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(Dominic McKenzie FOR THE GLOBE AND MAIL)
(Dominic McKenzie FOR THE GLOBE AND MAIL)

How our family effort saved a fish called Norman Add to ...

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This week, we resuscitated Norman. We brought him back from the dead, and he now seems to glow with a Jesus-like aspect in our kitchen.

Norman is our family Japanese fighting fish. I say “we” revived him because it was a family effort that saved his life.

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I was the first to notice that he was lingering a little too near the top of the bowl, and that his little belly was distended. It was so big, in fact, that it kept flipping him over and bringing him up to the surface upside down.

I wouldn’t have noticed if I hadn’t been checking on Norman periodically. I must say, I’m pretty good with the fish.

I feed him and change his water, and though I like to pretend that he’s “our” fish, he and I have a secret society, a special relationship that I rarely make public.

In fact, I privately think of him as my fish, that I am his sole owner. I think he is filling a hole in me that was left by my only previous fish, Zero, whose death when I was 12 nearly made me give up on pet ownership altogether.

So, there was a lot at stake. Not to mention, Norman is a favourite of my husband Henry and our son Jones.

We bought him together at a pet store on Parliament Street near old Cabbagetown in Toronto.

The day we bought Norman, we all paid special attention to the instructions on how to feed him and change his water.

It was a good pet store – no weird vibes. We liked the green, Godzilla-like iguana sculpture perched over the front entrance, and the friendly parrot who greeted us with a few nifty, PG-rated phrases at the front of the store.

There were no sad-eyed puppy dogs in the window, like those in the pet stores of my own childhood; no dark, dank corners or questionable smells.

They were selling the Japanese fighting fish in tiny individual bags of water, and there was no guilt because, as we learned, these fish are used to living by themselves in puddles in rice paddies that are no bigger than a cup of water.

Anyway, all of this made us feel good about buying Norman, whose name was given to him immediately by our son.

Kids are crazy. I can only think of two places where the name Norman could have originated: It was the name of a salamander on a TV show we had recently watched; and it also happened to be the name of Henry’s uncle, who had just died that winter.

Norm was a young, fun uncle, and he died way too suddenly and way too soon. It had broken Henry’s heart.

So when the pet store manager asked Jones what he would call our new fish and Jones replied “Norman,” Henry and I stood still for a second before saying, in unison: “What a great name.”

And so our family of three became a family of four, and it only took about two months before we needed to move Norman from his first home in Jones’s bedroom into the kitchen, where he would be less likely to blend in with the furniture and be forgotten.

Also, Henry felt the kitchen had more light and more of a “rice paddy” feel. It was likely that being in the kitchen was what saved Norman, because he was always right there in front of us.

But it could have hurt him, too, since we were probably double-feeding the poor guy, and I think I was changing his water a little more frequently than necessary.

Anyway, Henry will take all the credit for bringing Norman back to life if you ever see him on the street. But I really can’t see how Henry would have known to do anything if I hadn’t alerted him to the situation.

Norman was struggling, after all, at the top of the tank, trying with all the strength of his tiny fins to turn himself around and get back down to the bottom of the bowl, where he belonged.

I showed Henry, and it was then that he took charge, operating in the manner of someone with divine inspiration, a sudden “knowing” of what to do without knowing how he knew.

First, he dumped a bunch of fish pellets into the water. Then, he took the water conditioner and poured almost half the bottle into Norman’s tiny bowl.

It took a mere 15 minutes for whatever Henry did right to kick in, because soon Norman was back and swimming around like he hadn’t been on the brink of death at all.

I won’t use the word “miracle” because I’m a true fan of science, but it was miracle-y science, for sure.

Norman is still alive, and we figure he’s about 53 by now in fish years. We hope he lives at least 53 more.

He and Henry have had a more special relationship since the resuscitation, as would be expected. These kinds of things tend to bring a family together.

Monique Montgomery lives in Toronto.

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