Albert died. The gold fish. He came from the Clarke County Fair, a year ago. Two of them. We named them Charles and Albert, after the two guys who worked on the farm. One was lean, one was big. I would have called them George and Lenny. Now, Albert's dead. Miles, 4, is away. What am I going to tell him? He's 4, he doesn't really understand death. Nor, do I want him to understand death. I want to protect him. Forever.
Now the fish is dead. I thought Charles was dead too. He sat (can fish sit?) at the bottom of the tank all day. I was hoping he was depressed. He wasn't depressed. He looked sick, breathing heavy. I Googled, "gold fish, sick." I decided something was wrong with the water. I read instructions, hoping that the writers were, indeed, fish experts and not my nephews pretending to be fish experts. Remember, anybody can be anything on the Internet.
There was a lot to read under "gold fish, sick." Don't change the water too fast. Whoops. Don't change the temperature. Whoops. Don't stress the fish. Whoops. Don't feed the fish too much. Whoops.
For hours, Charles languishes at the bottom of the tank. I add fresh water to his water. Slowly. Half a glass, every half hour, making it up as I went along. He doesn't move. Hours tick. Miles is coming home tonight. What am I going to tell him? One fish, dead. That's old age, natural, God called him. Two fish, dead. That's human error, not destiny. God did not call them.
Hours tick. I ask my brother, he's raised three boys and certainly buried some gold fish.
Joe, what do I tell him?
Tell him, Nothing lives forever. It's OK to be sad, but the gold fish went to swim in a REALLY BIG fish tank with all the room he needed to swim fast, jump, dive, eat, play gold fish games with his friends. Tell him the gold fish appreciated living in your house and seeing Miles smile every day. Tell him the gold fish did everything gold fish do in their lives. He was tired, he was finished, he was ready. Tell him gold fish are a little bit like flowers, they grow and get big and pretty and shiny and then they die. Flowers are lucky, they get to come back but it's not exactly the same flower, just the seeds of the first flower that grow into the next one. Maybe there's another gold fish growing somewhere right now that looks like the one you had, and you'll have to keep an eye out every time you see one. Then give him a hug, maybe some ice cream or at least a Popsicle.
Miles came home. We had a good cry. He ate a Popsicle. Charles has recovered. Albert's buried by the flowerbed, right behind the back door.