I’ve lived here almost 3 years. Before then, the house was vacant.
There’s a small koi pond in the side-yard, just beneath my bedroom window. The concrete’s cracked, so it doesn’t hold much water, but a bright orange and white fish, around 6 inches long, somehow managed to survive the brutal winter and scorching summer before I arrived. When I first moved in and was still renting, I asked the home’s owner if they’d resettle the fish in their new koi pond. She insisted it had survived many summers and winters and would be fine.
“That fish will live forever,” she said. “It was there when we bought the house. It’s either a koi, or a shubunkin.”
A friend, who’s an animal rights activist, suggested buying a large aquarium for the fish to winter in. I considered releasing it into the mill pond, but my imagination ran from it growing to the size of a rowboat, to being chopped up by an outboard motor propeller, to me being led off in handcuffs for breaking some law about introducing non-native species into a freshwater lake.
I contacted a pond specialist in California and tried desperately to find someone to repair the pond, but was unable to find anyone willing to do the work. For the past 3 years, that fish lived in a few inches of water, and somehow survived being frozen alive for several months a year. Each morning, after the ice melted, I looked down from my bedroom window and marveled at that fish.
It was the perfect “pet” for someone who had difficulty walking and limited financial resources. It survived on tadpoles and mosquito larvae and I have no idea what else. I occasionally tended to its habitat by removing dead leaves, plastic bags and candy wrappers, and on long stretches of very hot days, added some water. Otherwise, I left it alone.
A few days ago, I looked down at the pond. The fish was gone. I was still recovering from the flu, and wanted to believe the fever had caused me to hallucinate an empty pond. Each day thereafter, I looked down from my window. No fish.
Earlier today, Phil, who cut the grass for me last week, called.
“I stopped in today to check on your fish. He’s not there.”
“I know,” I replied.
“He wasn’t there when I mowed the other day, either.”
The first time Phil realized there was a fish in the pond, he insisted, “I’m gonna feed him.” I promised him the fish had survived in its fragile little ecosystem and I was terrified the introduction of anything into the shallow water would so pollute it the fish would be deprived of oxygen.
“Please don’t,” I said. It would have been easier to lie and say I fed it specially formulated koi food, an explanation that would have satisfied Phil, but I didn’t.
“It was old,” he said.
“Where did it go? If it died, it’s body would be there. There’s no trace of that fish.”
I keep reminding myself . . . “it’s just a fish.”