Ruth was working behind the bar that evening. For most of the time she had her back to the men as she cleaned and organised the glasses. If she heard loose change being shuffled on the bar she turned round to pour another pint, wiping at it with her fingers, and putting it down in front of the man and taking payment from the notes and loose change on the bar.
She listened to them talking and waited for Clancy to finish his story and put down his finger.
As he did so she turned round and leant her arms over the bar and looked down at the men sat round the low table under the window.
‘Clancy’ she said. ‘Clancy if you are going to sit in here and tell stories like that I won’t be pouring you any more pints and you’ll have to go home thirstier than when you came. You know that I am one of the women who swim out to the island. We put on our wetsuits to keep ourselves warm and and to stop us getting stung by jellyfish. But I have swum out there without one and I’ve blown a few bubbles when out there and I have never had a mackerel try take a bite out of my backside.’
Clancy put his finger in the air as if to say something but then thought better of it.
Ruth carried on ‘I am not saying that mackerel don’t like the smell of broken wind in the water but they are not going to be biting anyones backside to get to it. You have all caught a few thousand mackerel each and some of you have been in the water with them. Have you ever had a fish bite?’
Clancy had his finger in the air now and he was serious as he spoke. ‘But the fish have teeth and they are sharp. If you put a finger into a mackerel’s mouth you’ll get it caught pulling it out.’
‘Clancy what the feck are you doing putting your finger down a mackerels mouth?’ Tom Cronin asked.
Clancy kept his finger in the air. ‘There is any number of reasons a man may want to do that. If I need to carry a mackerel then hooking my finger under its jaw will do it but watch out for the teeth. And if I have put my finger up its arse to pull out its guts there’s not going to be anything wrong with me putting a finger in its mouth.’
‘Did you know about a mackerel’s guts?’ Ruth asked. ‘The Romans would take the guts from a still breathing mackerel and store them in a jar with some salt for a month and then pour off the juices to eat with their food like ketchup. I’ll bring in some stuff tomorrow and the smell of it, if you were to rub it on your hooks, we could see how many fish you can catch in a grey February.’