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from the editor's desk

From Our Archive: Roland Leach’s ‘Nightfish’

‘Nightfish’ was first published in 2006’s Westerly 51.1. Westerly has been fortunate to publish Roland Leach’s fiction and poetry many times—most recently in Westerly 63.2.


“Can we go fishing tonight. Dad?”

The eleven year old boy had only been night fishing once. Walking along the high road above the beach seeing the fishermen’s lamps; the darkness of the ocean that melted into sky, and then the white splash of the sinkered line hitting the water before disappearing. He had loved that night on the beach; just his Dad and him on the beach together, silent most times but it didn’t matter. They got excited and let out hooting sounds when they thought they got a bite and he remembered the smile on his father’s face when the first fish was landed. He had caught a tailor that night. A smaller one, not as big as his father’s two. Silver. A night fish.

“Not tonight. Too windy”

“But Dad, look outside, there’s no wind.”

“There would be wind on the beach. Onshore wind. Another night.”

His father had promised all week that they would go fishing on Friday night. He stared out the window, there was no breeze. They were only three houses up from the beach. There was no wind, but he couldn’t disagree with his father who had already grabbed a bottle of beer from the fridge and had sat down in front of the television to watch the News. There would be no moving him now.

His mother came in: “Another night, Michael. It is only the first week of summer. There will be months and months of hot weather and still nights.” But he didn’t trust his father to ever take him again. The beach was a hundred yards away but bis father would never take him back there.

His mother seeing his disappointment added, “Lots of nights with fish jumping out of the water.” He couldn’t tell her that it was herring that jumped and boiled on the surface of the water. Tailor were a night fish thatlived close to the bottom. They never jumped.

He went into his room and took out an atlas of the world. A large, green hardback with a circular vision of the earth embossed on the cover. He turned to the page with the map of Australia and the Indian Ocean stretching all the way to Africa. Thousands of miles of water in different shades of blue that signified depth. How many fish were there in that ocean? Fish being devoured at this very minute, others being born, small and seeing for the first time water that went forever. How many in those dark blue patches on the map which lived in eternal darkness? Night lasted twenty four hours a day. There wouldn’t be day, he thought, at such depths. No light could ever penetrate that far down.

“Have a shower before dinner, Michael.”

He turned to the pages at the back of the atlas that had all the facts: the lengths of the longest rivers, the great mountains, seas and oceans. The deepest parts of the earth and sea. The Marianas Trench. Almost seven miles deep. It was further than the distance between Cottesloe and Scarborough. It would almost be as far as the City Beach groyne. All that way down in one of those underwater … what was the name of that thing … a Bathyscape. All the way down in the Bathyscape with it growing darker and darker. They would have great lights on the front to see. Great lights that would briefly light up a world that had only ever been coloured by darkness; it would be like the sun rising for the very first time. And beneath the sea there could be anything.

“Michael.”

At dinner he refused to look at his father. He looked down at his plate and slowly ate. He knew his father would not even mention fishing; wouldn’t sympathise or promise next week. It was only his mother who tried to make conversation. “How was school, Michael?” “Was he working on a school project?” “What mark did he get for his Oceans assignment?” “Where was his team playing football at the weekend?”

He didn’t look at his father but he imagined him sitting eating; his tanned face accentuated by his grey-white hair. Without any expression on his face, just bringing up food to his mouth. He was angry with his mother for still appearing happy, as if nothing had happened.

Back in his room he went back to his books. He had a small bookcase full on books on animals, the sea, dinosaurs. He had a theory that the Loch Ness Monster was an ichythosaurus. They had long necks and lived in the water and could have survived the meteorites that supposedly killed the dinosaurs. He was going to prove this when he got older or else be a marine biologist. But for the moment he was obsessed with how sea creatures deep beneath the sea lived in eternal darkness. His mother had told him many times that he had all the brains in the family. She would one day sit in the pews of the halls of a university and watch him walk up and collect his degrees, dressed in a black cape and wearing a mortarboard.

He grabbed the T volume of the Encyclopaedia of Animals and looked up tailor. It wasn’t there. There were tailor-birds, a type of warbler, but no tailor. Another certainty fell away from his world. Things changed too much. It was like the countries of Africa. His atlas had names of countries that were no longer there. Rhodesia and Congo had disappeared. It was like the beach in winter. Unrecognisable with the sand washed away. At Trigg the sandbank that was crowded with surfers all summer was rocky and deep. At least the sand came back every year but some things would never come back. He wanted permanence and the more he learnt the more he felt as if he was travelling into a strange country, no, it was more like descending beneath the water where light diminished slowly till there was only darkness.

He closed his book. He heard his father close the bedroom door.

Outside was still, with not a breath of wind.

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