Fried Fish…

Other Friends to Fry

 One time a small croaky house on an island quite far north was the home to a young woman. She was named Mëli. And she was quite a find.

Well, the island of which we speak was quite light and grey, and it did not have such a great many human inhabitants. Just a few. One of whom, of course was Mëli. Her small house was constructed out of very small square rocks of a silvery colour, all sandwiched together by the whitest cement adhesive. There were two square windows for eyes upon the front façade, and beneath them a little red door for the nose. A door underneath which Mëli had planted the most lovely plants and flowers able to withstand the rainy, grey climate that was common to the island. The flora collected and tangled either side of the red door like two sides of a shuffling caterpillar moustache. A moustache of Wild Bergamot, Queen of the Prairie, Bee Balm and, of course, the terribly mischievous Azure Pickerel in the most damp and boggy regions. Such a very small house did Mëli live in, but not so pathetic to crack and crumble under the constant drip drop of the grey, grey rain. And fortunately, Mëli was rather small herself and so fit quite snuggly into her little home. Thank goodness.

Well although the house was terribly grey, as you can gather, it was positively technicolour in comparison to the island that surrounded it. In fact, the blood red of the Bee Balm and the little cherry door must have been the brightest thing for many kilometres, excepting of course the fluorescent front window of the only restaurant upon the island. This restaurant was the Red Herring, and was not, if the truth be told, a veritable restaurant. Rather, the place was the island’s finest, and only, vendor of the most splendid and salty fish and chips you might ever eat. And it was also Mëli’s workplace.

Everyday she would walk from her square, grey house down the flat, grey street for around 19 or 20 minutes, until she reached the Red Herring, where she steadfastly served the island community with the tastiest deep fried sea treats: a necessitous role you understand. It was usually quite a pleasant way to pass the day, and of course it enabled Mëli to afford the electricity and gas needed to heat her grey abode. At the beginning, it must be said, she was a little apprehensive to watch the slippery sliver fish slide from her fingers, glassy flat eyes wide, wide open, plunging deep into the rich batter mix, but soon enough she became accustomed to fishing out the slithery creamy coated creatures by the tail, and then dropping them into the vat of hot yellow oil. She could see the transformation from silver, scaly friend to crispy, tempting morsel of gold right before her eyes, and after a while she no longer felt like an accessory to murder. Nevertheless, she continued to flinch just a little for each little fish.

These fish were mainly Kolja and Silvertorsk, native species that were extremely common to the area, but occasionally the great swarthy fisher people might trawl in a rarefied Hälleflundra, Rödspätta or Svärdfisk. Hälleflundra was Mëli’s most favourite fish for supper, so sweet and delicious it was, wrapped up in a crackling coat of paralysed fat and batter.

For many months, maybe years, Mëli had been working in the Red Herring, from ten in the morning to midnight everyday, save for Saturday, when she had the day for her own. It was quite a sure way to live, every week more or less the same pattern to follow, and as cherished piscatorial caretaker to all the island’s inhabitants, Mëli became acquainted with a great majority, if not all, of her neighbours.

How pleasant it was to get to know and also to provide for the folk of the island, to make the kiddies smile with snacks of golden crisp fishy friends, and to warm the cold bony folks’ insides. A terribly agreeable, if laborious way to pass the days. It must be noted that Mëli was not alone in the Red Herring. Fortunately she had the helping hands, as well as the unceasing requests, of the two young fellows who owned the place, to keep her from solitude. They worked along with her most of the days, one or the other, and so the daily tasks of gutting and descaling the fish, peeling and chopping the potatoes, and ensuring that the shop was spic and span, were shared and seemed a little less arduous. These two were brothers, perhaps twins, although they were quite different in countenance and character. The one was named Okän; he was surly and ireful, always with furrows cut into his forehead where his eyebrows were compressed in miserly grief. He wore royal blue trousers with a pattern of tiny white fish racing up and down them.

Then there was the other. He was named Yani. He was surly also, but wore red rather than blue trousers with the shapes of tiny white fish upon them. And very occasionally he might become just slightly less gruff and crack a good joke. Mëli found the two of them to be usually good colleagues, both very competent and hard working, if a little on the quiet side, and they were kind to invite her for a fish supper now and again in the room above the Red Herring, which was where the pair lived.

On a day in November, or perhaps it was October, Mëli had been invited to dine with the brothers, as was quite usual. This day was most especially rainy, the water just ran and ran down from the sky, then ran and ran off the pointed roofs upon all of the island’s buildings, then ran and ran down the grey roads and straight into the grey sea. Saturation really was the name of the game. Well all day had Mëli been working, gutting, filleting, scaling, slicing, frying, salting and packing up hot meals for her fellow islanders, because although the rain poured and poured, the people still flocked to the Red Herring. For it was, as previously mentioned, the only restaurant upon the island. On this particular day she had worked alongside Yani, for Okän was running an errand, but at midnight all three prepared to eat together around the small table upstairs, looking out through the grey lace curtains at the rain. Okän had offered to cook as he had not been in the kitchen all day, and the other two remained upstairs to prepare. Mëli fetched a jug of water, while Yani laid out the lousy, tinny cutlery. He was hungry now.

Yani smiled at Mëli and let out a terribly clownish joke. Blundersome and familiar it was. Mëli and Yani grinned. Quite an awful joke. At this point Okän joined them but without any supper, a fact which aggravated Yani terribly. Okän said that he was in need of Mëli’s help downstairs, though she could not think why. Perhaps he had lost the condiments.

But then again, perhaps not. Downstairs, Okän shut the door that led to the room upstairs. Then he locked the door. He proceeded to grab a hold of Mëli’s hand and drag her towards the fish service counter, twisting her small wrists in his enormous callused grip. She very much wanted to shout out, but before she could, his other hand smacked upon her face, stopping any breaths or cries at once. For Okän was terribly strong and much too big for Mëli to challenge, especially in this instance, as she had been caught unawares. Oh dread and terror started to burn inside of Mëli and her heart was running so fast, she thought she would die. Her pores were sweating, her cheeks were on fire, and her ears were ringing as Okän tied a cloth around her face so as to gag her. Her tongue felt feathery as the cloth cut the sides of her mouth and saliva dribbled down her chin. Oh my, she really thought she was choking.

Okän slammed her down and her head began to bleed where it hit the surface. Her hands were taken and she was getting so tired out trying to scratch at the awful man, to punch him somehow. But his face was so terribly close, his hot breathing so disgusting and loathsome. With all her might, Mëli wriggled her knees up towards her chest and kicked out as hard as she could. She struck Okän a dreadful blow as she pushed up and kicked under his chin. Her laced up shoes were fortunately heeled and thus cut Okän’s face so that his chin began to bleed bright orange tomato juice. This blow threw the man from before Mëli, and she had again her arms at her disposal. She pushed him away and scampered to try to unlock the door, but Okän prevented her from escaping as he crashed across the small restaurant area, smashing glass in his trail. Little crystals and green gems of shattered glass sparkled over the tiles and the blood smeared over the metal counter top. It was a terribly revolting sight and so contrary to the smell of the battered Kolja that was sizzling away in the fryer. Mëli searched for some means of defence but it was in vain, so she tried again at the lock. Now her hands had become bloody too.

At this point, the door was opened and Yani, perhaps driven by hunger, or perhaps out of concern for his brother and colleague’s absence, came into the kitchen space. His eyes were very blue and beautiful like the ocean, and a little grey like the island rain. They darted around as he came to understand the mess before him. He pushed Mëli out of the kitchen before reaching, quick as a fox, for a great metal pan. Well, Yani was at this point so very angry, he had flames in his eyes, flames that at once blinded and illuminated his vision. And with this ire he hurt his brother very badly. The bashing and thrashing, gutting, cutting, pummelling, pommelling and battering that Yani had perfected so well with the silvery creatures of the sea that they served in the Red Herring, proved somewhat handy it seemed in this unfortunate and detestable scenario.

Mëli cried and cried behind the dirty door that was sullied with blood, then after a time, Yani opened the door, helped Mëli to her feet and walked with her through the back door out into the pouring rain. She was shaking, and Yani held her hand. They began to walk along the grey, grey road towards the sea, the rain washing the terrifically red blood from their skin and hair, cleaning their faces of sweat and tears. It was so dark, around one o’clock by now, and the cold, black sky was mellowed a little by the grey constant rain. Mëli and Yani stood beneath this sky for a time. Yani was no longer so hungry.

After this occasion, the Red Herring could no longer provide the community with the most wonderful of fish and chips. Mëli left. She fled the island in search of the sun. She did not return, and you can be certain that never again did she dine on a late fish supper.