The Slow-Cooked Sentence

A minnow of short story,
with nod to Kipling and cousin

Rachael Conlin Levy

Photo by Ryan Conlin.

In the high and far-off times when the sea was young and spritely, boats filled with sailors in search of fish and adventure skimmed, and danced, skidded and dipped, dallied and sallied forth. But there was one sailor, oh, First and Foremost Friend, whose luck with the line was renowned through the region. When she dropped her pole into the sea’s lurky-murky depths, she pulled up the largest, most succulent fish until the floor of her vessel was a glistening heap of scales and fins that sparkled splittery-slivery in the sunlight.

With a knife in one hand, she’d reach with the other for a sharp, slippery fin. Blade slit belly. Flick went innards over the side of the boat. From miles away, birds spotted the fishy mountain and ribbons of red, and flew to the feast. Herring gull and gannet, kittiwake, albatross, storm-petrel, pelican, tern, and shearwater. And do not forget, oh, First and Foremost Friend, either the great black-backed gull or its lesser brother.

Photo by Ryan Conlin.

What a riotous ruckus those birds made as they swooped through the sky and plunged into the water. A few brave birds dared to land on the deck, to dart between her boots and steal bits of flesh. She scowled at their thievery, set her lips in a thin line, and upped her speed. The glints of steel, circling birds, and spray of sticky-fishy, opal-lishy scales resembled a small lightning storm. From shore, villagers sighted the cloud of feather, fin and flash. Joy thundered from their throats and word spread quickly of what was spotted on the horizon.

Max. Whidbey Island.

Photo by Rachael Conlin Levy.

Spiny dogfish, big skate, herring, chinook, smelt, perch, rockfish, blackcod, greenling, sculpin, sanddab, sole, and starry flounder. Packing and icing fish was cold, messy work, drawing only those who needed it most. But the rundown, downtrodden, dirt-poor, and disregarded never grumbled over the labor, though there was call for it. The fisherwoman was as uninviting as craggy shoreline with her hardened jaw, creased face, hunched shoulders, and thinning hair tucked into a cap. A day’s pay plus dinner for the night ahead was the limit of her generosity.

But we are skipping ahead, oh, First and Foremost Friend, because neither story nor boat has returned to shore. No, both are still bobbing on the waves as gulls fly overhead, blood pools on the deck, and word spreads of her catch.

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