Tragedy in the fishpond

Nimrod is dead, and Greysnout has vanished. And I am grieving.

But I should start at the beginning. Please forgive me, on this sad day, when I hark back to the beautiful spring days of 2004 when we moved into our little cottage in suburbia.

The people who owned the house before us had proudly told us that there were three goldfish in the fishpond-and-fountain in the back garden. Of course, they also told us that ‘the little damp problem in the passage had been fixed’, and we all know that it wasn’t, because the carpet-covered wooden floor there was so wet and rotten that it gave way under our feet barely a week before we were due to move in. But that is another story. So perhaps one should take the pronouncements of previous owners with a nice sprinkling of salt.

When we finally moved in, we took over a garden that had not seen a pair of pruning shears for a number of years. It was great for an assortment of creepy crawlies, including some frightening specimen of spiders, and, despite an ivy-wrapped-and-warping boundary fence, beautiful in its own wild, untamed, subtropical suburban jungle kind of way. And the ‘fishpond’ was so green and murky that you could not see through the water all that well, so we had no way of knowing whether that flash of orange was one fish zig-zagging rapidly, or three fish sliding languidly between the leaves of the water-lily.

The first time we cleaned the fishpond, we first removed the water-lily, very carefully, because there were a couple of buds – oh! cute! Then we used two empty ice-cream bakkies to catch one of the fish, whom I promptly called Nemesis. She was beautiful, with a silkily waving tail-fin that undulated in the water. We struggled a bit to catch the second one, because he was a feisty little bugger. I called him Nimrod. He zipped and zapped, left and right, evading capture… but we got him in the end. Then we cautiously started scooping out the dirty water, looking for Fish No. 3. When we didn’t find him, I obviously had to call him NEMO!

Well, Nimrod and Nemesis lived happily together in our fishpond, despite the fact that we neglected to feed them for weeks at a time. I tried to assuage my guilty conscience by arguing that the riot of algae in the warm water was healthier than the flakes from the pet-store. Besides, the water-lily was loving this murky kind of sludge, because it tended to sprout more blossoms when the water was dirty and stagnant than when it was clean.

And the fish really seemed very happy, particularly when they had just been released back into clean and sparkling water. I figured that Nimrod had to be the male, as he was always pursuing Nemesis in a frantic race around the fountain, nudging her belly with his snout whenever she slowed down. She, in turn, would flick her gorgeous long tail in his face, playfully, seductively, and then they would speed off again. And that, unfortunately, is where my experience of their love-life ended…. They never produced any offspring, so it’s quite possible that they were otherwise inclined.  

I loved watching them. They came when I called them – expecting fish-flakes, probably – and when I dangled my fingers in the water, they would come right up to my fingers and touch their mouth against them, kissing them gently. They also liked to swim in and out between my fingers, occasionally touching their flowing tailfins against them.

Then, in 2006, we spent three weeks in Germany. We’d left Mom on duty to feed the cat and the fish. When we returned, the first thing she said was: “I think you only have one fish left.”

We never found out what had happened. Perhaps it was the clamouring hadedas who visit our garden, or the shrieking sea-gulls, or any one of the many roaming cats that terrorise our little fluffball. But I doubted that it was our Tuffkin, even though she does love to drink the water from the fishpond, as I’d never seen her attempt to catch the fish or play with them.

Nimrod was distraught… (I’m probably anthropomorphising – is that spelt correctly?). He drifted low in the water, barely flicking a fin to keep his balance, and mouthing a song of loss in a trail of bubbles. I tried to make up for months of neglect, by playing with him and talking to him every day.

Cousin Katja, who saw him pining, came by one day with a plastic bag containing two small fish. They weren’t the same kind of goldfish as Nimrod, but they were much smaller, and a mottled grey-and-golden colour, with big flowing tails. When we released them into the water, Nimrod went bezonkers. Initially we thought he was going to eat them! He chased them around the fountain at a dizzying pace, pursuing them between the stems of the water lily, pushing into them whenever they paused to catch their breath. Eventually, thank heavens, they settled down into a slightly calmer routine. I called them Greysnout (because he had, predictably, a grey snout), and Goldentail (because her tail was more golden).

But tragedy struck once more. A couple of months later, Goldentail was gone. For a while, I secretly wondered whether Nimrod had eaten her. I mean, who really knows the dynamics of social interaction among fish? I, certainly, am still clueless.

Anyhow, back to today. March had been really busy with visitors, and when they left, I was ill, and by the time I was feeling strong enough to clean the fishpond on my own, the algae had taken over again. We’d had some really hot days, and the feeble little pump in the fountain was completely clogged up, so the water was really murky. I had briefly played with a very lethargic Nimrod and Greysnout two days earlier, so I knew they were still around, though clearly not that happy.

So I removed the water-lily from the pond, and sprayed it clean with the hosepipe. Then I removed all the big round pebbles that hold the water-lily down so it doesn’t float to the surface. And all the while, I was looking around for Nimrod and Greysnout. Nothing. I took an ice-cream bakkie and started scooping out the murky water, checking it carefully before flinging it onto the lawn. (There must be lots of nutrients in that water, because the lawn always has a growth-spurt afterwards.)

I continued, until I reached the sediment layer at the bottom. Yeugh. One scoop at a time, I emptied the pond. No Nimrod. No Greysnout. I added some fresh water with the hosepipe, scrubbing the sides with a brush, and then scooped out the next lot of water.

I was on my third lot of scooping, when I suddenly saw something golden lying among the gazanias, right next to the pond! It was Nimrod! I have absolutely no idea how he landed up there. He was dead, and looked like he had been clawed or bitten… It was gruesome…

I placed him gently in an empty container, placed a big sprig of fresh basil next to him to keep the flies and the bad spirits away, covered him up, and finished cleaning the pond with a very sore heart. When Richard came home after work, we gave our beautiful feisty Nimrod a proper burial underneath the yellow Marguerita daisies. And then I went off to have a good cry.

Our fountain is so empty without his flashing golden body wiggling between the stems of the water-lily.

But please, don’t give us any more fish.

R.I.P. Nimrod

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