Scales

Greg was grinning, holding the fish in both hands. He hefted it. “Must be at least a fifty pounder. We’ll eat for a week on this one.”

It was a long slow moment before Suze could bring herself to respond. “Maybe you’re going to eat for a week on it. I’m not sure I want to find out what happens if you leave a dead fish sitting, partially eaten, out in this heat. I’m pretty sure it does not involve something still being edible.”

It wasn’t the words that stung. It was never the words. She saw his grin go frozen, the muscles still contracting in a feigned rictus of amusement. He even managed a laugh. “Maybe we’ll just eat for a day on it.”

“Probably better,” she agreed, hating herself for saying anything in the first place. “But it’s a really nice fish. I’m impressed.” They both pretended that saying so made it all better. Greg and his fish stared at her until Suze turned away, feeling a hot flush growing under the sunburn. Her face ached from smiling. “I’ll go get a fire started.”

“You — I’ll be along in a minute.” Greg sounded just as stiff as she felt. “I’ll just get this cleaned.” He didn’t say anything else, which was probably wiser, and Suze fought the urge to run down the worn dirt path back to the village. She walked instead, as deliberate as one of those native girls with the water jars on their heads.

His hut was on the shady side of the beach. Suze kicked sand at the door, feeling childish, and then did it again, feeling spiteful. She collected firewood and imagined hitting him and his grinning fish-catching self until it was too much energy to stay angry any more, and then she lit the fire from the remains of yesterday’s and blew until it blazed up too hot and too bright on the hot bright beach.

And then she waited for Greg and his fifty pound fish that would give them food poisoning in a week and she thought about what he’d said and what she’d said and set the rocks down around the fire for cooking on. She dragged the scorched turtle shell over to the stream that snaked brackishly through the village like a chalk line dividing their rooms and filled it up with water before dragging it back to start heating by the fire.

She was ready when Greg came down the path with the fish hacked into stinking pieces in a basket and the machete through his belt. She was ready, and he saw it. He drew in a breath and tightened his muscles and smiled at her. It looked like he was baring his teeth to bite her, but it was an effort. “Hi,” he said.

It wasn’t the words. It was never the words. “I got some water heating.” Suze bared her teeth back at him, and felt her cheeks burning with the effort. Unnecessarily, she pointed at the turtle shell. “In case you needed it. For the fish.”

“Thanks.” It came at the end of a long pause, during which Suze kept looking at the turtle shell and Greg kept standing there staring at her. She could feel him staring at her, and for once it didn’t make her angry. “Thanks.”

“No problem.” And she meant it, for once not loading the words with anything else. She glanced up to see Greg still staring at her. He’d forgotten to smile. He looked like she’d just hit him in the face with a piece of driftwood.

Suze took the basket of fish chunks out of his unresisting hands and laid the biggest two out on the hot rocks, hearing them sizzle. They smelled terrible. She kept her mouth shut. It was a full five minutes before Greg spoke, and he sounded like she’d pounded him one in the gut with the driftwood too.

“Tomorrow will be six months. On the island.”

A hundred retorts came to her mind and she silenced them all. “I know.” Her own voice sounded choked.

“And three years. Since–” He cut himself off.

“I know.” The words fell into the gap left by the absence of a predicate, rushing to cover over what he hadn’t said. Suze felt the old familiar anger flaring in her, preparing to hate him again, but the beach was too hot and she didn’t have enough energy to keep it going. She stared at the frying fish and thought about how bad it smelled fresh, and tried to imagine it in a week.

“We could salt it,” she said. “It would last then.”

“It would,” he agreed, and she heard the sand shifting as he came closer to her. “But it smells half-rotted already. Maybe the next one?”

It wasn’t the words. It was never the words. “Maybe the next one.”

—–

Flash Fiction Project: January Shenanigans, day 3.  Image courtesy of radcarper on Flickr Creative Commons (Attribution Link)

Morocco Carp 50.6 lbs - 23kg - Save a 50

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