Blueberry died today.
He swam around a bowl. He ate little flakes of god knows what. He was complacent when we poured him temporarily into a measuring cup so we could change the water, which – to be honest – wasn’t all that often.
He lived extraordinarily long for a betta fish – a year and a half.
One day he was very lethargic and hovered near the bottom. We thought he was a goner, but he stirred when I shook the bowl. Still, Lily would not let me make fish cakes for dinner that night as I had planned.
In poor taste, she thought.
That was a week ago.
This morning when she shook the bowl, he didn’t move.
We planned a funeral for later in the day, but the day slipped away.
She went to a birthday party in the afternoon. My girlfriends came over for dinner. In between, I repaired the gate on the fence behind our house, vacuumed the downstairs and changed the lightbulb on the front porch.
It was 9:30, dark, and raining off and on when Lily and I were alone together again.
She brought down a decorative box from upstairs. I plucked Blueberry from his bowl with a soup spoon.
She didn’t cry until I put him in the box and covered him with a paper towel. Then she sobbed.
We buried him in a hole in the garden with the day lilies, a spot where the soil is very moist and my friend’s 4-year-old had dug a hole for this purpose hours earlier.
We covered the grave with rosemary clippings and a rock carved with his name.
Back inside, as I cleaned away the remnants of dinner with six women and our nine children, she asked me if Blue would be reincarnated as a person.
“Maybe something else before that?” I responded.
A rabbit. A squirrel. A bird.
She asked me if fish have feelings.
I don’t think so, I said.
If they don’t have feelings, what do they do all day?
Swim. Eat. Swim some more. Eat some more.
A miserable life, she said.
Not if they don’t know anything else, I said.
If he comes back as something else, will he remember having been a fish?
I said I didn’t know.
She asked about heaven.
I said I didn’t know.
She asked what I know.
I said what I know is all living things will die. What I believe is there’s something after that. I don’t know if Blue will come back as a bird (bluejay is her preference for him), if he’ll end up in some sort of heaven with people in it, or if he’ll simply be an effect on you – you smart, sensitive girl – but I believe every living thing leaves an impression.
Blueberry was your pet, and he died, and that makes you sad and thoughtful and full of big questions, and those questions led to a conversation I bet we both remember.
A little fish in a big pond.