Today I spotted one of my fish, Rainbow Sparkle Razzlesplazzle, or whatever impossible-to-remember-name my kids gave her, hiding behind a plant with a guilty look on her face. The moment she saw me, she hurried back to her regular hangout by the heater, leaving me to wonder what mischief she’d been up to.
The last time she acted so strangely it was because she had just given birth to a bunch of live baby fish. Two seconds after that, the only adult male fish in the tank, Taco, died. A month has passed, and as far as I know, Taco is still quite dead, his body flushed far far away. So Rainbow Sparkleplazzle couldn’t be having more babies. The only other adult fish in the tank is female.
Meanwhile, Taco’s fourteen children, the ones Rainbow didn’t manage to swallow whole, dart merrily between plants. They are a constant reminder that I now have way too many fish.
The next time I walk by the tank, something catches my eye. Something small, something that looks like a newborn fish. But that can’t be. It must be a leaf, a fish poop, or maybe my eyes telling me that I need to stop watching late night episodes of Millionaire Matchmaker.
Pressing my nose against the glass, I study the aquarium floor. One, two, three, four, five, six, eight, ten, twelve itty bitty brand new fish staring up at me.
The aquarium store’s fish-whispering misanthrope explains it over the phone. “Female Wag Platys can conserve sperm for up to a month, allowing them to birth two batches of babies from only one mating.”
Now she tells me.
Taco, you virile old dog, you. If you weren’t already flushed down the toilet, we’d be having a serious talk.
Of course I tell the kids. And for a few minutes they even feign interest in watching Rainbow Sparkplug chase her new babies. But my kids know better than ask questions about the fish. No more, “why do the mommy fish eat their babies?” Instead my four year old squeezes my hand and tells me she appreciates that I didn’t eat her when she was a baby.
My seven year old begins to ask how the mommy fish had more babies without a daddy fish. But she doesn’t finish her question. There’s a reason she doesn’t. It’s because she’s not ready for the full truth. It’s like when I mistakenly blurted out that Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer was make-believe, causing her face to fall. For a moment she was silent. Then she frowned. “You don’t know that for sure, Mommy! How could you? You haven’t waited on the roof all night on Christmas eve looking for reindeer, so you couldn’t know for sure.”
In the meantime, the mommy fish keeps chasing her new babies around the tank. Watching this spectacle, I feel a renewed sense of gratitude: gratitude that I haven’t yet had to explain the birds, the bees, sperm conservation, and why I’ve been lying all these years about Santa to my children.
It’s been over a month since we first brought our three fish home and the novelty of having a pet (or in our case, 25+ of them) is long over. My kids have moved on. They are thinking about more important things, like summer vacation and how to dismantle the living room in less than 30 seconds. I am alone in caring for, or even remembering that we have fish. And as I open the aquarium lid to sprinkle some food into the water, Rainbow Frizzsplat corners a newborn and opens her mouth.
I should have bought a damn puppy.