I’m not sure how many of you have met my girlfriend, but this is a shining representation of who she is as a person.
Last Christmas, Tina got me a surprise present.
Only it wasn’t a surprise, she informed me two weeks prior, because it needed “prep time”.
In her usual excitable way, she explained she was apprehensive about giving me this gift, as she had shared her plans with friends and colleagues and received a decidedly mixed response.
She could not keep the gift at her apartment, nor at mine, she told me, because I would notice it.
Nearing something resembling exasperation after this tremendous run-up, I had to ask her.
“Tina, what did you get me?”
“I know how hard you’ve been working lately,” she said, her eyes sparkling in that excitable way.
“So, I thought…I thought I’d get you a little companion to keep you company while you write.”
And that’s how I became a Fish Dad.
It was easy to choose Fenton from the stacks of fighting fish in their tiny wet prisons at the aquarium shop. Easy because he was clearly trying to attack me through the glass, despite being roughly the size of my eyebrow. We take him home, trying our best to keep the water in his bag from sloshing as we went around the corners like in Initial D, although to be honest he seemed more concerned with trying to eat my face off through the plastic. Then we placed him in his lil fishy tank, adorned with heater, filter, a lantern, and a leaf hammock. I’ve honestly stayed in worse apartments.
Now, this is the first living creature that Tina and I have purchased together, and despite being a $16 Betta fish, we’ve come to love him and his ridiculous jazz fins.
Which is probably why we decided we’d get him a friend.
Turns out, you can buy aquarium snails. They’ll eat up all the gunk, and they’re so incredibly uninteresting, they’re one of the few creatures a fighting fish will not immediately assault. Yeah, they have trouble making friends.
So we went back to the aquarium shop, now on first-name basis with the owner, and purchased Sal, the aquarium snail, as well as a natural plant and some fish treats (they like bloodworms, a steal at $22 for several million).
We brought Sal home, and as expected, Fenton took exactly zero notice of him. This continued for several weeks, the 90s-esque adventures of two roommates with absolutely nothing in common.
Then one day, I walked in and noticed the tank was filled with an alarming number of tiny black dots. Upon closer inspection, I realised they were baby snails.
Pest snails release nitrate and ammonia, which is incredibly toxic to fish in large enough doses. Fenton developed a white rash on his head, and the tank went a disconcerting shade of green.
After eyeing them suspiciously for some time, and deciding that if it was, in fact, interspecies love, they were doing a damn good job of hiding it, I realised Sal had to go – immaculate conception notwithstanding.
Tina, bless her, couldn’t stand to send the poor snail to Valhalla, and so decided she would adopt him herself.
Meanwhile, I marched back into the aquarium store and confronted the owner.
“You sold me a pregnant snail,” I said.
“Who are you?” he asked.
“It’s me, Ben. Fish dad. You sold me a pregnant snail, and now my son has a rash,” I said.
“Hey, buddy, snails don’t just get pregnant. You only bought one, right?”
“Yes, and I want my $2.50 back,” I said.
“No, you’re not listening. We screen every single one we sell. If you have a pest problem, it wasn’t from my snail.”
It had to be. I hadn’t bought anything else. I racked my brain, trying to think.
Oh, shit. The plant. The eggs were on the plant.
Sal didn’t make it.
Whether the heatwave, the change in environment, or just because he missed the roommate he clearly loved but never spoke to, he passed away in Tina’s apartment. I suspect, actually, the baby snails got to him too, solidified by the fact that about four fell out of his shell when I went to move him.
Fenton was on an antibiotic for his rash, which was slowly subsiding. The tank was clean and the levels were good. However, he wasn’t eating.
He also had a deeply concerning penchant for sleeping on his side, on the floor of the tank. I’m no expert but I don’t think fish should do that.
I read online that the best remedy for fighting fish indisposition is to source foods from their natural diet. Our resident aquarium shop owner told us to “head down to ya local swamp with a cup.”
The guy is a bit weird if I’m honest.
Anyway, we scoured the countryside and managed to find frozen daphnia, but nothing seemed to be working.
Determined to keep this stupid red idiot alive, we packed him into his car seat (a Tupperware container) and took him to the vet.
Yes, the fucking vet.
After being laughed at by approximately every single person at the vet with their real pets, the fish doctor saw Fenton.
She informed us we had a very sick little fishy, and the outlook was not so good. She gave us some great advice, and in a last-ditch effort, an antibiotic that we had to administer with a freaking hypodermic needle. I’m serious.
We also got slapped with a $200 vet bill. For our $16 fish. But can you put a price on love? (Yes)
For the next week, once a day, we took Fenton out of his tank, and into a bath of fresh water mixed with antibiotics. We even cut a piece of wood to elevate his digs and keep it cool.
And the resilient little bastard seemingly made a recovery.
Today, Fenton swims around lopsidedly, occasionally doing his best impression of a corpse just to keep us on our toes.
He’s not quite completely recovered – he seems a lot greyer, and his little gills have burned from all the ammonia released by the demon snails.
But he still likes to wave hello.
edit (26th March, 2020): Fenton died. We held a vigil.