“Yeshaya, you can ask Bubby if you can take a few fish”
I know that not everyone is like me, but I love animals. I love looking at pictures of them and reading about them. Whenever I get a chance, I love to hold, pet, or play with animals.
There’s just one big problem.
My mother does not like animals.
I desperately wanted a parrot. My mother said it’s cruel to keep a parrot as a pet; she says that birds were made to fly and not to sit in cages. So I asked for a hamster or gerbil or guinea pig. My mother said, “You’re not old enough to be responsible for cleaning the cage properly, and I am not doing it.” Then I asked for a dog. “Baruch Hashem, I have enough people to take care of,” my mother said. And that was the end of that.
We had this conversation regularly. Then one day, my Bubby’s fish tank was suddenly filled with teeny, tiny baby fish. We enjoyed watching the tiny fish when we went for Shabbos, but my Bubby was very worried about the situation. She said there were too many fish for a fish tank this size. I saw my uncle take a jar of water and scoop up a bunch of baby fish to take home. That gave me an idea.
“Mommy!” I cried. “Let’s take fish too!” It wasn’t the same as a furry or feathered friend, but it was better than nothing. My mother shuddered. “Sorry, Yeshaya, not happening,” she said, and she looked away from the fish with an expression of disgust.
I felt sad.
When we went to my Bubby for Shabbos a few weeks later, the little fish were a little bigger. This time my mother said, “What don’t we do for our children. Yeshaya, you can ask Bubby if you can take a few fish.”
I was so excited! Bubby helped us scoop three tiny fish into a plastic container and I watched them swim around in their new surroundings. On the way home I held them tightly, and when we got home my father and I prepared water for them in a pickle jar. We had to prepare it because water has chlorine in it and chlorine can kill fish. If the water sits overnight, the chlorine evaporates, and then it’s safe for the fish. We bought fish food and set up the fish in the pickle jar. My father helped me find pebbles for the bottom of the jar, and we also found a fake branch to put inside. My fish swam around happily. Again and again, my mother warned me that they might die, but they didn’t. I fed them carefully every day and I showed them off to my friends. They were mine, and I loved them.
After a week or two, one of the fish disappeared. It didn’t die; it just wasn’t in the jar. We searched behind the sideboard and looked everywhere but didn’t find it. Maybe the other fish ate it? We never found out.
The remaining two fish grew and I enjoyed feeding them and watching them swim. Together with my father, we changed their water every few days. After several months, the water started getting murky and yellow very quickly, and we had to start changing it much more frequently. After a few weeks of the water getting worse and worse, I came to the jar one night to see the bigger fish floating oddly. “He died!” I screamed, and everyone came running (besides for my mother — she just squeaked). My father helped me dispose of him, and although I was sad, I tried to be brave. I still had one little fish.
After the bigger fish died, the water stayed cleaner for longer, and we realized the fish had been sick. That made me feel better, because he didn’t die of starvation or overfeeding. He was just sick.
One day one of my neighbors came by. She likes to come over to play with my baby sister Miri. She happened to be standing near the fish jar when she picked up the baby and then, before we realized what was happening, Miri grabbed the container of fish food and dumped the entire thing into the jar. I called my mother to come quick. There was a mound of fish food at the bottom of the jar and the water was rapidly turning yellow. My mother looked at the jar and then she looked at me. I looked back at her and didn’t say anything. I knew she didn’t want to deal with it. But I also knew my fish was going to die if we didn’t get it out of there.
“Do you have water prepared?” my mother finally asked. I shook my head no.
“So even if theoretically we could move it, we don’t have anywhere to put it,” Mommy mumbled. Then she called Bubby. She asked Bubby how long the fish could survive; could it wait until Tatty came home at 9:30? Bubby said she didn’t know. She told my mother to find something called “No-Chlor” to put in regular tap water. That would remove the chlorine and make it safe for the fish.
So Mommy got on the phone. She called all the people in our area who we knew had fish, but no one had No-Chlor. Then Mommy remembered that she’d seen a sign in the playground across the street, announcing that someone in the neighborhood had started selling pet food. Mommy said, “Maybe they sell No-Chlor too.” She took Miri on her hip and ran out the door to try finding the number. But even though she found the phone number, no one answered the phone when we called. My mother came back in the house, told me that no one had answered, and looked at me. My eyes were filled with tears. I tried to blink them back and be brave. Mommy cupped my chin in her hands and I felt my chin tremble. Mommy’s eyes got soft and she whispered, “You’re afraid he’s going to die.” I nodded and then the tears really came. I buried my head in her arms and cried. The water was bright orange. I knew Mommy wanted Tatty to come home and deal with it. I knew she didn’t want to take care of it, and she also didn’t know what to do, because we hadn’t prepared water. But I also knew that my fish was going to die if we didn’t get it out soon. I didn’t know if it could wait for Tatty.
Mommy looked down at me and took a deep breath. “Maybe I dialed the wrong number,” she said, and went back out again to check the sign. She came back in, breathless. “It wasn’t the wrong number,” she said, “but we might be okay! I saw the Myerfelds outside the building and I asked them if they knew of anyone who might have No-Chlor. They were so kind, they asked me what the problem was, and then Mr. Myerfeld said they never emptied their water urn from shabbos!” Mommy looked at me, her eyes sparkling. I realized what that meant; it was Tuesday, so the water had been sitting for more than enough time! Mr. Myerfeld knocked on the door with a heavy urn. We took some water and thanked him profusely. When he left, I had to bravely transfer the fish all by myself (our net didn’t fit through the top of the pickle jar, so transferring my little fish was always a challenge). I was nervous, but I did it! I moved the fish into the clean, clear water and watched him swim happily around his temporary home. Both my mother and I were laughing.
We kept our heads, and we saved our fish. My Mommy was brave, and so was I.
(Originally featured in Mishpacha Jr., Issue 925)
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