Monday, May 3, 2010


I would be severely remiss if I did not write about Max, my feisty little piscean companion.

Last year, during quiet time at a yoga retreat, a desire arose, unbidden, to the surface of my mind. I realised I wanted a betta (siamese fighting fish) fish. This wish, for me, was something new, I do not have any pets. I have, on occasion, cared for my neighbors' cats in their absence, I even took care of a neighbor's lizard, feeding it crickets. It was a horrible experience. I did have a beautiful little kitten, a manx cat. In South Africa growing up we had a manx cat, Whisky. They are gentle cats, hailing from the Isle of Man, and do not have tails. I named my coal black little kitten Shaka, and enjoyed his presence for all of two days. Tragically, he had a genetic condition which apparently is quite common amongst Manx cats. He had no control of his 'evacuation' routes, and had to be put to sleep. That experience so traumatised me that I determined never to have a pet of any sort, until up arose this desire for a betta fish.

Exactly two nights after my return from the retreat someone knocked on my front door about 10 p.m. A new neighbor whom I did not know, stood on my porch, illuminated by the street lamp. In his arms he held a fish bowl. He told me that there had been a death in his family and he unexpectedly had to leave town for a week, could I please take care of his betta fish? Of course he had no idea how fortuitous this was. I could now test my ability to care for a fish. His betta was an electric blue, and he survived the week with me. During his tenure I bought a fish bowl, betta food, (teeny weeny little pellets which apparently contain more nutrients than a 200 lb. tuna) dechlorinator drops, a ph. testing kit). Immediately electric blue was reclaimed I went to the tropical fish store. The fish that instantly attracted me was deep carnelian. He was no more than an inch and a half in size, and I loved the way he moved. I can swear he looked at me and signaled for me to take him. Immediately I held the plastic bag in my hand the name Max came to me.

As soon as I got home I gingerly (and tenderly) placed Max in his new environment, and gazed excitedly at his undulations. However, after a few fancy moves he just sank and stayed on the bottom of the bowl. My heart sank as swiftly as Max did. Every now and then I tapped on the bowl and saw a tiny movement, an almost indiscernible little flutter, which calmed me somewhat. But there he remained. The two little pellets I dropped into his watery home left him unmoved. The next morning I found him in the same position. Two more am pellets joined the evening pellets floating on the surface of the water. Max remained still, as did my heart. A friend came over, took one look at the unmoving little creature and said "this doesn't look good." I raced to the aquarium wailing that I had killed my fish. After asking me a few questions the worker assured me this strange behavior is common, Max is stressed, she said. He is in shock. She is sure he is not dead. Four days he remained in this comatose state. Then I went away for the weekend after ascertaining Max would be okay for a day or two, that is, he wouldn't be worse off than he now was. I returned, and resumed the thankless routine of putting in the teeny pellets and tapping on the bowl. After a week of showing no discernible sign of life, I put in a little pellet and Max shot to the surface opened his little mouth and - whoops - the pellet was ingested. Little Max was apparently acclimatised and ready to do his thing, which apparently included attacking his nutrients.

Max and I have been together over a year. He always responds to my finger at the edge of the bowl, swimming up and looking, then he is off again. I read that they can jump, and one day, after changing his water, Max jumped. His body kind of curved, his fins or whatever they are called fluttered and he arced up and out of the water, then headed for the water again.

He has survived the winter, even though there were nights and days of bitter cold (for a tropical fish.) I fancied knitting a fish bowl cosy (like a tea cosy) for Max, but instead wrapped a cashmere shawl around his bowl. He was sluggish, and didn't eat, but with the advent of spring he is back to being his energetic, feisty little self. My home is complete with the presence of Max.

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