The phone rang. “How are the fish?” said the worried voice on the end of the line. Not ‘how are you doing, Mum’ … no. How are the fish.
To be fair, I had been frantically texting the son from whom I had inherited the aquarium since long before dawn and it was he who had called. It had all been thoroughly cleaned the day before I had left for the north… it would be fine for another day. I have spent a lot of time learning how to look after the fish lately and maintenance is usually minimal if done regularly. The long drive south, several hours with the other son, ploughing through overstretched inboxes compounded by the effects of the dreaded lurgy had all left me feeling too washed out to even contemplate cleaning the aquarium though.
It had been a lovely break. First the workshop and time with friends, then yet more time in the hills. Not even the lurgy that had chosen to strike on my birthday could spoil that. But I was tired.
Then my younger son had arrived, armed with a beautiful bouquet of flowers, other goodies and a belated birthday card ‘written’ by my granddaughter. The rest of the evening just disappeared and I flopped into bed exhausted.
There I did what all tired people who need to sleep do… I tossed and turned all night, finally conceding defeat around five in the morning.
I wandered through to the kitchen and made coffee… cuddled the dog… wandered through to the living room and switched on the computer. Answered a couple of emails, flicked on the aquarium lights.
Water that had been crystal clear a few hours before now looked like dirty milk. Every fish bar one was gasping on the surface… and that one was in much worse trouble.
Forget the coffee… switch everything off, transfer the sickest fish to a container of rainwater and start baling.
A water-change and vacuum was never going to solve anything, but at least it would help the oxygen levels while I stripped the filter pump to see what was wrong. I managed to remember where all the valves were… but could not get the air-locked lid off the thing, no matter how I tried. Which was when I sent the first, pre-dawn text to my son.
Following his instructions I managed to get the lid off and cleaned everything I could without damaging the bacterial balance that keeps the thing clean. I tried everything I could think of meanwhile to revive the little fish while fngers that don’t want to work in the mornings struggled to reassemble everything. I even worked out how not to have to suck on the pipes to get the water flow going again.
Except it didn’t. And the little phantom died.
It took me ages to work out that it was one of the pipes from the filter that had become clogged with algae. It must have been building up for some time. Unblocking it was quick, but unpleasant …but within minutes of getting the proper flow going again, almost all the fish were swimming and playing as usual.
I couldn’t help thinking how often that kind of thing happens… when everything seems to be working fine, but somewhere, unseen and unnoticed, blockages occur that, if left untended, fester and worsen until they cause severe problems. Even in people.
With the pipes as clean as my short brush could get them and the water flowing freely once more, I had done all I could. I would need a longer reach and some dedicated time to clean all the pipes thoroughly, but for now we were up and running. I left for work, hopeful that the fish would be okay.
By the time I returned, armed with a small forest of aquatic plants to replace the ones they had eaten and to help rebalance the tank, the water had almost cleared, but one of the neons had not survived. I counted the others… then looked for the missing one, sadly removing a third little corpse from the tank.
The things that lurk and decay in the hidden places can be nasty if we do not notice or seek them out. The blockage had occurred where I had not even thought it could… and had not thought to check. For the three little fish who didn’t make it, my oversight had dire consequences. The aquarium shop doesn’t sell long enough brushes either, so there is no quick fix until the mail-ordered one arrives. Then it will be another messy job, but worth it to know that from this at least, the creatures in my care will be safe.
And somewhere, there is a lesson in that.