Nice Fishy, Fishy, Fishy
by Katherine Sanger
“Jed. Jed. You awake yet?” She swam in circles around him in the warm water.
“Hm? Yup, I am now.” Jed shook himself, the water parting and closing around him.
“It’s morning, isn’t it, Jed?”
Jed swam to the front of the tank, his black and gold fan tail wagging behind him. He did an abrupt about-face as he reached the glass, then came back. “Sure looks like morning to me, Essie Sue.”
“That means we’ll get fed soon, right?”
“Yup. Morning’s when the guy gives us our grub. ‘Course some mornings we just get flakes, and some mornings we get brine shrimp. Hope it’s one of those mornings. Yup, I hope it’s a brine shrimp day.”
Essie Sue circled Jed. “Brine shrimp? Brine shrimp. I love brine shrimp. I haven’t had brine shrimp since... since... ooooh, I’m so hungry, Jed.”
“Don’t you worry now,” Jed said. “He’ll be along shortly. He always is. Then we’ll see if it is indeed a brine shrimp day.”
They swam to the top together and gathered with the other guppies waiting there. Essie Sue remembered her manners this time and greeted the few elders that were left, deferring to their claim of the best spots near the flap. She settled in at the top of her favorite plastic plant, Jed beside her.
“Jed,” she whispered to him. “I don’t see the guy or the food. Did we miss it?”
“Essie Sue, I am sure we didn’t. Do you think Tink and Peter and Adam and Allison and Mariah with her twins would all be waiting here if the food had already come and gone?”
“No.” Essie Sue shook her head, as best as a guppie could. “I guess not. But, Jed, I’m hungry. And the babies are hungry, too.” She glided around Jed, showing off her bloated belly, dark with fry eyes.
“That food will be here, don’t concern yourself about it.” Jed’s eyes were fixed heavenward. Essie Sue followed his gaze, sighed, and tried to get comfortable.
“No food coming today,” the voice rose from the depths. “I can smell it in the water. You might as well come down and cozy. It’s gonna be a long wait.”
Essie Sue looked down. “Oh, shut up, Rex. You dumb ’ole algae eater. What do you know?” Her stubby tail swept from side to side. No food. Ha! Jed said it was coming, and Jed would know. She’d wait.
She could feel Rex moving along beneath her, displacing more water than she ever could. Stupid Rex. She looked back up to the flap. No sign of food yet. She was so hungry. But she was also tired. She rested a little on the soft plastic.
* * *
Essie Sue startled. Has she fallen asleep and missed it? It was already dark again! Has she slept through the food? That just wasn’t possible, Essie Sue thought. She couldn’t ever remember sleeping through any meals.
“Jed, where are you?”
“Right here next to you,” Jed said.
“Sorry. I thought you were Adam.”
“Yup, we all do look alike, don’t we, Essie Sue?”
“Did I miss the food, Jed?” Essie Sue asked.
“Nope. No food yet.”
“What? No food? But it’s dark. Is it tomorrow?”
“No,” Rex said from the bottom of the tank. “It’s just a storm out there. But you’re not getting fed any time soon, anyway.”
“Shut up, Rex. We get fed every day. He’s just... late.”
“But he’s never been late before, has he?” Rex asked her.
She looked to Jed for support. He flicked his tail. “Not in my memory, but I’m not an elder.”
Rex laughed. “You’re ‘eld’ enough, Jed.”
Jed turned a fin up and looked back towards the flap. Essie Sue, feeling more hungry every moment that she was awake, drifted over to Tink and Peter.
“Tink. When’s the last time we didn’t get fed?”
Tink’s eyes widened. “We’re not getting fed?”
“No, no, that’s not what I said. I asked if you remembered the last time?”
“There was a last time?” Tink’s eyes looked like they were ready to leave their sockets.
Essie Sue turned on her tail and looked at Peter. “Peter, when’s the last time we didn’t get fed?”
“We’re not getting fed?” Peter asked.
Essie Sue swam back to Jed. The other guppies were just no help at all.
“Essie Sue! Essie Sue!” Allison was hauling tail across the tank. “Did you hear — we’re not being fed! Mariah told me, and she heard it from Adam, who heard it from Peter, who heard it from Tink. No food today. We’re all gonna starve to death!”
“Jed,” Essie Sue said. “What can we do?”
“Hm. Well, we need to ask the elders.”
“But Allison is one of the elders!”
Jed turned towards Allison. “Yup, that’s right. Allison is an elder. What’re we going to do, Allison?”
“We’re gonna starve!”
“Now, now, we don’t have to starve. Essie Sue here is about ready to birth some fry,” said Adam, swimming up behind Allison.
Essie Sue sucked in water. “My fry! You want to eat my babies?” Essie Sue knew she was overreacting. She’d eaten fry before. They weren’t as good as brine shrimp, but they weren’t that bad, either. But this was different. These were her fry. These weren’t for eating.
“No one said we would eat your fry, Essie Sue,” Jed said. “I’m sure Adam was just supposing.”
Adam turned away and swam back towards Tink on the other side of the tank.
“What about algae?” asked Essie Sue. “Can’t we just eat algae?”
The water around Essie Sue shook. Rex was thrashing below her, making awful noises.
“No, I don’t think algae is good for guppies to eat,” said Jed.
Allison swished in agreement. “But what else can we do?” she asked. “We need to eat. We’ll starve.”
Essie Sue was thinking now. All around her she saw the other guppies engaged in deep thought. They didn’t look much different.
“Hey, hey, hey, guys. I got it,” Essie Sue said, finally. “The food is out there.” She swam over to the front of the tank and gestured as best as she could with her stubby tail. “So, we just need to go out there. Then we’ll have food.”
Allison was bobbing up and down. “Yes, that should work. We just have to get out there.”
“But Essie Sue,” Jed said. “How do you suppose we can get out there?”
The guppies fell silent again.
“I could help,” said Rex from his residence at the bottom of the tank.
“You? How? You’re just a dumb ’ole algae eater,” said Essie Sue.
“I’ve escaped the confines of the tank,” he said. “I could help you escape, too.”
Tink was bobbing again. “He did. I remember. Just popped right out of here one night. Was back again the next morning.”
Rex was flexing his fins along the gravel.
Essie Sue was impressed. “Oh, Rex, I’m so sorry I was mean. Will you help us get our food?”
“I suppose it would be the right thing to do,” said Rex. “Just get everyone over near that plastic plant.”
Essie Sue burst through the water. “Move, move, move! Rex is getting us to our food,” she yelled at the guppies that were standing dumbstruck. Her wake pushed them to the side, further from the plant. “No, no, no! The other way, the other way!”
The guppies obeyed, getting in a line behind Essie Sue. Once they were all safe and secure behind the plant, Essie Sue called down to Rex. “Go ’head, Rex.”
Rex barreled up to the flap, hitting it, sending water splashing up and down. The whole of the tank rocked with the force. The flap opened. Rex had already plunged back down to the bottom. He came slowly to the top again, surveying the flap from every angle.
“That should do,” he said. “Go get your food.”
“Food!” Essie Sue rallied the troops. “We need to get out there to the food. Get jumping!”
Leading by example, she jumped. She looked around. Still in the tank. She jumped again, further this time. Still in the tank. She looked around. Tink was jumping, Jed was jumping, Allison was jumping, even Adam was jumping. The twins were practically engaging in gymnastics. But they were all still in the tank.
“Rex, we can’t do it. We can’t get out,” Essie Sue called to him.
“We’re all going to starve,” Allison wailed in Essie Sue’s ear.
“I won’t let you starve,” Rex said, swimming up. He pulled his tail back and let it cut back through the water, hitting Allison. She went up, up, and out! She was getting food!
“Me next, me next,” Essie Sue called, hearing similar cries around her. A line began forming.
Rex smiled and started batting.
* * *
“Whew.” McCabe fanned his nose as he entered the apartment. The landlord said the guy hadn’t been checking his mail for a week, and he wasn’t lying. It smelled like carrion in there. He flicked on the light. Nothing looked like it was out of place, and the landlord had to give him a key so that he could get in, so he assumed there hadn’t been any B&E. There was only one hallway, branching off next to a large fish tank that was precariously perched on a bookcase. As he got closer, he could see that there were plants, somewhat dried and decayed looking, hanging down the sides of the tank, trailing almost all the way to the floor. He sucked his lip. How strange. But the fish looked healthy enough.
McCabe followed the dimly lit hall back into the bedroom. He was shocked. The body lying on the floor seemed to have been there much longer than a week. It had gone beyond basic decomposition. There were pieces missing. It looked — he leaned in closer, trying not to breathe — almost as if the guy had been eaten. McCabe didn’t see any dogs or cats, but maybe there was a cat hiding someplace. It had happened before, he sighed to himself, although never on his watch. Cats or dogs, left all alone with no food... well, they find some food one way or another, normally.
He wandered back out to the living room. He needed to call in, but he preferred to do it from a room that wasn’t quite as fragrant. As he rounded the corner, he glanced into the tank again. Unlike the poor cat he imagined existed somewhere in the apartment, the fish didn’t seem to have missed any meals. In fact... in fact, as he leaned in closer to the tank, they were all quite fat. If he didn’t know better, he would almost swear that even the males were pregnant. The tank was teeming with fry, most of them almost as fat as the adults.
His hand was still on his belt while he examined the tank. The fish were obviously guppies. But there was something wrong with them. They seemed to be following orders or something. They were forming a line — a line! — behind a particularly large guppie. She was swishing her little tail and they were swarming behind him, practically jostling for position. A large fish, a picasamus, he thought, was coming up like a shot from the bottom of the tank, almost running into the herd of guppies.
He took a step back and almost slipped. The ground was wet beneath him. In fact, the whole hallway was wet, he saw now in the glare of the living room light. He looked up at the ceiling, trying to spot the leaks coming through from the apartment above, but the plaster was dry. He turned his attention back to the fish tank.
* * *
Essie Sue smiled. She was at the front of the line, anxiously wishing she had lips she could lick. It had tasted even better than the brine shrimp.
“Pull,” she yelled to Rex, bracing herself against the force of his tail.
Copyright © 2006 by Katherine Sanger