Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Loving Cory

Cory the builder fish

Cory, a yellow Midas cichlid who joined our family six years ago, passed away last December 5, maybe of old age, or of having pebbles in her belly, or probably a combination of both. In 2010 Cory and other colorful cichlids, plus some goldfish, enlarged the population in the 80-liter aquarium. It takes only a molecular jump of the imagination to connect her vivid yellow coloration to a certain president, although that president was never admired here. The Cory we had learned to love was the fish.

"Ang galing natin, no?" I told Sogo, my assistant/yaya/adviser, "Paano nga ba natin nalamang babae si Cory?" It turned out that after the arbitrary naming, came the assumption that every Cory is certainly a female. Never in her entire existence, from fingerlinghood to adulthood, did Cory reproach us for such an unscientific approach; with neither a word nor an eyeblink did we discern any displeasure on her part. We did not have to offer the excuse that we had been used to determining genders by peeking at rear ends of numerous kittens and puppies that had become part of our large menagerie of mammals and fish, which included us, of course.

We learned one vital thing about raising fish: Cichlids and goldfish do a colorful aquarium make, but certain species are not meant to be together in one place. This fact was driven home when one morning we saw one of the goldfish wagging its tails erratically, because its prominent eyes were gone, just empty, dark sockets left; while in a bottom corner floated the fleshless but intact skeleton of another fish -- the kind we see on cartoon shows on TV, when the cat drops a fish into his tummy and pulls out a skeleton complete with fishhead, ribs, and tail -- mini scenes befitting a Stephen King novel, if the thought crosses his mind to write about terror in 80 liters of water.

The quirk that made Cory memorable as well as adorable was her ability to make a small hill at the right front corner of the aquarium. Whenever the water was changed and after all the fish were returned, Cory right away sucked into her mouth some of the pebbles that served as the surface of the aquarium floor and then disgorged them at her regular corner. Without stop she went to get more pebbles and added to the stack until the floor in the vicinity became clear glass.
In her youth, when her coat was full yellow, she was even able to build two mounds, one on each side of her. The first time I saw the high mound she had built, I was so impressed I took several cyber photos of Cory beside her engineering feat. My wife made some video records.

At the beginning of December I happened to look at the aquarium, and I sensed that something was out of place. Then I realized what was wrong: every pebble was in place -- no big mound, no busy Cory sucking and disgorging pebbles! I looked at her preferred corner, and there she was, bigger but paler, and slower. She was just in her corner, just floating in a way that alarmed me. In my school days I also raised goldfish in a smaller fishtank, and I learned that when a fish swimmed in a way that its body pointed vertically rather than horizontally, it was just a matter of days when it would float belly up. And that was how Cory was coping, fins slowly waving while her body tilted upward. I asked Sogo to take pictures of Cory, to remember her by.

On December 5 I heard someone say Cory was no more. Now not only her corner but the entire aquarium seems dark without her coloration and movement, and it doesn't seem foolish to write about a fish who kept building mounds as long as she could, the clicks of the pebbles resonating in my memory.

Cory was interred below the mango tree in the garden, where she joined Rex, the Chow Chow patriarch, and the numerous kittens who died at birth or of illness. They say beloved pets who die go to The Rainbow Bridge, where they romp and play all day. I'm hoping that below that consoling bridge is a lake or river where fishes can swim in delight and find worms or pebbles to put in their mouths.

Cory in happier days

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