The goldfish is floating sideways. I lean in closer to study him, my nose pressed against the glass. Is he breathing? (Do fish breathe?) His back fin sways. I take this as a promising sign.
Six leaves remained on my Christmas poinsettia last Monday. One more dropped off as I watered the plant. By Thursday, three brown-edged stragglers clung to the branches. I blew out a sigh, acknowledging the inevitable. I tried to make light of it, joking about the dying plant with my co-workers as I dropped it in the trash. But I shot forlorn glances toward the garbage can all afternoon. I had failed as a plant parent.
The fish, I believe it is Dewey II, now lies belly-up. I frown and tap the glass. He does a slow flip and rises to the top of the tank, clearly anticipating feeding time. (All three of our fish do this on a daily basis, discounting that old "three-second memory" which fish are alleged to have.) I sprinkle a pinchful of food in the tank, and Dewey II pecks at it. I give him a proud thumbs-up.
Nature infuses us with some basic maternal (or paternal) instinct. This natural proclivity for nurturing our young has kept the earth populated for centuries. It proves especially beneficial when our children are teenagers. If not for that natural inclination to care for our offspring, we might boot them out of the house when they turn sixteen, sullen and surly. Animal lovers have an extra "S" chromosome. It stands for sympathetic sucker.
Dewey II has returned to his backstroke. He is not, however, engaged in any actual swimming. I tap twice at the glass. He cranes his tiny fish head toward the noise and dutifully turns upright, rising once again. His mouth gapes open, in search of more food. I want to reward him for this valiant rallying effort. But overfeeding is one of the major causes of death in fish. (That and charter fishing boats, a fate from which Dewey II, Clifford and Confucius have been spared.) If he is still moving in the morning, perhaps I will call the vet for advice. It would be best if the doctor contains his laughter until after he hangs up.
I would like to simply call myself "compassionate." But the fact is, my nurturing instinct is probably a bit out of whack. Few people I know spend weeks researching the care of hermit crabs or suffer a mourning period after the removal of a dead tree from their yard. I have issues. I acknowledge them, and I vow to overcome them.
Right after I call my vet in the morning. And start a poinsettia grief support group.