Catching mackerel when it’s grey

There was a deep grumble about the men in the pub. It was mid February and the weather was bleak. A grey fug lay over the land and there had been no sign of the sun or blue sky since the week after Christmas. The sky was grey and stayed grey and whatever colour there may have been in the hills from the grass and the heather had been washed out by the weather. There was no rain to complain about although the wind that came in from the sea filled the air with wet and it hung in the air and filled all the corners with a penetrating damp. There was no throwing it off and despite the chill everything was clammy to touch.

The grey weather had been so persistent that had even managed to drain the talk from the men. The weather and its changes was the starting point for any evenings talk but when it stayed the same and that same was grey and overbearing it just rubbed the talk out of them.

As Tom Cronin said ‘Why the feck can’t it rain and we can talk about how wet it is.’

There were eight of them in the pub. Six of them sat round the low rectangular table in the corner under the window by the bar, three of them on the seat by the window and three of them perched on stools. The curtain was drawn against the window and outside it was dark now. The other two men stood at the bar. Tom Cronin had his back to the bar and faced over the men and the man with the black beard with his back to the men, leaning with his elbows over the bar one hand on his pint and the other twisting at a small pile of crumpled notes and coins.

Each man had his pint and they drank them slowly. As one of them finished he nodded to whoever’s glass was nearly empty and there were a few murmured words as the glasses went onto the bar and the pints were replenished. A radio played quietly and if anyone spoke it sounded too loud and whatever short burst of conversation started it soon came to an end and whoever had spoken would retreat back to his glass drawing on the pint.

The man with the black beard turned to face the men.

‘Feck the feckin’ weather’ he said. ‘It can stay like this for another six weeks and will you all be sat here drinking your pints too scared to say a word for frightening the quiet. It’s not the weather that’s holding your tongues. You’ve all been sat here too many evenings and there is feck all left for us to say.’

He took a drink at his pint. ‘When was the last time, when did any of you last take out a boat to catch some fish? Cause I tell you that’s what I need.’

The men were quiet and had no answer for him.

‘There’s no feckin’ fish there now’ said Tom Cronin. ‘And any fish that is down there is too feckin’ deep and slow to be caught. You have to wait now to May or June for them to come back. There’s no point in taking a boat out for them now.’

The man turned to him ‘You know as I do that Jack Mitchell had three fish from the pier in Doneen on Christmas day morning and that was but six weeks ago. If there are fish there on Christmas Day there by the pier there’ll be fish there out in the bay where the water is deep. I’ll be out there tomorrow and then we can talk.’

Tom Cronin took a drink at his pint ‘Feck the fish that Jack Mitchell had were the last to go. Those were the fish that got left behind after last summer. The rest of them will be out in the sea too far to go out in your boat. If you’re going to catch fish you need to wait for them to come back and come back to the surface and for that you’ll need a change in this light. And that will not come until there is a change in this weather and the days draw longer. There’ll be no fish out there until then.’

‘There will always be fish out there’ the man said. ‘Three fish don’t get left behind. If there’s three mackerel swimming there’ll be another few hundred down there with them. I’m surprised that Jack just got the three. They may swim a bit more slowly but that means I just need to give them more time.’

Patrick Holland was sat on one of the stools and he bent round to look back and up at the man ‘And what will you catch them with. A feather’s not going to work in this water no matter how bright and flash it is. You’ll need something to wake them up down there.’

‘I’ll use a hook and a line’ the man said.’ And if I need something else with the feathers then I’ll find that out when I’m out there.’

He lifted his glass and finished his pint. ‘ Now I’m going home and I’ll be back here tomorrow with a bucket of mackerel and then we can talk some more.’

With the he lifted himself up from where he was leaning back on the bar and walked out of the door leaving the men to talk about the fish he might catch the next day.



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