Pig, our family goldfish, died recently at the age of three years. He was purchased with low expectations, having cost only 25 cents. Nevertheless, he was an ambitious soul for a feeder fish. He surpassed our initial hopes of surviving a couple of weeks, and then grew from a miniscule one inch to a leviathan eight and a quarter inches (post mortem measurement). This caused me to spend a great deal more money than I’d planned, upgrading from the simple goldfish bowl in which he arrived to a tank that could accommodate such a behemoth.
Pig was a good fish—he never drooled or pooped on me (which is more than I can say for other members of my household, both human and non-human) and he was considerate enough not to eat the tank mates who later moved in. Unconditionally, he would express excitement when I came home or walked past his tank. Probably because he wanted to be fed. Still, he was always appreciative about being fed, and never complained about my cooking.
His only vice was occasionally stealing food from the plecostomus, but that was forgivable because he was terribly hungry and very large, and again, he was kind enough not to eat anyone. Plus, no harm done in snatching food from the plecostomus because, to be frank, the plecostomus has the personality of a doorknob. Bottom feeder.
Pig is survived by the aforementioned plecostomus, two tetras, and a small community of sea monkeys (who, as a colony, have more personality than the plecostomus).
In my grief, I made the mistake of visiting a pet store, eleven-year-old twin sons in tow. As I considered the possible candidates, I noted that none of them said hello or even waved a little fin in my direction. I miss Pig’s way of asking for food (communicated via a silent but determined flick of the tail and the mouthing of the words, FEED ME). I used to lower my hand to the water and hold out a pellet, and he would swim right up and gently take it from my fingers, pumping his gills in a show of gratitude. Could any of these other fish do that? Scrutinizing the grotesque, mutated pop-eyed goldfish, wobbling back and forth in a struggle to simply stay upright, I doubted it.
I was about to settle for a few more tetras and a black and white spotted shubunkin when my boys spotted the fish of their dreams: a red-bellied piranha. Zipping around his tank, he definitely had more personality than the plecostomus. Feeding him by hand, however, seemed ill-advised. After much pleading from the boys, much gnashing of teeth from the piranha, and much forking over of cash to the shopkeeper ($5 for the fish and $37 for a tank heater, two containers of tropical fish food, and four feeder goldfish who, in my defense, did not at all resemble Pig), I found myself holding a leaky plastic bag. Double bagged, since the little beast had bitten a hole in the first one, and was steadily working his way through the second.
We got everyone more or less happily settled at home: the piranha in the large tank; the feeder fish, tetras, and plecostomus in a smaller tank next to the jar of sea monkeys; and two boys with their faces glued to the glass of the piranha’s aquarium, brainstorming names for their new friend. They finally decided on Gladiator—Glad, for short—because he is a vicious fighter. Like Pig, the piranha does show appreciation for being fed (even if he seems a bit overzealous).
We were curious to know why Pig died. He wasn’t sick—he was swimming well and eating regularly (that is to say, often and with vigor). To determine the cause of death, we decided to conduct a do-it-yourself necropsy. For the sake of education, quality family time, and to put my mind at ease. It was a perfectly normal thing people do every day, somewhere on the planet, I’m sure.
After googling information on fish anatomy, we gathered around the kitchen table, donned sandwich baggies as gloves and headlamps for light, and got to work. Yes, it smelled. The sight of fish entrails on a sterile white dinner plate was no picnic either. But, after a number of incisions and trips outside for fresh air, we were able to rule out parasites or dropsy and conclude that the culprit was old age. The boys learned that science is fun and educational, and promised not to become homicidal maniacs when they grow up.
As for Pig, who was far too large to flush and send to the great fishbowl in the sky, we considered feeding his remains to the piranha, but that was a little too much circle of life for one day. (Translation: he was so huge, I worried the piranha would choke and I’d be out five dollars.) Instead, he was laid to rest under a tree with swaying branches, where he could nourish its roots and sleep peacefully for eternity, dreaming of an endless line of hands offering his favorite snack.