When I was in ten I had the world’s meanest teacher, Mrs. Vanderwilt. I did not make that up; that was her name. She had a face that was wrinkled like a wilted flower and not once in the entire school year did I ever see her crack a smile. However, she had a kind side that emerged in June when she announced that, with our parents’ permission, we could take one of the class guppies home. During some of the dullest lessons, I had stared at the aquarium, which held the guppies, envying their simple life as I struggled through multiplying fractions. I was thrilled that one of these little creatures could become one of my own.
I ran home that day, went up to my room and began to prepare my case by writing down all the reasons why I should have one of these fish as a pet. Then, I volunteered to help with dinner and offered to do the dishes and take out the trash. I was even nice to my little brother. When my family was all settled around the dinner table, I pulled out my list and mounted my attack. This wouldn’t be easy. My mother was adamantly anti-pet, but she was mostly anti-mess-up-the-house-and-eat-your-sofa-pets. Thus, I knew that the fact that this little fish couldn’t sink its teeth into a piece of furniture or poop on the floor was to my advantage. I cited the guppy’s tidy existence as my first reason to have it and then listed all the responsibilities I would have caring for my little friend. I was on reason number four when my mother sighed, “Stop.”
“Yes?” I looked up cautiously from my well-prepared document.
“I’m not touching that tank and those things stink if not cleaned regularly.”
“It would be my fish, so it would be my job,” I looked at her with pleading eyes. “I’ll clean it regularly. I promise.” She looked at my father as if she were hoping he’d object. He didn’t.
“Oh, okay,” she sighed.
That night we prepared. My mother wrote a note to Mrs. Vanderwilt, got out an old Cool Whip container and I punched holes in the lid. Then I remembered that it was a fish and probably didn’t need air like maybe a butterfly would, but I felt better knowing that I was looking out for the welfare of my new charge already. We made a list of the things we would need from the pet store and then I went to bed despite the fact that I was too excited to sleep. I tossed and turned and thought of all the names that would be begin with G. Its name would have to begin with G. It was a guppy after all. Of course I didn't really know it's sex, but made an assumption. After careful consideration I decided on what I thought was a rather unique guppy name, George.
The next day was the last day of school and I skipped home merrily, but carefully, with George in my container. From there my mother took me straight to the pet store where we got a fish bowl, food, rocks for the bottom, a little net and decorations so George would feel at home. I then carefully placed George in his new environment and he swam about to get used to his new quarters. I fed him and he ate voraciously. “Don’t over feed him,” the man at the pet store had warned, “Most fish don’t get full and they can get ill by eating too much.”
The next two weeks went by smoothly. I have to admit that I despised changing the water in George’s fish bowl every four days, but my room smelled horrid if I didn’t. George didn’t like it when I cleaned his tank either. When he saw the net approach his sanctuary, he would try to swim in to a corner to escape it but he never could. Then, he would flop about like mad when lifted from the comfort of his water. On a few occasions he jumped right out of the net and bounced around on the floor until I was eventually able to scoop him back up. Each time, I thought for sure he was a goner. He never was. George was tough.
One morning George surprised me. He had babies. There in the bowl were 17 small, tadpole looking creatures with George, whose name could no longer be George. From then out, I called her Mama Guppy.
There was a reason Mama Guppy had 17 babies, survival. Sadly every morning I was scooping another deceased fry, as baby guppies are technically called, out of the bowl. I was very careful to feed them exactly the right amount of food, but the baby guppies that did not eat quickly enough soon perished. Slowly but surely their numbers diminished. Out of the original seventeen only the three fastest eaters survived and grew. Well actually only two grew. One ate faster than the rest but only his eyes became adult size and seemed to bulge out of his body, which remained almost the same size it had been at birth. He was more like a swimming pair of bulging eyes with a tail than a fish. At first I called him Runt, then Runty, but eventually I gave him a name much more fitting, Mutant Baby Guppy.
Mama Guppy did not live long after the birth of her offspring, so we gave her a proper burial in my mother’s flower garden. I didn’t expect Mutant Baby Guppy to live much longer after his mother went on, but he did. Every morning I would wake up, rush to the bowl to check on my fish and be relieved to count three-well, technically two and a half. Mutant Baby Guppy had to be some type of fish miracle. Despite his small size Mutant Baby Guppy was a fast swimmer and often out ate his siblings, who didn’t dare mess with him probably because they were intimidated by the fishy stare of his humongous eyes. I often wondered if his large eyes gave him some type of guppy super power that allowed him to see every spec of food and plot his strategy for eating. Although I tried to be a perfect mother and love all three fry equally, I had a special place in my heart for Mutant Baby Guppy.
That summer was not the typically hot summer that Michigan usually had and on more than one occasion I was stuck inside because of cold, rainy weather. So, I was happier than usual then when the Larsons came to stay with us. The Larsons were like family and had two boys who were just a year younger than both my brother and me. Scott, who was closer to my age, was just as fascinated as I was with Mutant Baby Guppy. He watched me with envy as I fed my fish and cleaned my tank. One particularly gray, drizzly morning, I was in a rush to leave for my swimming lesson. As I was gathering my things, I realized that I had forgotten to feed my fish. I started back up the stairs to my room, but Scott stopped me. “Don’t worry. I’ll feed them,” he offered.
“Thanks,” I replied and dashed off.
When I returned home after my lesson, my mother greeted me at the door. Just beyond her stood Scott with his head hung down. “Honey,” she said gently, “I’m afraid I have some bad news.” I said nothing and just looked at her puzzled. She sat me down on the stairs and put her arm around me. “Scott was only trying to help, so please don’t be angry at him.” She went on to explain that Scott had fed the fish just a little like he was meant to, but they seemed to be hungry so he fed them a little more and then a little more and so on. My fish with the endless appetites ate and ate and ate, so Scott continued feeding them until he accidentally filled the top of the bowl with half of the contents of the fish food container. He called for my mother, who upon seeing the thick layer of fish food floating on the surface of the water tried to scoop it out. But, it was too late. Much of the food had sunk to the bottom and settled among the green rocks. My fish continued to eat and eat until eventually they rolled over with their bellies pointing at the ceiling and ate no more.
That afternoon we had a special ‘guppy cremation ceremony’. Well it wasn’t exactly a real cremation as there was no fire, only the gushing waters of the toilet as it swept my three fry out to sea. I was sad but I knew they were in guppy heaven with Mama Guppy and their smaller brothers and sisters. They were my very first pets and I shall never ever forget them, especially Mutant Baby Guppy.