Seaside Chronicles - The Tale of the Herring

Inés Lion 9 years ago

Behind the window, there are some teeth attached to jaws. Dentures have replaced herrings.

How did that happen?

In the beginning, there were fishes. The sea was fertile, an endless source of nourishment.  Fishermen always came back with their hands full of these little moist and still wriggling beings. Even their dead eyes seemed to express some contentment. Those courageous enough to bathe in the icy water were struggling to progress between all these fishes. They could feel their slimy trunks hitting their legs, their arms – every bit of their bare limbs. Under the brown surface, it was swarming so much that nothing could be seen. Sometimes, a suicidal fish would make a great leap, emerge from the sea in a perfect arc and soak again into the salty water. Sometimes, some would not be as lucky and would be caught in mid-air by a greedy seagull.

At that time, those carnivores displayed a fat abdomen, stuffed with herrings. It is from there that seagulls adopted a clumsy way of walking, verging on the ridiculous. Striding along the quay, the passers-by (sailors, fishermen, fishmongers but also prostitutes, postmen, doctors) were split between a feeling of fear and a desire to laugh in front of these admittedly stiff but aggressive beasts. There were rumours that their voracious hunger was pushing them to attack humans, mistaking hats, caps and other headgear for the gleaming scales of herrings. Children weren’t aware of that and played at chasing them, imitating their limping, the mouth full of laugh. Meanwhile, their mothers were at work, most of the time scaling and gutting herrings, and skipping school was the most common activity. Everyone knew that nobody was going… What’s the point as long as there are fishes in the sea?

The teacher did not hold it against them, and made the most of his 365 days of leave to drink pints of ales at the Nelson Bar. One, two, sometimes three then four, five until ten, he always ended up by leaving the place redder than he arrived. He was then coming back home, where his old mum was waiting for him, grumbling, reproaching him « not to have done as everyone else« , « to live during the day and not during the night as all the good lads from the port« , and « well, see in the kitchen, I have left you a « smoky » with some mash« . Finally he sat in silence in the cold kitchen with its walls yellowed by the salty sea air, the cigarettes and particularly the time, the time spent looking at the pitch-dark night by the lonely, very little and well-polished window. He was chewing loudly, sniffing from the tip of his beetroot like nose. The alcohol he gulped down earlier was helping him to ignore the saltiness of the fish. He had eaten it everyday, and this since he was very little. His father was one of those « good lads from the port », who was leaving the house at midnight and coming back in the early morning, wet, freezing but apparently satisfied. He had left with pneumonia, and the teacher could only remember his rubber boots that he used to wear with a lot of pride. He had been the first one to buy them from « a gentleman american » who claimed to have discover rubber, and that « although he was soaked, his feet were always dry« .

Later, a bloke from the pub told our teacher that there was another word for rubber, « caoutchouc that is« , and that it meant « wood that cries » in Indian language. That evening, he left the Nelson Bar with not only a red face but also red eyes.