By Jerry Zezima
Something fishy is going on in my house. And it’s a matter of life and death.
That’s because Camilla, the latest in our endless series of pet fish, tragically went belly-up, something these little creatures tend to do with dismaying frequency. Mayflies are like Methuselah compared to some of the fish we have had.
The demise of Camilla meant I had to get a replacement in time for a visit by my granddaughters Chloe and Lilly, who fully expected to greet their fine finny friend and sprinkle food flakes in its bowl, which they couldn’t very well do if the fish, after a solemn toilet-side service, had already been flushed to kingdom come.
There are two things you should know about Camilla:
(a) She wasn’t the first Camilla.
(b) She was a he.
Chloe and Lilly have their own fish, Igor, who, unbeknownst to the girls, isn’t the first Igor. In fact, he’s Igor III. And he’s a blue betta fish. We are relatively sure he’s a he.
The first Camilla, officially numbered Camilla I, was a pink betta fish purchased in accordance with the fondest wishes of Chloe and Lilly, who accompanied my wife, Sue, and me to the pet store. We know she was a girl because it said so on the little plastic container that served as her pet-store home.
Regrettably, and also unbeknownst to the girls, Camilla I lasted only 48 hours.
In advance of their next visit, we got Camilla II, a pink betta fish that turned out to be a boy because, of course, he told us. No, seriously, it said so on the little plastic container that served as his pet-store home.
Chloe and Lilly, who fed the fish whenever they came over, never noticed the difference.
Camilla II, who in a heartwarming display of male bonding became my tiny pal, lived to the ripe old age of 2. Devastated, I got rid of him before he became any riper.
Fast-forward to the girls’ impending recent visit. Their mommy, Lauren, who also happens to be our younger daughter, said in a phone conversation that Chloe, 9, and Lilly, 5, were looking forward to seeing Camilla.
“You’d better go to the pet store to get another fish,” Sue told me.
So I did.
“I’m looking for Camilla III,” I said to a nice but slightly bewildered employee named Jackie.
“There’s no one here by that name,” she said.
“Oh, yes, there is,” I replied confidently.
After I explained the circumstances, making a long story even longer, Jackie directed me to the fish department, where I immediately beheld a betta that bore an uncanny (because these fish don’t come in cans) resemblance to the first two Camillas, although this one was a deeper pink.
“I’ll take her,” I said.
“Him,” Jackie corrected, pointing to the label on the little plastic container indicating the sex of my new BFF (best fish friend).
I also bought a bag of pink pebbles and some fish food. Total cost: $29.
I carried the whole kit and caboodle to the car but realized I left my sunglasses in the store, so I took Camilla back inside with me because I didn’t want to leave him in the broiling sun and have an inadvertent fish fry.
“What’s the matter?” Jackie asked.
“The fish died,” I said with a straight face.
“Already?!” she shrieked.
“No,” I said with a smile. “I just forgot my sunglasses.”
“Don’t scare me like that!” Jackie said.
I drove Camilla home and set him up in his new digs, a one-gallon bowl formerly occupied by his predecessor.
When Chloe and Lilly came over, they greeted Camilla with skepticism.
“She looks kind of red,” said Lilly, who is very observant but still couldn’t tell the gender difference.
“Uh,” I stammered, trying to think quickly, “that’s because some fish get darker as they get older.”
“Not like you, Poppie,” Chloe pointed out, referring to my hair.
After the girls sprinkled some food in Camilla’s bowl, Lilly said, “Now she can take a nap.”
I looked at Sue and whispered, “It’s only a matter of time before Camilla sleeps with all our other fishes.”
Copyright 2022 by Jerry Zezima