We stood out behind the garage, trench-digger in hand. The ground was too hard to dig in, much, so I had poured much of the fish's "hospital" water onto the ground to make a hole, and the clay mud was quickly drying in the summer. The hole was one of a wide variety of shallow graves for all the birds, rodents, and now fish that I had buried behind the garage. A lot of wild animals die and leave corpses around that need disposing, and this was the animal cemetery.
"He's so small. If you dig around here, you might find bits of bone from the squirrels and rats, but there's hardly anything *to* this fish, so he'll be gone when the rains come and the bacteria do their work." I rested on the shovel handle.
She considered this.
"Everything ends up this way," I added, knowing it to be true in my heart.
She paused for thought. "I'll come back tomorrow," she said, and turned away.
We got some new cardinal fish last week to add to add to our guppies. At first it was like a middle school dance---the tiny blue cardinals schooling around on one side, and the bigger guppies hanging together on the other, studiously pretending not to notice the other.
It's gone downhill since then. For some reason, the guppies have decided to nip on each other out of nervousness. In what appears to be collateral damage or mistaken identity, a guppy bit off the delicate tail of a cardinal. We found him stuck to the filter intake, unable to swim strongly enough to get free.
After we freed our injured friend and put him in a separate bowl to recover, he appeared to get stronger. Over the course of the next day he weakened, twitching, always face down, unable to right himself without a tail.
Kate made a get-well card for the fish which read "Dear, [sic] Fishy, I Hope You Feel Better Soon, -Kate" in gold paint. She put it beneath the clear bowl so our poor inverted fish could read it.
There are some things the unconditional love of a 7-year-old can't solve.
I wasn't sure whether we should have just pulled the fish out of the bowl and let him die quickly, but I kept holding out hope he'd figure out how to swim straight, and at first he was eating. When we got back from the pool today, he was glassy-eyed and unmoving, and it was time to say goodbye.
Kate looked sad for just a minute when I broke the news, but then seemed to take it in stride, and decided backyard burial was appropriate. She came out and spoke with me as we buried the fish, and was soberly curious rather than sad. We had warned her repeatedly that the fish we're keeping are fragile and short-lived, and she seems to have internalized that.
Plus, she's Kate. She seems invincible, sometimes. I hope she is.
We've added some more fake plants and an improvised "castle" to the tank to break up the sightlines so the guppies and the cardinals have more places to be out of sight of one another, and the cardinals have learned to stay the hell out of the way. If anyone is a hardcore aquarian and can come up with a better plan, do tell.