Three rainbow trout had been caught for the master’s last breakfast. The cook wept into the pan as she fried the fish, before sending them up on a tray with the morning paper, a pack of cigarettes and a box of matchsticks. So distraught was she, the cat was put out and the weekend girl given the day off, so that she might cry alone in the kitchen until it was time to prepare the cold luncheon.
The weekend girl decided to walk to the Fisherman’s Rest, a further way down the valley. As she went, she practiced how she would ask the cook if she were to be paid for today’s leave. She then felt guilty, and so practised feeling sad for the master instead. As she descended down through the blue its, through the forest, she considered the tussocks of grass and moss, stooped like soldiers with their packs, or rows of little old men at the opera.
“They have fallen asleep, and let dew make their beards wet. Never mid, the sun will soon dry them off.” Said the weekend girl. However, the sun did not dry them off, as the forest was becoming as blue as the hills: fog was all about.The girl knew that staying on this path would soon lead her to the Fisherman’s Rest. In fact, there was the hushing of the river, and voices too. She must be near. The girl quickened her pac, stepping off the path to run through the trees, toward the voices.
Sitting on the opposite bank were two boys. One, the smaller, was crying, the other was stirring the water with a stick.
“Is anything the matter?” Called out the weekend girl.
“No.” Answered the boy with the stick. “He’s only crying because his sister died this morning.”
“Oh, but that’s terrible.” The weekend girl said.
“They k-killed her for p-poaching a trout!” The little boy howled.
The boy with the stick sighed, “If she hadn’t killed the trout, they wouldn’t have burned her.”
The weekend girl waved goodbye to the boys. They must be playing a game. She went on her way.
Once she had disappeared into the fog, the bigger boy threw his stick into the river. From his back unfurled two green wings.
“Well, that was stupid, Prickle.” He snapped. “You can’t miss her that much. She was only killed this morning.” Saying this, he leapt off the river bank, turned into a dragonfly and flew away, leaving Prickle sniffing and wiping his eyes on his wing. He shouted across the river to the sleeping council of mossy men, “I hope you’re pleased with yourselves.”
One of the mossy men grumbled and blinked awake.
“What are you shouting about now, young Prickle?” He muttered, trying to nestle down further into the soil.
“My sister is a burned up matchstick.” Screamed Prickle. The mossy men were all awake now.
“Such is the law, such is the law.” They chorused, and went back to snoozing. They did not enjoy being woken so early on a dim morning. No amount of Prickle’s yelling would induce them to open an eye again.
In his rage, Prickle hurled a clod of earth into the river, where it’s splash startled a weeping trout.
“I wish I was you.” He wailed. “This morning, the took my father and my brother, and three nights before, a fairy killed my mother. I have never been more wretched in my life.”
The clod smiled, “Trout, life is not so bad.
Love seeketh not itself to please,
Nor for itself have any care,
But for another gives its ease,
And builds a Heaven in Hell’s despair.
Don’t you know there are others suffering too?”
Whilst the clod was speaking, the trout had been nibbling on a worm which writhed, suspended in the water. Suddenly, he felt a barb slip through his lip.
“You may say that life is not so bad.” Said the trout, “But you are not a fish with a hook in its mouth.” And with that, the trout was dragged into the stinging air, bright as a wound.
The master of the house wrestled the trout into a cake tin, closed the lid on its flipping, flopping body and put the tin into his pack.
“I haven’t even made it over the Channel, and already this morning I have taken a life.” He thought, as he lit a Lucifer with a match from the box in his pocket. Good old cook. He hoped the smoke would keep the cold fog away. He was about to toss the match into the river beside him, when he felt a fluttering by his cheek. A moth had alighted on his shoulder, and as the master walked along, it told him a story.
“Soldier, I am tired, and I will tell you why, but let me rest on your uniform for a bit.”
The master liked the moth’s company, and so allowed her to stay.
“Last night, I was making love to my husband the moon, when I heard a council of mossy men in session. The mossy men are rarely awake, and so whatever they were discussing must have been important. I left my husband to witness this;
Standing before the council was a fairy, her head no larger than a blackberry. As I watched, she was accused of murder, of slaughtering a mother trout. The fairy was found guilty- she did not put up a fight- and was sentenced to death. She was to be made into a matchstick and burned.”
The master was furious, “She poached a trout! My trout!” He cried, squashed the moth under his hand and threw the matchstick into the mud. He continued on his path to meet with his platoon, cross the Channel and die in Flanders.
A sea nymph, blasted by a naval mine, had escaped upstream. She had seen soldiers, boys, eaten by sharks, drowned between sheets of steel and crushed in the cold of the sea’s grip, and she was tired of it all.
She crawled onto the mud of the river bank and sang a eulogy for the matchstick she found lying there.
When the song was over, she buried it beneath the earth. Then she waded into the middle of the river, so her skirt billowed around her waist, as if she was caught in a free wind. The she took the Admiral’s pistol, fired a shot and was carried back to sea, to be rocked in the depths alongside the bones of the boys.