The queen is dead

Alice is dead.

She belly-upped a few weeks ago. I was sitting on the couch, watching TV, when I glanced over at the fish tank and Alice was on the bottom with her tail flopping in the water.

Hmm. That didn't seem like a good sign.

I tapped on the tank. I know, fish hate when you do that. At this point, I didn't care.

Alice didn't move, but I still held hope that she was in a deep sleep.

A really deep sleep.

She had done this to me before. More than once, she'd been so still that I'd be sure she was dead, and then she'd startle awake and swim away.

That wasn't the case this time, so I took a pinch of fish flakes, aimed right at her head and dropped them in.

The fish didn't move.

Yep. This was the real deal.

Now, I must explain. Fish give me the willies. I love watching them in their aquarium, but I don't like bringing them home from the pet store in baggies and dumping them into the tank. I'm always afraid the fish is going to jump out. In fact, Alice the fish DID jump out when I tried to dump her into her first tank. She landed on the bottom of the kitchen sink, flipping and flopping while I stood by screaming.

Finally, I came to my senses. "OK, OK," I breathed. "I just have to reach down and pick her up by the tail and just... just... pick her up..."

My love for all living things won out and I plucked the fish out of the sink and dropped her into the tank.

The fish swam dizzily in circles for a minute, and then she began to thrive. Pretty soon she was Queen of the Tank, lording over the other peon fish.

And then, two years later, the Queen was dead.

My girls were crushed. They were further crushed upon learning that I planned to dispose of Alice via one good flush. I guess a flushing wasn't appropriate for a fish of her stature.

They insisted we bury the fish.

All parents do weird things for their kids. This was mine: I found a small plastic container in which to put the deceased. I positively knew that I wouldn't be able to reach into that tank with my bare hands and pluck her out. I dislike putting fish into their tanks, but I dislike taking them out even more.

I searched for the fish net that I knew had to be somewhere in my house, to no avail.

Finally, I rummaged in our junk drawer, emerged with a pair of salad tongs, dove into the water and grabbed the poor limp thing. I dropped her into the box, gagging the entire time, and tucked her inside before dropping the lid on her.

Then I went outside and dug a little hole in the garden - one daughter insisted that Alice would like the garden - and it was time for the funeral. My oldest sobbed at the graveside as we took turns saying nice things about the fish.

By the way, have you ever tried to say something nice about a goldfish? I finally came up with, "Alice was a very good swimmer."

My kids had decorated a Popsicle stick with little Christian fish stickers - I figured Jesus would understand - and that served as the headstone. Then I threw some dirt over the plastic box, and the girls picked half-frozen pink and purple pansies from our garden and laid them reverently over the grave.

My husband inspected the grave when he came home from work that night, and complimented the girls on their beautiful headstone.

Knowing about my fish squeamishness, he later asked me, "How'd you get her out?"

I replied, "Let's just say we need a new pair of salad tongs."

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