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Tragedy

Monday, 22 February 2010

I had planned on a sermon on the joys of exercise this evening, however plans have changed.

Upon arriving home this evening I was met with a troubling sight. One of our tropical fish was lying on the substrate at the bottom of the tank, snout poked under a rock looking decidedly dead. Closer inspection revealed that this was in fact the case and so I had to remove the little fella from the tank and dispose of him. Now he’s swimming along in fishy heaven.*

My immediate thought was that perhaps tank conditions might have done for him, but the remaining fish in the tank seem happy enough, temperature and so on all seemed stable (in the past we lost a tank full of Tiger Barbs to a catastrophic heater failure). As it turns out it was most likely natural causes.

We inherited the fish tank from the previous owners of our house who left the (built into the wall) fish tank when they moved, including it’s inhabitants. This particular fish essentially came with the house when we bought it almost 5 years ago. Given that he was resident here before us it stands to reason that he was at least 5 years old when he popped his fins.

A quick delve into the average life span of Gourami fish suggests that they typically live for about 4 years. By this standard he had a good innings and was due to go at any moment. Unlike the fish that had become murderous in my parent’s fish tank several years ago. The piscine equivalent of Ted Bundy, this fish had been systematically attacking and killing their other fish in the tank. Something needed to be done, or so I was informed. After a brief show trial that paid little heed to the concept of due process Bundy-fish was sentenced to death.

My initial appeals for a humane execution – in this case bag him up like a funfair goldfish and place the bag in the freezer where the gradual reduction in temperature would have resulted in painless unconsciousness then death – fell on deaf ears. Not quick enough I was told. Too drawn out. Do as the French do was the decision. Decapitation.

Further protests from me were again ignored. “Sounds a bit brutal” I said. “Are you sure you don’t want to reconsider the freezer option?”. The course of action had been decided however. Bundy-fish was to have his head hacked off. It transpired that while they were perfectly willing to decide Bundy’s fate they were much more reluctant to carry out the sentence. “You need to do it” they said. Me. The main opponent of this course of action.

Some further to-ing and fro-ing occured. Eventually I gave in. Worn down by the insistence that I was the only person capable of doing the deed in an efficient and minimally cruel way I capitulated on the condition that once it was done none of us would speak of it again. A chopping board was prepared. The sharpest, heaviest kitchen knife I could find was selected. Bundy-fish was retreived from the tank. The one factor none of us had accounted for was that he would fight to cling on to life to the end. Overlooking the fact that a fish out of water flaps about all over the place was perhaps a mistake.

In the end it was a rather unpleasant ordeal, more so for Bundy-fish than I, admittedly. It was over fairly qickly though, the deed done and a heaviness in my heart for the fate of a poor wee fish that hadn’t really done much wrong. Sullenly I cleared away the evidence and disposed of the body.

As if this wasn’t enough, my mother took to calling me (alternately) “fish killer” and “murderer” for some months afterwards, despite her insistence to the contrary before I undertook the execution of the hapless fish. The futility of fighting this became apparent very quickly and despite her complicity in the murder of the fish, I decided to let it go. The incident was soon forgotten about, although it occasionally plays on my mind from time to time. Somewhat annoyingly a couple of months ago my parents were telling me about another fish that had to be “put down” for similar reasons. This time, they informed me, they were much more humane about it than I was and placed said fish in a bag of water, you know, funfair goldfish style, and put it in the freezer where it painlessly passed into a coma and died. What a brilliant idea. If only I’d thought of it all those years ago when Bundy-fish had to die. My outburst that followed this revelation is unrepeatable here.

The point to all this is simply that I’m a little bit surprised at the attachment that you can develop for a pet as ambient as a fish. They aren’t cute, you can’t stroke ’em and they don’t run to greet you when you get home or fetch your slippers and or paper. I suppose they do have a personality of their own as such and the deceased from today’s unfortunate turn of events was the finest specimen in the tank. He shall be missed.

* I should point out that as I am a staunch atheist I don’t believe in heaven of any kind. I should probably also point out that as, in the Christian tradition at any rate, animals do not have souls they wouldn’t go to heaven when they died anyway.

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