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Column – Holli Deal Bragg

Am I entertaiment for my fish?

If I die and come back as something else, I pray it won't be a fish.
Especially a male Siamese Fighting fish, also known as "betta splendens," or just plain betta.
These magnificent fish must live alone, or they will fight to the death, so it is said.
How they procreate is a story in itself. The water must be still, not aerated; a certain depth, and the male must make a nest of bubbles. When the female happens to swim past, he grabs her and folds his body around her, doing a graceful mating dance as she releases eggs into the water. Then the male picks up the eggs in his mouth, and deposits them into the bubble nest. He guards the nest until they are born – and then, if the fry don't find a hiding place, he devours them.
Go into any pet store or pet department that sells tropical fish and you will see several small containers with an inch or so of water. Inside will be one long-finned, brightly colored, beautiful fish. This is the male betta.
Females aren't nearly as pretty, and don't fight like the males. For such small beings, they sure seem filled with an abundance of testosterone.
Once, when I worked in a local department store in the pet department, a coworker placed two male bettas together. It wasn't pretty. After the fight the fins were ravaged and the coworker got a pretty severe lecture.
When a male betta sees another, the transformation goes from merely pretty to spectacular. The fins flare out, the fish's color deepens, its gills expand and it becomes decidedly more animated.
All it takes is a mirror or the sight of another male to get this reaction. Just ask anyone who stops by my desk.
In a cylindrical vase-turned-fishbowl, Monroe lives a very placid life. No females with which to do the bubble nest dance, no adversaries to fight - except for the One.
Monroe, who on his good days is a pretty blue color with red accents, has little to excite him. The highlights of his life are when the pretty red flakes fall from the sky into his world and he sees how many he can snap up before they fall to the rocks below; and when the One happens to make an appearance.
Monroe doesn't know the One is only a reflection of himself. He's only a fish, after all – how big could his brain be?
Editor Jim is one who enjoys spicing up Monroe's existence. He will pick up a small mirror I keep close by and place it next to the fish's world. It takes a minute, but then fins flare, gills flap open and the fish actually moves.
Monroe is a weird fish. Instead of small pebbles in his vase/bowl, there are larger rocks. He likes to sleep in them. Not on them - in them. He will nose-dive into a crevice and wiggle until he is between two rocks, and then remain still.
I'm not the only one who has tapped his glass in fear, thinking the office pet has kicked the bucket. But every time, he will awaken, wiggling feverishly until he frees himself from his rocky pillow, floating upward to get a breath of air as he seems to shake his fins in confusion.
(Bettas are labyrinth breathers, meaning they obtain their oxygen from the water surface. That is why their water does not need aeration.)
Lately Monroe seems a little pale. Last week we thought his days were over, as he floated sideways in the water. I saw something red on his side and believed he suffered from some sort of cancerous growth, but it floated away and I realized someone had put something foreign in his water.
A change of H2O and Monroe seems to be fine – albeit still a little pale.
But all it takes for his color to flush back is a visit from the One.
What a sad existence!  Should I get another betta and place him in a bowl beside Monroe? Will this bring some excitement into the poor fish's life or will it stress him to death?
Maybe I'll give him some variety in his diet. Maybe he is tired of the betta food designed to give him "vibrant color." Could he be yearning for some freeze-dried Tubifex worms?
As I sit at my desk, I watch as Monroe floats, blowing one small bubble that rises to the surface. Could he be dreaming of a mate?
Poor fish, destined to a life of loneliness because of his penchant for fighting to the death.  I wonder what he thinks of this creature that lives just outside his world, spending hours a day pecking away at a computer keyboard?
Maybe I'm his entertainment instead of the other way around.

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