by Natalie Robin
This morning I woke up and all I could think about was Mortimer. Mortimer was my sweet, little veil tail Betta fish that lived with me for about eight months of my life. When I named him Mortimer, I didn’t register that in French it means dead sea, which was so perfect considering he’s a fish, though I hoped he would not reconcile with the dead part. When I bought him it was the peak of summer, and I walked him a mile home from the pet store, thinking surely he’d die along the way, but he didn’t. Whenever I went away for the weekend I put him in a jar and stuck him in the center console of my car, justifying to myself that maybe the bumps in the car mimicked the tendencies of the ocean and so he surely wouldn’t die, and he didn’t. I had daydreams of making a documentary called “Me and Mort” where I’d travel across the country with him in his jar and see what kind of people we met, but I thought surely he would die and I never tried that idea to find out. He did once go flying out onto the carpet of my car when I had to stop short, and like a panicked, instinctive mom I grabbed his wiggling body with my bare hand and threw him back in the inch of water left as fast as I could. I was sure he would die, but he didn’t. I was a diligent fish parent. I treated water for days before ever changing it, constantly reminding myself “his stomach is the size of one eye” so I wouldn’t over feed him. When he looked bloated, I read fish forums and saw that if you feed a fish a shelled pea, it’s like a fish detox. Obviously after reading this, I bought a bag of frozen peas and had to lure him up to the surface to eat one because the peas are too heavy to float in the water. The first time he got sick I walked back to the same pet store I got him at, desperately prodding the minimum wage making sales associate with questions about his symptoms and making her ask her manager for answers. He got better.
Everyday when I came home and walked up to the bowl, Mortimer would swim enthusiastically up to my face peering at him. It was probably only because I am the face that gave him food, but if that is the extent of a fish’s capacity for love, Mortimer loved me like nothing and no one else.
Towards the end of the time Mortimer was with me, I ended up having to move back home to my parents house. I’m not sure if it was my cats constantly drinking out of his bowl and my having to swat them away or if the hardened, suburban water didn’t agree with Mortimer’s delicate belly, but he got very sick. I did everything I could; peas and water treatments and pet store remedies, but Mortimer stopped eating and stopped swimming. His deep, beautiful reddish blue started to pale, and when I would walk up to the bowl, he just floated there looking at me. I had never seen anything like when he died. He circled the bowl at light speed three times in a row, went up for one last breath of air and was gone. It looked like he was getting electrocuted and I was screaming. I made my mom get rid of him. I actually don’t have a problem with goodbyes, but it’s been a year and a half and this morning I woke up thinking of Mortimer. I woke up thinking that life matters even if it’s small. I woke up thinking that I love everything and it gets me into trouble. I woke up thinking.