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A Fish Out of Water
Cleaning the fish tank turned into a massacre
Anonymous
headshot

Fish names have been changed.

Recently, my mother asked me to clean her aquarium which held about two dozen big goldfish and one giant tropical fish named Felipe.

I didn’t want to say no, because my mother does a lot for me. But I’d never cleaned it alone, and it made me nervous. I’d have to remove all the fish while the water drained out of the tank. Then I’d have to change all the filters, thoroughly wipe it down, and disinfect it.

A lot could go wrong.

So instead of going straight home and getting it over with, I procrastinated and went shopping—anything to avoid facing those fish.

While I was at Zara, I got a text from my mom: “Make sure you don’t put soap in the tank to clean it and be careful with Felipe.”

I responded with a cheerful “OK Mommy!” but my heart dropped. I was so afraid of Felipe. In my eyes, he was a giant shark and my hand was the prey.

Felipe was the biggest fish and happened to be my mom’s favorite. He was orange and white with black beady eyes. He was the most aggressive-looking one out of the bunch. My mom told me that she suspected Felipe sometimes eats the other fish. I hoped she was just joking.

I knew that I would have to use the fishing net to get all the fish out. I was terrified of how much they wiggle and jump when they’re out of the water. The vibrations they make when they flop around in the net make me think they’re going to hop out and try to eat my foot. Picturing it gave me a sickening feeling.

Facing My Fishy Fears

On my way to the pet shop, I tried to hype myself up to be able to face Felipe and his other fish friends.

At the shop, I anxiously walked up and down the aisles, gathering the tools I needed, then took everything to the cash register.

“You must have a big tank for all this stuff,” the cashier said jokingly.

“I just want to be prepared,” I said.

When I got home, I cleaned off the table that held the fish tank so I had enough space to take the fish out and transfer them to a bucket while I cleaned the tank.

I took my sweater off, took a deep breath, and braced myself. Then I started draining the water out. The fish immediately panicked and began moving out of the way. I took the fishing net and started scooping the smaller fish out, trying to avoid Felipe. I was getting nervous.

Buh-bye, Felipe.

image by YC-Art Dept

Once I was done with the smaller fish, I looked at Felipe, shook my head, and dipped the fishing net back in the water. I attempted to scoop Felipe, but then I realized he was too big to fit in the net.

I texted my mom and told her that I couldn’t get him out. “Just try,” she advised.

So that’s what I did. I scooped him up and successfully got him out of the tank. But then I paused and watched him squirm. Then he jumped right out of the net and onto the floor.

All I could say was, “you’re gonna have to take one for the team, fella,” because I wasn’t going to touch a squirming fish on the floor with my bare hands.

Before I knew it, Felipe was dead.

I considered just sweeping him up, but then I thought, “Even though he’s dead, I don’t think it would be nice to do that.” Instead, I got a plastic bag, picked him up with two fingers, carried him to the bathroom, and flushed him down the toilet.

“I’m sorry, Felipe,” I said to my mother’s favorite fish.

As I walked back to the tank, I realized I had another problem. The water was still getting pumped out and the bigger fish were still in the tank.

Some Quick Thinking

I tried desperately to scoop them all up as the last of the water got sucked out, but there were too many. Before I knew it, 10 fish were lying dead at the bottom of the tank.

I looked up at the ceiling and said, “God forgive me.” Then I got more plastic bags to remove the fish and dropped them into the toilet.

This time I just flushed them all down together like a family.

I took out the pebbles and began wiping the tank down. I put new water and pebbles in before carefully putting the surviving fish back in. Only then was I calmed down enough to realize that my mother was going to know Felipe and his homies were not in the tank.

I had to think fast. I had only an hour and a half to replace Felipe and the gang before my mom got home from work.

I speed-walked all the way back to the pet shop.

I saw fish that looked like Felipe, but none that were close to his size. I did see fish that were close to the size of the other fish I had accidentally killed, though.

“How long can you keep the fish in the little plastic bags?” I asked the clerk.

image by YC-Art Dept

“Up to three hours,” he said.

I sighed in relief. “I’ll take 10 of those.”

I walked out of the pet shop and checked my phone to see how long I had left to find a Felipe lookalike: 32 minutes.

The Imposter

I remembered there is a pet shop near my old middle school that specializes in tropical fish. It was only a 12-minute walk. I hoped that they actually had a Felipe.

They did. I bought the fake Felipe and rushed home.

At home, I opened the bag and gently slid the new Felipe into the tank, followed by the 10 others.

I was so relieved. I pulled up a chair and sat in front of the aquarium, studying all the fish. I couldn’t tell the differences between the new fish and the old fish. But would my mom be able to spot the imposters?

She walked in 15 minutes later.

“Hey, you!” she said.

“Hi, Ma,” I said nervously.

“What’s wrong with you?” she asked suspiciously.

“Nothing, I’m just bored.”

“Well, the tank looks good,” my mother said.

A bullet of sweat shot down my face.

“Thanks, it took me the longest time,” I said. This was not a lie.

I feel bad about deceiving her. Sometimes I get nervous when she mentions “Felipe” seems to have lost weight, or that he’s swimming funny. I just shrug and act like I don’t know what she’s talking about.

I know sooner or later she’ll probably figure it out. But until then, I just pray she doesn’t ask me to clean the tank again.

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(NYC-2018-01-21)

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