I bake the pie every year on your birthday, yes it seems a strange thing to do; but we were always strange, and strangeness is a thing worth carrying. I cut the tails off the pilchards and stand them in the dish, eggs and potatoes next. The fish are firm and fresh, loaded off the dock this morning. The eyes, shiny and bright. I drape the pastry over them, cut holes for the heads. Bake.
Your bedroom door was locked from the outside, but you learned to pick the window-latch from within. I’d wait below to catch you when you dropped. We’d walk to the harbour, sometimes out to the estuary where on cold, clear nights all the constellations were visible. You told me Pegasus was your favourite: the great, winged horse galloping across the night sky, foaled from the neck of Medusa as she lay dying, slain by Perseus. I still don’t know how you knew that.
At Christmas we’d go to see the harbour lights, disappear into the crowd with a stolen bottle of vodka. All the old fishermen with their wrinkled, leathery faces and rough, barnacled knuckles like your dad, too drunk to notice us. We’d walk to the edge of the town and share our secrets with the gulls — the chattering, indifferent throng. Said one day we’d disappear, set sail and never look back.
I still search for Pegasus in the night sky, and I ask myself the same question over and over: how did you sneak back into your room?
They found you in the harbour, wrapped in a trawler’s net. Said you might’ve drifted for days, only to end up right back where you started. I saw them pull you from the spray, saw you green and draped in seaweed. Heard the gulls sing a shanty as they covered you up.
I said I hadn’t seen you, but I did look. Now the fish look up to the heavens, and maybe you’ll see their eyes twinkle down below. Sometimes I go missing too. I take a bottle with me and dream of sinking into the heedless memory of the sea. When I get home, I half expect you to’ve picked my lock, and be there waiting for me in my kitchen. But there is only ever the smell of fish gone bad, and eyes that no longer shine.