I have had fish for two years – the same fish. I love these fish or at least I thought I did. The other day as I was getting food for Sam, I was distracted by the sound of water running. I turned around and jumped in surprise, which quickly turned to panic. I forgot I had fish.
It’s not the first time I have forgotten about a pet. A few years ago, Lana asked me to catsit for her while she was on a business trip. She had a rescue cat who hated everyone except me. The cat loved to sit on my lap and lick me. She had trained him to use the bathroom in the toilet so all I had to do was go to her place, flush the toilet and give him food twice a day. She was going to be gone for five days.
On the fourth day, I called my friend Grant.
“Hey Grant. How’s it going?”
“Good, what’s up Elyse? You sound weird.”
He sensed my nerves as I stood outside my sister’s apartment for the first time in four days. I shook head to toe terrified of the scene I was going to find when I opened the door. I imagined the cat lying in his own urine emaciated with a single tear rolling down his face. He would take one last look at me and whisper in meows, “you did this to me,” before taking his final breath.
What would I do with his body? What would I tell Lana? I started to hyperventilate.
“Ummm. Uh. You might think this is a weird question but can cats survive without eating for four days?”
“What? What are you talking about?” I started crying.
“Grant, I don’t want to go in alone. I’m scared. I murdered Lana’s cat. I need you to come in with me.”
“Elyse, what did you do?” He started to laugh. “You’re ridiculous.”
“I’m catsitting. Well…I forgot I was catsitting. And now, I think he’s dead. I feel so guilty. Do you think he’s dead?”
Grant showed up at Lana’s apartment fifteen minutes later. I was sitting on the stoop rocking back and forth like a crazy person. I looked at him and gave him a weary smile.
“Are you ready?”
We opened the door together. Immediately, the cat ran to me. He was alive – and angry. Wow, was he angry. He wasn’t whispering any sweet meows upon my arrival. He was verbally abusing me followed by biting my foot. I deserved it.
When I bought my fish, I was living by myself. It seemed like the perfect pet for my track record. Plus, I didn’t want to be known on the block as the cat lady wench. During the first few months, I was the model fish owner. I fed them daily and cleaned their tank regularly. As time went on, life got in the way and I wasn’t at home as much. I had a rendezvous with a boy in Cleveland. I visited Lana in Canada. I went home to visit my brother and parents. I was gone a lot. And that is how I learned my fish were cannibals.
I started with five fish. When I knew I would be gone for an extended period of time, I would sit down with them for a giant Thanksgiving meal. I thought I was preparing them for the impending fast but it never worked. I always came home to one less fish until there were two left – Roy and Larry.
When I moved in with Tom, we tucked my fish tank into the corner of a room we never use. It’s technically the dining room but we don’t have enough furniture to fill it yet. So there my tank sits on the tv stand I alley dived a few years ago. It’s the only piece of furniture we have that can hold a seven gallon tank.
Since I never go in the dining room, it was out of sight out of mind for Roy and Larry until the infamous day I was reminded of their presence. I felt terrible. I sat with them for an extra large Thanksgiving meal. I was disappointed in myself. I sat by their tank for ten minutes watching them eat and swim around. I also did a lot of thinking.
I thought about Lana’s cat and his haunting meows. I thought about my love for Roy and Larry. And finally, I thought about my future children. I fear for their lives.