On the last day of summer, the women stand in the water, holding nets spun thin as spider silk. It’s dawn and the sun gleams red off the cresting waves. Bina stands with Freida, Rachel, and Roza. They whisper excitedly to each other, but Bina is silent. She watches the water, searching for the glimmer of silver scales beneath the surface. Her skirt is soaked and stained with mud. Her feet are cold and pruney. She glares at the others. “Be quiet,” she hisses. “You’ll scare away the fish.” They settle into silence and join Bina in watching the water.
When the sun fully breaks from the horizon and the women trudge back to the shore, they’ve caught five fish. They squirm and flop at the bottom of the net, sunlight glinting off their scales. Bina frees the last fish in the shallows. “You’re a lucky one,” she says as it slips from her hands and vanishes with the undertow.
Freida, Rachel, and Roza are inspecting their catch.
“I’m going to cook mine right now and go right to bed,” Roza announces.
“It’s not even midday,” Freida says.
“Can you blame her? She wants to know who she’s going to marry,” Rachel says.
Tonight, all the young women in the village that caught one of the fish will cook it and eat it. When they go to sleep, they’ll have the vision. They’ll see their future husbands, their future children. On this day, every year, for over a hundred years, the women of Bina’s village have been cooking and eating these fish, and the vision has never been wrong.
The vision is something they all look forward to, but before it can be had, the fish must die. The women learned to kill a fish properly when they were little girls, in preparation for this very day. They pass a small ice pick down the line, each driving it into the brain of their fish. When Bina stabs her fish, it seizes, mouth agape, fins flaring. Next, they bleed the fish, taking turns with the large filet knife, cutting one gill, then the other, and finally the main artery in the tail. The blood pools in the sand, thick and glossy. The whole thing makes Bina feel a little queasy.
When the grimy tasks are done, the women place their fish in buckets filled with a slurry of ice and water, and walk back to the village. They part ways on a crumbling cobblestone street ripe with the spicy scent of bay laurel. Bina walks the rest of the way to her flat alone. People on the street keep looking at her bucket and smiling. Before she can make it a single step up the stairs to her front door, her neighbor Ruth stops her and kisses both her cheeks.
“Bina,” Ruth says. “I am so excited for you. It was 20 years ago that I saw my Daniel in the vision.”
“Thank you, Ruth,” Bina says, and then she goes upstairs.
Inside, she puts the fish bucket on the dining room floor and peers down at the fish. It doesn’t look particularly special, floating dead in the ice bath. She leaves her fish in the bucket and goes to take a shower. Her flat is very small. She hopes the person she sees in the vision tonight has a bigger flat. Maybe even a house.
Bina doesn’t look at the fish again until that evening, when her stomach has finally recovered from the morning’s bloody work. The moon is fat and full in the sky. It’s time.
She ties on her mother’s apron, pours herself some Raki, and gets to work. First, Bina scales the fish with a dull knife, working methodically from the tail to the head. She rinses the fish with water, slices the belly open, and ties the entrails up in a bag before putting them in the trash. Then, she scrapes the inside with a spoon and rinses the fish again. She chops garlic. So much garlic. And tomatoes, shallots, chiles. Thin slices of lemon. Fennel and thyme. She rubs the fish with olive oil and salt and pepper and stuffs it full to bursting. It goes in the oven for twenty minutes and the flat smells like spice and heat and oil.
When the fish is done, Bina takes it out of the oven and just stares at it. The flesh is crisp, silver skin turned golden brown. Her mouth is starting to water. She realizes she hasn’t eaten anything all day. Her Raki is gone. She pours herself another glass.
Bina has wondered for a long time whether the vision ever shows anything else, anything bad. Has a woman ever eaten the fish, looking for the face of her lover, and foreseen a car accident instead? Bina is suddenly afraid of what she will see. So, instead of eating the fish, she just looks at it some more, thinking of the lucky fish she let go that morning. A lucky fish like that could never be a harbinger of doom, but this fish...she doesn’t know about this fish. Maybe it hadn’t wanted to die. Maybe it would inflict some dark prophecy upon her as punishment. She stares and stares at the fish. Finally, when it’s cooled, she gets her biggest Tupperware out of the cabinet and carefully places the fish inside.
Fish is never as good reheated. Bina knows this. But she’s not ready to eat the fish yet. Maybe she will be later. Or maybe not.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Caite Sajwaj writes ghost stories and fairy tales inspired by the urban fringe areas of the Midwest. She holds a B.A. in English Literature from Ottawa University (Kansas, not Canada) and lives in Kansas City with her husband, three cats, and a growing collection of houseplants. Follow her work at caitesajwaj.com or see what she's drinking @atipsytale on Instagram.