In years past, a half-old fishmonger lived upon a quiet shore in a quiet land, alone and quietly.  Whether he loved this life or lived this life out of knowing no other, this teller cannot tell.  What can be told is that this man lived his dark mornings upon the water calm, netting the fish, many or few: never a word he spoke.  By noontime he was well on his path to a small town, hand-pushed cart before.  His afternoons he sat in a town square, selling his fish, many or few: barely a word he spoke.  All who noticed, knew him as the Fishmonger and never thought to know him more.

And yet one day, his quiet was disturbed.

The dark morning came and he met it in his small boat.  He cast and he cast but the water calm only bore him a single fish, a meager fish.  The fish hardly stirred, accepting the strangling air with an uncanny silence.  If this bothered the fishmonger, he made no sign.  When the time had passed, he brought to shore his only catch.

As noon came, the fishmonger was well on the trail that brought him to the neighbor town.  Silent and steady he pushed his cart; its passenger the silent fish.  Most days he passed no man upon his way, but this day was a strange day and he saw standing in his way a man: a gentleman, in his rich and clean attire.  This man stared at nothing else but the coming cart.

"I greet thee, sir: friend and fellow.  This day carries strange wind, but merry meetings.  Upon what quest do you tarry?"

"I..." The fishmonger cast his gaze down, and attempted to pass by the stranger with a hurry.

"Lo, dear friend.  I hear your steps."  The gentleman had moved before the cart with a hidden grace the fishmonger could not see.  In confusion he halted.  "You push an ill-born passenger upon the way.  Her song is a poison to your bones.  What hurries you?  I salve, I quench, I save.  How does your life live, dear fishmonger?  Quiet and constant friend.  None hear the words of your life for your silent tongue.  Yet your servant hears you.  You love and are not loved.  Your beard hides you not from me.  What is your name?  Your name is quiet.  A peace that the sheep neglect.  They cannot love you as they dare not know you.  They are the hollow.  Who is she that rests in your cart?  This burner of souls.  The anguish and shame.  Hiding and screaming.  Hello little one.  You do not escape me."  At this the fancy man cast his eyes upon the cart.

The fishmonger was bound in fear.  The words of unknown origin and intent, questions of chaos, broke his steady.

"What cost is your wares?  This betrayer and plague?  Now does she scream.  Oh sallysue, oh sallysam, I have found you dear traitor.  At what cost do you sell, dear fishmonger, dear friend?"

To the fishmonger's eyes, there was no way to see his lone fish in cupboard of cart.  No sound or telling, save perhaps smell.  Yet the crazed stranger's eyes found out the fish housing.  And to these did his strange utterings call.

"Ho, I am lucky.  The luck of the devil.  What if you had passed me? I would have never have found.  This little tramp silent and stealthy.  Escaping my hand as curse to your name.  What is her cost?  Oh I know it fair well.  How is this gold?  It is a trifle."  The near singing man pulled a purse from his coat, jingling and full.  If it was gold it would buy a fair town.

"I..." the fishmonger trembled.

"A kingdom?  I have a spare few.  They trouble me with their petty struggles.  Would you like a kingdom?  A crown for your peacely brow.  Noble fishmonger, do you want a humble realm?"  The stranger looked smilingly at his close held palm, as if the bounds of his proffered dominion.


"Oh, too small, too small by far.  What do I have that can give such a man as you?  Beauty? Who is fairer?  Wisdom? None you lack.  What does one like you need?  One who has so much.  Ask!  Ask dear friend.  My life is in your hands!"

"Are... mock... ing?"  Finding tears in his hurt and confusion. The stranger's words had some power to show him all that the fishmonger lacked.

"An army to avenge?  A cast of slaves to empower?  I have it all, but not your fish."

"I..." Panic began to trample the fishmonger.

"Oh!  You are alone.  I can hear your silence speak."  Tears fell in the dirt.  "Someone to hear you?  Your many words.  Your life.  To hear your mystery and blood.  An ear of love cast to your steps.  Oh, lovely fishmonger, I see your desire."

If he had never wanted it before, the fishmonger now found no greater desire in his heart.  All of the untold moments, desires, ideas, to be cast upon another, to be shared.  His home now felt a cold prison, his boat a daily death.  The passing of the townspeople, the title fishmonger, all a piercing dagger in his shame.  Forsaken.  Ever alone.  Why was he such a pox?

"Weep not.  Grant me the gift of your prisoner.  Ransom me her life.  And you will be the ever-companioned, the ever-loved.  Your name will be known.  Your silence abolished.  Quickly, before her curse takes you.  I have little to give, but this I give you in my meager wealth."

The fishmonger found himself to hate the man, perhaps the first time he had ever known a passion towards another.  But still he removed his slender fish from its store.  And placed it upon the table of the cart.  He looked long at the face and the eye of the thing.  He could not see it living.  But the crazed one held out a hand beneath an exultant smile.

"Her gaze will enchant.  Quick, before you are undone.  I fear you are lost, kind fisher."

The fish's gaze was dead.  The man was crazed.  But his gift was the utmost longing of the fishmonger's life, even if it was by magic stirred.  What is a dead measly fish?  While hated, the rich one played with truth.  He bore a secret power, a hated power.  Somehow the fishmonger believed the promise cast from his pearly teeth.  Besides, what was the hurt if the man proved false?  A copper lost while resting for tomorrow?

Glazed and passive, the eye stared back.  It was the ease of the thing that scared the fishmonger.  No fish was caught with little sweat.  And this fancy man had never sweat.  The easy gift is curse indeed.  What power over soul does the stranger have that he gifts the heart-warmed ear of another.  The lie was not in the presented words but the absent.  What was truly the cost and whose was it to pay?



When a little boy, sent by this mother, came to the local fishmonger's cart to buy a fish for his family's eating, he was surprised by a soft, "Hello."


Mary Massie said...

25Prego and I both laughed at the line "its passenger the silent fish" and we awwwed at the end. Loved it!

The Venerable Monster said...

Though wrapped up rather neatly, or conveniently rather. You have a good cadence in your writing here. The way you write the Fishmonger makes him understood in a very profound way by the reader. Well done. Keep it up.