Today I was really excited to see my name in print in the Association of Christian Writers’ magazine, with my winning story from a competition last year. Now that it is in print, here it is in full for readers who won’t have accessed it through the ACW magazine.
“Fish!” muttered Mrs Zebedee, wiping her hands on her apron. “Don’t talk to me about fish!” she hissed, shaking her head and slopping the big white box on to a table. She grabbed her knife and glared at her boys. “It’s practically mid-morning; how am I supposed to sell these now?”
She sliced her anger through the fish-heads. Chop, slide, chop.
“John, get that other knife, I can’t do all this,” she ordered, “it’s full and you’ve not put enough ice on. Have you forgotten how to fish, boys?”
Her sons looked at each other. Big men in their late twenties, broad and bronzed, their tiny mother could silence them with a face like a burnt thundercloud. She got stuck in to the gutting, wincing as she cut.
“The chefs have been round. The early customers have gone elsewhere. Even the cats have given up waiting. Why didn’t you call?”
“I’m sorry mother. We didn’t mean to be this late,” John said, strapping on his own apron.
“It was an awful night,” added James. “Not a thing before dawn. I’m getting back to the van. You tell her.”
Mrs Zebedee looked up. Her eyes were red with fatigue and confusion. She had returned reluctantly to her old job, summoning her sons back from the capital to work on the night fishing boats when no one else would. John and James had arrived in town the previous night and got straight on the trawler with Thomas and Pete and a few of the others. John could see her frustrations. He smiled.
“Come here, mother,” said the big man, opening his wide arms and ignoring the fish guts and eyes as he pulled her close. “We had to stop. We’d had an exhausting night. And – well, have you eaten? I saved you a bit of breakfast-”
She pulled away, tightened her eyes and glared at him again.
“Jonathan Theodore Zebedee – are you telling me that you deliberately delayed getting here with my catch?”
“Mother, listen,” he replied, his eyes still grinning, digging in his pocket for a crusty roll with a barbecued fillet inside. “It was him.”
Mrs Zebedee stared at the roll in John’s weathered hand and remembered another one just like it. On a grassy hill. In a large crowd. Not too far away, a year or two before; everyone had had one. They’d said the same thing that day too: ‘It was him!’
James swung round the corner with another large case of fish and plonked it next to the first. John slapped his back.
“I told you we saw him last week in the city. And the week before. We’re not making this up. Ask James. Even ask Tom – he wouldn’t joke about this.”
Mrs Zebedee took a cautious bite. The bread was soft inside, and something in her wanted to harden, but she kept listening and James headed back to the van again.
“I didn’t believe you the first time John, because I was there. I saw him when he…” and she turned her head away and wiped her face with her sleeve.
“I was there too,” said John gently. “I was there – I saw him die. I saw the blood and the water come from his body.” He picked up a cloth and wiped the table. “But I also saw him since then. You have to believe me. Who else makes breakfast like this? And where do you think all these fish came from?”
“Three? No, more than that! Come and see!” he said, and led her round to the van. She blinked. It was absolutely full of large, white boxes. For once, Mrs Zebedee was lost for words.
“We’ve never caught that much before in one night,” John said, leaning against the wall and rubbing his hands. “And all at the last minute too; it was bizarre. We were on the boat, the sky was glowing red, we were cold, tired and hungry. We’d caught nothing. Mother, I felt I’d forgotten the one thing I know how to do well.”
He straightened up.
“Then there was this voice from the shore, and we saw a man crouching, then standing up, waving over to us. He shouted to keep going and to try fishing from the wrong side of the boat. In the shallows. You know what Pete’s like, he got straight on it. When the nets hit the water – wow – the boat just rocked with the weight of fish; I thought we’d tip over! Some of us jumped out and we gripped the ropes and pulled so hard. It was crazy, there was no way we could lift the nets up into the boat, they were so full.”
John grinned and his mother softened. He touched her arm as James carried another box past them.
“I looked at the man on the shore and he started laughing at us! That’s when I realised it was him. That laugh…you know what I mean.”
Mrs Zebedee knew that laugh. She took another bite of the flaky, charred fish.
“Pete didn’t hang around. He just jumped out and waded over there. He forgot the rest of us still had to tow the boat and the net. The fish were wriggling and jumping and kicking about. Took forever; look, my hands are raw! But they did wade in and help after they’d finished laughing at us. And even though we’d got such a large catch, he’d already caught a few himself and prepared us breakfast. Best breakfast ever. It’s good, isn’t it?”
Mrs Zebedee wiped her mouth.
“Yes,” she admitted. “It is good. But boys, what are we going to do with all these fish? We’ll be giving these away at this rate.”