Beating the Herring

Nathaniel Grogan, Whipping the Herring out of Town – A Scene of Cork, c.1800, oil on panel, 25.5 x 29 cm. Collection Crawford Art Gallery, Cork.

Beating the Herring
by Marie Gethins

Cross to shoulder, you bear the burden, sleeves covered in white fragments. A single herring remains. It trembles, glinting silver, then gold in the Easter Morning light. The river beckons.

Earlier, a row of penitent fish hung on the cross above your head. Eyes to heaven, their forked tails rigid in death. The crowd shouted and swung sticks: knocking scales, flesh from bone. A swirling dance to the fiddler’s lurid tune. Herring splinters rained down onto your black tricorne. I kept your indigo coat in sight, while floating through drunks and laughing matrons. Jostled, but never faltering in your wake, my new bonnet muffled the din.

You are my Lamb. You take away…

At Cork’s North Gate, you brush flakes of white and bits of metallic skin off your shoulders into the swift Lee flow. A single fish soul left intact. You search through heads and hats to catch my gaze. We exchange smiles.

The lamb quarter arrives on a butcher’s back. You tie it beneath the fish, onto the lath, crown it with my ribbons. Cheers erupt as it is hoisted high. Red and blue banners flutter on the breeze and the fiddler saws a new refrain.

Da pushes his way out of the eddying mob, a thick rod raised. The old pounding fills my ears, its rhythmic beat drowns out the crowd. You seek my eyes again and give a gentle nod. ‘Stay, my love.’

You are my Lamb. You take away…

With whiskey and sweat, Da used to come in darkness, leaving me with another smell. Now you face him, lift the cross again to lead the crowd along Bachelors Quay into the City. Above a sea of heads, the tiny herring quivers in the sun. Da strikes at it, but hits the meat that hangs below. The lamb remains solid, does not yield. Untouched, the fish sways, a jewel in the spring glow. The crowd laughs around us, taunts him. He is nothing. I push past his red face to walk beside you and my heart swims free.

Marie Geth­ins’ flash fiction has fea­tured in NFFD Anthologies, Flash: The International Short-Short Story Magazine, Jellyfish Review, Litro, NANO, Wales Arts Review, Banshee, Synaesthesia, The Incubator, The Nottingham Review, Spelk, Ellipsis Zine, Words with JAM, Paper Swans, 101 Words, and others. She won or placed in Dorset Fiction Award, TSS, Tethered by Letters, Flash500, Drom­i­neer, The New Writer, Prick of the Spindle. Other pieces listed in Bridport Flash, Bristol Short Story Prize, Brighton Prize, Fish Short Flash, Inktears, Molotav Cocktail, Reflex Fiction, Retreat West, and WOW! Award competitions. Marie is a Pushcart and Best of the Short Fictions nominee and an editor of the Irish ezine Splonk.

Nathaniel Grogan, Whipping the Herring out of Town – A Scene of Cork, c.1800, oil on panel, 25.5 x 29 cm. Collection Crawford Art Gallery, Cork.