Published 'Queen of the Mists' 1994
Mygold loved me more than I could imagine.
I first met her on bait market day, when the streets were caught alive with sea smells. The man I knew in the area - by the name of Fisher Codge - happened to be hanging hooks along his washing line, as I approached from a southerly direction towards the north-facing port village.
‘Goodja day, Ben,’ he called, as he proceeded to lay his nets to dry over the outside coal bunker.
‘Same to you, Codge, I’m sure,’ I rejoined, leaning over his backyard fence, ready to while away the rest of the day in his company. Might as well--better than going up to the wharfside where the market loafers were bound to be surly, with there not being much trade about these days. The fishmongers did a fitful business from their varicose veined slabs of marble, but not enough to warrant hiring someone like me to clean off the scale-curds afterwards.
‘There is a glut of bait, Codge,’ I said glumly, motioning towards the knot of wriggling worm-sized maggots in the wicker basket I toted.
‘There be more bait than fish, ‘tis true, Ben, an’ there’ll come a day, I be bound, when people’ll ‘ave to turn to bait isself to feed their tummies. Then it’ll shoot up in price agin, don’ be affeared.’
I nodded, bemused at his logic.
Then, suddenly, quite unpremeditated, Mygold lurched down Fisher Codge’s backstep which, if I only had my eyes about me, I would have seen had lately been donkey-stoned a waxen red. Indeed, being donkey-stoned. Better than being tickled with a bunny cloth any day. But all my eyes were for this unexpected vision of Mygold, not for the results of Codge’s elbow grease.
‘Ben, I’ll ‘duce yer to me nees.’
Codge pointed with a fish hook he had been sharpening with a huge rutted file. Her name be Mygold.’ I was temporarily speechless, unusual for a bait-seller. I knew her name already, by reputation rather than physical presence; she had come to stay with her Uncle from a village further up the coast. ‘Mygold, this be Ben. an ol’ mate of mine.’ And he touched me lightly on the shoulder with the file, as if he were knighting me. He didn’t know I had wandered in the direction of his homestead, purely to see Mygold for my own eyes. And I had forgotten.
She made a song and dance of ignoring me. Having started to pick fish fingers from the large bowl she was lugging and, laying them out in the sunshine on the corrugated roof of the outside privy, she hummed a tunelessness that matched her demeanour. I almost felt the live weight of her breasts, loosely hanging as they were within the sheerness of her blouse. The expanse of buttocks thrust its visage towards me, the mouth opening and shutting like that of a monkfish, as she placed the bowl on the ground to allow her to reach further up the privy roof. When she finally turned towards me, I was faced with the most memorable features. Once seen, hopefully forgotten. The peepers, although set back into the jowls, were large filmy oyster beds. The smeller, long and slender, with mean pinprick nostrils. The eater, wide and wet, with a slippery customer lolling inside. The lsiteners so petite they were tantamount to gills. The hair scrawled back into wayward plaits of bottle-green tendrils.
This Mygold smiled. Codge winked. I did not know where to put myself.
She returned to the house, expecting me to follow, as it was plain that she desperately fancied me. I cringed at the trail of glisten she left behind in her wake.
‘Come in fer a while, Ben, why don’t yer’?’ Codge took my arm. I felt the piercing jab of a fish-hook in the back of my neck, as he reached round heartily to lead me up the garden path.
‘No, Codge, I got to get off to the wharfside, to sell my wigglies.’
‘Can’t yer spare ‘alf an ‘our fer a nice cuppa with yer ol’ mate. ‘These ‘ere fish fingers on the privy roof may be piping hot by then and you can par-take of a few afore yer go.’
I could not free myself, since the curved copper claw had by now reached the nodules within my back. I succumbed to the fate that often awaited honest baitmen such as me. To be hooked and lined for sinkering before tea.
I got my own back in a sense, for while I was otherwise engaged, all my wigglies escaped to the privy itself where, finding not nearly enough sustenance to core through in the shit-butt, they had managed to crawl up to the corrugated roof and proceeded to corrupt the fish fingers thereupon into little better than helpings of fried bubble-and squeak.
How I knew this was happening outside, I put down to second sight, but the fact was not enough to compensate for the pain I endured inside. It was as if all my bones were party to the same unbearable toothache, while the diamond-sharp tip of Codge’s abandoned hook penetrated to the one massive abscess within the marrow of my spinal column.
But all that paled into insignificance when compared to what Mygold did to me. Not exactly bubble and squeak: more like blubber and sceech.
They did, however, throw me back into the turbulent sea of life, only slightly worse for wear. I cannot honestly claim that it’s a particularly hard life us bait-men have to lead.
I did lose one of my wigglies that day, however, which, in better times, would have cost me a pretty penny. I expect it drowned in the butt and got mixed up with the rest of the stuff in there.