I may have killed my son's first pet, Fireman Sam.
And then, I may have lied about it.
I didn't intend to do either.
We were planning to go away to Ottawa for a few days, so before bringing our little beta to a neighbour for fish-sitting, I thought I'd clean the bowl. I scooped Fireman Sam into a green plastic cup because the clear one he came home from the pet store in had sprung a leak. I set the cup containing the fish on the dry sink in the kitchen.
I cleaned the bowl and conditioned the water for a few hours.
Around lunch, when I went back to lift the cup to put the fish back in his bowl, I saw the little guy had leapt out of the cup and landed, quite unfortunately, on the wooden surface of the dry sink. I wondered how long he'd been there. He'd lost his shine.
I let out a surprised squawk and my son, from the bathroom upstairs, heard me.
He called, "What is it, Mom?"
My husband came to see what I was staring at.
And although I panicked, he kept his cool.
He offered to drive immediately to the pet store.
I wasn't sure, but I did know I wanted the dead fish off my dry sink. So I asked him to put him back in the cup.
"In the cup?" he verified.
"You don't want this hanging over your head, Melissa," he said and he took his keys and told me to just distract Cole when he arrived back home from the pet store.
So, Cole and Amelia and I ate lunch in superficial conversation about this and that and all the while I was distracted by the charade that we'd begun. I thought of all the times I'd told my son, "Anyone can make a mistake, but it takes a real person of integrity to be honest and own up to it." I wondered if there was a double-standard and parents had the right to lie in certain situations left to their discretion. I wondered if Mark had spent enough time in close observation of Fireman Sam in order to allow him to select a suitable identical replacement fish. I wondered how the scene would unravel when Cole discovered the lie.
Because I've seen enough movies to know that these things always unravel. Would it come up at his wedding? Would he talk about how I'd killed his fish and then tried to trick him afterwards?
I wondered if I was over-thinking it.
I stood up to clear some dishes. And I thought I'd better toss out the dead fish into the toilet bowl before the new fish arrived. How confusing would that be?
I lifted the cup... and Fireman Sam swam up to the surface!
I picked up the phone to call my husband. No need for another fish! This one has returned from the dead!
But Mark had left his cell phone at home. I heard it ring in the distance.
So he arrived home, and the old Fireman Sam was in his fish bowl. His eyes were hazy and he looked decidedly tired, and his fins were glued to his sides, but he was most definitely no longer dead. And now Mark had purchased a second Fireman Sam, as requested.
Mark asked if he should return the second fish. But the first fish looked not convincingly healthy, so we wondered if we should keep F.S.II in case F.S.I kicked the bucket. I asked my husband if I should buy a second bowl. He wondered aloud if I shouldn't put the fish out of its misery. I suggested he make that move. He shrugged and said, "Oh, I couldn't kill a fish. But you used to do it all the time as your summer job."
In the end, we returned Fireman Sam: The Imposter, and I went to the t.v. room where my son was watching Backyardigans and I turned off the television and said, "I have some bad news, Cole."
He looked at me, dubious about how I had interrupted his program.
"I was cleaning Fireman Sam's bowl and I put him in a cup that was too full of water. He jumped out of the cup and he was out of the cup for a long time. I thought he was dead, but he's actually still alive. However, he's kind of sick and I'm worried he might not make it. And honey, if he dies, it will be my fault. And I'm sorry."
A million pounds of guilt lifted off my shoulders with the words "-it will be my fault." And I realized that although the guilt of the lie was crippling, I could walk around quite comfortably with the miniscule guilt of having been criminally responsible for the death (or decrease in quality of life) of Fireman Sam the First.
And that teensy bit of guilt evaporated with my son's response, "If Fireman Sam dies, can we get another fish?"
Fireman Sam did meet his Maker a few days later.
He will be missed.
A little bit.
Cole already has plans to buy replacement fish, ones that don't fight and can, therefore, have babies. He wants to name his new fish Fireman Pants.