The Fish

A summer morning. The air is still; there is no sound but the churring of a grasshopper on the river bank, and somewhere the timid cooing of a turtle-dove. Feathery clouds stand motionless in the sky, looking like snow scattered about. … Gerassim, the carpenter, a tall gaunt peasant, with a curly red head and a face overgrown with hair, is floundering about in the water under the green willow branches near an unfinished bathing shed. … He puffs and pants and, blinking furiously, is trying to get hold of something under the roots of the willows. His face is covered with perspiration. A couple of yards from him, Lubim, the carpenter, a young hunchback with a triangular face and narrow Chinese-looking eyes, is standing up to his neck in water. Both Gerassim and Lubim are in shirts and linen breeches. Both are blue with cold, for they have been more than an hour already in the water.

“But why do you keep poking with your hand?” cries the hunchback Lubim, shivering as though in a fever. “You blockhead! Hold him, hold him, or else he’ll get away, the anathema! Hold him, I tell you!”

“He won’t get away. … Where can he get to? He’s under a root,” says Gerassim in a hoarse, hollow bass, which seems to come not from his throat, but from the depths of his stomach. “He’s slippery, the beggar, and there’s nothing to catch hold of.”

“Get him by the gills, by the gills!”

“There’s no seeing his gills. … Stay, I’ve got hold of something. … I’ve got him by the lip. … He’s biting, the brute!”

“Don’t pull him out by the lip, don’t—or you’ll let him go! Take him by the gills, take him by the gills. … You’ve begun poking with your hand again! You are a senseless man, the Queen of Heaven forgive me! Catch hold!”

“Catch hold!” Gerassim mimics him. “You’re a fine one to give orders. … You’d better come and catch hold of him yourself, you hunchback devil. … What are you standing there for?”

“I would catch hold of him if it were possible. But can I stand by the bank, and me as short as I am? It’s deep there.”

“It doesn’t matter if it is deep. … You must swim.”

The hunchback waves his arms, swims up to Gerassim, and catches hold of the twigs. At the first attempt to stand up, he goes into the water over his head and begins blowing up bubbles.

“I told you it was deep,” he says, rolling his eyes angrily. “Am I to sit on your neck or what?”

“Stand on a root … there are a lot of roots like a ladder.” The hunchback gropes for a root with his heel, and tightly gripping several twigs, stands on it. … Having got his balance, and established himself in his new position, he bends down, and trying not to get the water into his mouth, begins fumbling with his right hand among the roots. Getting entangled among the weeds and slipping on the mossy roots he finds his hand in contact with the sharp pincers of a crayfish.

“As though we wanted to see you, you demon!” says Lubim, and he angrily flings the crayfish on the bank.

At last his hand feels Gerassim’s arm, and groping its way along it comes to something cold and slimy.

“Here he is!” says Lubim with a grin. “A fine fellow! Move your fingers, I’ll get him directly … by the gills. Stop, don’t prod me with your elbow. … I’ll have him in a minute, in a minute, only let me get hold of him. … The beggar has got a long way under the roots, there is nothing to get hold of. … One can’t get to the head … one can only feel its belly. … Kill that gnat on my neck—it’s stinging! I’ll get him by the gills, directly. … Come to one side and give him a push! Poke him with your finger!”

  By PanEris using Melati.

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