Stashing the body

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
dusk.

Still. Shrunken, almost. It was Herbie. Or it had been.

Someone save the children!

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.

Nature. Yuck.

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.

5 thoughts on “Stashing the body

  1. The mystery I need solved is “Who names a fish Herbert Hoover?”  And is there some correlation (that I seem to be missing) between the 31st president and a sucker fish?  I’m thinking of Hoovervilles, Hoover carts, a huge defeat in a re-election attempt, the Hoover Commission…what am I missing that’s related to a sucker fish?  Hoping I don’t end up with egg on my face for not recognizing the relationship.

  2. Hi Curious!  First of all, no egg on any faces here– unless it’s accidental and related to breakfast.  Though we know Herbert Hoover didn’t actually invent the vacuum cleaner (did he?)– vacuum cleaners are widely referred to here as “hoovers.”  And the sucker fish’s responsibility in the tank was to tidy up after his sloppy tankmates, cleaning the side of the tank with his super-sucker action.  Also, he was strictly an herbivore, which we thought made “Herb” all the more appropriate.  Finally, since Winston initially got his name for what we thought were his fine English leadership qualities, political names are always up for discussion when  a new fish comes into the mix (or one of the old ones asserts some new quality– the Who’s and the Posse, for example could sometime earn names for themselves if they showed any special characteristics…)  We just haven’t found our Roosevelt yet– though we did think of renaming Winston “Vladimir” after the recent debacle in the tank.

  3. My mystery concerns Fish George?  What is a Fish George–who comes to your house?  From the Thames?  From the local fish and chips shop?  Long John Silvers?   Let’s eat, George!  Fish?  Wait, fish? George?  What’s a Fish George?  He comes to your house?  From the Thames?  Fish and chips shop?Let’s eat….

  4. Dory, your enthusiasm is just so endearing!  Fish George is the fish whisperer!  He comes and takes care of everything fish-related at our house (except for last Friday’s salmon dinner– I did that myself!).  I was disappointed the first time he showed up to service our aquarium, because he is just a regular, nice young man.  I was expecting some kind of crazy guy, perhaps with scales and seaweed, who had, in fact, just risen from the Thames.  On the other hand, George takes off his shoes at the door and always cleans up after himself– and I’m not sure that would be the case with a scaly, drippy guy who had just emerged from the river.  Also, I was disappointed to pick up that he doesn’t actually go by “Fish George”– that’s just what our landlord called him when he was explaining the aquarium to Clay.  The name stuck in our family, though, so hopefully I won’t ever bust it out in front of George.Yes.  I did in fact serve fish to dinner guests Friday night… great big slabs of salmon.  Probably both horrifying and enticing to those crazy little fish in my tank.  And by the way?  I have it on good authority that a local celeb (hint, hint: one of the main characters in Sherlock Holmes…) has fish very similar to ours (the live ones, not the Alaskan salmon).  Fish of the stars, baby!

  5. LOVE IT!!!  Sorry to hear about all the morbid drama that went down in the last couple weeks.  Hopefully no one in your household is too traumatized.  Except the fish of course, there is no escaping the trauma for them!  Seriously loved this post.  Laugh out loud funny.Miss you all – especially Herbie.

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