Old Nick sits at the table, waiting. He waits a lot these days, though he’s often not sure what he’s waiting for. His daughter Mary arranges the place settings while kids run up and down the hall. Music is playing too-loud on the radio, by a too-loud band wearing too-loud clothes. Old Nick doesn’t understand this music. He liked music back when he strummed banjo and ukulele with his mates Joe and Ben, playing all around the area near their kauri swamp home: Awanui, Mahimaru, Walharara, Sweetwater.
“Actually, we were pretty good,” says Old Nick to no one in particular. Old Nick is old.
“What’s cookin’?” Bruce opens a can of beer for his father-in-law as his wife looks cross and says, “Fish pie”. A smile crosses her father’s unshaven face. He’s wearing the same sweater he’s worn for three days, the olive-green one with a wine stain on the front. I must remember to mend that hole in the elbow, Mary thinks. She sets the casserole dish on the table and begins to cut into it. “Kids!” she hollers. “Eat!”
“What kind of fish?” asks Alice, the first to pull up a chair. Alice is fifteen, hair drawn over her eyes in the fashion of youth and a Fish Forever t-shirt slipped sloppily across her skinny shoulders. Mary braces herself for the fast-food-overfishing-sustainability lecture she’s about to get. Mary buys hoki ’cause it’s on sale, but she’s proud of her daughter just the same.
The other three kids crowd in, elbows and knees bumping awkwardly till they settle into their seats. Mary serves. Tony, the youngest, whispers a quick prayer. They all say “Amen” and tuck in.
Soon the noise of plates, cutlery and glassware overtakes the radio music — blended sounds that hold Old Nick’s family together.
Old Nick asks, “Snapper?”
“No, Papa,” says Mary.
“Lots of snapper,” says Old Nick, and no one corrects him because they know he’s drifted off someplace else. Tonight he’s in the swamp with his cousin Erik, seventy years back, rolling on kauri logs and fishing on the Kalkino Creek down on the Heath’s old farm. They throw a net in and come up full. They joke about Mary Jane and who will marry her. Erik says it’ll be him but they both know her heart is already Nick’s. They pull the net in again. In less than an hour they have more snapper than they can eat.
“One hour,” Nick says, to no one in particular. “That’s all it took.”
His family look at him like they always do, pass food around. Old Nick chews slowly, says, “Fish’s good.”
Michelle Elvy is a writer, editor and manuscript assessor. She edits at Flash Frontier: An Adventure in Short Fiction and Blue Five Notebook. She is also Assistant Editor for Best Small Fictions. She has published poetry, fiction, travel writing, creative nonfiction and reviews in numerous print and online journals and anthologies. Based in New Zealand’s Bay of Islands, Michelle can be found this year sailing on her 43’ sailboat, Momo, in East Africa. michelleelvy.com.
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