It's a goldfish, not a catfish, that has nine lives

My goldfish, Amen, is nervous. His normally bulbous eyeballs are even more buggy than usual.

I suppose I'd be a bit twitchy too — were I swimming around in a big kettle perched on the stove.

I keep telling him things are not as bad as they appear.

"It's not like anyone's going to turn the burner on," I assure him.

Amen makes a fast lap around the pot, splashing water with a flip of his tail.

Considering our history, it's not surprising he considers me less than credible when it comes to assurances about his safety.

In the summer of 2003, Amen narrowly survived a life-threatening injury. And it was all my fault.

It happened in his first home — my bathtub. Amen and his six pals were merrily swimming in the oblong tub that had been lovingly decorated with colored gravel and living plants.

Then things began getting a bit swampy in the porcelain pond.

"Time to clean house," I told the Magnificent Seven.

Pulling the plants out first, I noticed they were pretty slimy. Not enough light filtering in the bathroom window, I determined, before tossing the water lettuce's slippery bulbs and wilted leaves into the trash. Ugh!

Then I pulled the plug in the tub. The plan, as usual, was to drain out about half the water, put the stopper back in, and fill the tub back up using the taps to get the perfect temperature. The drain had a cross bar about three inches down the pipe. No way for anyone to end up in the septic tank.

While some of the fish would swim far away from the swirling funnel created by the draining water, others headed toward it like moths to a flame. Amen is a dedicated swirl chaser.

I took my eyes off Amen just as he got sucked onto the cross bar — upside down. What must have been an uncomfortable situation for my fishy friend became deadly when I mistook his pasty white belly for another nasty wad of cellulose.

I tried poking the spongy mass with my finger. It was wedged fast. I didn't really want to touch the yucky stuff. So I got out my scissors to pry the unwieldy gob of junk from the drain.

I became more pop-eyed than Amen when my favorite fish popped out of the drain, attached to the tip of my scissors.

"No!!!!!!!! Noo!!!!!!!!! NOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!" I screamed.

Amen was inky black in color. The blob was white. How? What? My brain tried to absorb this horror.

Amen regained his equilibrium faster than I and quickly wiggled off the point. He took off toward the far end of the tub, trailing a thin stream of blood off his port side.

I slumped back against the sink — sickened.

"Please ... Please ... Please ... Don't die!" I cried, wondering whether it was possible to give a fish a transfusion.

Mercifully, Amen's bleeding stopped after a few seconds of frantic swimming. But he was listing badly to starboard.

Death seemed imminent. Euthanasia seemed humane. I called my local fish store and sobbed out the whole tragic tale.

"What should I do?" I asked.

A very nice lady opined Amen's air bladder was punctured. She also offered the slight hope that he might not die. She was right on both counts. Amen not only survived, he began swimming upright within a few anxious hours. The only reminders of that horrid afternoon are a small dent in Amen's side, a missing section of his left pectoral fin — and my recurring guilt attacks.

Oh ... And Amen also turned color from black to gold. No one knows precisely why. But I think it's like when someone suffers a huge shock and their hair suddenly turns white.

Last year a friend gave me a "real" fish tank — 55-gallon aquarium with a proper filtration system. Last week, Amen managed to get his head stuck between the air filter tube and the side of the tank. His beautiful fan tail was bloodied from swishing around on the gravel all day as he tried to free himself.

At least I assume that's what happened. I have an alibi this time. I was at work. All day.

I put Amen into the stove-top "hospital" pot so he can get his fishy medicine and heal without the pesky attentions of his tank mates. I added a seashell and some fake plants to the big kettle, trying to make things look a bit more homey. But they kinda look like a ham bone and spinach greens.

They say fish don't have memories. I don't buy that. Amen seems to be harboring grave suspicions about my dinner plans.

Considering his radical finnectomy and his current location, who can blame him?

Reach reporter Sanne Specht at 776-4497 or e-mail

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