Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Lessons In Character Motivation From A Passive-Aggressive Fish

The daughter was home from college for the semester break for two days when her roommate called and asked, "Um, did you bring Beanie home with you?"

Thankfully Beanie wasn't a dog or a kitten or a human baby, but Beanie was a betta fish, and for a full month he was alone in a dorm room. Probably the dorm room, anyway. They couldn't be sure they didn't set his container down in the parking lot while packing up their cars.

So of course, the girls were fully expecting to return to a dorm room that smelled somewhere between sway-inducing and ferocious. Imagine the shock when roommate arrived this afternoon to find Beanie swimming in his bowl, right on the dresser where they left him. How is this possible, people?

While I was wondering if this was some sort of alien or zombie fish, my friend Shelli Cornelison suggested on Twitter that this could lead to a fun picture book idea. How did this heroic fish survive on his watery island during his month of neglect? Did he leap into the air out of desperation to grab a packet of Ramen Noodles? Scrounge for crumbs from Little Debbie Snacks?

Just as we were discussing this, Daughter called to tell me that Beanie the Wonderfish had the nerve to DIE. Yes, after all that time, he died as soon as he was given his first flake of food.

And now I'm really intrigued. How could he die now, after all he'd been through? Perhaps the food was a shock to his system, but I couldn't help but think of possible motivations Beanie had for hanging on for so long, just to die as soon as help arrived:

  • Closure: Maybe Beanie was clinging to life for weeks, but couldn't bear to leave without saying goodbye. As soon as the companion he'd been waiting for arrived, he embraced the sweet release of death. Very Barbara-Hershey-in-Beaches of you, fish.
  • Despair: I'm sure he assumed that something terrible happened to his humans. Certainly they wouldn't abandon him for so long, leaving him helpless and hungry. And then they walk through the door and he realizes, "Oh. There you are. You're all right. I guess you would abandon me. I don't think I want to be a part of this anymore."
  • Passive-aggressiveness: One can't play the victim without an audience, so Beanie refused to succumb to starvation until he could look into someone's eyes and say, "Thanks for the food, bitches. Peace out."
What other reasons could there be? 'Cause I'm baffled. Obviously, it's perfectly acceptable to attribute human characteristics to a fish in any explanations you can come up with. 


  1. Hilarious! My daughter had a beta that was dropped and the fish bowl shattered, (it lived), then the new fishbowl mysteriously cracked and all the water drained out (it lived) then it got a bulgy-fish infection (it lived) then we got a cat...um it became lunch (didn't live). The moral, betas are hard to kill! Tough little fish!

  2. I'm learning these are some resilient fish. I'm amazed it didn't attack the cat from inside its stomach.

  3. Maybe while the girls were away, Beanie made some powerful enemies who poisoned his food? No? Too many mafia movies for me.

  4. Perhaps Beanie was just a confederate in an elaborate social psychology experiment to examine guilt-motivated behaviors in college-aged females. And their mothers.

    Or, er, it could have been shock. Or coincidence (like, he was hanging on by a thread anyway).

  5. Hahaha! I love this post. Thank you for the morning laugh, Lynne. Maybe Beanie was a spy fish and he bonded with his subjects. He was going to confess everything to the girls as soon as they returned... but the syndicate got to him and shut him up for good.

  6. Hmm, Sarah's probably right about the "hanging by a thread," but I do like these conspiracy theories.

  7. Bwahahahaha. That's just awesome. Oh fish do make for great stories. My daughter once fed an entire plate of snickerdoodles to our poor fish. I completely freaked out seeing his poor little mouth coming up through the swelling mass in want of air. He barely survived, though one fin was never the same. :) That event made its way into a short story and still makes me laugh to think about.

    Thanks for another good laugh. Give my respects to Beanie.

  8. Holy crap, an entire plate!? I'm amazed he survived, but death by cookie wouldn't be a bad way to go. Glad he worked his way into a story!

  9. I remember when we got our betta, the man at the pet store said to give it one flake of food every 3 days. One flake? Yeah, well that didn't happen. I'm Italian. I am genetically programmed to keep that food coming. My point here is they don't seem to need much food to survive. I like your passive-aggressive theory ...

    1. Oh dear! You quite literally mothered him to death.