The Fish Projects

by G.T.

Every week or so last year I would drive to a not-so-local Meijer in the early hours of the morning, where my preferred brand of cheap coffee is sold. Chock-Full-o-Nuts, in the big thirty-nine ounce canister. Anywhere between three to five o’clock in the morning is when I’d shop, and I’d be one of the only customers in the store. Oftentimes the only one as it would be, and a few employees stocking what is supposedly “fresh” produce. Before picking out a canister of Chock-Full-o-Nuts, I would walk to the pet department, and stare at the fish. I was never interested in buying any fish, even though I have two aquariums of my own. The conditions of the fish tanks in the store are far from good, and that alone discourages me from buying any. But there was a certain catharsis in the moment as a whole. Early in the morning when the day was at its coldest and darkest outside, and everyone was asleep, besides myself and the lettuce stockers, I’d go and watch the fish. The silence, being alone, and watching fish float around, both of us staring out and within, but in our own purposeful ways. The pastoral quality of this soothed me. I did it often, and still do, despite finding Chock-Full-o-Nuts at another, closer, 24 hour grocery store. But that store has no fish, and I need that brief moment of serenity.

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Are live-bearing fish from Central America
Best suited for “Community” aquariums
Minimum tank size: 10 gallons
Diet: fish flakes, vegetable matter
1.99 ea.
        Tucked in the corner of the super center was a petite wall of plastic cubes filled with water, and an annoying hum that resonated throughout the department of pets and pet supplies as soon as you entered it. It was the sound of the filters not cleaning the water, or so it would seem by the condition of the aquariums. Plastic enclosures, unlike the glass cases at the jewelry counter, the electronics displays, and the locked sliding door of the condom case.
        There was a thin layer of gravel laid out in each aquarium cube. Gravel wasn’t all that necessary, but it masked the accumulation of feces and waste that wasn’t sifted out from those loud filters. Instead of anyone taking notice of the monotonous buzzing of the filters, and in turn, acknowledging the dirtiness of the living conditions, it was ignored. Each a product of the other, unavoidable, and without a solution. Each aquarium had two or three colorful plastic plants, to further mask the grittiness.
        A dead fish had rested upon the gravel of one of the aquariums. A tiger barb, from Southern Asia. A pineapple swordtail, from the murky rivers of Central America, was butting heads with a baby cichlid, from the murky lakes of Central Africa, fighting over the tailfin of the dead fish. Its corpse was chewed away by its tankmates and a couple tiny snails that sucked away at any sign of life in each aquarium. It was a treat from the usual fish flakes that were irregularly handed into each aquarium, and the algae that grew in long strands up and down the housing walls, swooshing back and forth from the filters pushing water in and out, but not actually cleaning anything.
        Hundreds of fish stacked upon each other, crowded together with fish from different rivers, fighting for food, the delusion of territory that didn’t exist in such small quarters, and sparing over the floating corpses of dead tankmates. By far the most congested aquarium was that of the mollies. Cheap fish, plain fish, easily bred fish, and inbred to the point that their lives were shortened as soon as they were born. There had to be forty or fifty mollies, stuck in a mere seven gallons, exhausted from swimming into one another, merely floating in one dense cloud of themselves, floating above the dead and dying. Perpetually waiting for food, but picking away at algae in the meantime.
        A male molly courted a female molly to the bottom, above the filth and gravel. He wrapped his body around her and without resistance, they bred. They embraced, if only for a brief moment. Their only able claim to naturalness in this artificial environment. They were just fish, unable to consider what it meant to birth more into all this.
        Looking into the aquarium, a customer said to himself, “They shouldn’t be doing that,” and walked away without purchasing any fish.