Copyright is held by the author.
DARCY GRITTED her teeth, sharpened her knife and prepared to slice through flesh. It wouldn’t be the first time she’d done it, nor would it be the last. In fact, she was a pro when it came to gutting and filleting, the fastest with a blade in her family. As she poised the knife point along the belly, her father’s voice interrupted.
“Darcy girl, you’ve a real gift with the knife. I’ve seen men in the business for years, and they aren’t near as talented as you.”
She felt and heard his voice, brimming with pride as he patted her on the shoulder. “Not only that, it was a good charter today. The customers were happy with the catch, got some great pictures and left a sizeable tip, enough to take you, your mom and me out for dinner. Fancy a nice meal out?” he asked.
“Thanks dad, but I have some studies to catch up on, perhaps another time. Take Mom out, she deserves it, and it’s been a while since you’ve both had a night on the town. ”
She glanced up and caught the concerned look on his sea weathered face, wrinkled at an early age from too many years in the sun and salt air, and recognized the worry in his clear blue eyes. She knew part of it had to do with the increase in charter fishing competition, lower catches, keeping to quotas outlined by the ministry of fish and game. But she also knew he felt guilty for keeping his only daughter tied to working on his boat. After all, she was the cheapest labour he could find, and it was the only way to keep his business afloat.
“Dad, you go, I’ll finish up here. No worries.”
“I’ll pay you back one day, you know that.” His voice was husky. “Besides, you’ll never know what you might find in that salmon’s belly, finders keepers.”
Darcy giggled, “Ya right Dad. Yesterday I found a cigarette butt and a white plastic tip from one of those small cigars. It gave me a whole new perspective on smoked salmon.” She was relieved when he laughed. It had been a long time since she’d heard that sound from him. “So get going and let me get on with my work.”
The sound of the door closing was a blessed thing. She didn’t want him to see her like this. Tears rimmed her eyes, threatening to spill. At 20 years old, she wanted to be long gone from the rugged, uncertainty of fishing charters. She wanted a life, any life that didn’t reek of FISH. Her friends from high school called her fishgirl in fun. Whenever she went out socially, she doused herself with eau de cologne, but the nickname still stuck. Her only reprieve was online university courses and looking at a life outside, somewhere in the distant future.
She looked at the 40-pound salmon on the table, eyes glazed in death, scales shimmering under the fluorescent lighting as it lay on the stainless steel table in the prep room. “You’re caught, just like me,” she murmured. “The only difference is the metal hook that reeled you in as you fought for freedom. Hell I don’t even fight. I just do as I’m told, to keep peace in the family and try to respect my father.”
Darcy hesitated before slicing the belly of the fish open. She’d done it hundreds, thousands of times before, but this time it felt different. With surgical precision, she made the cut and sliced from stem to stern. There’s no spurting blood when you cut into a dead fish. The entrails spilled open and as she scooped them out small yellow sticky eggs still teeming with life filled her hands. She dropped her knife. Damn this fish had been pregnant. But pregnant salmon go upstream to spawn. What the hell was she doing down here. Perhaps she was lost, just like her. The earlier tears now spilled freely down her cheeks.
“Get a grip,” she admonished herself. “There’s no time for mourning over a dead fish.” Still she held the eggs in her hands, clutched them and watched the life in them wane. It was too late for them. Maybe it wasn’t too late for her. She found a notepad and a pen, scrawled a message and signed her name. She took the filleting knife and stabbed it through the note, pinning it to the salmon. Her Dad would find it in the morning. Darcy went home and packed her suitcase. The message simply read “the one that got away.”