Boy on Boat, or What This Fish that He Fished Up Was (an excerpt from a book-in-progress, In a House In a Woods)
One day the boy on his boat on this lake fished up a fish up in his boat but the fish, when he fished it up and when he looked with his eyes at this fish, this fish, he could see, it was not like most fish: this fish, it was half fish, half bird, is what this fish that he fished up was. Where its side fins should have been there were wings where these fins should have been. And its mouth, this fish mouth, it was more of a beak than it was a mouth. And it had feet, this fish did, that were three toes clawed and that this fish, when it was fished up out of the lake and when it was reeled in and when the boy held it up to the sun's light for his eyes to see it, he could see that this fish, it was part bird, part fish.
What kind of a fish is this? the boy said this in his own head. This fish is just as much a bird as it is a fish.
What, the boy then thought, should I do with such a fish?
It's not a fish, the boy thought. I come out on the lake, I row out on this boat, to fish for fish, the boy heard his own voice say.
What kind of a fish has wings where its fins are meant to be?
He held the fish up in his hand and spread its bird wings out for all to see.
There was no one else there to see this.
There was no one else there to hear this.
What you would have heard had you'd been there is this.
I was born a bird, is what you would have heard this fish say next.
I was born a bird, but all my life I knew it in my bird's heart that what I was meant to be was to be a fish.
I said as much to the bird who was my mom.
I said as much to the bird who was my dad.
I did not want, like most birds do, to leave the nest to learn how to fly.
We lived in a tree not far from this lake.
In this tree, in our nest, you could look out and see the lake.
From a bird's eye, when the sun shined down on it, you could see down through the blue of the lake to where the fish swam in the blue of the lake.
You'd think I'd like the blue of the sky but the sky was too much for me to be a bird in.
I knew I could get to know the blue of the lake.
No bird can live so long so that they get to know the blue of the sky.
So once when I learned how to fly, I took flight and I flew to the lake.
I took my bird's beak and I poked it a few times in the mud down at the edge of the lake.
Then I walked in.
I walked in and I walked on the lake.
The lake would not let me sink.
Let me swim, I said. Let me be like the fish who swim in the blue of the lake.
It was then that I saw the fish.
I heard the fish before I saw the fish.
It swam up from the dark blue of the lake and it took me up in its fish mouth.
It swam with me in its fish mouth down past the blue of the lake.
This was a big fish with big fish teeth in its big fish mouth.
But this fish it did not eat me.
This fish it was here to save me. To make me who I was born to be.
Fish eat fish.
Big fish eat the fish that are not so big.
Since when do fish eat birds?
You see? I am not a bird.
I am a fish.
Or I am part bird, part fish.
The big fish that took me in its mouth and swam with me down past the blue of the lake, it spit me out. When it did, when I got spit out, I came out the way that I am now.
Part bird, part fish.
I am half the way to who I am meant to be.
The boy looked down and on at this fish, this fish that was not just a fish, this fish that had wings where its fins were meant to be, this fish that had clawed toes, this fish that could talk and that told this tale that I too have just told to you, and this boy, at this fish, he just looked and he shook his head at this fish.
I don't think so, this boy said.
I think you are here to try to trick me, the boy said this to this fish.
Trick you? How would I be here to trick you? Trick you to do what?
But the fish, it did not hear what the boy might have said next. For the boy, what he did next was, he took this fish, this fish that was just as much bird as it was fish, and he took this fish in his boy hands, he raised this fish up to his own boy mouth, and he bit off the head off of this fish.
What was left of this fish in his hands, the wings where the fins should have been, the clawed feet, the tail that was the tail that was the tail of a fish, he threw all that was left of this fish back to be with the blue of the lake. And when he did, when he spit out from his mouth the head of this fish, when he rubbed his hands to be free of this half bird, half fish, this fish, the whole of what was left of this fish, it turned back to be what it was born to be: a fish that did not fly in the blue of the sky, a bird that swam in the lake.
That night, the boy in his sleep heard a sound, a tap tap, a knock and a knock, that woke him up from his sleep. It was a sound that came from the front door. When he went to go see what was there to make such a sound, when he pulled the door so that he could look out at the lake here at the edge of the woods, he looked out and then he looked down and it was when he looked down with his eyes that he saw with his eyes the wing of what he knew was not the wing of a bird, it was the wing, the boy knew, of a fish.
Out on the lake, the next day, a fish jumped up and it flew, like a bird would fly, out of the blue of the lake and up to be with the blue of the sky, and when it came back down it flopped like a fish would flop when it is fished up to be in a boat.
The boy took this fish by its head and he held it in his hands.
Good fish, the boy said to this fish.
No, the fish said. Good boy.
And then this fish jumped back up. It jumped back out. Out of this boy's boat. Out of this boy's hands. Back to be in the blue of the lake. Which is where fish that are born to be fish are born to be and breathe.
Peter Markus is the author of the novel, Bob, or Man on Boat, as well as three books of short fiction, the most recent of which is We Make Mud published this September from Dzanc Books.