I've always been a fish person. Maybe it's a Pisces thing. There's always been an aquarium in my house somewhere.
Angel fish are my favorite. Finicky and violent, but beautiful with their long, flowing fins. I've also done stints with gouramis, tetras of various sorts, and black moors along, with a lot of little fish to round out the tank. Most recently, before the move a year ago, I'd purchased two dime-sized angel fish, one black and one white, and watched as they grew. Unfortunately, they hated one another and only one survived the move to the new house, being in the middle of an arctic freaking winter. Several other smaller fish were also casualties.
With only four surviving fish in my twenty gallon tank, I began to contemplate shutting it down. As much as I do enjoy watching the fish, it's work to keep the tank up with scrubbing the outbreaks of hard red algae, medicating sick fish, trimming of plants, keeping the water level up, and the vacuuming of poo. And well, I've been doing it for a very long time. Maybe it was time to put the tank to rest. What would it be like to sit on the couch and not hear the constant drone of the air pump?
As if it was a sign, the eight inch long pleco that I'd had since it was just a little guy, turned belly up. Green algae overtook the red within a week and the tank really started to look nasty. But it sits right by my dining room table, and I don't like looking at nasty when I eat. So I scrubbed it. The algae returned within a week.
The angel fish died, well, no, to be honest, it was stupid. One of the other remaining small fish had also died, and the angel fish thought it looked like a great meal. Except it was a little too big. So here's my beautiful black angel fish swimming around with half of a dead fish stuck hanging out of it's mouth. I gave it a few hours, but it didn't manage to solve the situation on its own. Again, not what I want to see when I'm eating.
So, taking a deep breath, I reached in and removed the dead fish from the other fish's mouth. Mmmm tasty. But it was a wasted effort. I don't know how long the angel fish had been stuck with it's mouth full before I'd spotted the problem, but the angel fish turned up dead the next day.
Yep, that means one lonely tetra in a twenty gallon tank. To shut it down or clean it up and make a run to the pet store? I debated for a few days. The answer came when my daughter announced she had to go to the pet store to get food for her cockatiel. Well crap, now I'm there anyway. And they had fish on sale.
With ten bucks worth of fish in hand, including a new pleco to deal with the algae, I followed the fish retrieving employee to the counter where he bagged our carefully chosen purchases. There, already sitting on the counter, propped up against a container of rubber bands, was a single guppy in bag.
"What's the story with that fish?" I asked.
"Some lady brought it back. Said it kept having babies."
I peered at the slim guppy through the bag. "They do that. I've had several of them over the years. I even have a baby fish box from when I had that same issue. Never had much luck with the babies though. The other fish always managed to eat them."
"Take this." He handed me the bagged guppy along with the other fish. "It's free."
Happy with a free fish, my daughter and I made our way out into the frigid winter air, and introduced our new fish to their home.
I spent the next few days policing the tank, making sure everyone was behaving and, more importantly still alive. They all seemed to be doing fine. The pleco was doing its job. The gourami and the long-surviving tetra weren't picking on anyone, and the guppy and four long fin zebra danios were fun to watch while we ate. Ah, tank life was good.
Then, as is the way of fish, once the seven day replacement guarantee was up, they started dying. I swear they know when the seven days are up.
"No, Phil, you have to wait to die until tomorrow. Then she can't replace you. No one can replace you, Phil! Just hold on one more day. You can do it!"
One by one, they all died. Except for the guppy. And the tetra. With a whole two fish left and certain this was a sign that I should have just closed the stupid tank down and saved the ten bucks, I decided to still feed them, but otherwise let nature take its course.
Green algae ran rampant. Without me trimming them back, the live plants grew long enough to gather on top of the water and block most of the light from above. In that dark and murky tank, the guppy and the tetra made some sort of fish pact to never die.
Bleary eyed and not really caring anymore, I opened the tank one morning to feed them. What the hell was moving around in the plants? I turned on the aquarium light, not that it helped much. They were everywhere. Baby guppies.
Eyeballs and a tail. I counted about twenty of them. They were in the rocks at the bottom, in the plants at the top, and the silver specks of their tiny stomachs glinting in the murk in between.
Contrary to every other time I've had an explosion of guppies in my tank, the tetra and the mother guppy didn't view this development as a glorious feast. They went about their business of not dying and discerning if the thing in their mouth was poo or food as if nothing had changed.
According to my count, two weeks later, not a single baby guppy has perished. They're all thriving in the filthy tank that I can't clean for fear of sucking up half the babies.
This may be the last round of fish, or maybe it won't if the guppy and the tetra continue their pact. I may never know the silence that is the absence of the air pump. But for now, I'll enjoy peering through the overgrown plants and the green haze to watch the tiny guppies grow in the freedom of the whole tank, where as long as they avoid looking like poo, they'll be left alone to live.