Posted on December 25, 2013 by Patricia Ann McNair12.25.2013 Journal Prompt Photo by Philip Hartigan, Vilano Beach, 12.25.2013 December 25, 2013: “On Christmas morning before sunup the fisherman embraced his warm wife and left his close bed.” (from Lawrence Sargent Hall’s “The Ledge”) Share this:ShareClick to email a link to a friend (Opens in new window)Click to print (Opens in new window)Click to share on Twitter (Opens in new window)Click to share on Facebook (Opens in new window)Like this:Like Loading... Related
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There’d been days of dark storms and the sky so low it seemed to touch the roof of the belltower, the wind so strong that that it played a plaintive song at every door and every window. Nicolo had kept to his house watching the sea break across the wall of sandbags he’d helped build, water sluicing in the square and children kicking it up in silver arcs and laughing. Nicolo was not laughing. Almost a week and he’d not been able to take his boat out, and they had only salted fish for dinner and no money for flour to make bread.
It will be fine, his wife said, and though at first what she said had the ring of truth in it, each day she said it a little quieter, and her words moved nearer and nearer to question. Nicolo nodded and looked up at the sky, and maybe he prayed as fishermen are wont to do.
Then on Christmas morning the wind broke off from its singing and the sea withdrew a little and, like a child that has run for a day, it grew still and sleepy. Nicolo woke to the sudden silence. The sun was not yet risen and the air in his room was cold. Nicolo embraced his sleeping wife and left his warm bed and dressed quickly in the near dark. Then he tip-toed out of the house and down to the quay.
His boat had survived the thrashing sea and needed only one part of an hour with the bailing can to make it ready. He checked the nets and the oars, untied the rope and pushed the boat away from its mooring.
It was easy rowing that morning and the stars were still winking and bright in the sky, one star brighter than all the rest. Nicolo found himself singing, which is not what a fisherman should do for a song brings seals to tear the nets and to steal the fish from those nets. Still, he was singing and it was a Christmas church song that was in his mouth.
Nicolo rowed out to beyond the breakwater where the water is deeper than a man can swim and the fishing is sometimes easy. Then he settled his oars and began casting his net, spinning it in a wide circle and pulling it back in to the boat, a timeless dance that fishermen learn when they are boys and in their fathers’ boats. He worked for maybe an hour, till his arms ached and his hands were cold from hauling the empty net back to the boat.
He hoped for flounder or bass or mullet. But each cast of his net came back with nothing. He cursed his foolish singing then, for as well as bringing the seals, singing can chase away the fish. He cast the net one final time, resolved to return home by way of the shallow waters where he might collect some shellfish to make into a poor man’s stew. This time the net felt heavy, as though he had caught a greater catch than would feed a family or a whole street of families. Too heavy by far to be fish and he thought to find his nets torn and the teeth marks of seal on the broken rope.
But it was not any seal that he pulled into the boat on that Christmas morning but something fish-like and not. In the bottom of his boat a sirenetta as small as a child, her hair as yellow as ducats and her eyes wet and black like polished jet. And her small breasts as pale as the foaming crests of waves and her tail all silver thrash and kick.
Nicolo sat back in his boat and the fish-maid began singing and, though it was the same song as Nicolo had been singing before, it was different for the lack of words and for the beauty of her young voice. And it melted the heart of Nicolo and he forgot for a moment his wife asleep in their bed, and he was moved to reach out for the sirenetta and he cut the net from her and kissed her.
Maybe she kissed him back. Though that is what he thinks when he recalls the moment, it is not what he says when he retells the story, says nothing about kissing. And the fish-girl kicked like a fish out of water and it slipped through Nicolo’s hands and back into the sea. And Nicolo had nothing for his morning’s work save a rent in his net that would need repaired.
He fell back in his boat and looked up at the brightening sky, and he counted the stars and gave them their names, the intimate names that only fishermen use, and the boat lifted in the easy swell.
Then she was back by his boat and singing again and when he leaned over the side to better see, her hair was like spun gold cast on the surface of the water and the stars reflected in her black eyes and her lips gave salt and sound to the song Nicolo had brought out onto the water. And she lifted one hand to him, as if she might pull him to her and drag him down to the bottom of the lagoon as mermaids are said to do, but in her hand were five gold rings and they were her gift to Nicolo. That is the story he tells.