I stared straight into the face of death.
Two eyes opened wide in a blank stare. Soulless, bottomless pits of inky blackness from which no light - or life - would ever escape.
Corners of the mouth peeled back in a frozen grimace like a clown from the circus of the damned.
Time stopped. My heart ceased beating.
The breath trapped in the vault of my chest, preventing the scream that threatened to rip from my throat.
Oh. My. GOD.
Five long seconds ticked off the nearby clock.
And then instinct took over. That innate, save-yourself sixth sense that told cavemen to RUN FROM DANGER! THERE’S A SABERTOOTH TIGER HIDING IN THE BUSH! HE’LL TURN YOU INTO LUNCH, AND THEN YOU’RE NOTHING BUT A CAVE PAINTING AND A MEMORY!
I ran down the stairs and did what any gal with an XX chromosome combo would do.
“$%*@!” I yelled for my husband, bending over at the waist, gulping large chunks of air into my oxygen-starved lungs.
OK, normally I’m not such a wuss. I am, after all, our household’s spider eliminator because they totally freak out my husband, and I’m the one who hoses off the dog after she’s rolled in poop.
But this...thing...took me completely by surprise. I grabbed my husband’s arm with one hand and reached out and pointed back up the stairs with the other.
“Up there,” I gasped. I shuddered and added, “Unbelievable.”
He looked at me. Looked up the stairs. Back at me. “Did you drink expired NyQuil again?” he finally asked.
I shook my head, grabbed his hand and led him into our son’s bedroom and over to the corner where a tall dresser stood, pulled away from the wall. A gigantic fish tank, recently drained of water, rested on top.
I pointed and said, “Remember when that big pleco fish disappeared from the tank?”
He nodded. “Sure, he got too big for the tank. I wanted to flush him. You got all girly and wouldn’t let me.”
I sighed, “I wouldn’t let you euthanize the fish. Sue me. But that’s not my point.”
He crossed his arms over his chest and adopted his so-what-IS-your-point? stance.
“My point,” I added for emphasis, “is he disappeared. Poof. I assumed he burrowed under the rocks, died and then the other fish...you know...ate him.”
His eyebrow arched, waiting for the punch line of the horrible joke he knew was just around the corner.
“Well,” I gulped, “I think I owe the other fish an apology.”
I pointed in the corner where the wall met the floor. He leaned over to take a closer look and that’s when he realized where my story was going.
“Eeeeew,” he hollered and jumped back.
Yes, after accusing the other fish of cannibalism, the poor guy had met his maker only after what would prove to be a suicidal leap from the tank.
Giving the phrase “Fly, Be Free,” a whole new horrible meaning.
Judging from the splash marks - yes, there were honest-to-goodness splash marks, he flew up out of the tank, hit the wall behind and slid down to the floor to land under the dresser, condemned to become a small heap of dried scales and withered fins.
Oh, it was gross. Totally gross.
And way beyond creepy that the little guy had been lurking under my son’s dresser for six long months.
And before you judge me on my apparent lack of housekeeping skills, whereas a dead, decaying fish can remain undetected for that length of time, I plead my case.
That tank? It weighs a ton. And if we hadn’t needed to move the dresser to make way for a new bed, I never would have emptied the tank at all.
It was like the dominoes of destiny had lined up to create the perfect disgusting storm.
And more unbelievable? It never smelled or attracted - ick - bugs. All in all, he was a very polite fish to die so quietly and hygienically.
I frowned as I watched my husband grab a paper towel, carefully pick him up and head out the door.
Poor guy. He deserved much more than what fate had given him. So I bowed my head. Said a little prayer. And before I got to “amen” I heard: flush.
Fly. Be free, my friend.