That evening, the fish left a strange taste in my mouth.
We’d gone together, Dad in his waxed jacket and waders, me in my parka and wellies. Flies hovered above the river, orange-tinged in the afternoon sun. He fastened together his rod and opened his box: flies lined up like soldiers on parade. ‘We’ll try the March Brown,’ he said, affixing one to the line.
I spied the metal hook; it glinted between his fingers.
‘Can you see him?’ he pointed to a pool of slow-moving water. ‘There,’ he said and I followed his finger to a set of tiny ripples where, seconds ago, a mouth had snapped.
While I sat on a long-rotten stump, he waded in. Shoulders stretched back then thrown forward, he cast the fly towards the pool to dance across the water’s surface. He held his body still a while, then cast again. Patience is required, he whispered. When I tried to speak, to ask if the fish had gone, he shushed me. A glimmer of something, more ripples.
The rod bent – and then jerked to and fro. Dad reeled him in, the fish fighting all the while to shake off the metal hook. On land, he thrashed and gasped for breath – the gills, Dad indicated with his fingertips.
One shiny eye gazed up from the bag. With his hand, the same one he used to stroke my head at night, Dad gave a firm whack with his metal priest. The thrashing stopped.
A priest, I wondered. Was that to save its soul?
Dad held the fish across his hands for me to see the tiny teeth that took the bite, the shimmering belly. ‘Would you look at that,’ he said.
That night, his hand felt different on my head.
“The Hand The Wields The Priest” received the February 2017 First Prize | Bath Flash Fiction Award
It first appeared in print in “Where the Lobsters Run Free”: Bath Flash Fiction Volume Two (Bath Flash Fiction Award), 2018
IMAGE: Hieronymus Bosch, “Flying Fish”, detail from the right panel of The Temptation of St Anthony, 1501. Oil on Oak Panel. 52in x 90in. Museu Nacional de Arte, Antiga, Portugal
Emily Devane is a writer, editor and teacher from Ilkley, West Yorkshire, in the U.K. Her short fiction has been widely published, most recently in Ambit, Janus Literary, Smokelong Quarterly and Best Microfiction Anthology (Pelekinesis). ‘The Hand That Wields the Priest’ won the Bath Flash Fiction Award, and was a Best Small Fictions finalist. The story behind the piece appears in 100 Voices Anthology (Unbound). Emily has also won a Northern Writers’ Award and a Word Factory Apprenticeship. She teaches creative writing at Moor Words, co-hosts Word Factory’s Strike! Short Story Club and is a founding editor at FlashBack Fiction. @DevaneEmily