Beta Test

This summer, I’m in charge of Emily’s fish. He’s a cobalt blue Beta named Stitch, and he lives in a large glass bowl on our living room mantel, our little guest while Em’s away at an internship for her master’s degree program.

So far, I’ve succeeding in keeping him alive. This is remarkable, because when our girls were in grade school and went through a phase of having Betas (notice the plural), at least three of them died in fairly rapid succession.

This may have been due to the fact that we kept the fish bowl on top of the shelving that held our TV, and the water could have overheated. Or, more likely, it may have been due to the fact that I tried to clean the bowl and change the water every so often and probably shocked the poor fish to death.

This time, all I have to do is give Stitch two pellets of food every morning and add a little distilled water to his tank when the level drops by about an inch. Easy enough.

It took me a few tries to figure out how best to give him the pellets. They are very tiny, and I can’t grasp them with my fingers. So I scoop them out of their bag with a plastic spoon. Then I drop them into the water, being very careful not to drop the spoon in the water, too. That would not go over well.

For Stitch, this is the highlight of his day. As soon as I walk over to his tank and say hello (yes, I do talk to him), he swims over and jiggles around, fluttering his translucent blue flippers in what I can only describe as great fishy excitement. He doesn’t always find the pellets right away, so I tap the bowl in the right direction to give him a hint. Then he gulps them down. And swims back to see if I’m going to give him any more.

At this point, I say good bye and walk away, so as not to raise his expectations that there’s more food to come.

Really, it’s amazing how much you can commune with a fish.

I wonder what he’s thinking in his little Beta brain. Clearly, he’s learned how to recognize me, even if he doesn’t have a clue who or what I am, other than his source of food. I wonder if he hears the music on the stereo or the radio. Or our voices when Al and I are talking.

Mostly, he just floats gracefully around in his bowl, up and down, around and around. Sometimes he sleeps. Sometimes he zig zags. Sometimes he flutters. He seems content. Nothing to do, but just be.

I almost forgot to feed him one day last week—trying to do too much in too little time, juggling a lot of projects and family events and other responsibilities. I’m traveling on business again later this week, and I’ve been pushing to finish one thing and another before I go away overnight.

I’ll be sure to say goodbye to our grandfish before I leave (Al’s in charge while I’m away). And try to remember, in the midst of all my busyness, what Stitch does so well—just be.

Evelyn Herwitz blogs weekly about living fully with chronic disease, the inside of baseballs, turtles and frogs, J.S. Bach, the meaning of life and whatever else she happens to be thinking about at

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