A slight mist held its form above the shimmering ocean water, the sun rising slowly over a series of yellow and orange tinted waves that lapped against a wooden fishing boat. The dawn was crisp and warm, with the slight scent of salt gliding through the air in submissive force.
The fishing boat was not large, but also not so small that it would be called small. It was a broad brown structure, worn by the weather it had endured, that widened in the middle and went forward into an upper v form, creating a curled bow at the head of the boat. A large mast with two sun-kissed orange sails jutted out of the boat, each of them sagging as if they were sad creatures who had not been talked to in a very long time. Inside, there was an entanglement of ropes that went to and fro from the top of the mast down to the rest of the boat, intertwined in a heaping mess on the deck. Dried fish guts and seagull excrement that had perhaps been there for years splattered all along the deck as well, along with that and the sad orange sails, the fishing boat looks absolutely ancient. Not ancient in a majestic sort of way, full of jewels and pride, but in a lonely and dead sort of way that you would see in someone’s eyes after years of misery.
Perhaps the most interesting thing about the old boat was not the fish guts, seagull excrement, or orange sails, but rather it was the two individuals who resided in of the boat. A middle-aged man with long salt and pepper hair slumped over the near the edge of the boat, his left arm drooped over the side just far enough that his index finger slightly touched the top of the shining water, and his right hand clutched a large fishing net that also drooped over the boat. The man’s face was a sign of years of long days in the sun, battered much like the orange sails, as well as having the same pitiful creature look with sad creases on his face. He was more skin and bone than he was flesh and marrow, his tattered clothes which had once fit him well, now were loose and pathetic looking on his dying body.
The second individual was a small boy with same result in clothing as the man, who was his father, but a much different face. The boy was not as famished as his father, yet still terribly skinny, having not eaten in quite a long time. He was bright and cheerful, hopeful about life and what he could do with it. Of course, this is not to say he was dumb, but rather optimistic about the predicament that he and his father were currently in.
“Father!”, the boy smiled, his small hands thrust in the air as if going for a warm embrace. “Perhaps today will be the day that we catch something!” The man looked at his son, a sad smile crossed his face. He had to be positive for his son, he was all that mattered. Without the boy, there was no point.
“Perhaps,” The man lingered, still maintaining a smile for his boy. His words were fabricated by the undeniable truth that the man did not think they were going to catch anything today, or tomorrow, or the next day after that. That even if they did catch something, there was no telling whether it would be a fish or a nail. “Perhaps we will.”
“Why shouldn’t we?” The boy went along the unsteady boat and grabbed the net that latched on to the man’s hand like a glove. “It is a beautiful day! The sun is shining, the day is clear, I bet my life that today will be the day we get a great mountain of fish.”
It had been a few weeks since the two had caught anything remotely related to the word, “fish”. And even when they had caught something, it was simply a small Fiddler crab that barely had any meat inside of it; much like the boy and his father. When they had caught the crab, the man insisted the boy have it, the boy had insisted he have some. “There would not be enough for both of us, you have it. You have a long life ahead of you and the only way to get there is to eat, my boy.” And so he did.
The boy baited the net with a spare piece of rabbit that he had caught a few days ago. Its stench was aged and profuse, but the boy and the man did not have time to act amply in the face of starvation. When he had caught the squirrel, he had brought it excitedly to his father. “Look Father!” he had exclaimed bright-eyed and hopeful. “I caught this rabbit, we will feast on it until we are stuffed!”
The boy is too optimistic, the man had thought, He will soon realize that we must use things much more sparingly. But he too, had remained optimistic, not because he truly thought it would be a feast, but simply to relieve any fear that the boy would feel if he had told him that most of the rabbit was bone.
“Ah, yes! And a feast it shall be!” The man had smiled weakly in that moment of triumph for the boy, but the boy had noticed it fully. He then put out his hand for the rabbit, and held it by the leg, “You know what they say about a rabbit’s foot, don’t you?”
The boy had looked at his father as a pupil to his master. “No, what?”
“Luck, my boy.” He had shaken the rabbits foot in a manner that made the boy flinch, but also smile at the same time. “A rabbit’s foot brings luck.”
To the boy, the rabbit had indeed been a feast. Days of nothing but elder berries and roots had certainly taken its toll on the both of them. The man had skinned the rabbit clean, and put the rest of it, bones and all, into a pot that had long since been unused. There was not much, but the gamey taste had been satisfying for the boy, he scarfed in down like a hungry bear, nibbling on the bones to get the sweet marrow when there was no meat left. The man had halved his rabbit and snuck some into the boy’s bowl while he was not looking and then the rest into a small pouch. It would rot in there, but rotting did not matter when it came to fish, they would eat anything of flesh.
To the man, the boy catching the rabbit had felt like a life-time ago, when in reality it had only been a few days. Today will be our last cast, he thought, and then I certainly shall die. But, I do not care about my death, it is my boy…my sweet child. Alone.
Tears started to come down the man’s face in small trickles of salt. To his relief, his son did not notice his father anguish as he was preoccupied with the net, which he was right in the middle of throwing it out into the water. It cast down into the sunlit morning with a splash, and made the gargling sound of bubbles being brought to the surface of the water as it sunk beneath the waves.
“We will catch something today, I know it.” The boy turned around to his father, who still had a drop or two of tears on his face. “Father? What is wrong?” He huddled over to the old creature and put his arm around him.
“I-I…. I know things look down…but I am positive today we will catch something! The old woman at the market-place told me yesterday that a fisherman on the western bank caught a whole trove of trout. Why shouldn’t we-” The man broke his child’s words quickly.
“Don’t you see? Don’t you see? I am a dead man! Fishing is all I have known, all I have ever known! They are all gone! We have not caught an entire load in two moons! It is over, boy. I cannot sustain for you any longer, eating berries and roots! I have become nothing! I will die...” The man thrust his head back with every sentence, swaying back and forth in guilt and sadness, his eyes ablaze with craze.
“Stop saying that Father,” Tears welled up in the boy’s eyes, he started to back away from the man as he still sat in the corner, descending into a dead man’s madness.
“…I will die!” The man’s breath became ragged. “And you shall be all alone, and maybe if you are lucky a smith shall take you into their care and…”
“S-stop saying these things!” The boy’s lips trembled with rage. My father is a coward, he thought.
“…perhaps you will grow to be a smith’s apprentice while I rot in the dust,” The man started to laugh in a fitted torment, “or better yet perhaps with the fishes! But there are none left are there? None! None! All go-” his words were halted with a smack to the face.
The man looked up in utter bewilderment, snapped back into reality as if he had been struck by lightning. The boys hand was still thrust out from where he had hit his father across the face. It was there that the man realized that his sons own face was not filled with as much fear as it was with blissful a hot anger.
“H-how dare y-you say that,” The boy looked upon his father with pitiful rage, tears stained his cheeks like wet paint upon a canvas. “You would leave me in this world? You would leave me out here all alone?” The boys hand dropped to his side, and he threw himself upon the deck on his knees and began to sob silently in his own palms.
Shame and remorse became the man. He dragged himself to the crying boy, and put his arms around his child. The boy fought against his father, but it was no use, even in his weakened state, the man over powered the boy, who gave up quickly and thrust his head in to his father’s chest as he made muffled cries.
The man began to stroke the boy’s hair with his bony hand as he cried. “I am sorry, … I should not have said that,” He too, sprawled across the floor of boat and continued to sob, embracing his son in pure unadulterated love. “Perhaps, we really will catch something today.” His voice cracked.
“N-no, you are right father,” The boy said in between gasps for breath as his head shook, “we will both die out here. Both of us. I will not leave you in the dust. I... I won’t!” He clutched on to the man all the tighter.
The man did not say a thing, but held on to his son. He would never leave this boy if he did not need to. Death would have to pull him away, and death only. And the man decided in that moment, that today would not be the day that he died.
The two embraced for the better part of the morning, holding each other until the mist cleared, until shining orange and yellow waves turned blue, until the crisp air turned hot. After hours of lying upon the deck of the boat, the man decided, in a moment of sheer habit, to check the net. He got up from his place, where the boy, who had fallen asleep, open his eyes and observed his father as he walked over to the net, which was still submerged deep in the water.
“Help me with this, will you?” The man had turned and handed out a piece of rope that was connected to the net to his son. The boy had never been strong enough to hoist the net by himself, and in his weakened state, the man was not either. Together they hoisted the net. It was difficult even for the two of them, but habit on the man’s side and optimistic determination on the boy’s side finally willed them to bring in the net and back away as it and water sloshed on to the deck.
The man observed the empty net…and that is what he had expected it to be. Empty, he thought, of course it is empty-
“LOOK!” The boy shrilled, pointing to something in the net. His voice had startled the man, and it took him a few seconds to register as he trailed the boys finger to the edge of the net. And there it was… a fish.
“Father! It’s a fish!” The boy ran over to the net and lifted the net, desperate to get to the small, silver flopping creature beneath it.
The man could simply not believe it. Is it a coincidence that on the day that I predicted to die, we finally caught something? His thoughts and brain were fogged in complete shock, he stood dumbstruck as the boy came over to him with the fish that wiggled in his hands, laughing all the more than when he had first seen it.
“Father take it! We shall feast! We shall feast as we did that night with the rabbit!” The boy had to physically take his father’s hands and put the slimy creature in to them as he was still standing there in awe. “All hope is not lost! Don’t you see? This was meant to be!”
The slippery fish brought the man back to his wits. He looked down at the fish. It was no larger than the palm of his hand, wide in structure but also very flat, its glazed eyes were pitch black with specks while in them that gave them the look of stars in the night sky, and the scales, which the man thought where most peculiar, were brilliantly silver. So silver, that the man thought they almost looked artificial.
“Y-yes. We shall feast!” A true smile crossed the man’s skeletal face. “We shall feast and we will survive another day!”
The pair laughed and jumped with joy as the boat rocked back and forth under their weight. This was one of the best moments of their lives. In a moment of complete doubt, they had been saved by this savior, this small silver fish.
The man got out a knife from his pocket, which had dried fish guts up on it. “Now, let’s cut this and split it, and tomorrow, we shall cast then net again, and perhaps we will be in the Gods favor tomorrow as well!” he brought down his knife into the tender underbelly of the silver fish, red liquid dripped down his wrists. The silver fish squirmed as the man cut the fish, but soon stopped as it could no longer live.
As the man cut, he could feel something hard on the inside of the fish were all the entrails would be. Curious, the man dug his finger in, grabbed a hold of it and brought it out. Suddenly, he dropped the knife and fish on to the deck.
The boy’s eyes went wide and he scurried to grab their meal from the seagull excrement and dried fish guts, astounded at his father for doing such a thing. “Why did you drop it, father? That was a clumsy thing to do.”
The boy looked up at last to see what his father held in his hands, who was standing in amazement and what beheld in between his fingers. The boys eyes went wide once against he too, saw what he held.
Among the blood and fish guts, in his bony hands which shook with what was a mix of excitement and the lack of nourishment, the man held a beautiful slick golden coin.