At Ian's Place - Part XI, or the Tale of the Fish

The next time I was in LA, I deviated from the usual thrift stores to one next to a pet shop, and then I went into the pet shop. I’d never consider bringing an animal back to Ian’s place but I thought it would be fun to look, like a wee urban zoo. And it was fun, quaint even, until I found the Blue Damn Oranda.

In a different life, I tried to breed guppies for color. My mom was tolerant when I explained we needed two tanks to separate the males and females, but refused to let me have a third “hospital tank” for the babies to mature, uneaten, until they could be sexed. She bought bigger fish that ate guppies. 

In a different different life, I was given a 55-gallon hexagonal fish tank which housed only a clown loach and a plecostomus. I bought colorful cichlids, and quickly learned that the Africans and South Americans cannot live together peacefully. So I bought another large tank, and then - yes - a hospital tank, which became home to seven Oranda goldfish, five blue and two orange. I painted watercolors of them; neither the paintings nor the fish survived. I hadn’t seen any blue orandas since, until I went into this pet shop. They had just one.

It seemed providential. That One Blue Damn Oranda was going to die in this LA pet store, undiscovered. But what could I do? He couldn’t fly back East with me. There was no way of knowing when Ian would be home (apart from stalking his website) or if he could remember to feed it. Change the water? What about Phil? I could see him smiling calmly, letting me hand him a 2-gallon tank with a half-gallon of water in it for transporting the Blue Damn Oranda to his house.

I could hear him say kindly, “Naw, I can’t do that,” and hand it back to me.

While I did the mental math, I advised the Fish Attendant that he should not help me. Finally I asked whether a 2-gallon tank would be big enough for just one Blue (damn) Oranda.

“Well, he’s gonna need a 29-gallon tank, at least. Orandas get up to eight inches.” 

This was a game-changer. I so much wanted an 8-inch Blue Damn Oranda. But there was just this one and he couldn't fly with me. I asked the attendant whether he wouldn’t stay small in a smaller tank. Maybe Hannah would like a pet fish. I realized I’d never seen her place.

“I mean, they tend to die, so…” I tipped my head at a hopeful angle.

“Well, yes, they tend to die because their organs keep growing, but their bodies remain small due to the size of the tank. They kind of blow up.” He winced. So did I.

That’s all I needed to hear. I gladly tabled project 8-inch Blue Damn Oranda for another, future, life. But I was disturbed; I took off walking, to think.

I’d known all along I’d never do it, and still I let my brain go there. Some part of my psyche had tried to settle in and have pets. It tried to resolve the disparity by recruiting people who have nothing to do with me and my nonsense. This fish near-miss was a symptom of a bigger problem. I needed to make sure I didn’t blow up like a loose cannon, like a fish in a too-small aquarium. I felt a little cannony.

I went back to Ian’s place, still unsettled, and put the mandoline out at the curb. Then I thought of the neighbor kids and put it in the rubbish bin. What exactly was my problem with cousin Claudia, anyway, losing my nerve around her? Why am I downright obsessive about using my own plate and cutlery, not leaving anything behind when I go home? Just a few months ago I wouldn’t even leave a plaster vase designed for patio decoration on the patio, and now I’m trying to have pets.

Even after that afternoon in the living room - when we touched - I’d snuck out, leaving a consolatory sandwich in the refrigerator. I’m such a dood.

I went room to room assessing how much footprint I’d left in this house, and consolidated everything which was me - mine - in the living room. I put a pillow and a blanket on the loveseat and resolved to wash the guest bedroom linens tomorrow. Tomorrow I’d buy my own pillow. I could throw it in the rubbish bin when I left. No, I needed to calm down, just sleep on my neurosis, on the loveseat - no, in the guest room like usual - and reassess in the morning. I’d have my coffee out on the patio, watching kids ride their bikes up and down the street. They were such sweet kids.

I thought I could hear snickering under the rug, a snide, slippery voice, the octopus crooning, "Je veux un poisson." Shut. Up.

My brain clouded over – fade to close-up – mapping every inch of his face: valley at the edge of dark eye circle and cheekbone; eyebrows thick, shrubby, defiant of artists’ standard proportions; shifting terrain between jawline and dimpled ear. Piercing eyes, muddy like jubilee waters, so many things churning and surfacing. Phantosmia of inhaling his crazy hair.

No matter what the magazines printed, what videos surfaced on twitter, there would never be a picture of this - an indelible moment witnessed only by two people and the universe. And a painted octopode.

to be continued...


  1. The need to nurture is primal, almost as strong as the need to have beauty around you. Our beloved family member, the 18 1/2 year old Maine Coon mix cat has been dead now for more than 6 months, but my husband and I still find ourselves doing the things that we always did to make his life comfortable. He was part of our life even longer than we have been married. The entire 18 1/2 years. That fish was both to your character. Footprints go where they will go.

    1. You leave me the *best* conversations ::hugs::


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