Mr. Fish, in memoriam

Mr. Fish, the piscine member of our household, died this morning at the age of 19. We are guessing his age. He joined us sometime between 1994 and 1997, the years Bill was in nursing school. That’s as close as we can come.

He was a really old goldfish, and sizeable as well, four inches or so from tip to wavy tail.His orange-

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Junior, subbing for the late Mr. Fish

gold color had almost entirely worn off, and he had been blind for quite some time. A fishy cataract covered one of his eyes. The other eye was diseased; it was tumorous-looking and swollen, probably a xenoma, a lumpy growth caused by a parasite.

Mr. Fish didn’t seem bothered by his tumor or lack of vision; he knew where he was. He hung out in one corner of his aquarium and ate his meals every day. For the past few years we were expecting every morning to find him floating on the water’s surface. This expectation was gradually overtaken by amazement at his longevity. I took to calling him Methusaleh. He reminded me of Granddad, the Australian lungfish at the Shedd Aquarium, whom I was introduced to years ago when writing a story. Granddad came to the Shedd in 1933; it is unclear how old he was when he arrived.

Mr. Fish was the last surviving member of a gang of feeder fish we acquired sometime after we moved to Aurora in 1994. Feeder fish are destined to be consumed by larger fish-eating animals. We liberated a dozen of them to spend their time with us in our vegetarian household instead. Over time, they died, one by one, except Mr. Fish, who swam along, slowly and persistently enlarging himself and his territory.

Old fish don’t do a whole lot less than young fish. Yet Mr. Fish got a new lease on life in November when we brought the new goldfish Junior from the pond on the deck indoors for the winter. We were slightly apprehensive that Junior might be the death of the aged resident fish, but something wonderful happened instead.

They made friends. Mr. Fish swam more. They hung out together in the same corner of the aquarium. Mr. Fish appeared to be teaching Junior the secret of indoor survive-and-thrive. The two could frequently be found side-by-side.

Until this morning. Right now I can see Junior, checking and re-checking their common corner, his tail wriggling. Where’s the old man?

Though James Herriot popularized it, the phrase “all creatures great and small” comes from a poem by the Irish hymn-writer and poet Cecil Frances Alexander. Every being deserves a little notice. Here is your obit, Mr. Fish. Peace be to you.

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