He breaks the ice of the pond with the pole, the ribbon, the smooth stone. He breaks the ice of winter, the ice of having the same thoughts for nine months, trapped in spring and summer’s soporific denial, and autumn’s cool and calm waiting. He has new magics. He fishes. A gentle fisherman.
And she moves languidly through the waters in a wriggling symmetry of soft bones and archaic scales. Emerges to the surface, the air, to the sometimes-seen sun. Delighted for there he is; the winter fisherman, a right old gentleman. A friend to share shimmering words with.
‘Ah…there you are, little fish. Good afternoon to you.’ He knows her. For many, many winters he has known her.
‘And good afternoon to you. Caught anything?’
‘Mmmm…and why is that fisherman?’
‘Tis a lack in my bait, little one.’
‘Really? Let me see.’ But it is always the same hello game they play. She flips and flops and twists and dives down to where the water ticklingly ripples, to where the fisherman’s line sinks and divides the dense blue-greens. It is easy to spot after all, because lengths of coloured ribbon are here and there tied along the length. And yes, sitting at the bottom of that soggy swaying rainbow, a smooth little stone is tied. It is always this way. She surfaces again.
‘Yes, you are right. There is a small stone down there. Just a stone. It is always there. What can you hope to catch with that?’
‘Oh. Is that right?’
‘Yes, I’m only here because the stone wished it so.’
‘Tell me why, fisherman. Why does the stone wish to be only here?’
‘Ahhh. You know the story, or have you forgotten again?’
‘I have...half-forgotten again. This time, I forget the beginning. I remember the end, though.’
‘Well that is something, at least. It is like this, little green fish.’
He tells the story and the story has something to do with the way the world is, but also how he imagines it to be. His is a world of dreams built upon day dreams, built upon fancies, whimsies, a childhood never left and never let go of. And really, why should a man who spends all his time fishing with a stone wish to catch anything but stray thoughts and daydreams? If he is not hungry and he is at ease with himself and the world around him, indeed if he is full of smiles and watches in wonder the games the clouds play in the sky, then how could such a man, and such a man is this fisherman, then how could such a man go fishing but in such a way, with coloured ribbons and a small stone tied to his line? He wants nothing. He expects nothing.
And here is the talkative little green fish come from the deep-down cold to while away some shared minutes.
‘What is that you said, fisherman?’
‘I said, my little friend, that I should like to tell you the whole story today, from beginning to end, so that you miss nothing. And then tomorrow, you can choose again which part of the story to forget. What do you think?’
‘Yes, all of it then, from its beginning to its end.’
‘As you wish. Now, I shall begin it like this. Whooshwhisper. When I was younger, I came to a place of many rocks. I was different then, hardly a man at all, and understood very little of anything. I walked the earth, as all spirits must, but with heavy steps, and imagined that all I saw was only for me or for my understanding and learning. Everything was only for me to take and keep. Here is a nice little stone among these other stones and rocks I said to myself, and thinking that it too was mine, I picked it up and put it into my pocket. This was a place near the furthest sea, the wildest sea which you know of and about which we have talked many times before. I could walk no further towards it, else I would be in it, and that just wouldn’t do, and so I turned around and began walking the way I had come. I am at the end of this part of the land, I thought, let me see the other side now. But my feet dragged. My steps became heavier and heavier and my thoughts slower and slower, until tired beyond any tiredness I had ever felt, I fell and slept where I was. It was the stone that made it so, for only in sleep could the stone I had picked up come to me and talk with me, such was the very deafness of me. Truly fish, I understood nothing. Stop, said the stone, where is it that you are taking me, I was almost to the sea, but now you take me away from it, to where? Where do you take me?
Stone, I answered, stone, please forgive me, I did not know, I did not know that you were making your way to the sea. I will return you to where I found you and let you be.
No, it replied, in a slow and sad way. That place and time is no longer, I cannot be there again. The sea can wait. You must take me elsewhere now. Well, little fish, the stone knows some things about time as all stones do, and if it said that that time was no longer there for it, then so it was, and if it said take me to another place, then so I must. And it did say all that.’
‘It did, did it?’
‘Truly. Take me elsewhere, it had said, so on waking, I walked and walked. Many years passed. For some time, I carried it in my pocket, never quite forgetting about it. At other times I carried it in the palm of my hand, remembering each moment that it was there, or once, as we crossed the desert I carried it in my mouth. You know, I even carried it awhile in my belly. And all through these journeys, the stone seemed to me to wear smoother and littler until it became the very stone that is tied to my line. Well, eventually, after a very long stretch of eventually, we came to the other side of the land, but that was not the place the stone wanted to be. We went to another side, but not here said the stone, and so to another side and some other sides until we came here to this icy spot, to this very spot. We were a long time journeying, this stone and me, but this is the place the stone wanted to be, where it is now, tied to the end of my fishing line, murmuring to itself under the blue ice, waiting for who knows what or who knows when. And this, my wriggly friend, is both the beginning and the end of my story about that smooth little stone.’
‘Do you know why it waits?’
‘Nay. I am not certain whether it waits for a someone or for a something. It waits. That is all that can be said. It could be a moment in time that it waits for. It might be a storm that it waits for, or a fish to come swallow it. Maybe it waits for another fisherman. I have no answer for either of us to wonder over, little greenness. This stone and I have been together for many years and I am almost at my last breath. Maybe I won’t see this tale to its end.’
‘But every tale has an end, Fisherman, don’t you think?’
The Fisherman adjusts the line and thinks of all the possible answers to this question. Of course, every tale has an end; it’s just that sometimes the tale teller doesn’t know the end or the tale listener doesn’t hear the end. Still, the Fisherman likes the little fish and answers her, ‘Yes, every tale has an end. Maybe today you can tell the ending?’
‘Well it ends like this. Ummm...the stone...erm...that stone...sorry fisherman, but I have already forgotten the end.’
The Fisherman smiles at the fish, and draws in the line, finished with today’s fishing. ‘It doesn’t matter. We have tomorrow. You’ll remember the ending tomorrow.’
And so it might be.