Digging Deep

By Jacqueline Dowling

It’s a funny old thing, one’s subconscious. The way it niggles and flops about, always scratching at the edge of either a good idea, or some long forgotten happening or hearing that just won’t reveal itself.

Then suddenly whoops, you wake up, usually at an inconvenient 2 am , that time when the goblins and ghosties are out and active. The body sluggish, the mind monochromatic , biorhythms on pause – pencil and notepad nowhere to be found.

And that’s when it flares. All the stuff that’s been churning around begging to find shape, forms a large bubble which fizzes into words and flows on and on … at least that’s what the fundis would have us believe.

It happened to me, after several visits to the fishing harbour, watching the snoek boats come in with their catch. I’ve never felt any great kinship with eco-warriors yet…at 2 a.m one morning I found pencil and pad.

How much is enough?

There’s ice in the wind. It whips through the tang of salt, seaweed and the fish filled oak-saturated haze from the smoke house.

Blown spume shivers and dances in a caramel frenzy across crusty musseled rocks, dragging here and there, snagging chunks of sea as it passes.

Great gunmetal grey walls of ocean batter dolosse and explode in outrage. A fury of spray bursts into the light and creams, hissing, across the seawall. Racing down into a flood of infinity.

Far out at sea tiny blobs of colour rise and fall, now seen, now gone. It’s that time of year – the sea is alive with snoek.

Above the little harbour, gulls spiral and wheel. Their wild lost cries screeching through the ragged air. Ice white breasts glow amber in the late evening, rapacious beaks snapping at passing strings of fish gut hanging and swinging in the high wind.

The air is full of sound.

Through a prowl of surging rollers, a boat slides down between the swells, rounds the quay in a burst of diesel fumes and comes thankfully to rest in the quiet harbour . An oiled rainbow creeps from the scuppers and spreads across the water.

As if tugged by the wind, more boats follow and still more. Tired fishers in green waterproofs cut engines, glide onto cradles and offload their catch.

Snoek are hurled to the ground, flung into trailers, containers, refrigerated vans and sacks. Men stand unshaven and inscrutable, silently tallying the haul. Arms folded against their corpulence, they count and count.

How much is enough?

Snoek, with beaks of razor teeth set in the rictus of death. Malevolence lurking in dulling eyes, they thud wet and sodden, flesh bruised, from boats gunwale laden, onto unyielding stone.

Water swirls, tinged rusty with blood and slimed with viscera from the gutted fish.

It’s all over for another day. Sated gulls bob, their cries stilled.

The boats have gone.

Now there is a hush, an almost tangible elemental relaxing and expelling of breath.

While the emptying sea sobs into the night.

It’s a funny old thing, one’s subconscious!


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