nineteen (the ballad of the sea-bass)

by nike, September 30, 2014

2007guidetransseabassThey say that on Wednesday, the fourscore of April, a great fish rose above the waters and began to sing.

It was a wintry day; cold and blue. Her scales glittered like wet sequins. While she sang, she waved her pectoral fins, as though she danced upon the air. Clouds formed around her, or wisps of clouds, pale and winsome as her tune.

She held them with her glittering eye
The fisherman stopped still,
And listened like a tiny child:
The sea-bass hath her will.

She sang a long ballad, confused and half-unravelled. The story of a murderer’s daughter, or perhaps the daughter of a merchant. Who knows? Anyway, a daughter, with the long dark hair and pale skin of a ghost. Violet eyes. All the rest. Arms and legs and such.

Anyway, the girl got caught up with a band of travellers. A family, some dogs and chickens. Babes-in-arms and toothless men with fragrant pipes. And, of course, a rakish lad. Well-formed, silk-tongued. They were camping by the river one night. Stars and water. A good fire. A fiddle and dancing. A whirling away into darkness. You know how it goes.

Hold me, said the boy.

Kiss me, said the boy.

He plucked the ribbons from her bodice, pushed up her thin skirts.

That’s enough, she said, pushing them down again.

Never, he said, and up they rode.

No, she said. Pulling away. Not yet.

Not yet? he laughed. What are you saving it for? Goode’s Day? Up rode her skirts, and down he pushed the girl. The stars glittered over his shoulder.

No! she cried, and drove her dimpled knee into his crotch.

Bitch! Whore!

She stood, and smoothed her skirts, her hair. Turned back to the fire.

And then … well, and then he cursed her. Turned her to a cold fish, saying that she was one anyway. A sea-bass!

I would rather have been something smaller, and daintier, she sang, but this’ll do. This’ll do just fine.

Here, among the rocks and weed
My gentle suitor waits
He builds a nest for our fair spawn
And ne’er forces gates.


This 200 words/200 days microfiction is a bit of mucking about based on a small excerpt from Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale. Autolycus–pedlar, thief, ne’er-do-well–is selling ballads to the guests at a party. One of the ballads he has on offer he describes thus:

Here’s another ballad of a fish, that appeared upon
the coast on Wednesday the four-score of April, 
forty thousand fathom above water, and sung this 
ballad against the hard hearts of maids: it was 
thought she was a woman and was turned into a cold 
fish for she would not exchange flesh with one that
loved her: the ballad is very pitiful and as true.


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    • October 23, 2014

    I love this one so much. How do you write so beautifully so quickly?

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      • October 23, 2014

      Thank you Jane! You are very sweet ... And up next! ????

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