A Solitary Fish

by Russ

‘It’s really coming down out there,’ Jed announced to the bar as he closed the wooden door behind him. ‘Maybe that mad old fool will be right after all!’

His audience responded with the laughter he’d hoped for when he composed the line during his short wet walk from home. Rain bounced off his leather coat with each back slap administered on his way to the bar. There he was met with two of his favourite sights: a frothy pint and Esther, the landlord’s handsomely endowed daughter. Beer, breasts, beaming smile - he registered each in turn - his eyes settling on the second while his mouth drained the first. A thundering belch from his left interrupted the contentment.

‘It could rain for a year and you wouldn’t get me in that thing,’ Zeke declared. ‘I wouldn’t trust it to float in a bathtub.’

‘And it’ll bloody stink,’ Mariam interjected from the nearest table. ‘Have you seen that flea-ridden menagerie his boys have been assembling? There’ll be shit everywhere!’

A gust of wind blew open the snug door letting in a splat of water.

‘Steady on Mar, you’ve upset God there!’ Jed was quick to get his second round of guffaws. ‘Better get your prayers in!’

‘Let God cry,’ the woman defied. ‘I ain’t kneeling for no man!’

Zeke, who was mid-gulp, spat his pint all over the unfortunately positioned front of Esther, while half a dozen other men suddenly looked down at their own tankards, and half a dozen wives scowled over them. In a well-practised move, Esther wiped away suds with one hand while refilling three drinks with the other. Yelping in pain as pewter bounced off his knee, Zeke turned to see Mariam whistling over the empty table in front of her. Esther sniggered and grabbed another pot to fill.

A flash silenced the room before heads instinctively bowed against the rumble which followed.

‘Well, I think you should all leave the guy alone,’ piped up Rueben, the town’s resident creative, hands still stained with paint from his pre-opening sitting with Esther, a commission which everyone believed had taken quite long enough now. ‘He’s a stand-up guy in my book.’

‘Because he paid you twenty acres and a six-bed house to carve a figurehead?’ Jed scoffed.

‘Because he knows the worth of a true artist,’ Reuben would not be derided. Though he knew well the block of cedar he’d chipped away to look vaguely like a unicorn was barely worth the wood it was whittled on. A wave of guilt suddenly swept through the would-be sculptor. ‘Drinks all round, if you would Esther?’ he yelled, eliciting a cheer and creating the necessary distraction from his shame.

As the liquid apologies were distributed, a window shattered creating a mini-waterfall beside the piano. The patrons stopped and watched as a solitary fish slopped from the stream and onto the floor.

Jed turned to Esther, less jovial now.

‘You still got those sandbags out back?’