I Would Die 4 My Betta Fish by Corinne Rabbin-Birnbaum

This piece was first published in Quarto's 2018 Spring Print Edition

If a murderer broke into my apartment tonight and pointed at me and then to my betta fish and said “okay, who’s it going to be?” I would look at him like he was batshit crazy and point to myself, of course. At that time my fish would probably be fluttering around his tank hysterically, thinking the murderer was just someone new to feed him. The murderer would shoot me, and as I lay bleeding out red blood the color of the fish I lay down my life for, he might ask me, “why not the fish?”
And I’d tell him, did you know in the wild, bettas swim in seemingly endless spans of shallow rice paddies? And that they can learn to recognize the vibrations that come from someone saying their name, and the face of their owner?
Or, did you know that when my fish gets tired, he twines himself around the wire protruding from his in-tank heater? He has such a slim little body, but sometimes the weight of it overcomes him and he just needs to take a rest. But he’s not lazy, for sure. I’ve even trained him to jump and eat food from between my fingers. It’s quite remarkable, if I do say so myself. He’s a very talented fish, to be honest.
And I would describe to this murderer how every night before I go to bed, even when I am so tired and anxious that my hands are shaking, I go up to his tank and say goodnight, and he flutters over and looks up at me and opens his tiny mouth for just a moment – like he’s giving me a goodnight kiss (though he’s probably just looking for food).
But I can’t leave out the story of that time he got rot and his lovely fins started to shred and disappear, how I changed his water and gave him medication every single day, even though I could tell he hated it. And when his little body started to heal, I felt pride for the first time in so so long that I practically burst into tears.
I think then I’d tell him about the way this fish of mine sits on the bottom of the tank and watches me while I do my work at the table, and how when I wave to him from where I’m sitting he starts swimming around like crazy, almost like he’s waving back.
“But I have a question,” the murderer would say to me then, after I’ve told him all of this. “If you die, who will take care of the fish?”
And with my dying breath I would say, “but if he dies, who will take care of me?”

  Illustration by Cameron Lee

Illustration by Cameron Lee