Thou shalt have a fishy
On a little dishy
Thou shalt have a fishy
When the boat comes in
‘Play it again, and I’ll gut you,’ said our Mary’s Samuel. He had his knife in my face, and he tried to slam the lid of the piano down upon my fingers. I pulled back my hands before they were crushed, like a hermit crab beneath a shoe.
The pub was lively tonight, but I did not feel lively. All the men were crammed into this small space – the pub had once been a cottage like any other in the village, and was not built to house us all. I was dragged along. I did not want to drink or play darts, or weep over lost brothers. So I played the piano. I played the only song I knew.
‘Mary Mountjoy’s Sammy doesn’t want his fishy,’ said Violet Fisher’s Daniel.
‘Our Kitty’s John has played that flaming song fifty flaming times, and I won’t hear it again,’ said our Mary’s Sam.
‘But it’s the only one I know,’ I said. I did not care for my cousin, who was rough and quick to anger. He did not care for me, because I was meek and mild – a mother’s pet.
‘Then let someone who can play properly have it,’ he said. Our Mary’s Sam pulled me up and away from the piano by the collar of my shirt. ‘Where’s Rosie Andrews’ John?’
Rosie Andrews’ John got up from his table with his pint and mean smirk. He played piano well, but he loved to prod a sharp stick into a soft spot. He opened the lid of the piano, and keeping his eyes to our Mary’s Sam, he played, and sang loudly.
Come here my little Jacky
Now I’ve smoked my baccy
Let’s have a bit of cracky
Till the boat comes in
‘Dance to thy Nanny,’ sang Rosie Andrews’ John. ‘Sing to thy Mammy,’ he was laughing, and the rest of the pub joined. We all laughed at our Mary’s Samuel. Our Mary’s Samuel went red as guts, and stomped to the door like he was leaving, knife still drawn. Then, at the sound of a snigger, he turned around and put his knife in Rosie Andrews’ John’s back.
So Betty Hardy’s David smashed a glass on his head, and he fell to the floor. We tied his hands and took him to the Mothers. We dragged him through the village, past all the little cottages. Some of our good women looked out from their windows and doors. They shook their heads but did not ask what we were up to. Men’s nonsense, they knew.
All the cottages were arranged in circles around the Mothers’ longhouse – our Mary’s Sammy was spared no dignity on his journey. We rapped on the door, and were greeted by Mother Perch – who was unmoved, and unimpressed. She ushered us inside with a click of her tongue.
‘I told you,’ she said to the Mothers. ‘We should shut that pub when the sea’s rough. A rough sea –’
‘Wets a man’s brain, we know,’ clucked our Mother Mountjoy, as she scooped up our Mary’s Samuel.
Mother White tended to Rosie Andrews’ John’s back, while Mother Andrews saw to our Mary’s Samuel. She called our Mother Mountjoy to see to him. He was still unconscious and the top of his head was wet with blood. He was balled up on the wooden floor, twitching. Mother Andrews and our Mother Mountjoy moved him to a rug.
Mothers Hardy and Perch spoke in hushed tones – I could tell they were arguing about the pub. They did not like the fights the alcohol brought, and they did not trust a space with no woman there to keep things under control. But it seemed that it was good for us; the men seemed happier when we had a place to be in covenant with one another. I did not trust the pub.
Our Mother snapped her fingers in front of my face and scolded me for eavesdropping.
‘Why did you have to wind up our Sammy, so?’ our Mother asked me.
‘I didn’t know he was getting annoyed, Mother. I can only play the one song.’
‘I’d think hearing any song enough times would drive a man mad,’ said Mother Fisher. She was the oldest Mother. She was also the smallest and her hair was the longest and whitest. Violet Fisher’s Daniel spoke up for me.
‘If I can, Mother . . . and Mother Mountjoy – your Kitty’s John really only played the song a few times – then it was Rosie Andrews’ John that pushed him over the edge.’
We looked over to Rosie Andrews’ John, and he nodded.
‘I was winding him up, I’ll admit to that. But not so much I deserved a knife.’ We all nodded, all of the men. ‘With all due respect, I think it was your Mary’s Sammy who was in the wrong,’ he hissed while Mother White worked the little knife from his shoulder. ‘In my opinion, anyway.’
The Mothers looked at one another. They made faces at each other, and they made gestures with their hands. Mother White shrugged, and Mother Perch clicked her tongue. None of them seemed happy with one another. I got the sense they wanted us, the men, to leave.
Our Mother sighed. She bent down to our Mary’s Sam, and picked a small piece of glass from his hair. He was still knocked out, still bleeding.
‘Well, we’d best get my Mary. And –’ she looked over to Mother Andrews – ‘best fetch your Rosie, too.’
They sent me to fetch Rosie Andrews and our Mary. I got them together and explained what had happened. I was worried they would be angry at me once I told them I’d been playing the song too much. But they said I had no need to worry, nothing to apologise for.
Then they apologised to one another on behalf of their sons. Our Mary said her Sammy’s got a vile temper, and Rosie Andrews said her John’s a little wind-up merchant and might well have deserved it. I led them to the longhouse and thought about how wise the women were. They forgave each other and they even forgave each other’s men. They always thought the best of each other; they always assumed the best of each other.
At the longhouse, our Mother asked our Mary how our Sammy had been lately. Had he been irritable, or distracted? Did he seem distant? Hadn’t he gone under a few weeks prior? Hadn’t he fallen in the sea?
Our Mary looked worried.
‘Should we get him deaf ?’ she asked.
‘We haven’t gotten a man deaf since my Daniel sixty years hence. It didn’t work. It didn’t contain anything, it just drove him mad,’ said Mother Fisher.
‘Then what?’ our Mary asked.
‘We shouldn’t talk about this in front of the men,’ said Mother Fisher.
Mother Hardy took me and Rosie Andrews’ John outside. She admired the stitching on Rosie Andrews’ John’s back, then told us to be good, and slapped us both on the wrist.
I didn’t know why they’d want to get a man deaf, but I knew my place and did not ask questions. If the Mothers wanted us to know something, they’d tell us. That was good enough for me. I was one of the best boys – people were always telling my Mammy that – and I built and protected that reputation. As much as I earned it, I was good by nature, too.