Monthly Archives: September 2021
Bald Steel And Fish-Bone Alloys
The black-boarded fishing-huts that stood at the end of the garden were taller than the usual variety further up the coast, since the fish to be hung thereabouts were perhaps longer.
The Old Husband peered out through the kitchen window, watching the orphan clouds race across the distant sea. He sniffed: his nose was too near the Old Wife’s smalls hanging to air above the gas stove. His love-making had often been mixed with the heady aroma of fish stew: he laughed.
But not for long.
There was a face stuck to the glass, that was not quite a reflection, more a reminder.
He felt his own skull. The metal had still not started to breed. His new head had not been fitted all that well by the Innsmouth doctor. The molten metal had not set properly, so the end result was proportionately ill-assorted with the imaginary contours of his real head.
The storm closed in. That particular night was sure to be an ordeal. The Young Wife was already closing the shutters, muttering under her breath about the Old Wife’s misdoings with the tangled curtains.
“They’re only for show … the curtains.” He’d have bitten off his tongue, if he could. It was his turn tonight with the Young Wife. Thankfully, she had been ready-cocked by the Young Husband. Insulting truisms were not conducive to successful night encounters, when all the lights were lowered to automatic pilot. “Sorry,” he said, “it was just that the other one washed the curtains and they’re still drying.”
“She shouldn’t have put them up still sopping wet.”
By now the rain was streaming down the outside of the window, causing the Old Husband to hold his tongue. No point in drawing out the vein so that the heart would notice and pump away at thin air.
The face at the window, if face it was, surely should have fled ahead of the rain.
With most of the wooden shutters now edge to edge, he took the Young Wife’s hand in his. It felt a wet fish flapping slightly, gills twitching like eyelids. He wondered if she was able to see her own face in his bald steel dome of a head … and laughed at the word ‘bald’..
The other couple appeared in the shimmering kitchen doorway, also hand in hand. “Shall we turn down the wicks?” The Old Husband’s half-hearted question needed no answer. His voice was barely above the rancid croak one would have imagined a monkfish using.
The old wife made for the smoking lamp.
“No, don’t … just in case.” He nodded towards the salt-spored window. Something wriggled on the floor like a human-coloured spider with nearly half its legs missing. It was as if he’d thrown down a gauntlet.
The huts at the end of the garden creaked and groaned in the wind … or vice versa. A forgotten shutter upstairs clammed tight in a fierce gust.
The orphan’s hair forked in the air, as he unpeeled his face from the tacky glass. His time had arrived. Neither light nor dark. And, with his sights set upon the receding blur of a window, he crawled towards the wooden towers, to the imperfect shelter of which the various Wives and Husbands had abandoned him when a new born baby. None had owned up to him as theirs.
Like a marine Tarzan, he had aped the fishes.
More and more, it hurt to crawl with the implanted razor-blade gradually cutting through his belly-gut from the inside. Soon all the cacky innards would erupt like lolloping eels.
He did not understand why he cried salt tears, when he heard the crescendo of creaking and groaning from the room at the top of the house and, then, from across the mud-flats towards Innsmouth, the dim sound of “new bones for old, new bones for old…”
He was thankful when the sea swept between the fishing-huts and created only gurgling sounds, as if his gills were being syringed by a bald nurse he only new as Octopus.
Published in Harsh Reality 1995