By Jerry Zezima
Camilla Zezima sleeps with the fishes. Those eternal nappers include the first two Camillas and the countless other fish that have been part of our family, if only briefly, over the years.
Camilla III, as she (or he) was dubbed, lasted 12 months and was predeceased by the original Camilla, a female who went belly-up after only 48 hours, and her successor, Camilla II, a male who lived to the ripe old age of 2.
The last two Camillas were gender-fluid because my granddaughters, who talked me into getting the first Camilla, thought they were not only female, but the same fish.
Even I was confused.
After the latest Camilla recently joined his scaly relatives in Davy Jones’s locker, I found out that my granddaughters’ pet fish, a blue betta named Igor, had kicked the water bucket for the sixth or seventh time. My daughter, the girls’ mother, had lost count.
The kiddies apparently didn’t notice the fish’s lifeless body floating in his bowl and were none the wiser after their daddy stopped at the pet store after work, got another Igor and surreptitiously made the switch.
But I couldn’t take that chance after finding Camilla III stone cold dead on the pink pebbles at the bottom of his bowl because my granddaughters were coming over and I didn’t want them to suffer the trauma they had escaped with their own fish.
So I went to the pet store and found a dead (or, rather, live) ringer for the first three Camillas.
“My pink betta fish died this morning and I need an exact duplicate before my granddaughters arrive,” I told Meaghan, the fish department manager.
“People come in all the time with the same problem,” she said. “They’ll say, ‘I need a red fish right away!’ I’ll take them over here, they’ll get one and rush home. One woman had to replace a blue lobster, which is a crayfish, every other week because they kept dying. She had a 2-year-old who would have been upset. She finally got it right.”
I said I was looking for Camilla IV — “I’ve had to number them like the Super Bowl,” I noted — and added that it didn’t matter if the fish was male or female because the girls wouldn’t notice anyway.
“It’s pretty hard to tell,” said Meaghan, who has four tanks at home. “I have about 20 fish overall,” she added.
One of them is a betta named Sushi.
“He’s going on his second birthday,” Meaghan said. “My previous betta was Sashimi, who lived for a year and a half. The average life expectancy is about 2, but they can live to 4.”
“Camilla III was only 1, but he was going gray around the gills,” I said.
“It’s a sign of old age,” Meaghan explained. “He may not have been new when you got him. This one,” she said, referring to Camilla IV, who was swimming around in a little plastic container, “just came in, so he’s young. He should last a while. And your granddaughters won’t know the difference.”
I thanked Meaghan, went to the checkout, paid $9.99 for a double-tail pink male betta and headed home, where my wife, Sue, and I had a solemn toilet-side service for Camilla III.
We tried to play Elton John’s “Funeral for a Friend” on Alexa, but we would have had to pay for it, so we chose “A German Requiem” by Johannes Brahms, said a prayer and flushed Camilla III to kingdom come.
Then I dumped Camilla IV into his predecessor’s bowl, which already had clean water. A little while later, our granddaughters arrived. They fed the fish without giving it a second thought.
“When this one goes,” I told Sue, “we should invite Elton John to the funeral.”
Copyright 2023 by Jerry Zezima