Anyone with multiple children will grasp the problem immediately. One child cannot have something without all the other kids wanting it, too. It could be a lollipop, a toy... it could be gout. The actual "thing" is irrelevant. If one child has it, they all want it.
I had my doubts about keeping fish, especially since the last betta we had perished at the hands of a rather impertinent raccoon. However, my older son prevailed upon his grandmother, who was only too happy to whisk her eldest grandson to the store for his own 1-gallon tank and two rosy reds, a type of cold freshwater fish.
The pet store clerk assured me that half of them would die off within the week. The rest would probably join Davy Jones and his locker not too long after. The point of keeping them at all, he said, was to establish a bioculture that would allow tropical freshwater fish to thrive in the tank when the goldfish were gone.
Naturally, I wanted to avoid any drama when the fish decided to journey to the Great Lake in the Sky, so I warned my son against getting attached. I too steeled myself and decided to view them as a means to an end, nothing more. Then I completely fell in love with them.
It happened like this. As I was adjusting the air hose in the tank, the goldfish clustered around my hand. Their show of curiosity intrigued me, and I stopped to watch them. At that point, the impudent little beggars actually began nipping at my fingers and arm, which both surprised and amused me greatly. I could have swallowed all of them in one gulp without so much as a chew. (As a vegetarian, I wouldn't, but I could.) However, the sheer cheekiness was so preposterous I had to laugh. I was hooked.
After that, I stopped viewing the fish as short-lived bacteria factories and started looking at them. Whereas they had been a simple collective blur before, close observation revealed physical differences around the fins, the tail, the eyes, and gills. Some of the fish even displayed distinctive "personality" traits -- for instance, some were pushier, some were quieter.
I had to acknowledge that each individual fish was a marvel of creation. It was a graceful dart of color and light. It had curiosity, boldness, even its own sort of intelligence. I'm not sure how to express my thought here -- only that in watching them, I had the sense that they were fulfilling their purpose simply by being the best goldfish they could be under the circumstances.
The task of being a goldfish, too, was far from ordinary. On the contrary, it was quite extraordinary. I'm reminded of a scene from a Shirley Temple film.
"My chicken can do a special trick!At the time of this writing, it's awfully dreary outside. Watching the fish glimmer through the water, they seem more magical than any illusion I've ever seen. And it's real magic -- not the fake kind that one sees on a stage with smoke and mirrors. They have the sort of magic that comes from life itself, the kind that all the scientists in the world can't really explain or replicate. It's Aslan magic.
"And what is that?"
"She can lay an egg!"
"And what's so special about THAT?!"
Well, can YOU lay an egg?"
For $1.99, I got 18 fish -- about 10 cents a piece. The price would suggest that my fish are common and nearly worthless, yet I now know that each one of them is really something quite special, completely unique.
By the way, in case you were wondering, it turns out that we lost very few fish during the initial week. In fact, over the past six months, almost half of them have survived. This is more than we originally expected. Maybe I'm a sucker, but I'm glad of it.