“He swings the fish from the water, a wild stripe flicking and flashing into the boat, and grabs the line, twisting the hook out, holding the fish down in the footrests. It gasps, thrashes. Drums. Something rapid and primal, ceremonial, in the shallow of the open boat.
Flecks of blood and scales loosen, as if turning to rainbows in his hands as he picks up the fish and breaks its neck, feels the minute rim of teeth inside its jaw on the pad of his forefinger, puts his thumb behind the head and snaps.
The jaw splits and the gills splay, like an opening flower. He was sure he would catch fish. He left just a simple note, ‘Pick salad x’.
He looks briefly towards the inland cliffs, hoping the peregrine might be there, scanning as he patiently undoes the knot of traces, pares the feathers away from each other until they are free and feeds them out. The boat is flecked. Glittered. A heat come to the morning now, convincing and thick.
The kayak lilts. Weed floats. He thinks of her hair in water. The same darkened blonde colour.
It’s unusual to catch only one. Or it was just a straggler. The edge of the shoal.
He retrieves a carrier bag from the drybag in back and puts the fish safe, the metal of it dulling immediately to cloth in his hands. Then he bails out the blood-rusted water that has come into the boat.
Fish don’t have eyelids, remember. In this bright water, it’s likely they are deeper out. He’s been hearing his father’s voice for the last few weeks now. I’ve got this one, though. That’s enough. That’s lunch anyway. The bay lay just a little way north. It was a short paddle from the flat beach inland of him, with the caravans on the low fields above, but it felt private. His father long ago had told him they were the only ones that knew about the bay and that was a good thing between them to believe.
You’ll set the pan on a small fire and cook the mackerel as you used to do together, in the pats of butter you took from the roadside cafe. The butter will be liquid by now, and you will have to squeeze it from the wrapper like an ointment.
He smiled at catching the fish. That part of the day safe.
I should bring her here. All these years and I haven’t. It’s different now. I should bring her.
The bones in the cooling pan, fingers sticky with the toffee of burnt butter.
Cynan Jones (Aberystwyth, 27 februari 1975)