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Betsy Block


Requiem for a Fish

Requiem for a Fish
"Why didn't anybody tell me?" an anguished BD asked before angrily hissing, "Fish killer."

We'd had Violet for almost four years - an eternity when it comes to pet fish, as far as I'm concerned. Beta fish have to live alone because cohabitation doesn't bring out their best traits; like lobsters, they kill each other. This eliminated any guilt about only having one fish, since by doing so we had certainly saved at least one life, maybe more. We meanly chuckled as friends went through fish after fish, finally giving up on the species altogether; meanwhile, Violet not only survived, but thrived. Until the other day.

Since we had gotten back from a week on Cape Cod, nine-year-old E had been begging for a hermit crab. His two friends had them, they were cool, blah blah blah. E isn't always the most helpful member of our household when it comes to pet care; in other words, I told him sternly, I was skeptical that he could take care of a hermit crab. He'd have to earn my trust by stepping up his fish care, from nothing to at least something. I suppose, then, that I'm to blame for what happened next:

E came home from school, and with the intention of following through on our conversation, fed the fish. "Uh, Mom?" I heard from the other room. The top of the tank was covered with food.

Four-year-old P has been caring for this fish - feeding it judiciously, telling us if the water needs changing - since she was two. Maybe E had a heavy hand because he himself is a big eater and doesn't like to deprive anyone of a satisfying meal. Maybe he secretly wanted to off the fish, hoping that we'd feel sorry for him and get him his crab, but I don't think so.

Whatever the reason, I knew that overfeeding the fish wasn't good. "We'd better get that out," I said ominously. And then the "Mommy, will you"s and the "Mom, can I"s started, and by the time I remembered what needed to be done, the food had already dispersed so much that it would have been impossible to scoop it up. I shrugged, hoped for the best, and forgot about it.

I woke up the next morning to P crying out in a high-pitched voice, "What are you doing, Daddy?" And then - the toilet.

BD says that for a smart woman, I have some critical gaps. As he complained (rightly) to friends, "Nobody ever told me what happened. I'm the only one who takes care of any house pets." Of course, that's not strictly true - four-year-old P helps a lot - but I understood what he was saying. If I'd just told him about the situation, he would have changed Violet's water and she would still be with us today.

I lay awake that night, regretful and ashamed. Honestly, it hadn't even occurred to me that we could change the water. (That's the royal "we," meaning "BD." I don't change fish water.) There was no way around it: Violet's death was my fault. It's not that we adored the fish, but she was always there, swimming peacefully in her tank. Quiet. Uncomplaining.

We'll miss her.

The best way to honor Violet's life, and mourn (and pay penance for) her untimely death, would have been to fast, or at the very least, to skip dinner. Instead, we ate fish, just as I'm sure Violet would have done in our circumstances.

Coconut fish (in memory of Violet)

1 lb. skinned fish filets (BD used sole)
1 Tbsp. olive oil
1 Tbsp. unsalted butter, cut into bits
1 Tbsp. lemon juice
salt and pepper to taste
1 cup panko (we've had some questions about panko here at Mama Cooks - these are especially light and crunchy Japanese bread crumbs, but any bread crumbs will do)
cup dry, unsweetened coconut flakes
lime slices for garnish

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Oil a glass pan (we used a 9 x 13"). Place the fish filets in the pan in a single layer; salt and pepper them.

Mix the bread crumbs and coconut together, then sprinkle this generously over the fish. Drizzle it all with lemon juice and butter. Bake for 5-7 minutes, then jazz it up under the broiler until brown, about two more minutes.

Garnish with lime. Raise a fork to Violet.