by Matt Fallaize
It was where to start, that was the question. Dr Chen said it was important to focus on good memories. In his low, calm voice he would say hold on to the moment, remember the moment, explore the moment.
He remembered how his Dad would gut the fish he’d brought back from the day boats. A long incision from just under the head, a livid line to the tail, before he’d work his fingers inside and pull out the sacks of guts. He remembered watching them spill into the sink, dragged from the mackerel, still stiff, iridescent.
Dad would rise early in the morning, so early it was still the night before, and leave the house soundlessly. He remembered waking, sensing the difference in the house, he remembered looking out of the window, watching the light of Dad’s torch bobbing gently down the lane to the harbour. He’d return late morning or early afternoon, with carrier bags full of fish. Pouting, mackerel, scad, saithe. Dad called the pouting “pop-eyes”, their eyes couldn’t survive the change in pressure, and would burst as they were hauled up.
He rolled the names around, felt them on his tongue. Scad. Saithe.
Dad had two knives he used for the gutting and filleting, one short, wide bladed knife that looked ancient. He’d told him once that it was a Viking knife that he’d found up on the Down, in the fields by the Barrow, and he could well believe him, he’d found a coin there once, himself; the blade of this knife was pitted and the handle thick with wrapped round cloth. The other knife was long, thin and needle sharp, it was this knife that would dance down the spine of the fish, easing it neatly into fillets which would then be floured and fried, and served with toast and squeezes of lemon juice.
He remembered watching his father prepare the fish, and that was a good memory, so he held onto it. He remembered eating the fish, and that was a good memory, so he held onto that, too. The crisp skin, the unbearable sweetness of the flesh. But he couldn’t remember the part in between.
Try as he might, he couldn’t remember his Mum, even though it must have been her that fried the fish, who squeezed the juice, who toasted the toast. She would have gone about her business quietly, and with infinite care, but he couldn’t remember her doing it. There was an absence in the memory, he felt it like a hole in a tooth.
Like the cavity where the mackerel’s guts used to be. There was nothing between watching his Dad quickly and precisely work through the fish, and then the eating of the fish, the floods of sunlight on the lunch table. She wasn’t there. She’d been cut out, incised neatly, and sharply, as if by a knife.
Matt Fallaize is a writer (and chef) based in Ormskirk, Lancashire, where he knocks out meals, stories and poems in varying quantities. Recent work has appeared in Queen Mob’s Tea House, Stride and The Cabinet of Heed. His most recent chapbook, 99 Postcards for Georges Perec, is available now from the Knives, Forks and Spoons Press, and you can find him, should you feel so inclined, on Twitter @MattFallaize or at coastaltown.blogspot.com/