"No pets," they said. "But we want a pet!" the children said. Back and forth. Forth and back.
Until a day in May when it seemed that the then five, seven, and twelve year old might just be at-least-momentarily satisfied with a little fish in glorious reds and blues.
Names were suggested, and a pull-from-the-hat was conducted, with Cornelius winning out over the other, now-mostly forgotten other names. A feeding schedule was created, and in the beginning, there were arguments about whose turn it was to feed Corny because everyone wanted to be the one to do so. Eventually that wore off, until the visiting toddler friends would be the ones to remind the children in the morning. "Whose day is it to feed Corny?" said in an adorable toddler tone would be just the prompt the children required to remember to tend to his needs.
The mom tended to his cleaning needs, perhaps not always as often as she should have, but always before it got to be a problem. She, perhaps, was the one who interacted with him the most, in as much as one can interact with a fish. But she will swear that their fish had personality. When the food container was shaken over the tank, she would notice his quick ascent to the water's surface, sometimes while puffing his gills in what she would call his "intimidating" act. She would giggle and talk to him in a way that might have appeared silly for a scene containing only an adult and a Betta fish. She frequently joked about his lazy qualities and the fact that they had in common a love of lying down, for the fish did often swim into his floating log and appear to settle onto the surface, resting his lower fins and not moving for extended periods of time. She would reassure folks upon seeing a nervous expression on their faces, "No, no, don't worry. He's alive. Just relaxing." A shake of the food container would usually be enough to get him swimming around again.
Time marched, or perhaps better said, swam on. Corny's novelty definitely wore off, but the children still took time to feed him, always waiting to see if he would do his dramatic big gulping movement with his face coming up out of the water for a split second as they dropped his food in. The daughter even fashioned a hanging toy from twine and colorful buttons that she suspended in front of the fish tank so that Corny could have something "for entertainment."
He wasn't a pet to snuggle. He wasn't a pet to cuddle. He wasn't the pet they had wanted.
But he was loved.
Two years, four months, and fourteen days after Corny became a part of the family, the people went away for the weekend. Upon their return, Corny was no longer a part of the family. No tapping on the side of the tank or shaking of a food container would get him moving again.
When given the chance to choose how to handle Corny's body, the children's vote was a unanimous three for burial in the garden. The father, trowel in hand, prepared a small hole near the back of some bushes, and the children watched as the mother placed his body onto the paper towel they had prepared for him.
He was only a Betta fish, but he was their pet. Thank you, Cornelius, for giving them that.