You can now download my book for free.
You can now download my book for free.
You can now download my book for free.
There lay the puffin, a tarred wretched thing, its wings were stuck fast to its cage. This ruined my carefully planned ascension to become the apex predator of the sea. Instead of a huge fish, I had caught another hungry mouth that needed to be fed. I sat for about half an hour, thinking about what to do. Of course, I was tempted to eat the poor thing and it would have had no choice in the matter. By now your mouth is probably watering at the thought of dining on one of these tasty birds, grab your handkerchief and watch you don’t smudge these words under your dripping mouth. If for some reason you are not salivating then I have one question for you. Do you live under a rock? Crawled out from some jungle cave have ye? Jutted your chest out, strut upright on two legs and put on the stolen spectacles hanging down off your hairy neck to read my solemn words? I’ll explain for the literate cannibal — who is a minority, I am sure — the pleasures of the puffin’s flesh. For the one who has found this message in a bottle on some island would only know the taste of coconuts, fish, and his kinsman’s flesh.
Take this puffin caught in front of me for example, if its line had not broken somehow and it was taken into a port it would immediately be chopped into various fish shapes. Puf-fingers, puffin fillet, Puff-ella for the Spaniards, and beer battered puffin and chips for the Brits. From the gutter to the throne, from the peasantry to the clergy, all of society convinced themselves a bird was a fish. Everyone played along in this mass conspiracy and every man, woman and child thought themselves the sole bearer of the truth. All because humankind was sick of Fish Fridays. You would find it impossible to see a wink or hear a giggle shared across the dinner table on a Friday evening, not between a loving family nor even a band of thieves. It would only take one brave and very foolish person to simply whisper: “A puffin is a bird” for the whole charade to come smashing down on the sharp rocks of good reason. This doesn’t include sea folk who find all this ‘fishy business’ very amusing and very profitable.
That said the puffin is still a very tasty fish, though a fraudulent one. I assure you all of these puffin meals I mentioned, dear savage, taste better than human flesh. Nothing worse for body, mind, or spirit than to steal another property, especially the tender cuts of his buttocks and back. Beg forgiveness for what you did to Captain Cook – even as he tempted you with his poorly chosen name. O’brother eat a wing, rather than an arm!
<- Part 5 of XX ->
With a grin, I slipped the first worm onto the hook and let it fly over the water. It cut through the thick fog, I could not see where it had landed but determined when it hit the water by the vibrations that swam up the fishing line. Like most games of great patience, fishing was as easy to me as doing nothing – which was all it really took after all.
My patient will have been trained, I was not born with it. Whenever my father would leave for the sea – in which he would be away for up to two years – I would hug his knees and beg him, “Please stay Pa, I’ll miss you.”
“Be patient Leif, be patient and it won’t seem like so long.” I didn’t recognise it as he said these words but there was a deep sadness in his eyes. He was lying, it would be a very long time till I saw him again. Even Hel, who has been patiently hiding underground for eternity till she can snatch Baldr’s soul, would feel the strain of this wait. But I took my father’s advice on faith. I started practising being patient being standing and doing nothing for hours. It was a way to spend the hours after playing with toys became boring, and it was better than the small games boys with no fathers play: skipping stones, throwing a ball against a wall, talking to toys, learning how to shave by yourself. I played all these games but the most challenging were the waiting game. I started staring at walls, then my feet and then finally the sky. My mother thought it was strange and wanted to take my to a doctor but when I told her I was trying to bring back Pa quicker she burst into tears,
But all the patience training I had done was wasted, when finally it could have have been used to save my life, for the line began to pull just a minute later after casting it. There was a great commotion behind the fog. Squawks and garbled screeches echoed out of a foam cloud which I pulled closer and closer. What crazed beast had I wretched from the deep? Is that the Kraken’s wicked beak which cries hungrily for my gizzards? I pulled with all my strength as it resisted with a courage that was unusual for a fish. By the time I had it in sight my arms felt limp. Falling to my knees with exhaustion I looked up to see with disbelief it was a woven cage that my hook had pulled in – and sinking further into disbelief I saw that imprisoned within this cage was a Puffin, deep brown eyes stared out from behind the bars where frightened but neither blinked nor looked away from me – its would be reaper. A caged puffin just like the dream I had of my father’s bird trawler. Had the fog plucked it from my leaking dreams to trick me? I hauled onto the iceberg, this was no trick it was physically there and it began to make a confused moaning sound. I nodded in agreement with whatever lonely feeling the trapped bird had expressed. It went silent and all was quiet, we were like a frigid pair at a dance who both have no idea what to say or do next.
The turtledove at my window cries and cries and cries. I can still picture when I first saw the bird, it’s doll eyes staring up at me, a baby bird sitting next to its broken sister. It was frozen with fear and wouldn’t leave its dead sibling’s side until I scooped it from the cold ground back into its nest. That was at least five or six years ago. I haven’t forgotten that childhood memory. How could I when it sings for me at my window every morning? It is a dull repetitive song, no good deed goes unpunished as they say. It wakes me up so I never hear the start of the song and because I throw books at my window to frighten it and go back to sleep – and so I never hear the end. Despite my angry outbursts, it comes back faithfully every morning.
Perhaps it isn’t singing for me, or singing for a mate – but singing for his sister.
One morning, I wake up to the same grey gruelling tune that leaks out from my window and instead of throwing a book it lulls me into a trance and I start to think. I start thinking harder about my own life than I ever have before, with the raw emotions of a painter or poet I cut past the litter and sound that clutters my mind. My thoughts are forming some image but for now all I have is the palette to draw from.
I think about my sister, I think about heaven. I hope she is there and I hope there is a there. I dream about walking the fields golden and green, plains that stretch forever, and rolling hills. Over this hangs the eternal blue sky with brushstroke clouds and the smell of sea salt in the air. This is an image that is hard to hold, so beautiful that it blurs with tears but I can see my sister – as young and innocent as a flower in bloom. The words I witnessed a deacon tell my mother after the tragedy come back to me: “A flower bud has burst on earth, to bloom in heaven.” She is playing with the other children that were taken too soon, they glide over the grass on a summer breeze, flying like a swift, which when it leaves the nest it never again lands. Waving to me, she dances over the meadow. I run to her but I am stopped by a river. It is a raging torrent and I would be swept away but still she waves for me to wade through it. I cannot pass over.
From above an angel said, “Your sister also feared the river of death, but while passing over realised it was only a little brook after all.”
It was true for her it was only a little brook so easy for her to glide over with her tiny cupid wings. My heavy body would surely drown me, I look within myself and see my soul is also weighed heavily. My knees in the water, I kneel and beg, “Free me from the fetters – lust, greed, jealousy – that hang over my neck like iron chains, every day pulling me deeper into the dirt and filth.” I sit on the riverside and cry, my sister wishes she could wash away my sadness, to live like the blessed – over the way, where there is no more suffering for the little flower buds. The turtledove’s lonely song ends, breaking my trance. The vision is lost. I look out the window for the turtledove but only see my own weary reflection.
Did I really see heaven? I like to believe so. Of course, I would like to believe, what’s the alternative? Katherine died of leukaemia and now she lies in the dirt, that’s that – she will never smell the flowers we place on her grave, these words will never reach my baby sister and the only company she keeps is worms. All my life, eye sockets full of worms have haunted me while I slept. But there is no point trying to get back to sleep now, the sun is shining into my room. I get up and write this. Then I regret writing this because unlike the other bird stories in this book this one is of my own life. I have left the comfortable and easy heights of fiction and landed on a limed branch to become some creature’s dinner. If you be that hungry creature reading now, I offer up my heart for you – still beating and bleeding on these now stained pages.
My bleary eyes gazed out across the water and I concluded that I was still dreaming. This must be some bizarre waking dream cast on me by a sea witch. Here I sat on the same mound of ice that I fell asleep on, seemingly moments ago, but there stood the shore – at least three hundred yards away across the ocean! How strange. At once I stood up and the ground swayed beneath my weight. “Gods!” said I in fright. Still half awake, my foolish mind jumped to an impossible answer – I was a giant waking after a long sleep. A giant who had dreamt he was a boy named Leif and here under my mammoth feet was Iceland herself, the size of a small room. But this did not explain why I saw the shore across the waves and also didn’t explain why the fallen tree looked peculiarly like a fishing rod, or the strange building castle that resembled a can of worms.
The truth became clear and the playfulness I had to the situation disappeared with fiery striking stress – while I slept I had become stranded on an iceberg. A lone boy sitting on a lonely jutt of ice, floating as aimlessly as the clouds across the sky. Now I hear you shout, “Leif, just swim home. Put those broad Nordic shoulders to some use!” But that would have been as fatal as if I jumped from the frosty tips of one of those moonlit clouds, the water was so cold that I would be dead before I could give a hug goodbye to my faithful, abandoned donkey. I heard his fading heehaw as I drifted out to sea, he would surely starve without me. And then I started to consider my own health. I had no food save for the tin of worms I had for bait.
Cold winds picked up and the clouds crowded. I watched the sky as there was nothing else to do, I looked hungrily as the clouds devoured the clear sky and bloating up until they covered all the heavens. At this point I was clinging to my knees, accepting the consequences of my untimely nap – I would die slowly and on this lonely shard of ice. Further and further the winds blew me. How small my donkey seemed from here, as if I could reach out and slip him into my pocket. I became anxious imaging how small I seemed to my donkey. If I tipped over the horizon would I simply disappear entirely? Not just my body but also from the memories of my mother and my father? Just like my brother Jon, I was destined to become broken and eaten by the land. He became the part of the mountains just as I would become a drop in the sea. In despair I began to cry. Tasting my salty tears I began to laugh, “Oh look I am already becoming part of the sea.” My laughter choked through the snot and tears until again it was deadly quiet.
Exhausted and mentally fatigued from endless mental debates, I did what I do best went to sleep. Crawled up in a ball I slipped into a dreamless sleep, unaware a thick blanketing fog was inhaling me into its fetid maw.
When I woke up for the second time on my new floating home, I had no illusions that this was not a dream. I felt the hard reality in my aching stomach. I had exactly five worms in the can, with which I could hopefully catch five small fish – sardine or some juvenile salmon – cut them in half and eat one half while the other half can be used as bait to catch a larger fish. Soon I’ll be catching a marlin or a tuna fish, then I’d set my ambitions on something larger than a shark, hopefully a great white. With a hop, skip and a jump I will have climbed the top of the food chain. “My god, what will I do with all this extra meat,” I said to myself naively as I still looked down at the measly tin of worms – in which I saw a full seafood platter. With food taken care of, I wondered how to return home. I thought of a solution rather easily. If I could catch a shark I could then bait a right-whale, not that I would bait it with meat but I would bait with my story. Once I catch a great shark, news will travel far and wide across the little critters. My story would travel from crab to crayfish, from hake to haddock, until eventually from the lisping fat lips of a walrus a whale would hear my tale.
By then the tale would have grown (as these things typically happen). I did not slay a trivial shark but a hydra! all while sitting on one hand in the midst of a black night under a new moon. The whale is the biggest rumour mongers of the sea, their songs are beautiful to human ears but are mere gossip to those who understand. And they’re songs carry far and wide, I am sure whales off the coast of Australia would have heard about Alexander’s victory at Issus long before news arrived in Macedon. And when they arrived in droves to see me with their own eyes I would lash around them my fishing line and rein them in. How mother would laugh when she saw me flying across the ocean, a melting sleigh pulled by whales spouting sea mist and painting fleeting rainbows in my wake. All success takes it imagination and good planning, I thought with a smile, still looking at my tin of worms.
My hair looks too greasy today. Yesterday it was too dry. Ugh.
Maybe I should have gone to that new hairdresser run by that native indian dude.
While walking past it I thought, “Whoa, that is so culturally diverse.”
The entire place was a big teepee, big feather caps, and smoke signals coming out of it.
But then I was like, I am really ready to have get scalped by a tomahawk?
Like am I just appropirating this culture for kicks?
I mean, yeah its pretty ace, but for them it’s an artform.
Also the bloodlost concerns me… might give my skin a pale look.
Oh who cares, I am going to be months ahead everyone with this cut.
With that decisive last thought he donned a moth eaten jacket he had picked up from a thrift store.
“Yeaa, someone actually died in a fire while wearing it,” he told his friends.
In actual fact, his mum had bought it for him last christmas and he had burnt holes in it with a bic lighter.
The sea came into view, but the climb down was even more precarious. If you were to slip you would be killed before your body came to a rolling stop. If you were killed down, it’s unlikely your body would be found before it became part of the land. The jagged outbreaks come from the ribs and broken elbows of careless passerby’s, moss-ridden and turned to stone before they can be found by mourning mothers. My older brother Jon is here among the shattered and doomed, I wasn’t even born when he was killed- so please save your sympathy. Save it for my Mother, who out of hunger has to send her youngest over the same precarious terrain which devoured her eldest. I don’t fear his end, my young feet are nimble and neither does the mule, he has risked his life over these rocks so many times that his fate must be written on a dusty forgotten scroll, fallen behind Death’s desk.
The fear was especially easy to subdue in the face of such a beautiful view. A world cut into thirds – land, sky, and sea. And for me, this division was more than just a view. Within the mountains, under mounds of dirt slept giants that my mother told me stories of before bed. And there the great blue sky, which my father swore was the very same one that Saint Michael descended from to trample Lucifer back into the dirt. I hope that in throwing Lucifer back down into hell that St Michael does not wake a giant – that would bring great trouble for everyone. For a giant rages like no other creature when awakening from its slumber. Who would find victory in that battle, would the angels find victory in one cruel swoop as an eagle snatches the life of a field mouse — or would the giants simply feel their spears as mosquito bite and swat them like a fly. Whoever the victor a clash between those two worlds would sink the world, bring us to the third part of this great view: the sea. You have heard the stories of the land and sky from my mother and father respectively, but the stories from the sea I reserve for myself.
An ice shelf extended from the shore. It was of the purest white that I struggled to search for the perfect fishing perch without squinting.
“Where should I begin?” I asked myself as my stomach rumbled hungrily. Up and down the coast little nooks and crannies looked inviting. But there was one magnificent spot that stood out like a sore toe – in fact it even looked like a sore toe. Here I would fish. I climbed up the outcropping of ice that looked like a giant’s foot that had slipped out from under his warm sod blanket during his sleep. He might appreciate my backside warming his big, so I took to climbing up it, and no sooner than I was up there I started to become drowsy. Something about the coast makes me feel entirely safe to sleep out in the open. Whereas down in the valley when I sleep I imagine the surrounding mountains closing as my eyes do, swallowing me into the ground while I snooze. Out on the coast, I am free and my dreams are also free to wander across the sea. This dream in particular was fuelled by my father’s tales of his adventures the prey of this new modern era: the bird-fish or as they were called in England, puffins.
Mostly I dream myself as lowly things. I’ve dreamt I was a worm, I’ve dreamt I was a dog. There are simply and secret comforts to the lives of beasts. But this dream was different, I dreamt I was with my father in search of the puffins which Europe craved. The reason behind the puffin’s sudden popularity and profitability is a result of Pope Urban III decision. He declared the small critter to be a fish which therefore could be eaten during Lent. Millions of Catholics sick of Fish Fridays rejoiced and a new puffin ventures popped up naturally. My father explained to me his job as the pilot as we walked the deck. “Leif, I am thrilled you are here at last.” I smiled nervously.
“We’ll show you the ropes my boy and you’ll have your hands on a great juicy puffin.” The crew nodded and I searched among them for the familiar smiles of my brothers but couldn’t find them. I was about to ask when a call was shouted from a lookout posted on the masthead, “There she soars!” My father jumped and dashed through the men like a banshee to take the helm. The crew came alive with him all bouncing and scrambling over each other. A great tangle of ropes was untangled from the middle of the deck and then hoisted up, at the end of them was a queer contraption that looked like a combination between a kite and a lobster cage. Inside the cages were fish heads and guts. These cages were promptly thrown off the side and caught on the breeze. I looked to my father who grinned as steered masterfully into the wind allowing the kited-cages to float up. The ship appeared to be a great Kraken with tentacles waving high above the ship- all in pursuit of a great flock of puffins on the horizon.
What a peculiar sight, even for a dream. These images are all sourced from my father’s tales which he swore on his word. And now in this dream, we are upon the puffins who have taken to the skies, safely above the ship away from any spear, net or harpoon, so they might think. Attracted to the fishheads they crawl into the kited-cages but it will be their last meal because they are unable to escape from the inside which is coated in birdlime. With glee these fishermen of the skies pulled them from their lofty prisons, squawking and cawing, I felt their terror and pain – ripping their own feathers from bloody plucked skin trying to free themselves. From behind my father cruelly laughed and I awoke.