A fish tale (or is it tail?)
By John Gray
They say no good deed goes unpunished and at the tender age of 12 I learned this lesson the hard way. You’ve no doubt heard the tales of the “Tortoise and the Hare” or the “Ugly Duckling and the Swan”. Well, let me share with you the true story of the “Snapping Turtle and the Gold Fish”.
I was the youngest of four children in my family and like most kids each of us was different from the other. But no where was this more apparent than with my brother Stephen and me. He rode dirt bikes, played rock and roll in a band and his pet was a mean old snapping turtle. I rode the bus, played chess and my pet was a small aquarium filled with gentle fish.
Since I loved my fish you can only imagine my disgust when my brother would come home from school and yell, “Suppertime” as he fed his turtle an unsuspecting gold fish from a tank he kept next to mine. I’d swear his feeder fish, as they were called, were looking through the glass at my aquarium with its sunken ship thinking, “Boy, did we rent in the wrong neighborhood.”
I hated feeding time because that evil little turtle would corner the fish that was tossed into his den of death and suddenly, SNAP! the fish was gone. The more I protested the more my brother teased me about the whole thing telling me I’d better keep quiet or one of my little friends might “accidentally” end up as supper for Mr. Snappy. I thought about setting all the feeder fish free, but that presented two obvious problems. One, I had no where to put them and two, my brother would pound me into dust. Then an idea came to me. If I couldn’t save all of them I could at least save one. There had to be a dozen fish in the feeding tank and since my brother only got a “C’ in math I was certain he couldn’t count. One less fish would certainly go unnoticed. I waited until everyone went to bed and snuck into the family room where the fish and turtle slept. Like a doctor performing surgery I carefully scooped my net into my brother’s tank and chose the smallest fish he had.
Once he was in my tank I told him he might want to hide behind the treasure chest that released bubbles for a couple of days until the coast was clear. Call me crazy, but I think he winked at me. The next day came and went and no one was the wiser. Two days, three, a week, then two and it was clear that I had pulled it off. I was feeling pretty good about myself until I hit the one month mark since my midnight caper; that’s when I noticed it. The tiny feeder fish I had kidnapped was getting bigger. Fast. He was easily twice the size he was when I stole him and with each day seemed to be growing more. At feeding time I noticed he was scaring off the other fish and eating all the food. I was starting to worry those little orange flakes I dropped in the water wouldn’t be enough and he’d soon have his roommates as an appetizer.
Something was clearly wrong so I called the pet store and asked why a feeder fish would grow so large in such a small tank. They told me those fish are really baby carp and he would grow the size of Texas and eventually eat my entire family. Something had to be done.
I know what you’re thinking, and shame on you! I DID NOT flush him down the toilet. I wouldn’t do such a thing. Besides he wouldn’t fit. Instead, I had a wonderful plan that involved setting him free. I borrowed one of my mom’s good Tupperware dishes, filled it with water and using both hands, grabbed a hold of him. “Carpy”, as I was now calling him, was going on an adventure.
I walked two miles from my home across fields and valleys to a beautiful pond. I opened the lid and told Carpy that today was a special day because he was no longer a prisoner. Today he would swim with the fishes. Since Carpy wasn’t in the mob that was a good thing. I got down on one knee and ever so gently poured him into the shallow waters of the pond. I’d swear he smiled as he flipped his tail and ventured out into the deeper water to test his skills. That’s when it happened. Carpy and I both realized in the same instant that since he had spent his entire life living in a glass tank he had no idea what a current was. I didn’t think a pond could have much of a current but this one did, and soon my little gilled friend was on his side struggling to right himself. “It’s okay,” I yelled. “You can do it. Swim, just swim.” And for a moment he started to regain his composure. In fact, I think he would have made it if not for the waterfall. Yep. About 30 yards to the left of where Carpy set sail there was a waterfall I never noticed before. Pretty good size too, with a 25-foot drop into some jagged rocks. Suddenly dinner with the snapping turtle didn’t seem like a bad option.
I ran along the shore trying in vain to save him. I would have reached out with a stick, but since fish don’t have arms I’m pretty sure he would have had trouble grabbing hold. Then he ran out of real estate and tail over head he was swept over the falls. If this was the Olympics I’m pretty sure the judges would have given him a 2 out of a possible 10 on the dive. The Russian judge a 1, of course. I never saw him come up and to me that’s a good sign. Perhaps old Carpy survived the fall and the rocks and the rapids and despite his complete inability to swim somehow managed to follow the stream to the river and the river to the sea where he was reunited with his son Nemo. Oh wait, wrong story. Thirty years has come and gone since that day at the pond where a little boy tried to do the right thing. I still have the same aquarium with the sunken ship and treasure chest that bubbles sitting in my bedroom. Late at night when sleep won’t come, I lay there watching the little fish dart back and forth, remembering a big goofy guppy who was almost turtle food. A fish who was given a chance at a better life only to be murdered by a 12-year-old moron who thought all fish could swim. I thought the story was over until I attended a charity dinner recently. I had a choice of chicken or fish and I went for the latter. During the main course I started choking on a bone and for a moment there, it was really touch and go. Finally, I coughed it up and looked down at my plate. Carpy? Apparently revenge is a dish best served with rice pilaf.
John Gray is a Fox23 News anchor and contributing writer at the Troy Record. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org