Just when I had concluded that the celebrity Mandarin Duck in Central Park was the most dazzling bit of aquatic life in our urban village, I got a text from Andrew, the Superintendent of the building in which I live. He said that his daughter, Marcella, had asked him to contact “Miss Cunningham” to find if she might have a fishbowl handy. And if so, could she ask to borrow it to make a home for the Jack, the Beta Fish she had just brought home in the tiny plastic travelling bag designed to get him from A to B, but surely not to the C, D or E of the next week. As one who has never had a pet of any kind, still less a fish, I sensed that the caring young girl might have based her hope on the 17th Century French philosopher Pascal’s suggestion “The heart has its reasons which reason does not know.” That was enough of a motivation for me and so I set off on a quick survey of my fishless/petless premises.
My first candidate was a small globular vase our local genius at Fellan Florist had filled with nested twigs into which he had inserted a lovely “nosegay” of flowers. Knowing Marcella’s powers of discernment and her hope that “Jack” would not emulate his athlete namesake and jump out of his new “apartment” I also added a slightly larger vase. But not before I reminded her that more space is not always a treat. “You would not be doing a newborn any favor if you gave it a king-size bed. That would be terrifying after nine months in the coziness of its Mother’s womb.”
I have not and likely never will ask precisely which she chose but sight unseen I trust her decision. I can be sure she intuitively “got it right.” Because, after all, this young woman who Sunday night nominated me as the “Mary Poppins of 301” was the one I stood next to at our doorway on the day in 2015 when Pope Francis was driven past our corner on his way to the Cathedral. Just as he appeared, Marcella sneezed and when she was wished “God Bless You,” she never doubted that it was his Holiness who had spoken this wish specifically to her. I don’t know anyone who would argue the point with the magical child.
“Jack” the Beta Fish
Listening to Andrew in his follow up call I heard his description of the new member of their extended family as a “bait fish.” Not so. So, when he thanked me for finding a home for “Jack” and delivering him from a history of “solitary confinement” I was puzzled. Until, that is, he opened his encyclopedic record of amazement stored on his smartphone and showed me the unique beauty of a Beta Fish. Each of them lives alone except for a rare moment of mating that produces a new Beta Fish.
I learned that should two members of the species accidentally meet, they will instinctively and inevitably fight to the death. No “happy ever after” for any of them. That is, of course, unless and until such a fish should meet a little girl who names her new pet “Jack” to honor her father’s enthusiasm for Jack Lambert, his favorite football player and Hall of Fame middle linebacker with the Pittsburgh Steelers in their glory days in the 70s, and saluting as well, her honorary and human Uncle Jack. A lot of gravitas for such a little fish.
A Beta Fish is dazzling. They are yet another example of the Infinite lavishness of a creator whose tiniest fish rivals the beauty of the most majestic mountains or the works of the most gifted human artists. It’s something of the message John Updike treated us to in his lovely story reflecting on the magnificence of Pigeon Feathers.
I live in hope that Jack is flourishing. And like every other city dweller who lives in an urban village, knowing each other’s names and whatever parts of our stories we choose to share, I will respect his privacy. No fishbowl of celebrity for this magnificent creature whose defining hues are, I am told, richly varied subtle shades of turquoise.
I will simply sign off with “Welcome Jack! We are all the more beautiful for having you in our midst.”
Opening photo of Beta Fish by Chevanon Photography from Pexels
All other photos courtesy of Andrew, Marcella, and family.