Ruby – a short story

Over December I was embroiled with the pleasurable visit of my Honduran missionary doctor daughter and her family. We had three energetic children, 6,4 and 1, daily demonstrating their endless supply of energy. There was no time for blogging, reading or writing. I am now back with a story stemming from my other daughter’s daughter. I hope that I still have some faithful followers and am able to visit some of my favorite blogs again.! 

Today, we had a little ceremony as my husband, grand-daughter Sophie, and I wept and wrapped him in a shroud. We then solemnly buried him under the pecan tree in our back-yard. For you to understand our sadness, I’ll explain by starting at the beginning.

We celebrated my last birthday at a restaurant where my oldest grand-daughter, Sophie, gave me a poem.  On second reading I realized that Sophie’s poem told me that she intended to give me a living thing to keep on my desk. I panicked as I have been through the cat and dog routine and didn’t relish the thought of doing it again. Sophie sensed my panic and assured me that this living thing would be no trouble. My mind jumped to African violets as I have quite a collection. I inquired whether the living thing, to which she referred, would be a bright color and she assured me that it would. I worried no more.

At her next visit I was presented with a Betta fish. He was a brilliant red and came in a small sealed cup which held less than a pint of water. I wondered what I’d do with him. Sophie rescued me. She said that the Betta is a marsh fish which survives in ditches and rice paddies in water with little oxygenation. She waxed technical and told me that Bettas are anabantoids, who can breathe atmospheric air using a unique organ called the labyrinth; as a result a pump and constant aeration is unnecessary. While Sophie talked, I watched my birthday gift fish twirl his almost two inches of bright red body and delicate fins and tail. Yes, I thought, he is rather lovely and will make a decorative addition to my desk. We placed him in the largest of my cut-glass vases which gave him about 48 ounces of water. We added some decorative stones and water weeds from my outside pond. Sophie liked the set-up and commented that a happy Betta will blow bubbles on the surface of the water. I named him Ruby.

According to directions, I fed Ruby twice a day and changed his water on Sundays. He blew bubbles on the surface and grew. I looked him up on line and found that a Betta can grow to five inches and needs a gallon of water per inch of fish. I knew that Ruby needed bigger accommodations, so I moved him into a giant two-gallon mason jar which I previously used for serving iced tea and punch. It had a convenient faucet at the bottom so that I could use it to change the water. Everything was going well. Ruby began to recognize me when I fed him, and his bubble nest grew. He was mesmerizingly attractive when he swam with his fluttering red fins moving back and forth at speed, He was so captivating that I had to agree that Sophie had had a good idea. I would have loved to give him a companion but read that the Betta is very aggressive towards other males. Obviously, a female was out of the question for the last thing I wanted was a tank full of baby Bettas fighting for survival, or worse providing fodder for their father, Ruby. 

Instead, I cared for Ruby, who continued to demonstrate more and more affection for me. Sometimes he poked his head out of the water for a minute or so. He thrived and grew. When he was almost five inches long, I invested in a wide mouthed five-gallon wine-making carboy. By now, he would keep his head out of the water, for as long as I stood beside the tank. I hoped that he wouldn’t grow any more. He became selective over his food. When I fed him little pink betta fish pellets, he would take them in his mouth and then spit them out. Tiny dried blood worms were a different story he twirled in the water with glee and ate them fast. It was during one of these ecstatic feedings that I noticed that Beta’s body seemed to be changing. I best describe the changes by drawing an analogy to those of a tadpole. It seemed to me that daily, as he grew, his beautiful flowing, red side fins filled out and appeared to be morphing into arms, while his tail section became increasingly leg-like. These changes obliged him to adapt his swimming technique from graceful water glide to the square breast stroke of a small frog. He took to clinging to a surface branch of water weed. 

Soon Ruby grew to ten inches which is much larger than any statistic that I could find on line. When Sophie visited me, we discussed our conundrum and decided to move him into an old bath tub which I had in my garage. We set it up with some large stones in the middle. Ruby took to basking on the stones. I sent e-mail pictures to Sophie and we hypothesized that we were witnessing the unique birth of a primordial fish into a land animal. We were right for Ruby developed the ability to flip himself out of the tub and flop around the garage. His land propulsion, improved and he was soon walking.  A month later he was so proficient that he was able to accompany me on my daily constitutional walk. He enjoyed his walks, and looked, and behaved increasingly like a small dog. When neighbors, who I met along the way, inquired about his species. I gave vague muffled replies about strange mixed breeds. I was becoming too fond of him to risk the truth as I didn’t want to lose him to science. Finally, he abandoned the garage tub and took up residence in our den where he liked to sit on my knee or next to my husband on the couch. Thankfully he stopped growing. 

That winter we had torrential rains, which filled the creeks and dry water beds with gurgling clear water. On our walks, Ruby liked to stand on the bank and drink. That’s when the accident happened. He tripped and fell in. The current gently swept his floundering flailing body down-stream for he had clearly forgotten how to swim. By the time that I caught up with him all I could do was pull his inert body out of the water. He had drowned!

5 thoughts on “Ruby – a short story

  1. Hello Jane,

    That was a roller-coaster ride for me.

    When it comes to rearing Siamese fighting fish, I consider myself an aficionado of sorts. Therefore, you had me hooked.

    Then, Jane’s formula took shape. I had a smile, eager to know how the story will mature. And you did not disappoint. Reminded me of Gabby Garter and other stories. For a moment there, I expected Ruby to get behind the wheel and drive you home. And show a middle finger at a biker who cut into his lane.

    But poor Ruby died—drowned no less. A fish that drowned. Was he a lung fish that forgot to swim? No. Lung fishes are drab and do not flaunt brilliant colours. Ruby was no lung fish or mudskipper—he was a wannabe-something that drowned. That was what made it all so sad.

    I love your stories. Keep them coming.

    Cheers!
    Eric

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