Modine's New Orleans: Fish Tales

LORI OSIECKI ILLUSTRATION

Around here, when you say “fish,” people lick their chops. Fish are for frying unless they got shells, in which case, they belong in a big pot of water with crab boil – unless they’re oysters, and then they belong in a poor boy sandwich.

That is how we think in New Orleans.

My little granddaughter Lollipop don’t know this, so she trusts me to give tender loving care to her pet goldfish, Ick, when she goes to Disney World with her mama and them.

But her mama, my daughter Gumdrop, she ain’t so sure. I don’t think she really believes I would cook and eat a goldfish. But I got a bad history with small pets: specifically Buddy D, Gawland and Angela. They were gerbils that my three kids had when they were little, and which they also never took care of.

Them gerbils drove me to reverse shoplifting – and me a Catholic girl, who worries about mortal sin.

I got to explain. It was bad enough that I had to change Buddy D and Gawland and Angela’s cedar chips and feed them their sunflower seeds and fill their upside-down water bottles. But when Buddy D escaped and tried to start a new life in a hole he gnawed in my couch, I’d had enough. I found me a long trench coat and dropped Gawland in one pocket and Angela in the other, and slipped Buddy D into a Barbie doll sleeping bag and put him in my purse. And I slunk into the pet store and dropped them one at a time back in the glass tank with all the other gerbils. So the pet shop got to sell them twice. I call that reverse shoplifting. It is probably the opposite of a sin.

The kids didn’t even miss them. But a week later, Gumdrop noticed something had gnawed a hole in her Barbie-Goes-Camping sleeping bag and the truth come out.

She still holds it against me. I guess she thinks she’s giving me a second chance by entrusting me with Ick.

I promise to do my best, being as I’m why Lollipop owns this fish. I took her to her school fair and she seen one of them booths where if you hit the target with a tennis ball, you win a goldfish in a plastic bag. There is only one fish left. She says she just knows she can win.

But she misses, and I’m just about to offer some cotton candy to cheer her up, when the man says, “Congratulations, little lady!” and hands her the fish. Before I can object, he closes the booth. Lollipop is ecstatic.

So I call her house to say we’re bringing home a fish, not for supper, but for a pet. I believe in advance warning.

Unbeknownst to me, her daddy, Slime, is what I consider a fish freak. He would rather look at them than eat them. He rushes to Pet-Smart, and when we get home he welcomes this fish, now named Ick, into a disco-quarium with a pole of bubbles in the middle and LED lights that change color.

I guess the transition from a plastic bag to a disco-quarium is too much for Ick. He expires the next day. Slime flushes him away and replaces him with an identical fish before Lollipop gets home from school. And he adds a little mermaid, in case Ick died from lack of feminine companionship, I guess.

Ick II lasts three days.

For Ick III, Slime gets a sunken pirate ship. A week later, he adds a mini-SpongeBob SquarePants for Ick IV. Then the toilet backs up, and Gumdrop tells Slime he can’t flush no more Icks. When Ick IV dies, they’ll have to tell Lollipop the terrible truth.

Ick IV, it turns out, is tough. A year later he’s still swimming in the disco lights, flicking in and out among the mermaid and SpongeBob and the pirate ship, plus a couple crayons and some Carnival beads that got dropped in there.

And that’s when I’m asked to fish sit.

Gumdrop carries the disco-quarium to my car. “Don’t do like you did with Buddy D,” she says.

At home, I put him on the windowsill, dump in some fish food and go to bed. And in the morning, I find him dead. Gone to that big frying pan in the sky. I am so upset. I scoop him out and dump him in the toilet. But before I can flush, a miracle happens. He starts zipping around, fluttering his fins and flapping his tail. I make the sign of the cross, put him back in his tank and go to work. When I come home, he’s dead again. But as soon as he hits the toilet water, he comes back to life.

What to do? Keep him in the toilet? I only got one toilet.

I put orange duct tape across the bathroom door with a sign that says “Occupied” and I go next door to use my gentleman friend Lust’s facilities. When I get back, my youngest daughter Gladiola is home from school, frowning at the sign. I explain and we think about it, and then I realize: the disco-quarium is in the sun. I put my finger in it. The water is hot. I don’t put my finger in the toilet, but I guess the water in there is cool. That is why dogs drink out of toilets.

So we haul the disco-quarium off the windowsill, dump it out, refill it with cooler water, set it on the bathroom floor and put Ick back in. And he thrives.

When Lollipop gets home from her trip, I bring Ick back, happy and healthy. I got a extra little present for her, too. A gerbil. I tell her mama that this gerbil already has a name: “Payback.”

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