The rain plinked against the windows. A watery half-dark hung over the apartment. The single row of ceiling spots couldn’t penetrate more than a few feet into the kitchen.
Just beyond the light lay an elongated shape. She didn’t notice it at first. Even after her eye spotted it, her brain refused to acknowledge what it was.
Phone in hand, she crossed the room and peered into the
Still. Shrunken, almost. It was Herbie. Or it had been.
A little hard-boiled crime fiction for you– in keeping with events around here at the end of last week. Herbert Hoover, the suckerfish, died under mysterious circumstances Thursday morning. Or– sometime around then. Iconfess, I haven’t been paying a lot of attention to the fish, but I could’ve sworn I saw him stuck to the side of the tank when I went downstairs earlier that morning (of course, it could have been Janet the catfish, who looks a lot like him, minus the sucker). The fish have been a bit boring since Fish George adjusted their lighting so that the tank is dark until 2pm– I guess the lights had been malfunctioning before that and our poor, eyelidless fish were getting stressed out like rock stars in the glare of the paparazzi. But maybe it would have been better to keep them in the light.
I was distressed to find Herbert lying belly up on the bottom of the tank. It almost looked like he was feebly moving, so I even tried to use long tongs to reach him and see if I could help– but he was beyond help. I think it was just the in-tank current moving him. Then the other fish started in on him.
I’m the one who always looks away when animals are about to get their prey on nature shows. So there I was with a dead fish in the tank and the others clearly thinking about the protein. For a few minutes I pondered trying to retrieve the body. I stood there waving a paper near the tank (to no avail) when the other fish swooped in for a nibble.Me pondering and scarecrowing; fish snacking. I saw pretty quickly that this was not a good way for me to spend my day. Fish George was due to come for tank maintenance the next day, so after notifying him of the situation, I spent the rest of the morning trying to just avert my eyes until he could come take it away. But you know how it is when you’re trying not to look at something… Yeah. Nails to an electromagnet.
So after fighting the electromagnet for a few hours, it was finally time to go pick up the kids. With a last disgusted glance at the tank, I headed out for the two-hour venture. I was hoping Quinn and Claire wouldn’t notice Herbie right away. We came in the house andstarted on our usual routine. I sneaked a peek at the tank and– THE BODY WAS GONE. Now maybe the fish could swarm in and eat the flesh, but they couldn’t eat the head and all that other hard stuff. So I had to conclude– they had stashed the body!
Apparently I was staring at the tank with a look on my face, because Claire walked in and said, “Mom? What’s wrong?!” in her best fear-to-panic-to-rising-hysteria voice. So I had to explain about Herbie. She pretty much took it in stride, and together we peered in the tank and found the body back in the corner under a big coral arrangement. Maybe the current had just swept it there… or maybe not.
I couldn’t help thinking back to Spot, the last suckerfish we had– for an even briefer time than Herbert. He had just vanished. No trace of him was ever found, even by George when he came to clean the tank. Suddenly the colorful cast of characters– Winston and Mario, the Who’s, the Posse, and even Janet– started to seem a little more sinister. Chloe felt threatened that a possible murder had occurred just outside her bedroom door. Whatever slight affection I had developed for the fish abated. No longer did I think they were clever for taking up feeding formation when I drew near the tank– or for swimming up to the surface when I lifted my hand toward their cabinet doors (the source of their food). They were scheming murderers, teaming up on the newcomers in the neighborhood– the stuff of Alfred Hitchcock.
Fish George finally made it to the house late the next afternoon, while I was at school picking up the kids. Chloe was home, so she was able to give me the report when I returned: The automatic feeder was broken. The fish probably hadn’t eaten properly since George’s visit a month ago. So right there’s your murder motive. Established.
Funny thing is, I felt so bad that the fish had been starving, I had to stop being disgusted with them. They’re back to being the small wet pets– though I am wary when I open the cabinet and they come swarming to the surface! We are contemplating name changes to better convey the nature of life in the tank. Possibly we should change from characters in politics and entertainment to mobsters and gangstahs. Or maybe that’s not such a stretch now that I think about it… we’ll keep the names.