Tue, 02 Jul 2002
So my newts died late last week. During the heatwave. I’m ashamed to say that I didn’t find their remains – covered already with a fine layer of furry white mould – until Saturday morning, just as I was about to depart for Kurt & Jenn’s cabin. I didn’t have time to conduct a proper burial, so I fished them out of the aquarium using a pair of kitchen tongs – which, however many times I wash them, I will never be comfortable using to handle food again, so I might as well throw them away – wrapped my dead newts in tinfoil, and stuck them in the freezer, where they remain. I guess they’ll keep for a few days longer, while I try and figure out how and where to lay them to rest. Meanwhile, my aquarium is still bubbling away. Does anyone want it? I’m not planning to bring any more aquatic animals into my home. Obviously I’m too irresponsible to be allowed to take care of them.
My newts’ names, by the way, were Micro (the little one) and Macro (the big one). I named them when I was eight years old, in Prince Albert. They were a Christmas gift from my mother. There was a third newt at that time, halfway in size between the other two – even less ingeniously, I christened him “Newtie” – but within a few months, I left the aquarium lid open overnight, and Newtie scrambled up the glass to freedom. We found him much later, mummified, beneath the oven. I cried at the loss of Newtie. I can’t say I’ve cried yet over Micro and Macro. I guess I’ve outgrown the promiscuous emotionalism of childhood.
Still, I will miss them. True, these last few years, I rarely paid attention to them, except for the few minutes every other morning that it took me to break a few sticks of TetraReptoMin Turtle & Newt Food into their tank. But now and then I would sit down on the floor beside the aquarium and watch Micro and Macro going about their business – climbing onto the rock, climbing off the rock, hiding in the algae-covered skull in the corner of the tank, snapping up chunks of TetraReptoMin, snapping at each other’s tails and feet when they swam near. Sometimes I would press my finger against the glass and wiggle it, to see if I could get their attention. I was never really certain if they were conscious of the world outside the aquarium. Could they even tell when I walked by, or when I was watching them? – But when I pressed my finger against the glass, they would swim closer to examine it, and we would watch each other through the glass, my newts and I, each wondering, in our own limited way, what the other was up to. That was really the extent of my interaction with my pets. Not quite as satisfying as scratching a dog behind the ears, I suppose, but it’s all I had.
If I’d been a more hands-on newt owner – if I’d been the kind of guy who reached into the tank every morning to greet them with a pinky finger dragged down the spine – my newts probably would’ve survived the heat. As it was, I merely glanced in each morning, saw them reposing on the bottom of the tank in their usual newtish postures, dumped a few chunks of food into the water, and got back to the much more important business of keeping myself cool. It didn’t occur to me that when the temperature was over a hundred degrees in my apartment, the newts must be suffering too. So they boiled to death, while I lay ignorantly, cooling under my fan, just a few feet away. I hope it was a peaceful death. At least I didn’t find them coiled up into poses of agony, their mouths open, their eyes bulging out. They looked comfortable enough. If it weren’t for the mould, I wouldn’t even have known they were dead.
So, farewell, Micro and Macro. Go thee to the coolest, scummiest, stagnantest pond thy tiny minds can conceive, and lie there in the mud contentedly, while I remain in this tiny, overheated apartment, with nobody to keep me company. I promise to think about you every now and then, and occasionally to press my metaphorical finger against the metaphorical glass that separates us, and wiggle it. I hope you’ll still take notice.