We had just moved into the area, so I didn’t have many friends at school. Now the thing about country schools, especially when they’re small, is that everyone knows everyone else; or they’re kin to everyone else.
Well, not having been there, like, since forever, and not being kin to anyone, it made it difficult sometimes, especially in places like gym class. You see, I was a major bookworm. So when it came time to pick teams, I was left till last. One day I actually overheard the team captions arguing:
“You take her.”
“No! I had her last time, you get her.”
That was the day I met Beth. She came over and gave me a hug and said, “Don’t worry about it.” She then persuaded her team captain to take me on. Now that was something, because Beth was a “somebody.” Why, she was on the auxiliary cheer leading squad, as a back-up, in case one of the regulars was out sick. But nobody ever got sick enough to miss a game. So maybe she understood what it was like, always being on the outside.
Beth invited me over to her house, and that was when I saw the fish tank. The fish had these beautiful, long, fancy tails. In fact, that is what they were called: Fancy Tails! It didn’t take long before Beth and her mom were scooping some out and putting them in a jar for me to take home.
I took the jar home, and showed it to my dad. He was as entranced as I was. We spent the evening watching them swim in circles in that jar.
The next morning we went to a fish store. We were just planning to get a bowl to put the fish in. But my dad didn’t know when enough was enough. He was an “all or nothing” kind of guy. When we arrived home, we carried in a 50 gal tank, six different colors of gravel, and all the other equipment that salesman said we needed, plus a few bags of fish. Beautiful fish! Neon tetras, bright as jewels, an Angelfish, a couple of red-tailed sharks, and something that was even more beautiful than my Fancy Tails: A Siamese Beta Fighting Fish. We would have bought several of the Beta’s, but the salesman said only one to a tank.
Dad never bothered to ask why.
We got home and spent the rest of the day setting up the tank, arranging the colored gravel just right, putting in plants, setting up air hoses, and getting the ph of the water just right.
Then we started adding the fish. Acclimating fish to a new tank is a slow job. We did it one bag at a time. Finally we came to dad’s favorite, the Beta. The sharks had immediately started chasing the Angelfish around until it finally found refuge in the plants. But when we added the Beta he immediately took over the whole tank, and even the two sharks stayed at bay. My Fancy Tails seem to be enjoying their new home, but I was disappointed, because they didn’t want to leave the corner with the plants.
Those fish sure were something, all those pretty colors. The neon’s weren’t afraid of anything; they darted around the tank so fast all you saw was the blur of their bright jewel colors.
The next morning, when I came into the dining room, dad stopped me at the door. “Honey, I’m afraid we have a bit of a problem.” He was holding a bowl of dead, half-eaten Fancy Tails that he had scooped out of the tank.
It seems that the reason you only put one Beta in a tank is because they won’t share the space with anything they view as rivals; and the Fancy Tails were rivals, with their long flowing tails, almost as beautiful as the Beta’s. It had hunted them all down during the night and killed every one of them.
We went back to the fish store. The Beta got a new, small, bowl of it’s own, and I got a bag of new Fancy Tails. They sure were pretty, and they were enjoying the freedom of the large tank. Dad never said a word about the Beta, we just sat, together, and watched the fish swimming, entranced by the flashing colors.
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