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You didn’t get the funeral you deserved.

It was poorly attended, the music selection fell through, the venue was a fairly popular spot, so we needed to be out of there relatively quickly. The funeral was open casket, of course, which is partly why no one wanted to come. Though you were stunning in the prime of your life, that angry disease ravaged your tiny body almost beyond recognition. As your caretaker, and really the only person that truly knew you in the end, I should have said a few words. I should have told a story—any story—to celebrate your short life. I should have talked about the day we met and instantly connected despite our differences. I should have explained how much time I spent laughing at you in the mirror when I was supposed to be cleaning. Or maybe, I should have shared something about the many long nights I spent sitting on the floor, researching all of the possible illnesses you could have and how to treat them… and how I did everything in my power to prolong your time with me. But unfortunately, funerals like that are awkward things, and I said nothing at all. The only person who pitied me enough to attend quickly left the room, so I tipped your dead body out of the container and into the toilet. And with a flush, you were gone.

Fish are stupid. At least, that’s what people told me. And not just because of your rumoured three-second memory. Oh no, having a fish as a pet is quite a ridiculous thing. They’re not exciting. They can’t go anywhere. They don’t know who you are, even. They’re useless. Trickless. Cuddleless. Funless. Pointless. They don’t do anything. So I’ll ask you instead. Why did I pester Rebecca for a fish when she drew my name for the Christmas gift exchange? Was it because I really wanted a puppy but I wasn’t allowed to have one in the house? Was it because I thought a fish would be super easy to take care of? Or was it because I was lonely in my little room, barely bigger than a closet, in a house full of other girls I was starting to feel alienated from? Well, whatever the real reason, come Christmas I was happily unwrapping a one-gallon fish tank (your future home), complete with coloured pebbles, fish food, and your castle. And oh boy, did you love that castle! I know that Rebecca meant the castle to be a joke, tainted by the animosity growing in our house, even taking the time to make a laminated princess flag with my name on it for one of the towers. But it didn’t take you very long to knock that flag free and claim the castle as your own. And that flag, well, I really didn’t mind throwing it out.

The girls drove me to the pet store that day. They put me in the back seat, where I tried to keep my hands warm underneath my legs because it was the dead of winter. I could feel it even then, you know. I could feel it in the way they only talked to themselves on the car ride; how I couldn’t find a space in the conversation to jump in. I could feel it when we got to the store and they immediately went to the puppies instead of the aisle where you were. I was left to walk slowly through the store alone, trying to hide my disappointment in everything. I had no idea that you were waiting for me. While I was still early in my betta-fish-knowledge stage, I could tell you and the others weren’t being taken care of very well. But there were so many colours! So many fancy fish were dancing back and forth to grab my attention, but so many others looked sick and very still. But then, of course, I saw you at the end of the shelf. Royal purple and bright magenta and fairy pink and periwinkle blue blended through your scales. You weren’t dancing for me, and you weren’t on the brink of death, but when I touched my fingertip to your plastic home, you swam those few centimetres to meet me. Over the top of the aisle, I could see the girls growing impatient with me; Rebecca already had her wallet out as if she was babysitting a toddler in a toy shop. So I picked the only living thing in that pet store that was willing to pick me back. I picked you.

I had absolutely no idea how to clean a fish tank. I think you knew that. But miraculously, all of the careful steps I had taken to ensure you survived had paid off. The water was the correct temperature (and not to mention, perfectly treated for chemicals), and everything in your tank had been scrubbed with my hands and hot water and no soap, just like the websites told me. I learned very quickly from the passionate blogs of betta fish breeders that almost everything the pet shop told me about your care was probably wrong. You needed more than just a decorative fish bowl—in fact, you required exactly one gallon of space. And you had that nifty organ that allowed you to breathe from the surface, which is why you didn’t need an air pump! Right? Wrong. I went back to the pet store and got you the air pump to keep the water moving enough to scare away bacteria. And then, when that air pump broke, I got you a new and bigger one because you were quite obviously depressed without a constrant stream of bubbles. The pet store sold me fish pellets for you to eat, but of course, they have little to no nutritional value and actually taste rather disgusting.

And so I put many hours of research into you. Tank-cleaning-day was meticulous and always took at least an hour. Then your home was placed so carefully on my bedside table, away from the window and just slightly over the heater. And the plastic container from the pet store worked perfectly to help you adjust to the new water temperature and not shock your little system. My research also showed me that bettas are unique fish; each one has a different personality. But from all of the time I spent proving to the girls that having a fish wasn’t pointless and silly, I already knew that about you. You were brave in front of your reflection for two seconds before you cowered away. You hated those betta pellets and spat them back out at me whenever I tried to feed them to you. You would nibble my finger if I so much as skimmed the surface of your water. You were scared of a rubber duck. You liked to hide in your castle, but always came darting out when you heard my footsteps. You stayed hidden when Rebecca’s brother, who I was dating at the time, stood in the doorway. And most importantly, whenever I was trying to keep quiet when the girls made me cry again, you would bob at the surface right next to my bed and look at me as if you wanted to make sure I was all right.

Swim bladder disorder is not something to concerns most people. But for me, it meant hunting through the camp kitchen for the perfect shallow container to act as a hospital tank. It meant running back to the house in between summer activities to check you weren’t floating too much on your side. It meant that gut-wrenching feeling when I woke up in the mornings and found you still sick. By then, I didn’t have a boyfriend any longer. And the tension in the house finally boiled over. His sisters blamed me for breaking his heart, and the other girls joined in and found I was an easy target to bully. You were the only one in that house that loved me. But you couldn’t have known, swimming sluggishly in your hospital tank, that things were starting to change.

You got better.

You did.

Until another disease swept in; one my extensive betta fish research told me you wouldn’t be able to recover from.

I didn’t spend as much time with you as I should have. I hope you can forgive me. There were new people downstairs in the kitchen, wanting me to be with them instead of trying to forget I was there. These were the people that attended your funeral. Well, mostly from the living room, because that bathroom really was tiny, and an important soccer game was on TV at the time. So that’s why, the night before you died, alone in my room and sitting in front of your tank where no one could hear me, I said what I did.

‘It’s okay, little Sweden. You can let go.’

And just like magic, you took a deep breath from the surface and sank all of the way to the bottom of the tank. When I woke up the next morning, I knew immediately that you were gone. And yet, somehow, you had managed to drift from one side of the tank to the other, right next to my bed, to look at me, as if you wanted to make sure I was all right one last time.