On Ainsley's desk sits a little picture she drew of a big goldfish swimming in bright blue water, with the sun's yellow rays shining down on her.
At the top Ains has written, "In Memory Of Ila, Queen Of The See." Her goldfish died this weekend after a mercifully short battle with dropsy, which made her swell up for two days and caused her scales to stick out like the ridges of pinecones. It's a disease caused, so far as I can tell, by poor water quality. So despite the fact that it was only a $1.99 goldfish, and despite scheduled water changes and gravel-vacuuming, I feel sad and guilty that we could only keep our "fancy" goldfish alive for two years.
Ainsley, being seven, bounces back and forth between being sad and saying, "I really miss Ila," to asking excitably what our next pet is going to be. She misses the little (well, not so little at the time of death) golden wonder who bounced back from the brink of death twice before and who swam with such energy that it wasn't unusual for me to hear her gravel rattle against the walls of the aquarium in the middle of the night from the next bedroom. We can't have a dog or cat or hamster or guinea pig because of the asthma and allergies, so she's asking for an Ila replacement from various aquatic and semi-aquatic worlds: a hermit crab, dwarf frogs, snails, even chameleons.
And though I love animals, Ila was more work than I would have thought a fish to be, and against my better judgement I got attached to the stupid little thing, and I've really had it up to here with sickness and death, and I kinda want to put down the "No more pets, ever" stamp and be done with it.
But there's an empty aquarium in my kid's room, cycling through to hopefully get all the bad mojo out, waiting for our next victim. I mean, pet.
What's a parent to do? The ideal Ila replacement would require minimal tank maintenance, not have to be fed while we're on vacation, be pretty to look at, and live a long life. The last I checked, no super-fish meets this bill. Am I a bad person if I just throw some aquatic plants and fake ceramic fish in there and call it a glorified night light and be done with it? Maybe put a pet rock in there?
If any of you are experienced fish keepers and have a brilliant suggestion, I'm up for it. Otherwise, Ainsley is just going to have a vegetarian fish tank.