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Small Wonders: Lilly was a model pet

July 24, 2010

I have sad news to report. We've lost a beloved member of our family.

Lilly has died.

At least I'm told it was Lilly and not Poopcakes. I never could tell my daughters' goldfish apart.

But there she was, floating belly up, eyes void of life. Poopcakes swam nearby agitated, silently screaming for us to call 911. But it was too late. In fact it was bedtime, which raised even graver concerns.

My daughters, Thing 1 and Thing 2, were in the bathroom brushing teeth when I discovered the lifeless goldfish. I stood in front of the tank wondering how best to handle this, shielding them from the sight of their dead pet as they climbed into bed.


Should I take the tank out of their room now, surely attracting their attention? I could claim I was just taking them for a starlit stroll and hope to find a 24-hour pet shop to get a lookalike.

Should I tell them now that Lilly had died and risk a night of crying, lost sleep and bad dreams?

Should I turn the lights off, kiss them goodnight, then slip in like the goldfish fairy after they fell asleep, remove the corpse and leave money in its place to soften the heartache of death?

There was only one right thing to do.

"Honey," I said to the wife quietly. "Look."

I stepped away from the tank so she could see the calamity. Her eyes grew wide.

"What should we do?" I asked.

After some consideration she said, "We have to tell them."

She was right of course. She always is in such situations. I didn't want to admit what I already knew; the hardest thing to do is usually the best thing to do.

"Girls," I said. "I have some bad news."

They froze, sensing the seriousness in my tone. I lacked the appropriate words for this occasion, so I merely stepped away from the tank, revealing the shocking image of their unnaturally motionless pet atop the murky water.

Thing 1 was first to react. She brought Lilly home from the school carnival that day three years ago. Her face went white, the skin around her chin wrinkled in silent horror before the cries came like waves. The tears flowed, and she threw herself on her bed wailing.

Thing 2 stared in wonder at the tank.

"What happened?" she asked innocently.

"Lilly died," I said sadly. "I'm sorry."

"Is Poopcakes OK?"

"Yes, Poopcakes is OK."

Thing 1 looked up through red, watery eyes. Denial came first.

"She's not really dead, right?"

Then anger:

"It's not fair! Why couldn't it have been Poopcakes?!"

Then bargaining: "We have to do something! I have money in my piggy bank!"

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