“It just happens to fish,” Mom says, one hand on my shoulder and the other on the tv remote. She flips from the nightly As The World Turns rerun to an episode of CSI. “We’re lucky he lasted as long as he did.”
“But he’s only a year old.” I look down at Mr. Andy. He fits perfectly in Oliver’s tiny shoe box, comfortable on a bed of Easter grass. I cradle the box in the crook of my arm, rocking him gently as if he were a newborn who will eventually walk and talk, eat spaghetti, maybe even be in Mrs. Kelly’s class. “One’s young; he’s just a kid.”
“One’s old for a goldfish” Mom removes her hand from my shoulder and takes a sip of diet coke. She keeps a Shaolin death grip on the remote, “he was elderly.”
I want to tell her that Mr. Andy was a beta fish, not a goldfish and that he prefers tropical climates and thrives in low oxygen water. Dad and I picked him out for just those special reasons. That and because of the white spot on his back, which made him unique, made him stand out from the hundreds of other beta fish in the Wal-Mart aquarium. I want to tell her that we were going to name him Elvis, but Mr. Andy seemed so right, so perfect for him.
“Can we bury him tomorrow?” I ask.
Mom sighs, and I know what she’s thinking. Only warm-blooded, hairy things deserve burials; Morgan’s hamster, Mr. Skittles, who Dad stepped on; Grandpa Joe’s Labrador, Sammy; old people and kids with cancer. She wants to flush him, I just know it. “Please.” I give her my puppy dog eyes.
“We’ll bury him tonight when Dad gets home.” She stands and goes to the kitchen. I hear her pop open another diet coke. They’re what she calls her ‘secret weapons’ and they must be working because she’s lost ten pounds so far. You can tell along her cheeks and around her middle. She’s even put the scale back into the bathroom. Before, she kept it hidden in the hall closet, behind old newspapers and a box of Christmas ornaments. Who knows, after a few more weeks Dad might even start to notice and not just me.
I swat a fly away from Mr. Andy’s eye. “Please? Tomorrow?”
“Tonight.” There’s finality in her voice, the sound of a door closing.
Who gets buried at night? That’s horrible! They buried old Pop Munn on a Monday afternoon and Mike Highmore on a Tuesday morning. Mike was only two years old, and his coffin was not much bigger than Mr. Andy’s shoe box, but they still buried him under a clear blue sky. His mom cried like a toddler, like Oliver on bath night. Her face turned red and puffy, and she dripped more snot than I’d ever seen.
Mom returns and flips the channel to something educational, a documentary about chocolate. I can hear her lips smacking, it’s almost the sound of kissing.
I bit my lip, hate blurring my vision. She’s stupid for not eating! Every night she fills her belly with diet coke and goes to sleep. After that, she’ll wake up and go pee about ten times and have ugly bags under her eyes in the morning. Stupid!
“I think I’ll flush him,” I tell her.
She nods, not even trying to hide her relief. Instead, she sips more diet coke, nursing it in a way that lets me know she’s running low again. I look into the kitchen and see that the can bag full, bloated like a big dog about to have a hundred puppies. Mrs. Kelly will love me come recycling day.
I take Mr. Andy and leave Mom in a place where chocolate is pooped out of enormous machines like huge turds and is then molded into bite-sized morsels that look like rabbit pellets. I won’t talk to her after this, not for months, not ’til she says “sorry.”
In the bathroom, I realize Morgan’s right about the new fluorescent bulbs. They’re ‘freaking terrible!’ Mr. Andy looks very dead. His scales are beginning to loosen, and his ribs are showing. The eyes, which watched me every day since last Spring, are like two small, white marbles, sunken and clouded.
I put the lid back on the shoe box and slide it underneath the sink, behind the tub cleaner and toilet brush. I flush the empty toilet twice.
“I’ll bury you tomorrow,” I whisper, just loud enough for him to hear, “I’ll put you under the big pine tree in the backyard beside Skittles. What do you think of that Mr. Andy? Sound good?”