19/09/2017
Share this story Share on Facebook icon Share on Twitter icon Share on Pinterest icon Share on Google Plus icon Share on Linked In icon Share via Email icon

BBC National Short Story Award: The Edge of the Shoal by Cynan Jones

2541b064-8185-4609-95f5-459039219e64

 

Each day this week, read an extract from the stories shortlisted for the BBC National Short Story Award

The Edge of the Shoal

by Cynan Jones


[ Shoal /ʃəʊl/ - noun 1: a large number of fish swimming together. 2: a hidden danger or difficulty. ]

He swings the fish from the water, a wild stripe flicking and flashing into the boat, and grabs the line, twisting the hook out, holding the fish down in the footrests. It gasps, thrashes. Drums. Something rapid and primal, ceremonial, in the shallow of the open boat.

Flecks of blood and scales loosen, as if turning to rainbows in his hands, as he picks up the fish and breaks its neck, feels the minute rim of teeth inside its jaw on the pad of his forefinger, puts his thumb behind the head and snaps.

The jaw splits and the gills splay, like an opening flower.

He was sure he would catch fish. He left just a simple note: “Pick salad x.”

*

Briefly, he looks toward the inland cliffs, hoping the peregrine will be there, scanning as he patiently undoes the knot of traces, pares the feathers away from one another until they are free, and feeds them out. The boat is flecked. Glittered. A heat has come to the morning now, convincing and thick.

The kayak lilts. Weed floats. He thinks of her hair in water. The same darkened blond colour.

It’s unusual to catch only one. Or it was just a straggler. The edge of the shoal. Something split it from the others.

He retrieves a carrier bag from the dry bag in back and stores the fish. Then he bails out the blood-rusted water from the boat.

Fish don’t have eyelids, remember. In this bright water, it’s likely they are deeper out.

He’s been hearing his father’s voice for the past few weeks now.

I’ve got this one, though. That’s enough. That’s lunch.

The bay lay just a little north. It was a short paddle from the flat beach inland of him, with the caravans on the low fields above, but it felt private.

His father long ago had told him that they were the only ones who knew about the bay, and that was a good thing between them to believe.

You’ll set the pan on a small fire and cook the mackerel as you used to do together, in the pats of butter you took from the roadside café. The butter will be liquid by now, and you will have to squeeze it from the wrapper like an ointment.

The bones in the cooling pan, fingers sticky with the toffee of burned butter.

He was not a talker. But he couldn’t imagine sitting in the bay and not talking to his father.
There is a strange gurgle and a razorbill appears, shudders off the water, flicks its head and preens. It looks at him, head cocked, turns as it paddles off a few yards. Then it dives again, and is gone.

 

Tune in to BBC Radio 4's Front Row at 3.30pm each day this week to hear one of the shortlisted stories.

The BBC National Short Story Award 2017 Anthology is published by Comma Press, price £7.99 paperback

 

 

For all the latest publishing news, subscribe to Writing Magazine or download our app

 

Register and sign up for our newsletter for late-breaking news, more competitions and exclusive content

Back to "Creative Writing" Category

19/09/2017 Share this story   Share on Facebook icon Share on Twitter icon Share on Pinterest icon Share on Google Plus icon Share on Linked In icon Share via Email icon

Recent Updates

How to write crime non-fiction: advice from Nick Triplow

Nick Triplow offers advice based on his experience of writing the acclaimed Ted Lewis biography Getting ...


Coffee break writing exercise: Trains

Use a memorable railway experience to set a brand new piece of writing on track ...


Coffee break writing exercise: Celebrations

Think about the good times in this week's creative writing exercise – then write a version where it all goes ...


Joanne Harris on writing

December's star interviewee shares her thoughts on reading, writing and social media in our online exclusive ...


Other Articles

Coffee break exercise: Different versions

Write two different versions of a story in our latest creative writing exercise ...


How to tell a story: Top tips from Taffy Thomas

Advice on the art of telling a good story from the UK's foremost traditional storyteller ...


How to write a children's story: Ian Beck

Top tips on how to write a children's story from Ian Beck, will illustrate the winning story in Amazon's A ...


Coffee break writing exercise: Halloween

Let your pen cast a spell in our seasonally spooky coffee break creative writing workout ...