Fishing for bream

The boy lifted the wet brittle layer of shale from its ancient bed

And captured the scurrying crustaceans in loosely gripped hands.

He dropped them into the jam jar and lobbed a stone at an escapee.

“Don’t kill anything for no reason”, said the Englishman,

“Even a buckeen should not die without a purpose.”

The boy was shaken by the expression of this idea, as it was secretly one of his own.

He was shaken because a grown man had given words to a belief

Which he felt in his heart, but thought unmanly.

 

He impaled a buckeen on the hook and winced as the carapace was pierced,

The lead weight was dropped into the sullen depths below.

The Englishman worked the rod and reel with his right hand,

The rod being braced with a steel fulcrum which emerged from his left sleeve.

He lodged the rod end in his belt and let the reel unwind with a braking finger.

It was not in balance and the Englishman awkwardly reached across the rod.

There was a metallic click and the false arm bent at the elbow.

“Hang on to your arms Michael; they come in very handy.”

 

Down below the waves surged into a cave with a deep growling roar

And the rod was lifted to keep the bait above the rocky bottom.

The boy felt that this was the moment for his question.

“Where did you lose your arm?” he asked, “and was it sore?”

“In the trenches”, said the Englishman “and yes.”

Elaboration was prevented by the arching of the rod and the clatter of the reel.

“Hang on, we’re into something”; the reel was wound awkwardly

And a two-pound bream was hoisted onto the ledge.

 

The boy unhooked the fish and re-baited the hook with pretended indifference.

He turned to look at the flopping fish.

It was iridescent with colours from an underwater spectrum;

The body was sheathed in ruddy scales arrayed like pan tiles;

The gills were red and the mouth was the green of sunlight through breaking waves.

The gasping jaws and startled eyes were full of silent reproach.

It was a creature removed from its wet world

Into a dry desert, full of brightness and loss.

 

The boy sat in the Rover and watched the Englishman drive.

The steel arm was fitted with a hand for steadying the steering wheel

While the other hand moved the column gears.

The moment for asking the question was gone.

“Ten bream; a fine catch. They will not have died in vain,” said the Englishman

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