As I mentioned before, I’m in a creative writing seminar this semester. Last week, after attempting (and failing) to stave off the ghost of Ingemar Bergman and presenting my poor classmates with (what I thought was awesome) psychotic nonsense, my professor commented that all of my writing is “richly descriptive and intensely mental.” Whether he meant brainy or just simply insane is still something I’m grappling with. He urged me to try and write something more outside of the mind next time. He then proceeded to hand out this week’s assignment, a prompt reading: “Meditation, Object of contemplation.” Huh. Go figure.
So this morning I’ve at last managed to come up with 1,000 words of prose fiction that is only mildly psychotic. I figure since I’m spending a good four hours or so each week writing these things, I may as well get some blog mileage out of them. And part of learning to really write is learning to be unafraid of having your writing being read. So, edits and suggestions are wholeheartedly welcomed, o my dear grammar nazi readers.
Below is my response to “Meditation, Object of contemplation.” If y’all like reading these I can keep posting them. So yeah. Go ahead. Read my stupid art.
The fish hung, delicate and rotating in the wavering shadows. Its gills fanned in and out, its body expanded and collapsed with a rhythmic and soundless gasping. The meaty weight of it held the line taught. The fish circled the air such that Ruben grew dizzy trying to follow. Winding and unwinding, the animal was massive and so it spun slowly. Ruben looked at the fish’s eye: it was a perfect black circle inside a perfect silver circle. It hardly put up a fight. The failed breathing grew slower, deeper—sonorous—and at the moment animal’s jaw fell slack, Ruben knew that the eye no longer saw him.
The other boys walked out onto the dock; it wobbled in the water with their heavy steps. They stood a circle of three with their poles held like spears beside them, their gazes fixed on the suspended fish. The sway of the dock died out in their speechlessness as the mosquitoes spun and poised themselves overhead.
“Holy shit.” Jonatan, the oldest cousin, wasn’t afraid to swear when he meant it. “That’s salmon.” Ruben smiled nervously. “You caught it. You brought it in. You really brought it in. I wouldn’t have thought you
could do it. No reason there should even be salmon here this time of year. Shit.”
Jonatan drove home. The whole ride back to Ringsö in the boat, Ruben didn’t look down at the fish in the bucket. He sat in the back seat, behind the outlines of his cousins, and looked straight ahead, although the wind made his eyes itch. The motor beneath them was a distant hum, sunset and moonrise were happening simultaneously on opposite ends the archipelago.
Ruben stepped cautiously onto the dock and hefted the bucket up onto the island, through the shallow meadow toward the houses. Lively chatter drifted between the cottages, where adults sat around tables and drank coffee with decks of cards. The cousins, older and without fish to bear, dispersed and disappeared amongst them. Twilight had settled and the yellow globular bulb suspended from the low kitchen ceiling was on, he could see it through the window. He pushed open the kitchen door to find his mother was inside leaning on the counter beside a sink full of washed dishes and picking distractedly at her fingers.
“I brought a fish.” His voice had no tone. His mother stood abruptly. “I don’t know how to clean it.” He hoisted the bucket with both hands and let it come to rest on counter.
She tucked her hair behind her ears and peered into the bucket. When she saw the fish, her lips parted.
“It’s big.” She said. It really was a beautiful creature, a muscular silver curve up the side of the bucket. “And salmon? Salmon? It must be late for salmon here. This fish most have been lost. Or somehow left behind.” Salmon fed in the Baltic, dancing between waves and islands for a winter before swimming back towards Studsvik or Trosa when the water temperature starts to change. They preferred to breed the summer in warm and festering ponds somewhere inland, and concealed by forest. “How, dearest, did you
manage to catch this?”
Swum downstream and into my arms. Hopped onto my line and into my bucket. I don’t know.
Ruben returned an empty look.
“I can clean it for you. Grandfather taught me. He and I came from a time when people still cleaned fishes everyday in the summers. Not just when they’re on holiday.”
“I’m lucky I guess,” Ruben spoke at last.
She prepared the surface, and the knife. Lifting the fish out of the bucket, a pool of brown water remained at the bottom. The meat made soft thud on the cutting board.
Someday this is something you maybe will need to know, father said. Take it, father said. She was afraid to touch something alive, but she took fish anyway. She removed the hook and stuck the small knife into its gill, slicing upwards. What was left of the fish’s vitality spilled out onto the ground, making a deep red splatter in the dust. Good, father said. She felt the last pulses of life flooding from its body, now slippery and limp in her hands. Now watch, father said, taking the knife.
She slit Ruben’s salmon down the belly; the inside was dark and wet. A muddy crimson rushed out when she cut near the gut and reached her fingers inside, deft and unafraid. The alien innards were set aside—
the jeweled coils of blood and cartilage gleamed in the white bottom of the sink.
She could do it all without thinking. Oh, how very many fish she’d cleaned since that day her father first held the dangling, weakly twitching animal out towards her? So many that every movement in the act now seemed to complete itself. Now, her hands worked with her mind, void of thought, not noticing. The laughter that floated between the buildings was absorbed by the air and the kitchen was left awash in a low frequency silence.
She severed the spine at the tail. Holding the knife flush against the flesh and sliding it just under the first layer, she shaved the spine alone out of the rubbery body. She held the detached spine up against the light, a flattened and translucent string of pearls. There was an art and a calm to it, dismemberment. Soon the salmon was just two long pink pieces, perfect and soft, lying side by side.
She raised her eyes from the fish and looked down at her son. He was crying noiselessly.
“Oh Ruben,” she set down the knife, wanting to embrace him. She looked at her hands, covered in fish. She ran them briefly under the water and wiped them on her apron. Ruben sat down on the floor and didn’t look up. She kneeled beside him, lightly touching his delicate shoulder. His hair was slicked against his forehead. The kitchen reeked.
“Ruben,” she said, her serenity breaking slowly behind her eyes.