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Photo-reflections from Thailand

This week, Enchanted Conversation Magazine would like to thank, Kiyomi Appleton Gaines, for sharing her photos and thoughts from her recent trip to Thailand. We hope Kiyomi’s art and words can serve as story-inspiration for our readers.The old city is in ruins, falling down, overgrown with trees and plants. The forest is taking it back. Yet still…

via Story Inspiration – Photo Reflections from Thailand by Kiyomi Appleton Gaines — Enchanted Conversation Magazine: Folklore, Fairy Tales & Myths

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Blog · book club · Reading

Happy Women’s Day!

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Photo: Daria Głodowska

March is Women’s History Month, and today is International Women’s Day. This month we will #readmorewomen!

Right now, I’m alternating between Julie Dao’s darkly sparkling fairy tale Forest of a Thousand Lanterns, and Martha Hall Kelly’s The Lilac Girls, inspired by true stories of the horrors of Ravensbruck. Both are tales of strong women learning and navigating that strength, and finding their way in a world that seeks to overpower them.

If you’re looking for a shorter read, these are some of my favorite short stories that I’ve discovered in the last few months, all by women!
You can find more great reads at Enchanted Conversation!
Happy reading!
Kiyomi
I have a newsletter now! If you enjoy my stories, if you want to support my writing, please sign up. If you subscribe to my Tiny Letter, you’ll stay with me, wherever I end up writing in the future, and I’ll send you previews of what’s coming up here.
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Zen by Yaoundé

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Photo: I. Jack Gaines

We live in Cameroon. And it sucks. But it’s good.

I’m on an interminable bus ride, trying to meditate. Make productive use of the time, I figure. Turn a frustration, or at the very least a waste of time, into something useful, beneficial even. I try to take in the verdant landscape, the subtle grace and strength of the mama we zip past with a huge sack on her back, the simple elegance of the mud brick homes. I will achieve zen by Yaoundé. I outline the entire article I will write about this, turning a bus ride, a necessary evil, into a meditation that will make all more peaceful and productive.

We stop and are surrounded in seconds. It’s the third or fourth stop of the day. “Sheeps! Sheeps!” a woman screams through the windows, previously closed against dust, now shoved open, arms and sometimes half-bodies pressing in on us, dangling bags of plantain chips, peanuts, cut fruit, things I can’t name. I breathe, undisturbed. Shake my head, “Non, merci.”

A sway-backed girl is watching through the window, her mouth undulating vigorously around a sucker, obviously one of many from the shape of her teeth and the pinky-orange scum clinging to their surface. She waves her wares and we shake our heads no. Still she stays. Then, like a hit and run, her hand is through the window, swiping down my husband’s arm, and gone again. She stands, staring at us, giggling. I am indignant at the rudeness.

Deranging is my favorite frenglish word. It captures so exactly what it means: harassment stemming from a basic lack of regard and respect for another person. The shouting and lip smacking and hissing I generally can ignore, but breaching the barrier of physical touch still gets my Irish up, and I don’t mean potatoes.

I give her a dirty look, grumble, “How rude,” and breathe. I will be unmoved. The bus sits. We’ll be going soon though, I’m certain. The sway-backed girl giggles and drags her friend over, pointing as though we are the first volunteers ever to appear on a bus through this town. As though our fair skin somehow makes us a spectacle.

Landscape. Subtle grace. Elegance. Breathe.

Giggling, she weaves her hand through the window and swipes her fingers down his arm again, quickly as though snatching away something precious, something she knows she shouldn’t take.

“Notice: Our volunteers may be cute, but they will bite! Please do not put hands inside the enclosure.”

I can feel my temper flood up in me like water in a glass. “Touche pas!” I shout.

She and her friend giggle hysterically, and still the bus sits.

“It’s not rudeness,” I can hear our training director saying, “they just want to know you.” No, it is rudeness. We’re not zoo animals.

Determined not to be bothered anymore, I glower at the back of the seat in front of me.

A boy walks up to see what the commotion is, waves his wares at us, then looks me in the eye and addresses my husband. “I’ll trade you, this one for yours,” he gestures at the sway-backed girl. Deux, deux cents.

I try to murder him with only my gaze and my mind. He doesn’t even shift his weight back from the window.

The sway-backed girl somehow extends her bust and hips even further from her waist. Still, the bus sits.

“It’s a bad trade,” my husband says.

The girls giggle maniacally.

“No, it’s good,” the boy says, “I like her.”

“Bad for me,” my husband clarifies.

“No, one for one,” the boy explains the math. “It’s good.” The sway-backed girl twirls her sucker, like there’s only the details to work out now, like there’s some possibility of me getting off the bus and she taking my place.

Finally, the bus inches forward.

“No, she’s too good for you,” my husband calls as we pull away. In what sounds to me like flawless French.

The woman seated in front of us laughs and nods.

He is relaxed, laughing, unperturbed, and throws an arm easily across my hunched shoulders. “That was fun,” he says, giving me a squeeze. There are so many reasons why I love him.

“I hate this place,” I mutter, beginning to consider the possibility as the little town fades into the horizon and memory, that I might have over-reacted.

At this rate, I will not reach enlightenment on a bus.

He smiles and everything shifts a little toward its proper place. “Nah,” he assures me, “it’s good.”

I breathe and somehow, it is.

 

 I served in Peace Corps Cameroon from 2011-2013. Zen by Yaounde was first published during my service on 2/21/12. Happy Peace Corps week!

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Being Good

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Photo: adriano7492 via Pixabay

I play a lot of D&D, and one of the drivers of the game is each character’s alignment. Whether your character is good or evil, lawful or chaotic, will guide the way you play and can influence the direction of the game. One of the things I love about it is the co-creative world building around a table with my friends, the actions any of us takes makes an impact, and the ways we interact with each other is almost as important as everything else that’s happening in the game.

There are many guidelines about how to define good and evil, lawful and chaotic, in the game world, and they will roughly agree with one another. Some will have suggestions on how to play a character of one alignment or another, but a lot of that is determined by circumstances within a game, and the experiences of a team.

Inevitably when you get a group of players together, the conversation will turn to where real people fall on the alignment scale, which will begin the debate of what makes an act chaotic instead of neutral, and how many actions does it take to define a person, and what really, after all, is evil?

And that’s something I’ve been thinking a lot about in the last year.

I used to say I didn’t aspire to be good, only decent. Good felt like such a thing to strive for, and so subjective. I was good if people were happy with me, but if I made a choice others didn’t like, they were very quick to remove the designation. When I wanted to be a good person, this could hurt me, so I decided I just wanted to be decent. I was more just trying to do the right thing and get my feet under me than to impress anyone with my relative goodness anyway. And it did seem so relative, too – good as compared to whom? Gandhi, Mother Theresa, the Dalai Llama? Or the guy holding up the convenience store down the street?- and could you really even say such a person was not good, knowing the research on systemic injustice and cycles of poverty? I don’t know. Sure, an act could certainly be bad, but how many bad acts make a bad person? And how many good acts does it take to redeem an evil one?

In the last year, I’ve pondered that, especially as we watched self-identified fascists and Nazis invade a small southern community, as we’ve seen a steady increase in gun violence – 18 only two months into ’18 – and an overall increase in threats and attacks on minority communities. All the while increasingly deranged and disjointed messages come flooding from our leadership. And people in our community will say those aren’t evil people who should be stopped; they may not agree, they’ll say, but people have the rights to… first amendment… second amendment…

What else?

Life? Liberty? Happiness? The self-evident truth of equality to every other person? I think these things are sometimes lost in the shuffle.

In film, we often see an evil character redeemed by a single valiant act, some symbolic and self-sacrificial choice that wipes away all past sins, because we see now that “really” they were just misunderstood, misguided, a poor broken soul who needed more love. The thing is, aren’t we all?

I’m troubled by a lot of what I see these days. I’m troubled by people no longer hiding their racism and other bigotry; by protections put in place to secure the position of the weak being daily eroded; by people literally arguing for the “nice Nazi.” Remember when it went without saying that Nazis were bad guys? I do. That used to be how we would define evil. And yes, it was a word used too freely, so that it’s lost some of it’s sting and some of its weight. Yet when persons in positions of relative power and authority use that privilege to do harm to those in lesser positions, that is evil; and I don’t think any one gracious act can wipe that away. Because like in the game, the actions any of us takes makes an impact, and the ways we interact with each other is almost as important as everything else.

 

 

You can take a quiz to find out your own alignment here.

 

In case you’re wondering, I used to be good. Now it tells me I’m neutral.

I have a newsletter now! If you enjoy my stories, if you want to support my writing, please sign up. If you subscribe to my Tiny Letter, you’ll stay with me, wherever I end up writing in the future, and I’ll send you previews of what’s coming up here.

 

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A Brief and Ancient History of Mardi Gras

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Mother Goose, Krewe of Bacchus 2015; Photo: I. Jack Gaines

It is just true that Mardi Gras will be cold. This has been one of the colder winters that I’ve spent in New Orleans, but it seems, without fail, I find myself shivering at my favorite parades each year. The only respite is to press up closer to your fellow parade-goers and jump and dance as the floats go by, and cheer for the krewes to throw you something. The thing that is thrown is always a “bead,” even when it’s not.

This year marks New Orleans’ tricentennial. If you are visiting, please keep your shirt on, and don’t wear beads unless it actually is Carnival season. Parade etiquette says that if the person on the float points to someone, the bead they throw goes to that person, even if you catch it. But if you’re a visitor and really just want that thing to take home and remember your trip by, just tell the person next to you; chances are a local will give it to you, and more, and will tell you where to go for brunch in the morning besides.

Different people will have different ideas about how Mardi Gras got started here and not elsewhere – our Spanish past – and where the colors came from – honoring a Russian prince – and what king cake is about – the three kings visiting the Christ. But Mardi Gras has a much deeper history .

Carnival is supposed to have come from the feasting (carne meaning meat) the leads up to the fast of Lent. But the word actually comes from “carrus navalis” which is related to the words for cart or wagon.

All across early medieval Europe, and even into Mesopotamia, we find histories and evidence of basket rituals and cart processions; and we can still see the descendants of these rituals with the parading of saints through communities, usually on an annual basis.

The basket ritual seems most often to be a cthonic rite associated with the worship of an ancient deity. A young woman would carry a basket on her head, a distaff in one hand, and lead a horse with the other, and would walk from a well or stream or other source of water, through the center of town. This vision of industriousness, representing both the industry of the women in the town and their devotion to the goddess who oversaw the work, would bring blessing to the community. This goddess was associated not only with women’s work, but also with the fertility of the land, and these basket rituals would take place at the end of winter. She is sometimes identified as Diana or Artemis, and sometimes Holle or Perchta, and more recently as Mary, but most often the historic record calls her simply the Great Goddess or the Great Queen.

In time this springtime rite may have evolved from a young woman walking through town, to her being carried in a cart. These cart processions seem to be about carrying the goddess of the old year, and winter, and dead vegetation, away from the community, and bringing the goddess of the new year, and springtime, and new seedlings, into the community. The end of winter cold, and hardship, and the resultant illness and death that comes of not having enough to eat, would have been a tremendous cause for celebration. Seeing an end to the hard times would also allow a community to bring out their remaining stores, knowing there would soon be more.

In some places it seems a person would sit in the cart, and in others it would be a statue or other representation of the divine. The cart of winter would be dragged through and out of town, and burned. The cart of spring would be laden with good things and brought into town, and the bounty shared.

Mardi Gras marks a time of transition from winter to spring, from death to life, and is rightly a time of jubilant feasting and indulgence. It carries “the holidays” well beyond December, and imbues the city with a vitality that comes of celebrating the strength to survive the hard times – and perhaps is what gives this City that Care Forgot its enduring resilience to always rebuild and remake itself with an almost defiant joy in the face of tragedy.

Macurdy, G. (1912). The Origin of a Herodotean Tale in Connection with the Cult of the Spinning Goddess. Transactions and Proceedings of the American Philological Association, 43, 73-80. doi:10.2307/282752
Rudwin, M. (1919). The Origin of the German Carnival Comedy. The Journal of English and Germanic Philology, 18(3), 402-454. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/27700953
Blog · book club · Reading

On 200 years of Frankenstein

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The story of Frankenstein is arguably the first science fiction novel, and was written by a teenage girl. Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, nee Godwin, had eloped to Europe with her lover and their friends – notably Lord Byron – in that mythic Year Without a Summer. In 1816 Mt. Tambora erupted and filled the atmosphere with thick volcanic ash, blotting out the sun, and leading to massive crop failures. As Mary and her group traveled around Europe, they couldn’t fail to notice the tens of thousands of people displaced that year by famine, seeking refuge from town to town.

The story goes that, once they settled in a chateau in Switzerland, Byron challenged the group to come up with ghost stories to alleviate the boredom of being trapped inside by the unseasonably cold and wet weather.

One of those stories, Frankenstein; or The Modern Prometheus, has come down to us as one of the most widely read and recognized horror tales of the modern era. It’s impact lies not in the body horror hidden in some mysterious process of imbuing inert matter with life, but stands as an example of the Other and Outsider in society. Frankenstein’s monster, left unnamed, represents the unknown and unfamiliar of which we are afraid.

We don’t necessarily fear the different, as long as it remains “over there,” but pressed up against our “right here,” it means change, instability, and threat to what we have known and held dear. Whatever comes after, we know for certain that our lives as they have been until now are ended. The monster seeks aid, mercy, shelter, simple human kindness, and is shunned. He does terrible things, and has terrible things done to him.

If he had been welcomed, cared for, loved instead…

But we’ll never know. Everyone dies in the end, and Mary leaves it to us to decide where the lines of right and wrong may fall. Yet she points to the possibility of other outcomes, had circumstance shifted in one way or another.

What are the responsibilities of society to the unloved and the unlovely? Should we – must we – care for the poor and broken and abandoned? The ugly and stupid and friendless? And what responsibility do we bear for the consequences of ignoring them? Left without resource or recourse, what do we expect to become of societies monsters?

Monster comes to us from the Latin monere, which means “a warning.”

Mary Shelley’s turn of the century brought her into the 1800s, the era of Victoria; an era of dramatic social change, technological advancement, population explosion, food shortage, unemployment, political upheaval, strange climate behavior, question, challenge, and doubt. What could an eighteen year old girl have to say to us from a book written two hundred years ago this month?

 

You can read my story, inspired by Frankenstein, here.

Happy reading!

 

I have a newsletter now! If you enjoy my stories, if you want to support my writing, please sign up. If you subscribe to my Tiny Letter, you’ll stay with me, wherever I end up writing in the future, and I’ll send you previews of what’s coming up here.

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Cassandra of Troy and Women’s Voices

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Cassandra by John Maler Collier

Cassandra was a princess of Troy whom the god Apollo fell in lust with. Being a nice guy, he gave her the gift of prophecy, and being a nice guy, felt he was entitled to her body. He wasn’t a drunk like Bacchus, after all; wasn’t a jerk like Zeus or a freak like Hades or a lech like Pan. He was a nice guy. Why wouldn’t she want to be with him? What was wrong with her that she didn’t want to be with him? She must be shallow, or stupid, or stuck up. When she wouldn’t have sex with him, he amended his un-requested gift so that she would never be believed, and was instead seen as a liar and crazy. She owed him, after all. She deserved what she got.

I didn’t change this story, that’s just how it goes, and it’s one that will ring true for so many women. We hear accounts every day of women being dismissed, disbelieved; accused of inventing fantasies for five minutes of fame at the expense of a “good” man; or of a colleague’s “crazy” ex. She wants attention, it’s said, or money; or she was stupid, should have known better. Always, whatever ill may befall her is somehow of her own earning.

Though the trappings may have changed, in some ways, so little has since the time of the ancients. For those of us who see equality as a fundamental truth, and fair treatment as paramount, reckoning with the world as-is can at times be incredibly disheartening.

Surely we are making strides though, and there’s cause for hope. The #MeToo movement rocked our nation in the best way; powerful men were called to task for their behavior in many fields, and women were heard and believed. #MeToo and the women it represented were Time Magazine’s 2017 People of the Year, and #TimesUp dominated the Golden Globe awards. Yes, we’re making strides, even amidst what can feel like huge steps backward; and even this tale points toward its own redemption.

If Apollo’s punishment for denying him access to her body is that Cassandra should never be believed, then his undoing is in simply believing her. Continuing to speak truth; listening to and believing women when they speak; making the space for that to happen, is a radical act of courage and strength. It’s a simple act of resistance against those forces that would silence women’s voices, deny equal and fair treatment, dehumanize; yet it is powerful.

Though not all fairy tales fall into the sphere of women’s tales and women’s instruction and women’s work, many of them do. We use the phrase “old wives’ tale” to dismiss an old story or a bit of folk wisdom as something foolish, untrue, unworthy. Yet even in the most oppressive circumstances mothers and grandmothers, and aunts and old wise women, have shared their foolish little stories with the daughters of the next generation.

This is how you survive, my dear; you keep on spinning these little tales, and it makes the labor easier, and it makes a way for truth to be told, even if they don’t listen outside. We know. We hear. We believe.

It’s tiring and it’s hard, so we can take it in turn, to speak and to listen, to support and promote female voices. To listen and believe, and not just accept that the clean-cut guy in the nice clothes and the nice car and the nice job is being so nice when he talks over a woman who disagrees with him to call her “crazy.”

This is why I try to – and am trying to get better at – privilege female voices, and especially women who represent minorities, or immigrants; to follow and buy and read and share and boost their stories. It’s a simple act, yet I believe it is powerful.

After all, in failing to heed Cassandra’s warning, her society precipitated its own destruction. May this madness of women, this anger, not be disheartening, but burn pure and bright, and light a beacon for others to come, too, to a place where they can tell their stories, and be heard.

 

So here is my exciting news promised last week!

Part one: you may see I’ve redecorated, and to the right (or below) there’s a little link that says “Tiny Letter.” I have a newsletter now! If you enjoy my stories, if you want to support my writing, please sign up. This can be part of your simple act of resistance!

You already get an email, you say? Well, the difference is, when you followed my blog by email before, your information went into WordPress, and they own the list of subscribers who follow my work here, not me. So if I move to a different platform or change domains, you stay with WordPress instead of coming with me. If you subscribe to my Tiny Letter, you’ll stay with me, wherever I end up writing in the future, and I’ll send you previews of what’s coming up here.

Part two: and this would definitely go in my Tiny Letter – I’m now a Contributing Editor at Enchanted Conversation! I love this publication and I’m so thrilled to be part of it on the production side now. Be on the lookout for more of my stories and articles there in the coming months! You can read my introduction here.

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Mairzy Doats and Other Stories

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Photo: Joanna Kosinska

Solar years and calendar years and lunar years aligning!

I’ve had this going around in my head to the tune or Mairzy Doats. I don’t remember where I first heard that song, but I remember the delight of slurring the words so they came out, “little lamsey-divey.”

“What the heck is a lamsey-divey?”

(lam, on the: 19th ce. American slang; to flee with haste, esp. from law enforcement;
dive, see dive bar: 19th ce. American slang; drinking den, disreputable place of resort)

“I don’t know, something to do with Prohibition! It’s just what you’re supposed to say!”

I think about all the ways and words that have come down over the centuries, stories whether written, oral, or acted out. My great-grandmother would throw a pinch of salt over her left shoulder to “keep the devil off your back,” whenever it was spilled, and took a shot of brandy for a cold. I laugh, but whenever salt spills, I still throw a pinch back. We do all sorts of weird things, and mishear, and misremember, and sometimes just make changes outright, because it suits us better.

We bring a tree into the house, or light candles, visit holy sites, eat special food, and we don’t always know why. Because it’s Christmas. Because it’s New Year. Because it’s how we bring our world back into alignment, along with the calendar.

I visited my mom at Christmas and we went through old pictures, naming our loved ones, naming our dead. I know the faces and names of people who were gone long before I arrived. After looking at all the old photos, my mother recollecting both her own memories, or her own time sitting with old photos, naming loved and lost, and me guessing and confirming that I remembered everything correctly, my mother gave me a little pin that had once belonged to her grandmother. I’d seen the pin often, even put it on as a kid, but never knew it was worn by the same woman of the stories.

 

pin

The stories say, we came from Ireland, we came from Canada, we came from Japan. The grown-ups would curse in French, but the kids still knew what they were saying anyway. A girl called Anna died too young. A boy called James got the Spanish flu. A young woman with a new baby boarded a ship in Japan. But those pictures are filled with laughter, with smiles not trained for photographs, with joy and playfulness. I can’t help but laugh at some of them, and can almost hear their laughter back to me, down across the many years.

It’s a story of hard times, and it’s a story of good times. Some of the details might have faded in the telling, yet our stories give us roots, the ones from our families, the ones we tell ourselves, the ones we’ve read and loved, and with them, we can trace a path and see a way forward.

Never one for springtime cleaning, I recently learned from my mother that the Japanese tradition is to give the house a thorough scrub and airing at midwinter.

Oh, so that’s why I do it now…

Mairzy Doats, it turns out, is not even a very old nursery rhyme, as I’d always believed, but was written in 1943 (ancient history to me as a little child, anyway – it may as well have been medieval!). You can listen to it here. Some scholars suggest inspiration may have come down from a 15th century joke, wherein the English words, when run together, sound like Latin.

Exciting news coming soon, and Epiphany of a Swan Wife wraps up this week!

Happy cleaning, happy calendaring, happy new year!

 

I have a newsletter now! If you enjoy my stories, if you want to support my writing, please sign up. If you subscribe to my Tiny Letter, you’ll stay with me, wherever I end up writing in the future, and I’ll send you previews of what’s coming up here.

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Pork pie, Sherry, and Death

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Photo: Pavan Trikutam

One can imagine that for as long as we have been, and perhaps longer, humans have huddled together in the darkest time of the year, for warmth, for safety, for reassurance, seeking those things with feasting and fire. Every culture has some form of a Festival of Light. Whether we seek to draw the sun back from death or retreat, to rekindle its faded flame, or simply to provide our own succor, Midwinter has always mattered. Sun gods have long laid themselves down at the night of the solstice and carried the promise of the warmth and plenty of springtime on their morning return.

These patterns continue to shape us, whether we light candles or sing carols. The memory of those distant winters when survival was not assured clings in the darkest recesses of physical memory. Bolt the door, draw near to the fire, drink something warm, and listen to tales of how we have survived, year after year, and through harsher times than even these.

Recently I’ve seen a resurgent interest in Christmas ghost stories, and I think this is why. When we despair, when we are afraid, when we feel the world trembling in sickness and age and decay, we want to know… it’s all happened before. And we survived.

Our fairy tales, rituals, and traditions remind us that even as nights grow long, though it is cold and dark, still we are alive. And who knows but that tomorrow might not be a little brighter? The small thrills, the tiny fears, give us space to map out how we, too, will fight the rampant darkness, and bring warmth, and plenty, and light back into the places we inhabit.

By this we are also reminded that stories change. They grow, and shift, and take on new meaning, and discard old metaphor. We’re reminded that stories can be rewritten. And that is powerful magic indeed.

Tonight I will be watching The Hogfather, my annual tradition, to be reminded that we must learn to believe the little fairy tales and fantasies, so that we can believe the big ones, like love and justice and mercy.

 

May the Yule Lads bring you a potato to eat, and may Befana bring you coal for warmth, and may the Ghost of Christmas Present remind you to be kind.

Happy Hogswatch, and goodnight children everywhere.

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My fish died

My fish died today. She wasn’t furry, and didn’t cuddle, and in terms of griefs, this is a small one. That is fitting, because, of course, she was very small. She was blue – a vibrant cobalt blue – and when I first got her, she was smaller than the first two joints of my little finger. I gave her a little two gallon tank with a light and filter and rocks and plants – we went through a few plants. I would pull the goopy, decaying vegetable matter out of the water, and it would cling to my fingers like so much slime. But eventually a couple little sprouts stayed with us, and would float around in the water with her. I never had dirt or gravel, so the plants swam, and so did she.

I named her Marie Gracieuse Martin de Fontanelle Mercier, after a name I saw on a plaque in the Quarter, and I called her Cici.

I got her a fish, an otocinclus to eat the algae that started to grow on the glass, but S&WB did something and it changed the water chemistry, and he didn’t make it.

She did though. She was always very active and seemed happy as fish go. She might be exploring the filter, or swimming between and under the rocks, but when I came to the glass, she always swam right to me and seemed to just… flutter. She would twitch her tail and fins with so much energy and excitement, I felt she was happy to see me. I probably overfed her, encouraged by such enthusiasm. I had trained her to jump and touch my fingers before I fed her, though in the last several weeks, we had stopped doing that.

She was more lethargic, and so was I, though she never stopped coming to the glass and dancing when I came by the little aquarium. Even last night, when I watched her move so slowly, and she seemed to struggle with her air bladder – and I said to my husband, “I think she’s going to die” – she still swam to the glass and fluttered her fins at me, before swimming to a spot by the filter, where it was less of a struggle for her to be still.

She had lost a little color recently, and her head had taken on a gaunt look, even though her little belly stayed full. Her fins started to look a little tattered in places. She looked like she might have developed cataracts, if fish can get cataracts. Either way, she was always happy to come dance at the glass, but slower to eat. Then we suspected ick, and I was treating her for that in the last few days.

This morning, she was tucked beside the filter again, and I could tell she was gone. There was a stillness and a grayness and bubbles where there ought not be. Her scales flashed with rich and luxuriant color when I moved the filter, and she sank slowly to the bottom of the tank.

I made a mess, getting water everywhere, trying to scoop her body into a zip-top bag (the traditional “burial at sea” for fish can introduce piscine disease to the water table), while she floated around in a ghostly dance, ever just out of my reach. Water sloshed onto the floor and onto some curios, and I asked my husband for help, while I mopped up the funerary spill.

He succeeded in getting her bagged. I wiped up the mess.

I keep peeking into her tank when I walk by this evening. It’s still full of water and two little plants and rocks, and the filter keeps the water moving. But there’s no little blue flash to greet me.

As I said, it is a small grief. She was a small fish, with a small tank, with small plants, with a small life. Yet in her littleness, she still brought me happiness, and in however much a fish can be concerned with such things, I hope she, too, had a good and happy life.

Farewell, Cici. May you continue to dance in the floodplains of the afterlife.

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via Wikimedia Commons

Not Cici, but this is close to what she looked like. She always danced and so just looked like a blue blur when I tried to take her picture.