I had a name before I left my tank at Carla’s Pets and Supplies, though I can’t remember what it was. I want to say Julia, though it could have been Andrea? Or Franklin? Miguel? I suppose I’ll never know. I was a tiny thing then, swimming around with a dozen or so others like me, weaving in and out of underwater castles and looking for fallen flakes of food amongst the rainbow-colored pebbles that lined the bottom of my temporary home.
I can’t say for sure how long I stayed at Carla’s Pets and Supplies; time moves differently for fish. Dogs and people have reached an understanding with each other: One year for people equals seven years for dogs. It is a widely accepted belief, and no one questions it, because—if you want my opinion—people and dogs are too connected to admit the tragic differences in their life spans. Best friends need to do everything together; you could say people and dogs get old together, just at rapidly different speeds. Fish, on the other hand—no one gives our aging process much thought, unless we are already dead and someone is worried about the potential of food poisoning as they prepare us for dinner. We are cold-blooded, and treated as such.
This is not to say I don’t enjoy living with the Andersons. Of all the potential buyers that came to look at me at Carla’s, I liked their faces best. The girl, Lauren, has bright green glasses that look lovely when the water is reflected upon them. The boy, Felix, insists on buying me a new trinket for my tank every two weeks or so because he’s afraid I’ll get bored swimming through the same things every day. They never tap the glass. They always remember to feed me. They clean the tank. They’ve stopped inviting that wretched girl over who used to ask if I was dead if I dared to stop swimming for even a nanosecond. They are good people, the Andersons. I’m lucky to have them. I just wish they’d given me a better name than Betty No. 3.
I mean, it could be worse. I could have been named Goldie (it’s been done!), or Fish-face, or just been referred to as “the goldfish,” like I had no identity at all. But the Andersons, specifically Lauren, decided that I would be called Betty No. 3, and so it is. At first, I thought the name was lovely—something exclusive, a premium kind of Betty that people went out of their way to get, like Chanel No. 5 or Love Potion No. 9. But one morning, while Felix was cleaning the tank, I overheard him say to his mother, “Do we still have that old pirate ship that Betty No. 2 liked so much?” I then realized I was simply the third in a series of Betties, and that, perhaps, I wouldn’t be the last.
The Andersons couldn’t tell—it’s hard to tell with fish because our eyes are always open—but I spent many sleepless nights wondering about the fates of Betty No. 1 and Betty No. 2. Maybe they escaped, and found their ways to the local reservoir via the bathtub drain. Or they could have gotten scooped up in other nets, the way we’d been scooped at Carla’s—picked up by people with more love to give, more accessories to toss in their tanks, higher quality fish flakes. That’s how I like to picture them now: both Betties, swimming in a platinum-plated tank filled with exquisitely filtered water, eating gold-flaked fish food and gossiping about the things they read in American Gill magazine. Maybe they outgrew the Andersons, and wanted to live in a place where they could choose their own names for once, where they could be Zara or Pete or Calliope or Kai or whomever they felt like being.
Or maybe they swam off to that big sea in the sky. There are times when it is easy to think of the scarier things that may have befallen them, but I’ve decided that all tanks are temporary, and to just enjoy my time with the Andersons before my next adventure begins. I won’t glide through these waters forever. There is another world waiting for me, without walls, and I’m a strong enough swimmer to handle whatever comes my way. And when I arrive—wherever I arrive—they’ll gather around me and shout, “It’s her! She’s here! It’s Betty No. 3!”
Because I might keep the name. And I might not. I’ll decide when I get there. Give me some more time to figure out who it is I want to be, before I leave the safety of this Plexiglas world and open the door for my successor, Betty No. 4. ♦