Drowned Sprat and Other Stories

Drowned Sprat and Other Stories by Stephanie Johnson Read Free Book Online

Book: Drowned Sprat and Other Stories by Stephanie Johnson Read Free Book Online
Authors: Stephanie Johnson
or something, if he was gutting the fish, or if he wanted the sharpening stone. Or if he’dforgotten the scaler, or needed a clean bucket to bring the fish up to the house. He’d call me from down on the beach, below the pohutukawas, under the cliffs, ‘Oy Joy!’ He was a big man with a loud voice — not particularly deep, but the sort of voice that could carry through reinforced concrete or a strong offshore westerly, if he wanted it to. Penetrating is what you’d call it.
    ‘Joy!’ And I’d slap on my hat double-quick so’s not to annoy him, tie it on under my chin for the wind and hurry down to see what he wanted. He’d have all the catch in the bottom of the boat, pulled up on the hard sand, thirty-pound schnappers sometimes. He was a good fisherman, though I wouldn’t say he had a feel for it. When you have a feel for something you have a bit of compassion — you know, the fishermen who have a feel for it always knock a struggling fish on the head to put it out of its misery. The only time I ever saw Barry put something out of its misery it was an octopus he’d got in the net. By the time I got down to the beach he had it laid out on the hard sand and was bashing it with the gaffer. It didn’t wriggle around; it just lay there while he bashed its poor, heavy, shining, purple head, bloody on the sand.
    ‘Why’re you killing that, Barry?’ I asked him. We weren’t going to eat it — no need to, with all that schnapper. Besides, Barry thought octopus was wog food.
    He’d looked up at me then — I’d broken his murderous concentration — and it was so pathetic, really, what the octopus did. It reached up with one of its clammy legs, reached up and softly curled around the hand that held the gaffer, like it was pleading for mercy. It was as if the octopus and I were thinking the same thing as we looked at Barry. He gave up then: stood and kicked the thing back into the waves. Don’t suppose it lived — they’ve got soft heads, octopuses, and he’d been at it a whilebefore I came down.
    Oy Joy. I’ve been hearing it a lot more lately, since my son bought me the remote for the TV, the thing you point at it to shut up the ads. Some nights I don’t bother with it. The TV’s around the corner from the kitchen, so I wouldn’t be able to hear the ads finish and I might miss a bit of my programme. That’s why I never put the mute on if I’m getting my tea. Tea usually takes two ad breaks if I put the kettle on in the first one. In the second one I have to move quickly, slap a bit of corned beef or luncheon sausage on a plate and a tomato or something. Never fish. I don’t eat fish any more and it’s a blessed relief. I was sick of the taste — all those ruddy schnapper and parore and kingis and flounder from over at the river. It wasn’t just the taste, though. There were other reasons for why I’d started to gag at the sight of it — the boat coming in laden, summer and winter, oh yes. I’d given it up before he died. Quite a while. Since the octopus. That’s why Barry had killed it, you see, because it had been eating his fish in the net. I decided it could have my fish, all the fish it wanted.
    It’s when I’m sitting quiet, though, and using my new thing to shut off the ads, that’s when I hear it. Doesn’t matter which way the wind is, which side of the house the windows are open: ‘Oy!’ — impatient.
    Barry, Barry! Sometimes I answer him, not out loud, just in my head, while the cleaning fluids and cars and kids in nappies flash on the telly. It’s better to answer him, I’ve found, then he shuts up for a bit. Otherwise he goes on and on, when I’m tucked up in bed at the other end of the big fibro house — ‘Oy Joy!’ I suppose I could ask him what he wants.
    I’ve always been an anxious person, not the sort of person people are drawn to. The look of me gives it away — I
look
anxious: thin, pale, hunched over worse now the old bones have started to crumble. Always

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