Sunday, 18 November 2012

Flash Fiction - Just Fish

           Westway is never deserted, even at three-fifteen in the morning. I’ve driven up from the coast, two hours on empty motorways, but London roads are never empty. The squad cars are bored, one has decided to tail me.

           The ice is melting.

            I’m travelling at a steady thirty-eight, the limit is forty. My lights work, other things don’t, including the refrigeration. That shouldn’t interest the police. But the blue light flashes in my wing mirrors.

Weeeooooooow, weeeeoooow.

The ice is melting.

The Atlantic Ocean surrendered their lithe, goggle eyed grace to the net, the gaff, the ice packed hold. Trawlers gathered around the jetty like remora around a welcoming shark, unloaded their cargo. Trays of dead and dying fish surged along the rollers, a mechanical death rattle to agonised gills fighting for water in the cold, arid air.

Weeeooooooow, weeeeoooow.

They are so beautiful, these fish. Mackerel glisten, shimmer in a hundred shades of green and gold between gloss black stripes. Herring pour from tray to tray, a priceless cascade of silver, tainted gut red, some crushed by the weight of tons of their companions in the bowels of the ship. The majestic cod flicks its huge head feebly, in death its silvery sheen and snow white belly will bland to grey.

‘Is this your van, sir?’ Menacing tone, a torch deliberately shone in my eyes.

            ‘Yes, officer.’

The ice is melting.

            ‘Going somewhere nice are we, sir, at three o’clock in the morning?’


            If the ice melts too fast, these exquisitely streamlined creatures will not be fresh. They’ll be rejected by fishmongers, restaurateurs and go for cat food; all that beauty and death for the delectation of the city’s pampered moggies.

            ‘So your van is full of fish fingers, is it?’

            ‘Just fresh fish.’

            ‘Yeah right! Have you got sole, or are you floundering?’ He’s a joker, this cop.

            The ice is melting.

            ‘Would you like to take a look, officer?’

            I open the back of the van. Semi-frozen water slops onto the policeman’s feet as he stands too close to the rubber seal when it sucks free of the door. He steps back, swears. The second policeman shines a torch in. A thousand golden, alien eyes glint, a million perfect scales glimmer.

            Striped Mackerel, they have clouds named after them, the mackerel sky you see at the end of a long, clear day. The humble herring, destined for kippers, rollmops and fertiliser, swirl in the water like smoke, the seals and whales make no impression on their numbers. Codfish were the kings of the northern oceans, once.

            ‘Just fucking fish,’ says the cop with cold, wet feet.

‘Yes, officer. Just fish.’

            The other cop likes fish. He gets three glossy mackerel, wrapped in yesterday’s Express.  I get on to Billingsgate. The cats will go hungry tonight.

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