s vitamins.”
We had no more fish until recently, when our granddaughter Chloe, who is 6, said she wanted us to get a fish for our house. Her little sister, Lilly, who is 2 and a half, eagerly concurred.
Their fish, Igor, lives at their house.
“You have to get one, too,” Chloe said.
So we went to a nearby pet store on a fishing expedition.
“I want a girl fish,” Chloe said. “She has to be pink. And I want to name her Camilla.”
“Like Camilla Parker Bowles?” Sue asked, referring to Prince Charles’ wife.
“No,” said Chloe, who doesn’t pay attention to the royal family. “She’ll be Camilla Parker Zezima.”
“And,” I chimed in, “she’ll live in the Camilla Parker bowl.”
Chloe picked a light pink betta fish with dark pink fins. We got matching pink pebbles for the bottom of the bowl. We also got some fish food.
At the checkout counter, a cashier named Rufus inquired about the size of our fish bowl, which held 16 ounces of water.
“You should get a tank that holds at least two and a half gallons,” Rufus said. “Think of the fish’s quality of life.”
Unfortunately, Camilla’s life wasn’t long. She lasted 48 hours.
Chloe and Lilly, who had gone back to their house, where Igor, a blue boy betta, still swims happily in a 16-ounce bowl, were blissfully unaware that Camilla now resided in the suburban equivalent of Davy Jones’ Locker.
I went back to the pet store and bought another betta that looks exactly like Camilla except that it’s a male.
“I guess you could say the fish is gender-fluid,” I told a salesman named Matt.
He agreed, noting that Chloe and Lilly would never know the difference. Then he sold me a one-gallon bowl.
“I’m going to put it on the liquor cabinet,” I said, “so I can say he drinks like a fish.”
At the checkout counter, a cashier named Mary told me that she had a betta male that lived for 12 years.
“His name was Skipper,” Mary said. “He was exactly the color of your fish. And he was really sweet. He would come up to the surface so I could pet him. Sadly, he passed on. They don’t live forever.”
So far, the new Camilla has lived about a month. And, sure enough, Chloe and Lilly were none the wiser when they came over for a visit.
“I want to bring Igor to your house so he can have a sleepover with Camilla,” Chloe said.
“I don’t know about that,” I whispered to Sue. “I’m afraid they’ll end up sleeping with the fishes.”
— Jerry Zezima
Jerry Zezima writes a humor column for Hearst Connecticut Media Group, which includes his hometown paper, the Stamford Advocate. His column is distributed by Tribune News Service of Chicago and has run in newspapers nationwide and abroad. He is also the author of four books, Leave It to Boomer, The Empty Nest Chronicles, Grandfather Knows Best and Nini and Poppie’s Excellent Adventures, all of which are “crimes against literature.” He has won seven awards from the National Society of Newspaper Columnists for his humorous writing.