dimanche 3 octobre 2010

El Bandito perdido

Bandit, September 30

It's always like that. You spot a fish, get to know it a little, and then you are attached to it. It was particularly true with the fish we started to call "Bandit", because of its black mask. It could just as easily have been "Zorro" or "The Lone Ranger", but "Bandit" it was, or "El Bandito".

Bandit appeared over the summer, one of this year's babies, and he -- please forgive me if you are actually a female -- made an immediate impression. First, we had never had a fish like this one, mostly orange, partly pink with black spots, one being located right across his eyes and stopping just shy of his nose. Then, we noticed his particular manner of swimming. Bandit always seemed to be in a hurry, eager, darting about with twitches of his tail. And then, there was how outgoing he was. This was a fish who did not seem to notice that he was one of the little ones. He jumped right into the pack and was eager to do everything with everyone else: play with his elders, feed when I showed up, swim right over to greet anyone approaching the old fountain, and -- well, that's about what the fish do.

What's more, Sam and my husband felt exactly the same way about Bandit. Bandit stood out in a school of fish. We looked forward to watching this fish grow up, discover if he was really a she, and see how many more sort of like him we would have.

Then, a little more than a week ago, I was watching the fish (I do this way too much), and I noticed several new ones. I had thought we had fewer fry survive this year, and here was a whole new batch. One that was mostly very light with an orange sherbet head, several little dark gray and black ones, and -- I blinked -- another Bandit, taille petite! El Bandito had a hermano or a hermana! There was El Grande and there was El Pequeno.

"Mom," said Sam, "wouldn't that be 'poquito'?" I thought about it, and I felt confused. Spanish was a long time ago for me, just two months ago for Sam, who aced it on his bac.

"Ah, maybe."

Looking for both of the the other day, I realized it would not be "poquito". That means "a little", or "un peu".

Every morning I go out to feed and greet the fish, who swim up as fast as they can, word traveling somehow to those hanging out under the old stone sink covered with vegetation that the non-fish had shown up with the food, and on this morning, September 1, I noticed that Bandit was absent. I hand fed the most prolific egg producer first, as I always do, and then began to distribute pinches of food, looking out for Bandit. He did not appear. Not even by the time the last flake and dried shrimp had been eaten.

I went out several times that day in the rain, donning my old L.L. Bean anorak, but Bandit never appeared. He didn't the next day or today. And I looked for Little Bandit, too, but he didn't appear, either, until today. I shared the sad news with my husband, who would have noticed and ask me soon enough.

"Je ne vois plus Bandit depuis deux jours," I told him, hating to make the announcement because that probably sealed Bandit's fate.

"Ah ben?" He said. He knew. I wouldn't have brought it up if I thought Bandit was doing something important but secretive and just failing to show; I suspected the worst, and he guess it, "C'est probablement ce chat. Il faut qu'on fasse quelque chose." He meant the neighbors' cat, a big old black and white male about as ugly as they get. He compares him to Shadow, confusing them sometimes. I take issue.

"Comme quoi?" What, I asked, did he have in mind for us to do to protect the fish?

"Ben, il est normalement conseillé de garder l'eau plus bas encore du bord, mais on ne peut pas --" He fell off to reflecting on the problem. Normally, he had said, it is advised that you keep the water level further below the edge of the fish basin than we can because of the depth of the old fountain, but he didn't have another idea. Later, he proposed using cat and dog repellent.

"Mais, on a des chats et des chiens qui ne posent aucun problème et qui aime venir boire ou regarder, on ne veut pas les punir, et de toute manière, je ne pense pas que ces produits marchent."

"C'est peut-être mieux que de perdre des poissons," he said. I thought about it. It is a natural ecosystem, however, and ecosystems do have predators. This is a natural part of life. I shared my point of view with him, but he didn't seem convinced. He liked Bandit.

So did I.

"On pourrait peut-être juste mettre plus d'objets sur le bord du bassin chaque nuit avant d'aller se coucher. Comme ça, le chat ne pourrait pas monter dessus pour faire de la pêche." He didn't seem enthused by my idea. I didn't like it much more, having to go out every night to add flower pots and other bulky objects to fill up every opening around the edge of the old fountain so the cat would be blocked from fishing.

Maybe we will have to let nature go its course.

But today, watching the fish and hoping to see Bandit swim up, I started to form this crazy hope: Bandit was hurt or scared by the big old lout of a cat, and he was down under the old stone sink, recovering. He'd show up in a day or two just as good as new.

I know he won't, though.

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