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stories & essays


michael fitzgerald



A word of advice son, dinny pit yar fuckin light on in the wids, ya light yersel up like a fuckin' beacon. I dropped the cleek behind me, hoping it hadn't been seen. Their hunting lamp was right in my face. I was ready to bluff my way out of it but there was no need, they were after the salmon too and wanted to get on with it. They slipped upriver as quick as foxes, leaving me blind after their torchlight. I fumbled through the moss for the sharp cleek then trotted back in the poachers moon, shaken but unharmed. Spilling out the hairy edge of the wood, the brightness was astonishing, you could have read a small bible. You can't see colour in moonlight but on a night like that you think you can. The frost was clearly enjoying its freedom, grasses moved into threads of glass and shattered underfoot, breath was thicker than chimney smoke. There was an audible buzz in the air, pure exitement. Thin ice was creeping out on top of the water from the edges of the bank. When it caught the light there were hundreds of eyes looking at you, maybe frogs, maybe salmon? No, just ice, alive ice. Two miles away a car weaved its way up to Stichill, you could hear the caution in its engine. It was going to be a hard one. A heavy smack in the swollen water shot across the orchards, no way was that a trout. They've arrived, definitely they've arrived, all the way from the dark Atlantic, through the grey North sea, Tweedmouth and Berwick, past the Geordie gill nets and trebles, unflinching past the well placed flies of the upper beats and hovering patiently at Edenmouth for the rains to start. Now the river was high enough and they were here, the strong ones, silver bars, blue in the moon. I could be a part of it if only I could take one. I wanted to be inside those stories, not just a listener. The trout seemed to know they were second prize now, Iím sure they showed themselves more freely, like mischievous children behind a locked fence, using my obsession to tease me. Trout were out of season until the spring and the grayling are too sluggish to take seriously, just light relief through the winter, a chance to use the new Christmas tackle. There was a long gravel bed under Lodge bridge, a good lye were a strong tail could scoop a trough for its eggs. I was taking the long route, following the edge of the copse, taking it slow. I wasn't going to be shamed a second time. Stopping every couple of minutes to listen, you would hear a person long before you saw them on a night like this. If the wind picked up you could pass a person in the dark very easily but as it was, as still as a painting, you could hear every leaf and every cough. You stay clear of the rapids, they are too noisy to be safe, its the thick heavy pools you fish, slipping into them in slow motion, wading across them like a cartoon giant. Then you burn the water. That is what they call it up here. They used to do it with flaming torches and rags tied around their faces, there is a photograph, it is amazing. A flash in the dark and these frozen poses, caught red-handed with fire in one hand, a spear in the other, doing this thing at night while everyone sleeps. Any boy would be taken by this, it was the furthest you could go, pure magic.


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