The Fish

Once upon a time a young boy walked along the shore of a lake in a land he did not know. He had been walking for a long time, and hunger lay like a stone in his belly. He looked up the path ahead of him and saw an old woman. When they met on the path he called out.

“Greetings, woman! I am from afar and don’t know these lands well. Are there fish in this lake?”

The old woman had been walking slowly, with great care, but looked up at the young boy’s words.

“Yes,” she answered, “this lake is filled with fish.”

The young boy walked to the edge of the path, knelt, and looked into the water, as he had many times already. The water was crystal clear and he could see all the way to the floor of the lake. It was covered with grey stones and green mosses. But the young boy saw no fish. He turned back to the old woman and squinted as the afternoon sun spun through her hair.

“I see no fish here,” he told her.

“There are beautiful fish all over this lake,” she repeated.

He looked again and asked, “Right here?”

Behind him the old woman answered, “Yes,” and then continued her careful journey down the path.

Still kneeling, the young boy looked again. Yet, all he could see was grey stone, mosses, and the hint of his own reflection. He stood, shook the dust from his hands, and turned back up the path.

After a few minutes, though, his hunger turned him around. As his belly spoke to him, the young boy became angry at the certainty with which the old woman had described the fish and frustrated with his own inability to see them. He ran back down the path after the old woman. Soon he was at her side again.

“You are so certain about these fish,” he said to her in a harsh voice, “how can you be so sure when these fish cannot be seen?”

The old woman stopped again and turned to him. Pointing to the pack the young boy carried on his back, she instructed, “Take your spear and thrust it into the lake. The lake is filled with fish.”

The young boy, skeptical but hungry, did as she said. Taking his spear, he walked to the edge of the lake once again. Looking down, he still saw nothing but grey and green. Balancing the spear in his left hand, he thrust it into the water.

Though young, the boy was already an accomplished hunter. His spear was well made, and only the slightest ripples crossed the water’s surface as it entered. When the ripples resolved, the young boy stared, astonished, into the depths. There, at the end of his spear, was a magnificent fish.

He drew his spear from the water and held the fish in the sun. Rainbows of color danced off its sparkling scales. This was the most beautiful fish the boy had ever seen in his young life. His left hand had been true, this wondrous creature of the lake hung dead on the end of his spear.

With eyes moist he looked back at the old woman. “But this fish is too beautiful to eat,” he pleaded.

“Yes,” she answered, with great sadness and pride. Then she turned off the path and began to gather twigs together.

“Come, let us build a fire,” she said.

(Written by Eric for Dagmar on Mother’s Day.)