Beta Brothers

BETA BROTHERS
(an excerpt)

 by

 Robert Kerbeck

Willow Review, Spring 2015

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The fish was a gift from my brother. Well, technically, it was from his eight-year-old son. And it wasn’t given to me but to my nine-year-old, Chris, when he left Max’s birthday party that afternoon.

“Are you kidding me?” my wife said when she saw it. “Who gives a fish as a goody bag gift?”

I was thinking it was pretty special. I wasn’t sure if I’d had a Siamese fighting fish before, though I must have. My brother, Wayne, had probably remembered it since he was older, and was the one who got the first fish tank. He and I collected fish throughout our childhood, starting when I was about the same age as Chris and Max were now. It was still hard to believe my brother no longer kept fish, almost as hard to believe as the fact that we hadn’t spoken in years.

The Siamese fighting fish, also known as a beta, was blue, my favorite color—which my brother knew too—with long red fins. But this beta looked bad, lifeless and stressed, as store-bought aquarium fish usually do, especially freshwater ones like beta. That’s where most people started—freshwater fish. It was easier than keeping a saltwater tank, which required an aptitude for chemistry that, thank God, I had. Well, Wayne had and he’d taught me. Freshwater fish were also less expensive, a detail not missed by my wife.

“I bet Tara was behind this. She’s so cheap, she probably bought a barrel of the dying fish in the alley behind the Beverly Hills Petco,” Sue said.

The three worst things someone could be in my wife’s eyes were:

1)      a child molester

2)      a serial killer

3)      rich and cheap

I began to gather she had a problem with the gift. She didn’t understand the meaning behind it.

“It is a little odd,” I said, testing the waters.

“It’s more than that. They’re asking people to care for a living creature, to take on a pet. Suppose you don’t want to do that?”

I almost blurted out that my brother and his wife, Tara, had included fish food to go along with the blue beta in the plastic bag.

“Don’t you agree, Donald?” my wife asked.

“Yes, it’s odd.”

“And what happens when it dies? Likely soon, judging by the raggedy look of the thing. Chris’ll be heartbroken; you know how sensitive he is. I will not let your family inflict any more pain on him.”

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