It flippity-flops against the plastic, making a bobbing noise every couple of seconds.
I peer inside, its cold eye staring back at me with a look of reproach. Is that a wink? They probably don’t even have eyelids.
I had the first go. It’s my fault it’s in there, hobbling against the insides of the mucky yellow bucket. It probably thinks it can escape. I’m in awe of its determination, its hope even though I can already smell it burning over the hob later, oil bubbling around its greasy body over the flaming pan.
‘It doesn’t even realise where it is, it has no brain, silly,’ my older brother says, kicking the bucket and it flaps about again.
I regain my position at the back of the boat as my father speeds it up a little. The palms of my hands are a little sore from having reeled it in; I would have been happy to hold onto the line as it breezes through under the water, ripples of waves zigzagging from behind, the air so saline you can feel the salt tickling your tongue as you respire. And then, that thud happens, pulling my arms slightly over the boat’s edge. I felt a sense of gratification having caught the first, but I soon tire from pulling it back and my grandfather helps complete the capture.
It wriggles on the line. I don’t want to touch it. It looks too slimy, the evening sun shimmering on its scales. It would probably slip through my hands, hopping back home with a plop.
I wonder how it looks at the hook, down there, slithering by in search of new prey, before latching onto a gaping mouth, sizzling a few hours later on a charred frying pan, transfusing its briny aromas into the kitchen air.
It’s soon joined by another, and another, and so on; a family reunion of sorts that no-one wanted to attend but had no choice in the matter. I no longer hear the bobbing noise as there’s not enough room to move about although there is a faint slippery murmur from them sliding on top of one another.
The sun dissipates more and more as we journey back to the jetty, pink gold clouds illuminating the sky above, rosy rippled reflections on the waves formed by the engine, calming ever so slightly with the pier in sight.
My cousin has the muddied yellow bucket between his legs, knife in his pocket, ready to finish off the job we all started.
We’re the first to get off, and I feel grateful to be on terra firma once again. My cousin is kneeling down, and mechanically takes one from the bucket, slides the blade along its corpse, and tears all the entrails out, discarding it to the side. I watch from the wall, enough distance to see it happen but not partake, the melange of blood and scales not an appealing sight.
And then it comes to my guy, or at least I convince myself it was as it’s the last to be gutted, the first one caught. From where I’m sat, it appears to be smiling before a line is lacerated into its skin.
At home later, I sit outside, the sky turning black, a salty-smoky odour escaping from the kitchen through the half-open window.
‘Dinner’s ready!’ I hear.
My stomach rumbles in delight and I catch a look at my father’s plate. The fish gives me one final wink as the knife and fork dance and dine over its seared carcass.
Fortunately, I’m having chicken tonight.