Fish Stocks Limited
Chapter 29 - Sargasso
A ship is an island of life. Barnacles cling to her hull, along with bearded ke lp and
weed. Worms slowly eat into her wood, it being their bolt-hole garden of Edam.
Shrieker birds circle overhead and settle on the rigging, glad of a rest after flying for
long hours over their sushimi-bar sea. Rats eat her biscuit and sleep amongst he r
bilge. And then those great barnacles, those wily worms, those avian overlords, those
artful rats, those Piscadors; they live too on their mobile continent, federated along
one keel, to steal a good phrase. So it almost seems out of place, an anachronism
even, to have this happy island nation ruled over by a despot such as Fishmael. His tot
of rum fills a whole pint pot, his herring is cut thick and unfairly chunky, his privacy
commands utmost respect, as does his attendance when he calls for it. And his
madness, aye, his madness seems almost to be a self-awarded medal, worn in that
fashion so beloved of dictators. Bright and gleaming, pure gold, the alchemy of
insanity works its magic on this dubious accolade, almost giving it the appearance of
nobility. For it must be said that a man unsure commands no respect, yet a man
certain can lead an army, and the ability to lead is often mistaken as nobility. What
does 'noble' mean? Is it honour or elevation by which we choose to define this word?
Perhaps Fishmael is very noble, very elevated, almost as high as a Stylite, only much
more comfortable. After all, men like Fishmael stand on their pedestals too, and we
all look up and see them. This craning of the neck is often perceived as admiration.
So, up- lookers, look down, down slumped at the ship's table where Fishmael sits
drunk as a lord. He is alone now, everyone else having gone on deck to go about their
duties (or, in the case of Stan and Ambrosius, to escape the dark presence of the
captain). He mutters to himself.
“...would eat me? Nay, not again. I would turn its stomach sour. No, the fish will
be my dish, not the other way round. Then why do I feel foolish, foolish and hunted? I
feel as if I am being hunted by my own heart, that is it. How can a hunting troop stand
if its members are divided? In the same way how can my soul stand divvied up
between my demons? It is as if a pirate worm has taken over me, climbed over the
bulwarks of my soul and commandeered me. Parts of me recoil at my goal, yet parts
delight. Aye there are even parts of me that delight at my recoiling!
“'Tis not right to have so many facets; I am not a stone, no amount of polishing
will make me sparkle. I long to unite all these disparate threads that fray inside me,
but the only cord I can see that unifies them seems to be a noose, and that is not for
me. I doubt that in death I would sleep restless – I would forever be turning in my
grave at the dead comprehension of my failure to weigh in that fish. I hate that fish!
But I am becoming repetitive. Is there anything else I feel towards that overgrown
halibut? Its progeny have sustained me and the rest of this planet for cod knows how
long, after all. Is there respect there? Gratefulness? I accept that the fish is a mighty
beast, well- formed, aesthetically perfect – a true Vitruvian fish, no less. I can admire
it as I would admire a mountain, or the Smug, or Xiphias, or some distant star. But get
up close, where I could smell the rotting krill, that stench that I spent so long
inhaling... aye it is the stench that is the worst! Things are so often beautiful until y'get
a whiff of their body odour. If a mountain sweated, if a star farted, if a rose belched –