I was fortunate enough one summer to have a neighbor available to mind my kids while I was at work. My daughters were in first and third grade at the time. They and my neighbor’s children had free access to both my home and theirs during the day.
As I walked through the door one evening after work, I heard urgent voices upstairs. “I’m home!” I called, and all four girls ran frantically down the stairs to meet me. They all spoke at once and grabbed my arms to drag me up the stairs.
“Mom! Moonbeam’s hurt!”
“He’s all bloody!”
“Mom! You gotta save him!”
“He’s stuck! He can’t breathe!”
My mind scrambled to recall who in the world “Moonbeam” was, but as I was pulled into Stacy’s room, I put two and two together and remembered. Moonbeam was our pet fish. I quickly recovered from my guilty feelings at having forgotten the identity of a beloved pet – after all, how often does someone call their fish by name?
“I’m sure he’s gonna be OK girls, don’t worry.” The consoling words automatically flowed from my mouth, before I’d even assessed the situation.
We have had plenty of “pet emergencies” in this family, and I was quietly relieved that this trauma concerned a fish, rather than something more cute and furry. Nevertheless, in the minds of my kids, this was a full-fledged catastrophe!
As I peered into the tank, I saw that poor Moonbeam did look bruised and a bit bloody, and he was indeed wedged behind a rock. Puzzled at how he got into this predicament, I reached in and moved the rock to free him. He quickly swam away from my hand. “Just a couple of scratches,” I reassured my frightened onlookers.
But as we watched, we learned that the rock hadn’t been the culprit at all, but rather had been Moonbeam’s protection. Once our fishy friend was free, we witnessed for ourselves that there was a bully in town – another fish in the tank was picking on poor Moonbeam! Soon the battered victim had managed to wedge himself behind the rock again where he was safe from the bully fish.
That bully fish was named “Silver”…because he was silver. My youngest, Stacy, had a knack for naming pets. She also had a knack for winning carnival games, which is how we had acquired this newcomer. It seems that this bully had been throwing his weight around and flexing his fish muscles for a few days - ever since he was added to our tank.
“Looks like we’re gonna have to do something with Silver.” I said with finality to my audience of distraught faces.
Four gasps met my proclamation, then one adamant voice spoke up.
“No Mommy!” The voice belonged to Stacy, the child that wants two of everything at the pet store. My daughter is a pet-magnet, who actually keeps pet crickets in a cage, and has unflinching loyalty to her dog, her cat, her bugs, and her fish alike. “What are you going to do with him?” She demanded.
I knew this was coming. It was going to be a long night. We agonized over the state of poor Moonbeam. We deliberated over the fate of the guilty Silver. It was tough on all of us.
The next morning I dressed for work and picked up the mayonnaise jar that had become Silver’s temporary residence. Together we went into Stacy’s room to say goodbye.
“Bye Silver.” She said, hugging the jar (no kidding). “Hope you like your new home!”
Silver and I took a detour on the way to work, to a pond where I set him free. Free to what end? I don’t know – that question still plagues me. Although I would never admit this to Stacy, it’s likely that poor Silver became somebody’s breakfast that very morning. It’s also quite possible that my misguided attempt at compassion has forever destroyed the ecology of that pond. Perhaps the balance of nature was so upset by the introduction of Silver, that he has become the ultimate bully and devoured every other living thing there.
I’ll never know about that. But I do know that peace was restored to our fish tank that day, where a bruised and battered Moonbeam knew enough to find shelter in the Rock in a time of trouble.