White: Uncle Ambrose (2)

I didn’t say the year did I? Do you think it matters? I told you the year in which I was born and left the detail of the moment hanging, like the drooping willow branches in that lake. Truthfully I don’t know. If I was born in 1892, then that day, the day I’m trying to tell you about must have been in the next century. You see I’m getting ahead of myself. I did know about the causeway to the rear of the guesthouse, but I didn’t know yet. Not whilst I tossed the flowers and waited for fish -it sounds much less poetic when phrased that way. I was sat on a stony outcrop staring emptily into the lake surface and its flotilla of inflorescences when a voice pipes up out of nowhere. “Young lady! Young lady! What do think you are doing?” I was startled out of my state and looked about. Coming towards me, up along the path by which I had come, was a man. He had what you might call a foppish attire, or would you call him a dandy? He looked smart anyway, slightly too smart, as if the smartness were an affectation. His jacket was scarlet and his breeches black, he wore a patterned shirt and a blue cravat at an unusual angle. His hair bounced slightly over his face and he waved his stick towards me. “Young lady, young lady.” he lost his urgency as he drew nearer, he was youngish, in his twenties and not unattractive. My quizzical expression yielded no words for him. “Young lady, you are doing it all wrong!” He finally managed when he reached me. I looked confused, “What am I doing wrong?” so taken aback I did not even think to enquire who he was. “You seek to charm the fish do you not? You beseech them with a gift of flowers.” I looked on dumbfounded. “You are doing it incorrectly on two accounts. One, the flowers you chose are not suitable, and two you are not addressing them correctly.” I still did not know what to say, so unusual was the encounter. In honesty the gentleman gave a me something of a sense of dread, yet my silence beckoned him to fill it. “If one would charm the fish one must not use such herbs.” he pointed with disdain at the still bobbing plant heads “Yet fear not, for nearby is in fact a much more appropriate plant, and no, one will not need to get wet to retrieve it.” He glanced around near the vegetation of the bank before the outcrop “Aha, here we are.” he reached down and picked some small blue white flowers. “These will suffice for now” and with an extraordinary bound he suddenly made appeared on the outcrop next to me. “Stand girl! Stand!” he ordered and with an arm he practically lifted me upright. The arm did not let go and I began to become frightened. He was right behind gripping the upper arm that he had lifted me with, now his other arm circled me with the blooms and forced them into my grip. Calmly but forcefully he said “Now repeat after me ‘piscus piscus liw xole, if you please’ then scatter the speedwells below. I wanted to scream, but the strange ambiguity of threat and calm instruction settled on the latter side and I found myself looking out to the water, his grip fading away and the words drifting from my mouth “Piscus piscus liw, xole”.

The small blue flowers fell from the rocky edge into the shaded water below. They were lighter than the heavy heads that I had clumsily thrown in before and would not travel far from the edge. The lake water lapped at the stone and quickly pushed some of them under. I continued to stare, quite bewitched, at the water below.

Just short moments passed before they came. At first just a barely perceivable glass eyed face, then more. I did not know what kinds they were but clearly they were many. They emerged around the rock edge in a flurry, or a shoal rather, if one may use that term for many different fish together. Some pointy faced and swift, some dark in colour with wide heads, some tiny and some long. Close to the edge was just a mass of shaded silver and dead eye whereas where the shadow’s power faded, the water was a coruscating vision of piscine undulation from which I could not unfix. “You see!” he said suddenly with a tone of genuine joy “It is all a matter of know how!” Returning slightly, I noticed that his grip had gone and that in fact he was no longer in any kind of tactile proximity to me. “Thank them and tell them to go.” Continuing my gaze I managed to say “Thank you, you may go now.” upon which the fish retreated back into the recesses of the lake.

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