“The Tale of Boy-who-is-Fish”
(a tale told somewhat in the style of Rudyard Kipling’s ‘Just-so’ stories by Alan Gilliland.)
Boy-who-is-Fish is swimming, as fish do.
He is swimming in Sea, who is clear, blue and very, very warm.
She and he are closest.
Sea caresses his skin with rippling strokes, tickling his skin as he swims through her as fishes do.
She has been there always, like this, carrying him warm and snug in her belly. Her belly so huge there is no end to it he can see.
He flies weightless in her caressing warmth and she lets him do as he pleases.
Sand there is below: white, white Sand. And Sky above, bluer than Sea. Through Sky scud little patches of Cloud, which sometimes fill Sky, rippling just like wavy ripples in Sand below, so that Boy-who-is-Fish sees above as below, Sand as Sky.
But Boy doesn’t care as he spins and turns and flies hither and thither, free and weightless, for it is all the same to him: up and down.
Boy-who-is-Fish sometimes burrows in Sand, so that white Clouds follow him just like in Sky, but burrows not so deep as to lose Sea, his Mother.
Other times Boy tries to burrow into Sky, but Sea follows him into Sky, reaches out with many silvered fingers to fetch him back with laughter splashing all around.
So they go on, Boy-who-is-Fish, his great Mother Sea, Sand and Sky, from day to sunny day.
At night, Sea strokes him to sleep and purrs, “Shhh..., shhh...”as he slumbers on her shoreline. She laps about him and rises to embrace him.
Always, when her fingers stroke the nape of his neck, Boy awakes and drowsily lets him be taken into her huge warm belly.
Bye and bye, Boy-who-is-Fish crawls further out of Sea-who-is-Mother, out onto Sand-which-is-White, and leaves her fretful lapping behind.
He learns to stand, and finds himself in Sky-which-is-Blue with his toes in Sand, finds himself somehow with a heavy Heart, something like regret, leaving Sea behind, if only for a while.
But this new feeling too excites Boy, and he wiggles his toes into the hot hot Sand and stares up at the bright yellow eye of Sky watching him as he feels the last tickly caresses of Sea as she trickles down him into Sand.
As days turn one into another, a whispering is heard among the Green-that-is-Leaf on the shoreline between Sea and Sky, a soft whispering in the winds:
“Oh, look at Boy-who-is-Fish,
How Sea drops away from him like Scales.
See how smooth and white is his skin, smooth and white like Sand.”
And they whisper this, these Leaves-in-Wind:
“How like Palm tree he stands, so tall and erect, how like Palm his hair grows thick and bushy.
Strange, his hair, so white upon his head.
But see his eyes, strangest of all. Not Blue like Sea and Sky, nor White like Sand; not Green like Palm, nor yet like Coconut, fruit of Palm, Green.
Not bright colour, like these, but Brown. Brown like old Sea-worn-Coconut, fallen and all dried up.”
And this strangest-of-all brown, Brown Eyes betrays him to his Mother Sea, who cries to herself softly, “Am I losing you, my son?
Where are your silken scales a-shimmering with lights?
Where your sleek tail swishing freely through my warm belly?”
One day at dawn, as Boy-who-is-Fish slumbers at the shoreline as he always does, neither in nor out of Sea, strange Creatures happen by: Man and Woman, arm in arm.
Seeing Boy-who-is-Fish at the shoreline, neither in nor out of Sea, Woman cries out:
“Oh, look at that beautiful Boy, half-in, half-out of water! Oh, Man, rescue him before he drowns!”
And Man leaps bravely into Sea, right up to his ankles, leans down and snatches Boy from Sea, who murmurs angrily, and Man shouts:
“He’s alive, thank God. He’s alive!”
This sudden snatching and loud shouting wakens Boy-who-is-Fish, who cries out in alarm and struggles to be free of this iron grip and return to Sea, to the warm womb of his Mother.
But Man will have none of it, and holds firm onto Boy, while Woman coos:
“Our own little beautiful Boy, it’s a Miracle!”
So Boy was taken away from Sea, from his warm mother, and taken far from there.
Man and Woman, they took him far away to a cold, cold land, far from Sea, and called him their own little Boy.
Boy-who-was-Fish became Son-of-Man and Child-of-Woman, who both possessed him because he was theirs.
They brought great Fuss with them to take care of Boy in the best manner of that country.
Great Fuss was called Nanny, who looked after him wherever he tried to go and brought him back and up.
He was brought in daily to show Man and Woman and Man-and-Woman’s friends and relations what a Good Boy he had become. Boy was much admired for his beauty and his never-speaking-out-of-turn.
But Boy’s silence was a great hole in his heart - was a void of longing for the warm caress of Sea, his Mother.
He was burned by Eyes all around him, which touched him like hot pokers, prickling his skin with their hard scrutiny.
Because he was their Prize Possession, their Pride and joy, Boy was sent away to be with his own kind who were not, but were cruel and hard, whose prying was harsher than Eyes.
Boy cried at night for his mother, Sea, and his tears trickling warm down his cheek brought him briefly close, feeling her soft caress.
His own kind didn’t like Boy’s tears, which frightened them, so they rubbed them harshly away and handled him like rocks in a storm of bruises, dark clouds across his Sand-white skin.
When Man and Woman, who called themselves Father and Mother, came to inspect Boy they were proud of their Son, who was learning so well to hide his feelings.
But one day his yearning and longing for his warm mother, Sea, swept away all his learning and impelled him to return.
He was found and brought back and his Father said: “You belong here and here you will stay until you learn to forget this foolish Childishness.”
And Boy’s mother, when he tried to touch her and hug her and have her run her fingers through his hair all trickly down his neck, started and said: “Don’t be silly Dear! You’re a growing Boy now and that’s not how we do things here.” And she looked away from him, as far away as possible to hide her own silly Weakness-of-Woman and made an end of it.
He behaved so long he grew to learn to forget and became for All-the-World like every other Young Man.
Except in that space which he kept secret: where his Heart beat, “Sea… sea…” which he could hear when it was dead-of-night and all was quiet around him.
Thus he carried Her within him, rhythmically surging through his arteries and veins, washing warmly through every part of him - invisibly all though him - Sea.
He learned to adapt to the cold ways of Man. He learned to “measure up,” and to measure others, too. He acquired Talent, Success and Possessions, as all Men in that country want to do.
One day he found himself an Asset: he acquired a Wife, as most Men do, and Family to go in House, which is called Home when fully equipped with these Possessions.
He had Happiness, which was measured by Success and Wealth, consumed by Family, and so on.
To all outward appearances Boy-that-was-Fish had become Man-of-Substance.
He was entirely Normal, just as he should be, Praise be the Lord.
But deep down a worm gnawed. A little Sea-Worm, such as burrows in Sand-below-Waves, hungering for Sea and all her Gifts.
Worm burrowed into his Heart a tunnel, always in the direction of Sea, down which poured a torrent of yearning for that pure Grace in which he had once swum free.
Then one day came Other-woman, who carried with her something of Sea.
In Her he tasted Saltiness-of-Surf, smelled Fish-of-Sea, felt in her rhythmic caresses, his once playful Carefreeness.
He knew he must follow Her to the far sea-girt land from whence she came.
He was sure she could lead him Home.
Her home was a Land-almost-sea, formed of the lapping of waves on sand, and its sea grasses rippled in the breezes like blue-green waves of the sea.
Other-woman too, he thought, was born of Sea.
She swam in Surf’s surge with an ease born of Nature, and joyful Ecstasy broke over him in waves.
As he watched her run and dive, disappear and re-appear in that grey choppy swell against the grey-clouded sky he laughed.
She emerged, laughing too, and skipped over the wavelets towards him and dragged him, so willing, towards the great Sea swell.
He felt “Now, at last, all will be well.”
Icy cramp seized him, dragged him from her.
Its grip tightened on his chest like a clamp and its claws dug deep into his heart.
It suffocated him, strangled him, bloating him purple like a corpse.
His own Mother Sea!
Frigid, cruel, winterblast counterfeit!
Breaching the waves, he clung desperately to her surface, crying out for release.
In the distance, he saw Other-woman, sitting on a rock, perfect in form, in substance perfectly remote, remote from his comprehension.
Mermaid, Ice-Maiden, impenetrably smiling, looking out far away, oblivious to his agony.
He slipped beneath the waves, icy fingers dragged him down, heart growing cold.
Suddenly she was lifting him to the surface of the grey icy sea, guiding him gently to shore.
He lay on the shore, bloated, burning with cold, gasping for breath.
Other-woman looked down at him with Pity in her eyes for this Man-who-could-not-swim and she could not help him.
She slipped quietly into the waves so icy and her wild hair in the frothing surf was the last of her.
Man-who-was-once-Fish left the cold unfriendly shore of that Land-almost-sea and returned to his place.
But from that moment on Despair took up residence under his roof and ate his bread, starving the Hope that sustained Yearning.
He never recovered from the cold shock of that day.
His breathing became short and laboured as if the air in which he swam was alien, choking him.
From that first cold swelling of his body, eruptions volcanically spread in crusty flows across his skin, slowly encasing him as he withdrew inside himself.
All around stared in awe at this Transformation in him.
Doctors came to inspect and name its parts. Cold Urticaria. Chronic Asthma. Psoriasis.
These were some of the names.
But their naming of parts did not drive out those demons of despair.
As the days dragged, wheezing, one after another, ever slower, he withdrew entirely.
His last breaths gurgled, a gentle bubbling, whispering, “Sea… sea…”
And, as they covered him over with a sheet, one doctor was heard to remark to another:
“His skin – so scaly – almost like a Fish.”