Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Shimmering One - A King In The Making

Written: October 4, 2011

The words “noble”, “elegant” and “kingly” came instantly to mind when I interacted with the little velvet blue fish. He was neither shy nor aggressive, but seemed more tolerant than curious.
As if he felt it beneath him to react to the finger which had come into contact with his world.
He had made a ring of bubbles around the top of his cup. This ring was precise and uniform, but seemed to be just that. It seemed to hold little significance for him, as if he knew his bubble nest was superior to all the others and thus did not need defending.
He had an air of polite indifference about him that drew me in.
It didn't seem like arrogance somehow, for he truly looked and behaved as though he were royal.
In fact, that was how I first described his color: royal blue.
He did not seem offended when I disturbed his cup and held it up to get a better look at it. It surprised me that I noticed that he wasn't offended before I noticed that he wasn't afraid.
But when he realized he was no longer on the shelf and seemed to be staring down into space, his regal indifference vanished for a moment.
He panicked and hit his snout against the wall of his cup.
Then, regaining his composure, he paused and looked down, still slightly ruffled.
He didn't seem particularly embarrassed by his undignified display of fear. More like he was ashamed of himself. Like a Prince who showed fear before the King.
It wasn't hard to see that the little blue one hid his fear behind a mask of calm.
I hadn't seen this in a fish before. It intrigued me.
Still, I felt that I should be fair and inspect all of the other Bettas.
I had to set him and another fish of the same color on another shelf so I could see the ones in the back row. Most of those were dead, crazed or otherwise undesirable.
One was an incredibly tiny white fellow, who I could hardly even believe was male.
I checked his label twice, just to be sure. He looked like a female.
The unusual appearance drew my attention, but he seemed very lifeless.
So I was drawn once more to the royal blue one.
It was down to him or a red one. But the red was very aggressive and agitated easily.
So I chose the little blue one. It took me a moment to pick him out among the others who were virtually identical in appearance. I feared for a moment that I might have to start all over again.
But then I picked him up a second time by chance.
The way he looked at me, as if he were allowing me to touch his cup... there was only one fish like that.
He traveled well, except when it came to turning right or left. Up and down hill was okay, and even the car vibrating at a stop light didn't disturb him. But turn left or right and he flew into momentary violence. I was certain he was afraid, but he masked it in rage.
But when the car straightened out and the water calmed, so did he.
He would swim in a circle once, then stop at the edge of his cup, nose barely touching its wall.
When we got home, I set him on my desk while I filled his new home with water and set up the filter (I hadn't done that beforehand, since I couldn't be sure I'd find the right fish).
I tried to coax him out of the cup, so the dirty water wouldn't mix with his clean water, but he was having none of it. Again, he was unlike any other fish I'd dealt with before.
While most flipped and squirmed as though utterly terrified, he simply slipped out of my hand and acted as if he were offended. Not really angry, more annoyed than anything.
I finally gave it up and poured him into the tank.
He shimmered in the water, shinier and brighter than any fish I'd had.
Once again, his behavior was unexpected.
Instead of panicking or freezing in surprise, he simply swam along as if he owned the place.
That is, until he bumped noses with something that was actually inside his tank: a thermometor.
Actually, I'm not sure which startled him more: the size of his tank or the fact that something was in it.
He froze where he was, then slowly and carefully backed away from the thermometor.
I'm quite certain that his eyes would have widened if that were at all possible.
He was so startled that he kept right on backing up. Then he seemed to realize there wasn't an edge where he expected there to be.
He slowly turned in the water, and seemed to hang there a moment, puzzled.
He was so accustomed to his cup that he wasn't sure what to do with all this space.
Then he suddenly had a new problem. He needed to take a breath of air.
In a quick flurry of panic he swam upwards, getting more frantic as he found that the water was much, MUCH deeper than he had first supposed.
Finally he broke the surface with so much force that half his body was out of the water before he stopped. He splashed back into the water and hung there for a moment, taking several breaths.
After that, he managed to regain his composure one more time.
He swam around near the top of the tank at first, examining the thermometor and plant, then the filter.
Then he swam just a little lower and investigated his “log”. A little lower and he was eying the different “rocks” at the bottom of his tank curiously.
All the time, he reminded me of a king surveying his kingdom.
I knew at once that he deserved a name which sounded like royalty.
I also knew that, no matter how long he lived, he would not be like any fish I'd had before.
Appearancewise, he was far more striking than any fish I'd had before.
I didn't know if he was going to stay that way or not. I figured he would get darker with age, just like the rest of my fish had. I also expected that his tail would grow out as well.
When I got him, it looked sort of like a half circle. My Bettas had all had tails sort of like ponytails. At least, they did once they got older.
The first names I thought of involved “Rogue” and “Lobo”.
But this was no rogue. This was a King, Emperor or Pharoah. Only I didn't like those names.
I jokingly thought of “spot” and “white tip” when I saw the white spots in front of his eyes and on the ends of two of his fins (which were red, as opposed to the rest of him which was blue).
I also thought of “Magic” and “Merlin”. But he was no wizard.
I wondered what a suitable name for a future king was. Certainly not “Arthur”, simply because it also had the association with a television show of the same name.
He would be difficult to get to know, I could tell already.
He was always ready to show off, to be sure, and wasn't at all shy.
But his displays seemed more like a ritual or performance.
As if he were gracefully accepting his role as a thing of beauty. Politely playing for his subjects, or perhaps his audience. It was hard to tell.
It was when he thought I wasn't looking that I would come to know him.
It wasn't long before it became evident that he was very playful and energetic, and also very curious.
Yet at the same time he was always businesslike, hiding his “childish” behavior in a veil of purposefulness. His games were disguised as “making the rounds”.
This was truly an intriguing character I'd gotten my hands on.
And he deserved a name which fit his more unusual personality.
But what would it be?.
Mom had jokingly suggested “King Tut”, but it had gotten the wheels turning. The names of famous leaders spun through my mind, but I knew far too little about most of them to know how well they suited my little royal friend.
But then a name caught in my mind and stuck “Solomon”. But was it too much of a name for such a little blue creature?. It had the same flavor to it as all the other names I'd been mulling over. The only other name that kept making a nuisance of itself was “Zephyr”.

I'd had him for just over a week when he built his first bubble nest.
It wasn't too big, but he had obviously taken great care with it. And, for the first time, he seemed to notice me outside his tank. He frilled, but it seemed to be more for show than anything.
In fact, he seemed to be showing me that he knew what to do to protect his nest.
I was reminded of one of the VHS tapes I watched as a kid. It was about Solomon. In that animated show, he'd said “so many things to know, so many things to remember”.
It was right after he'd been crowned king, and he was having a bit of trouble getting the hang of it.
That was, of course, followed by the story about the two women fighting over the baby.
Strangely, one of my favorite Bible stories as a kid. That and The Good Samaritan.
It was as if something in the very way this little fish moved reminded me of that tape about Solomon. His color was even the same as the robes Solomon was wearing.
It was as if a silent voice was whispering “my name is Solomon”.
I giggled at the idea. But Solomon he was.

I soon noticed a few other peculiarities in the new prince.
First, when I fed him, I realized that he chose very specific pellets. The pellets are different sizes and colors (who knows why). He always ate the small, reddish brown ones first, then the large ones of the same color. After that, he took the small dark pellets, then the large pale ones, followed by the small pales ones. He wouldn't eat the large dark ones. But he also made sure to leave at least three pellets, no matter how many or few I gave him. He would eat them over the course of the day.
Solomon was evidently a picky eater. But his behavior while carefully examining, then selecting, the pellets gave the impression that he had perfect right to be.
Second was the first time I left the house after I got him. I turned the lights out and expected to come back to a fish expecting his breakfast. They usually did the first few times I turned the light out for several hours. After all, when I went to bed I turned the light out for several hours.
It's pretty much all the same to them. Or not.
When I got home, Solomon put his frill out and swam to the front of his tank. Then he suddenly folded his frill and veered off, swimming away... indignantly?.
Quite frankly, he found my absence (or the absence of light) offensive.
This fellow would take a little getting used to.
But that was alright with me. We had, I hoped, a long time to make friends.
I could tell already that it wasn't going to be very easy.
He wasn't aggressive or afraid of me, I was simply beneath him.
I wondered if there was a way to get him to see me as something other than a servant to do his bidding. Or was that really how he saw me?.
I remembered the first few days, where he hid his real opinions with a lot of display.
Could it be that he felt we were sort of friends, but that it would be indignified to show it?.
Or was I simply overthinking the matter?.
Oh well. I had the rest of his life to find out how I fit into it.
The rest of his life to get acquinted with this king in a fish's body.
The rest of his life to discover who, exactly, was this Solomon?.