By night, the fisher folk paddled down the river, trespassing into Eden, seeking the life of salmon, king Coho. This salmon, though wise, was easy to catch. So alive, he flung himself about as if in sport at the end of their rope—and his. Gaping, he offered them wishes.
“But,” they said. “We only crave your life.”
At dawn, they roasted his body over a campfire. Fat dripped like tears. His spirit rose, mingling with the smoke. They bit his pink flesh, witnessed pure, white bones, and assessed the distance between evil and good. All of him was good. Salmon, ashes, river, trees.
After their meal, they slept, and when they woke and gathered their weapons and blankets, there was no place to paddle. Someone had dammed the river. A pelican stood with crossed wings in front of a No Trespassing sign. They couldn’t escape, not even up the salmon ladders.
After that, every day was stale green pools and plenty to wish for. Whenever they tried to fish, the seagulls dive-bombed them. They huddled on a boulder arguing til it disappeared beneath the floods of spring. Their rags were always damp and smelled like mold. One of them killed another and the rest dove in to his raw flesh. Their boat disintegrated. The waterbirds kept a vigilant watch. Most days licked at memories, tasty filet flecks in the corners of their mouths. Water striders, leeches became their meals. Their skin wrinkled, then grew plastic. Later, some could stay underwater for hours; still later they all grew silent. The lake turned green and scummy; they remembered naught of fire or paddles.
Only once, struggling in a giant net, one flung himself about in the dangerous air, and heard a voice offering desperate wishes in the long-empty forest of his head.
Testament of the Deep
They came to our canals, waded in, ruddy, armed with hooked sticks. “Fish cakes, fish boils, deep fried haddock!” they called. “Canned sardines and pickled smelt!” Our little smelt, so cute, so charming, so easy to clean and fry and eat by the bushel. The blood ran through us colder than arctic. We swished our tails in a frenzy, conferred, sank down to the mud, and finally sent up one great fish. Slowly, slowly he swam to the surface, scarred by bites survived in youth. Up he went to hang by the gills in their smokehouse. When we went up, we smelled it first and gagged, then saw the architecture of his body stripped. Immediately, we plunged downward but never far enough down to escape the dread.
Days later, cautious in the quiet evening, we rose, and discovered near the bank, the giant discarded head, pink with a big white windpipe at the center, a fleshy log preserved by freezing air. We gathered round and bore it down, rolled it into a cave and wrapped it round with wreaths of kelp and water lily. Round and round, reverently, we added layers of mud and pebbles, a sequence any Egyptian could envy, till finally it sat, shrouded and embalmed, our god, our holy relic.
Lita Kurth, teacher, writer, activist. Her works, “Pivot,” (CNF) and “Gardener’s Delight” (fiction, Dragonfly Press DNA) were nominated for Pushcart Prizes. “This is the Way We Wash the Clothes,” (CNF) won the 2014 Diana Woods Memorial Award (Lunchticket). “Are We Not Ladies,” (CNF) was nominated by Watershed Review for Best of the Net, 2017. In 2013, she co-founded San Jose’s Flash Fiction Forum and has been a featured reader at numerous venues.