Sunday, October 2, 2011

FireCloud: Blue-Eyed Soul

I lost a good friend today. He was friendly and fast, but somehow easily forgotten. Why?.
Because he was a fish. And not just any fish. He was a fish who reminded me of another, very special fish I had just before him. And, in the end, he gave me a very special gift.

Oddly, I've written very little about Cloud in the year and a half that I've had him.
It's strange to think how I could write many stories about spiders, who I rarely even see and who don't usually live terribly long, in terms of other animals I study.
It has occurred to me only now that I actually know less about Cloud and his habits than all my other fish. Maybe he's simply less interesting, but I doubt it.
After all, there was one thing about him in particular that got my attention from the moment I saw him.
He had brilliantly blue eyes set against a deep red body with gold undertones and gray on his face.
Though in normal light, his eyes don't look any different from most fish, they are definitely a different color from his body. They showed up well under the pet-store lights.
Because of the obviously different color of his eyes, I could clearly see when he turned them to look at me. It had never occurred to me to wonder if fish could turn their eyes or not. They can.
He sat in his little cup, half turning his body and then looking at me with those clear blue eyes, and I wondered if he wanted to know what I intended to do with him.
Actually, I called him “Blue Eyes” and “Blue” before he got his name.
He looked so much like FireFlash (who was still living at the time), yet so different.
He was so calm as I decided his fate, but so aware of his surroundings.
No matter where I moved along the shelf of fish, those blue eyes were looking right at me.
It was as if he somehow knew. He somehow knew that, out of all the people looking at Bettas that day, I would be the one to bring him home.
I tried looking at others, but whenever I looked back, there he was, just looking.
I have no way of knowing what he was thinking when he looked at me, but it's hard to deny a creature which is obviously suffering who is reaching out to you, asking you to rescue it.
Cloud came home with me that day. And was promptly mistaken as Flash by several people.
To me, the two could never be the same. But to everyone else, they were simply red fish.
Flash didn't have the gold on his belly, and the gray on his face was lighter, shinier.
Flash also sported purple stripes along his sides and on his lower fins.
And, of course, Flash did not have the blue eyes of Cloud.
Nor did he enjoy eye contact (most fish don't) like Cloud. Cloud loved to be seen, but only if he could see you too. He seemed to like making eye contact.
“Let's study each other for awhile” he seemed to suggest.

Cloud actually got the first part of his name because he looked so much like Flash. I chose “Fire” as opposed to “Flash” to be part of his name, because I called FireFlash “Flash” for short.
Cloud got the second part of his name because of how he built his bubble nests. He built them high and all the way across the front of his tank, so they looked a lot like rolling clouds.
Next thing I knew, his name was FireCloud.

Cloud was excitable and very fast, even for his kind.
Catching him when it came time to clean his tank was a good trick.
He was small, and lightning-quick. He and MoonShadow were the difficult pair when it came time to clean the tanks. BlueStreak, who I had already had for a year before Cloud (who came a month before Shadow), was more experienced and knew tank cleaning was nothing to be afraid of.
Cloud, on the other hand, was rattled for the rest of the day. First he just hid, then he went over and over each of his rocks, as if to make sure I hadn't stolen them.
Cloud had an odd habit of chewing his rocks and often managed to scrape the paint off of them (funny, the ones he managed to remove paint from were the set I actually bought from the pet-store).
He didn't seem to eat the paint, just pull it off and leave it floating somewhere in the tank.
He ate almost everything else. If something new appeared in his tank, the first thing he did was taste it.
Cloud actually became rather round as he got older, sporting a gold “pot belly”. But cutting back on his food didn't seem to do much good. It only agitated him, and he kept the pot belly.
It didn't seem to slow him down any, he was as hard to catch as ever.
Not to mention just as excitable. When something unusual was happening, he'd flit around his tank. Either with glee or terror, I never managed to figure out which.

Cloud had a mischievous streak as well. He found it greatly entertaining to pull his tank thermometer off the wall and then freak out because it was floating over his head.
But since he kept right on doing it, I suspect it may have been a game.
Each time I attached it to the wall, he'd go right over and yank it off.
It got to where I just sort of left it loose in the tank during the summer. After all, I could read the thermometers on either side of him from Shadow and Bluey's tanks.
Cloud also thought it was fun to detach his tank filter. That one I had to reattach every time, since it didn't work if it wasn't attached properly.
Fortunately, it took more work for Cloud to remove, so it stayed on the wall longer.
Cloud also seemed to enjoy sleeping behind his filter. This scared me one day when I went to reattach it and found him back there.
I nudged him out with the filter so I wouldn't crush him, then attached it to the wall.
Cloud didn't so much as twitch a fin.
I thought he might be dead. Fortunately, he wasn't. But it did make me wonder, when I wasn't sure if he was alive or not. After all, Cloud was easily the youngest of the three I had (Shadow had been full grown when I got him, whereas Cloud wasn't fully grown until I'd had him for about five months).
He also had always been the healthiest, save for his pot belly.
Shadow had actually been sick when I got him.
I'd actually been expecting Bluey to go for some time, as I'd had him for over two years.
And Shadow, I didn't expect him to last long when I got him, but he was still alive.
But Cloud... I expected some time, but not before the other two.
But he woke up, and was greatly offended to find that he'd been disturbed in his sleep.
He fanned his fins at me angrily for awhile, telling me off I suppose. Then he went back to bed.
What a fish.

Cloud wasn't hard to offend, truth be known. Looking at him funny seemed to offend him.
And when I moved him and the rest to another room, he sat in the bottom of his tank sulking and refused to eat for two days. Then he got over it and actually seemed to like the change.
Shadow had also sulked, but ate well. Bluey obviously knew the difference, but didn't care.
I worried over Cloud for those two days, wondering if he was sick. Or if he simply didn't like this new room and wouldn't adjust. What would I do then?.
Thank goodness I didn't have to find out.
He actually gave me quite a scare on the third day when I added some fresh food and looked to see if he'd moved. He hadn't, then but suddenly sprang to life.
He swam quickly right to the front of the tank as though charging, then abruptly changed direct and went right for the fish food.
Evidently, he was no longer depressed.
His appetite returned to normal and his attitude about the new room improved.
It wasn't really THAT big a change for him. Actually, it was less of a change than it was for the other two. After all, he had a playmobil wall on either side and behind his tank so he wouldn't see the other Bettas. Which meant only his front view changed.
Maybe that's what he was mad about.

Hitting Cloud's panic button wasn't too difficult. Actually, he and Shadow were much alike in some ways. Both were easily frightened and had just about the same solution: stick their head in a plant and hope the scary thing went away. If it came closer, hide behind the filter.
Of the regular frightening occurrences in their lives, the vacuum cleaner seemed to be the most alarming. While Bluey could care less what the vacuum was doing, Shadow and Cloud would dive for cover when they heard/felt/saw (or however they sensed it) me turn it on.
As I vacuumed closer, they would shrink back farther. But as I vacuumed away, they would start to peek out, only to dive back into deep cover when they saw me looking.
Seems like they'd get used to something I do pretty much once a week. Guess not.
Bluey, for his part, never really cared about it.
After I turned the vacuum off, Shadow and Cloud's behavior changed.
Shadow would come out slowly, turning so that one eye faced out, then turning so the other one did.
Cloud, evidently, felt that his status as king of his own personal fish tank was threatened.
He would mock-charge the tank wall and frill out until he could no longer see the vacuum.
Then he'd swim around his tank as if he'd won a great victory.

Of course, as near as I could tell, Cloud didn't like anything new or anyone he didn't know.
This included visitors, cats, birds, model horses and any rock he hadn't seen before.
He got over it, usually.
However, he never got over seeing another fish tank, even if it was empty. That was apparently wrong.
He seemed to suspect that I had other fish, and the tanks confirmed his suspicion and made him very, very angry. Cleaning his tank was such a pain.
There was one creature he didn't seem to mind, and that was the spider who lived behind my dresser for a few months. The first time I saw it, Cloud and the spider were facing off on opposite sides of the tank wall. The little black spider had its front pair of legs raised high, fangs poised to strike.
Cloud had his frill out and kept charging, veering off just short of striking the tank wall.
He seemed to be trying to create the illusion that there was nothing keeping him from the spider.
Since the spider was standing halfway up the tank wall... that illusion wasn't working.
Yet each time he passed close, the spider would raise its legs higher and tilt its tiny fangs out.
It was hardly the size of a dime, legs and all, but utterly ferocious.
Of course, the whole fight was so ridiculous that I couldn't help but try to hold in my laughter and wait to see how it would turn out.
The spider was the first to offer a sign of piece, slowly putting her front legs down on the tank wall and folding back her fangs. Cloud responded in kind, folding his frill away as he turned back towards her.
Then he swam slowly, sidling up to her. He then waited, nose pressed to the tank wall, just an inch from where she sat. She turned her body, looking at him out of eight shiny eyes.
Then she took a step towards him. He responded by paddling a little closer.
Then they were directly opposite each other, staring out of big eyes at one another.
This became an almost daily routine, minus the fighting beforehand.
She would come striding up the tank wall every night and wait for Cloud to notice her.
Then they would inch their way towards each other and sit face to face for some time.
Then she would slowly make her way back down and behind the dresser, to do whatever spiders do.
This continued until her death a few months later.
I found her lying just in front of Cloud's tank, with Cloud sitting over her like a silent guard, keeping scavengers away from her. Of course, he couldn't actually do that, but the intent was there.
I left her there until Cloud finally went off, several hours later. Then I took her outside.
I never knew why she had died, perhaps old age. She hadn't been bitten by another spider, as so often happened and she never had been wanting for food since there was a large supply of fleas and moths at that particular time.
I wondered what she and Cloud had talked about, if he knew she was dead, or if he knew why.
I also wondered why they had decided not to fight that day and become friends. Had one of them said “let's not fight, let's study each other for awhile”?.
I'll never know the answer to that.

It had been a long time since Cloud made one of his famous cloud-like bubble nests. But the day he died, he spent hours upon hours building a nest, just like the first one he ever built. The nest which had earned him his name. It was as if he was building it just to say goodbye.
As if he were saying "this is how I came into your life. And this is how I leave you. Always happy, always interested in life. My life ends here, but that's okay. You can go on with yours,"


Rescued: April 16th, 2010

Died: October 2nd, 2011 

Thanks you, my friend. And goodbye.

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