“Mommmmmmmmmmmmmm om” my seven year old doubling as an alarm clock sounded, “the pleco is on the floor.” That’s odd, the pleco is supposed to be in the fish tank.
Sure enough, my little guy was right. Our beloved pleco (full name: plecostomus) lay motionless: belly down, fins stretched out, suckermouth affixed to the wood floor. Plopped on the floor, our pet looked like a corpse on Law & Order — waiting for the crime scene investigation team to draw the chalk around its body.
Visting the 1950’s, I did what any wife would do. I called for my husband, the man responsible for technology, plants, and all things icky. I summoned him to the living room to remove the body. There, as a family, we stood over our stiff pleco examining the remains. What was the cause of the death? It looked like suicide to me. Did I miss the signs of fish depression? Was he being bullied by his tank-mate, the Oscar (a fish known for its aggressiveness)?
This was not a new feeling for me. Fish and their untimely deaths have been a constant theme in my life. I grew up with fish pets (and surprisingly cats) and an interest in fish was the instant splash between my husband and me. On our first date stroll to a restaurant, we took a detour to a fish store. He, too, had a fish tank, and was in the market for a replacement fish.
“I don’t think he’s dead,” my optimistic son surmised.
“Oh, sweetie,” I said like a police officer telling the family member the bad news, “he is not coming back.” My husband nodded in agreement.
My son, however, was not, “I think he is still alive.”
He’ll learn. After all, he comes from a long line of unsuccessful fish owners. Growing up, we had a tank of kissing gouramis. While they sound like pleasant fish, they are known for being bullies and torturers. Like ordering red wine with salmon, my father paired these killer fish with silver dollars, known for their peaceful demeanor.
Ergo, here’s a scene from my childhood:
Yell “Daaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaad, there’s another dead fish for you.”
Bobbing on the bottom of the tank lay a silver dollar with a kiss- shaped hole on its body. No need to call Columbo. We all knew who the killer was.
My seven year old persisted. To disprove his theory, my husband picked up the pleco and threw him in the tank. And, to the adults’ surprise, the pleco made some movements. He was alive!
When I was single, I thought fish would be the perfect pet. After putting a lot of time but apparently not a lot of thought setting up the tank, I invited some friends over to see my six fish. As I was preparing the hor d’ouevres, a friend commented how she liked my five fish. Uh oh. Five? One, two, three, four, five, where’s the sixth fish? I checked the floor. No. And, then, I realized I did not put the cap on the filter tube. Having that clue, it did not take much detective work to find the missing fish. Number six was sucked up into the filter.
The pleco was alive but not swimming well, like a fish out of water in water. Not shocking, since he was kind of stiff having gone through half the rigor mortis process. And, as expected, the pleco did not make it to the afternoon.
To this day, we get a constant “Nah Nah Nah I was right” from our junior fish owner in training. To further put salt in the tank, he memorialized his findings for a homework assignment. (I feared how I would be betrayed and felt lucky that I did not get a call from the principal). So, perhaps, we broke the cycle of fish killers. And, most important, continued the love and fun of being a fish owner.
EPILOGUE Should you decide to buy a fish, make sure you can flush it.