The sunlight strobed across still, rippling sea, the reflection dazzling Pete’s eyes. Distracted, his half-full wine bottle toppled off the wooden picnic bench, exploding on the pale concrete.
He stood to wipe himself down with the sleeve of his already-grubby tunic. Already, he was worrying about the fish. If it wasn’t the weather — today it was curiously warm for late December lunchtime — it was the noise. Ships, other fishing boats. Pete Mansell was convinced that fish could be coaxed and manipulated in ways long forgotten. For now, all he could do was hope for the best; but all he’d got that morning was a trawl of old crabs.
Most of them he’d thrown back.
It always felt right, being on the shore. He’d grown up here, spending every evening and weekend helping his dad. There were pencil marks scratched into the bench where he’d sat to do his homework. Early on, Pete would see his dad off to work; later, he’d skip school to go with him, sailing up along the Scottish coast, perhaps even as far as Norway, to make the catch.
These days, things were different. After nine years, it seemed as though the end was nigh. Pete’s dad had been in a hostel for 18 months, since the respite care unit was closed. A trawling accident had left him unable to walk; wheelchairs don’t mix too well with fishing. And then there was the quotas.
Pete still didn’t understand them. All he know was that they were still important after downgrading from the trawler to a coble, and moving up the coast from Whitby. The Black Scar had been cheap, however, and was time-consuming to maintain. On occasion, Pete had taken to fishing with Roy, one of his dad’s mates. Roy’s boat was newer; he’d had a lucky break and found some good fishing grounds. Perhaps it was the sound of his coble’s engine?
Roy had said that he could retire on just two months’ earnings. Like any other old salty, he kept on fishing.
“You should mop that up, it’ll stink tomorrow.” That familiar, sweet voice interrupted Pete’s fish-bound thoughts. It was Emma, looking every bit as wonderful as the first day they’d met. She was his best friend, and they had been inseparable for 25 years. Growing up next door to each other, Emma was Pete’s other great love. But this wasn’t a passionate romance; only once had their relationship crossed the line. Emma had never stayed with the same bloke for long, however. Usually, they seemed to be threatened by her friendship with Pete. He wasn’t sure if that was good or bad, or that he should cut her free.
After all, he’s already tried that, and Emma had followed him from Whitby. Best friends.
Emma placed a fresh bottle on the table. “I saw you drop the other one,” she smiled. But she could see that something was on Pete’s mind. He wasn’t the greatest talker, but would never keep anything from Emma.
“I think this might be the end.” Emma knew exactly what he meant, but she was still shocked. Maybe she hadn’t realised how bad things were with the fishing. Maybe she’d known, but pretended Pete could deal with it. “I don’t have to stop, obviously. But it’s like there’s nothing left. I can’t keep fishing just to make ends meet.”
Emma thought deeply. Should she tell him? It would be easy not to, and save them both a lot of trouble. But it wouldn’t be right…
“What are you going to do instead?” She poured her own drink. She was going to need it.
“I dunno. But the broker who sorted this boat out for us was doing a lot better than me. And if I know about anything other than fish, it’s boats. Yeah, something with boats.” A rare smile hit Pete’s lips.
It was short-lived. Emma felt that now was the time. Decisions clearly had to be made.
“Peter, there’s something I’ve got to tell you.” Pete narrowed his eyes in curiosity, his head angled. “It’s about the other night. I’m going to have a baby.” Emma couldn’t help but whisper – she didn’t want anyone else to know.
But Peter knew alright. If it wasn’t his, she wouldn’t be telling him.
Yet all he could think about were the fish. Taking a mouthful of wine, and wiping his mouth with the fish-stained blue tunic, Pete wondered if fishmongery might be a more reliable income than being a boat dealer.