Mark bit into his tuna sandwich and shuddered. Of all the things for the Mrs to give him. He hated fish. He hated eating it, looking at it, touching it. It was vile. He hated his job, he hated his life and he really really hated fish.
The salad cream had made the bread soggy, just like him. He was sick of being cold and damp. And he was really really sick of fish.
The bland taste of tuna filled his mouth when he saw her watching him. Black hair, heavy eyeliner, ridiculously thin. Her lips moved as she continuously chewed gum. He chewed the bread and spongy fish and their eyes met. He was confused. He couldn’t understand why a girl who looked like her would be watching him so intently. His overalls were damp with filthy water and sweat, the grime was so ingrained into his skin it was part of his complexion and he was far too old and tired to be of any interest to someone like her.
When she smiled Mark turned and looked over his shoulder. She could not be looking at him. It just wasn’t possible. There was no-one behind him though. Only him and his soggy tuna sandwich.
She began to walk towards him, hips swaying with an experience beyond her apparent years. Her eyes stayed focused on his as she got closer. The tuna and bread in his mouth began to feel heavy and taste like lead.
She stopped right in front of him and they both stopped chewing.
‘Hey.’ Her voice was young and she spoke like he should have expected her to speak to him.
He stared at her not saying a word, his mouth working the sandwich so that he looked like the very thing he was eating.
‘Can you not talk?’ she laughed. She was laughing at him. He was right, this was all a joke.
He swallowed the heavy lump of lead in his mouth and took a deep breath. ‘Are you lost or something? Do you need directions?’ His voice expressed all the confusion he was feeling.
‘No.’ She laughed again, her eyes brightening like the strobe lighting he used to maintain. The strobe lighting he missed so much. Before the Mrs decided she wanted to move here, out into the country and the fresh air and this living hell of a job. ‘I’m here to look at the farm. I’m an environmentalist. Do you work here?’
‘Err, yeah,’ he said, sounding more confused than here. ‘I don’t deal with visitors though. You’ll need to go to the main office reception around the corner and…’
‘Oh I’m not visiting,’ she said, cutting him off. ‘I’m just looking. What is it you do?’
‘Maintenance,’ he said, the limp remains of bread and tuna hanging in his hands completely forgotten.
‘Excellent’, she said, the light in her eyes going deeper into her as her thoughts seemed to go far away. ‘Are you eating the fish?’ she suddenly exclaimed noticing the now decimated sandwich clutched in his dirty workmen’s fingers.
‘Well, it is fish’, he said, looking down at the remnants of his lunch, ’but we breed bream. It’s a poor joke of the wife’s really, almost every day I have this.’ He was becoming more comfortable now, the break in his routine being welcome in his dull life.
‘Ah’, she said, evidently disappointed. ’I’m a vegan. I educate people in veganism. I think the world would be a much better place if everyone gave up the barbarism of meat.’ Her eyes were fixed on his and he was transfixed. She stepped closer to him and knelt on the ground in front of him, her eyes never leaving his face. ‘You’re an attractive man’, she said, ‘and if you hadn’t eaten that, maybe I would kiss you now.’
His breath went short. There was a young attractive girl practically throwing herself at him and he became uncomfortable again, dropping the rest of his lunch on the ground for the birds to feast on later.
She leaned towards him and he could feel her breath on his cheek, hot and sensuous. An aroma of lavender wafted from her. The Mrs generally smelt like sour milk and bleach these days, and feelings that had not stirred in him for a long time were beginning to surface.
‘If you can help me with something’, she whispered close to his ear, ‘perhaps I can help you, with anything that you want.’ She moved her head slightly away from him so that her eyes met his again and, with a look that sent a flush down the back of his neck she said, ‘absolutely anything you want’.
This time his breath completely stopped. His eyes wide, he stammered, ‘wh-what do you want help with?’
She smiled, her eyes still on his. ‘I can’t get in there’, she said, nodding at the farm behind them. ‘They know who I am and I can’t get in. But I need to. You probably don’t know, so I won’t hold you responsible for what you’ve done up until now but, those places, they’re a nightmare. The poor fish, surrounded by the dead bodies of their families, their own waste, rotting food. It’s a living hell on Earth for them. I want to free them. I’ve done it before, in other places, which is why I’d never get in now. But you can get in, and access the horrible cages they keep them in , and let them loose.’
The uncomfortable feeling he’d had when he’d first seen her came back now. ‘Look’, he said, ‘I’m a normal bloke. I have a normal life. I’m not the guy you’re looking for.’ He stood up. His lunch break was long over and he couldn’t afford to lose this job with a six month old at home. The Mrs would kill him. Their outgoings had gone up so much since they moved to this countryside paradise. This was him now, whether he liked it or not.
She rose with him and placed her small delicate hand on his chest. He could hear his heart thundering in his ears. ‘I disagree’, she said, looking slightly angry now. ‘Do you really want to be as irresponsible as them? Do you really want to turn me down?’ She ran her fingernails down his chest, stopping just above his belt. ‘I’ve been watching you for a while and I know you’re miserable. I know you Mark Philips. I know where you live, I know what you do and I know all about your dumpy little wife and how completely bored you are all the time. I could make your life an adventure. I could make you happier than you ever thought possible. And all I’m asking you do is cut a few tiny little ropes that are trapping creatures we have no right over. And you think you’re just going to walk away?’ Her lips moved towards his ear again. ‘I don’t think you will. I think you’re going to do exactly what I ask, because you need it. You need the freedom just like those poor trapped bream.’ Her tongue ran over his earlobe and he went hot head to foot.
He couldn’t cope with this. It wasn’t fair. He could feel her taking him over, like he was powerless to not carry out her wishes, but he had no idea why. It was so strange. But, he hadn’t been happy for months now, and she wanted him, and right now all he wanted was her.
‘OK’, he said. ‘It’ll have to wait until after dark though. I wouldn’t be able to cut more than one with everyone here.’
‘Of course’, she smiled at him again. ‘I’ll see you right here at 7:00. I’m very much looking forward to it.’ She ran her finger tips along the top of his belt, turned and disappeared.
Mark stood in the in the dark. He was shaking but whether it was cold or nerves he couldn’t tell. His keys were rattling in his pocket. He’d told the Mrs he made some friends at the farm and was going out for a few beers. She’d been pleasantly surprised and didn’t say a word to stop him going out. She was just happy that he was finally settling into their life in the country.
She was late. It was 7:15 and there was no sign of her. This was a mistake. Maybe he should go home. But then how would he explain that to the wife. Maybe he should go somewhere else. Walk down to the train station and hope something was still stopping at the tiny remote station and just go. Somewhere. Anywhere as far away from water and fish as possible.
7:30 came and went. This was stupid. He turned to leave. He was an idiot. He’d fallen for a pretty smile and sweet talk. He’d known all along. A girl like her wouldn’t be interested in him.
Then there she was. Stood in front of him with that smile. She held a pair of shears in her small hands. They looked wrong. A vicious tool in delicate hands.
‘Are you ready?’ she said smiling. ‘You’re going to have the time of your life.’
He nodded. Too tense to speak. He took his keys in his shaking hands and unlocked the gates to the farm. Half an hour tops and it would all be over. He smiled at the thought of what would come next, his nerves settling down and butterflies replacing the palpitations.
The farm looked strange at night. Eerie and silent. He took the shears and held one of the tiny hands as they walked towards the first set of cages.
‘You do it,’ she said. ‘I want you to prove to me how much you want it.’
To say they were made of nylon the ropes were harder to cut than you would think. Stiff and thick. When the first one broke the cage fell and the fish began to swim away. Then another and another until he had cut 62 ropes and there wasn’t a single captive fish left. She laughed, musically, manically. She was so happy, dancing about.
When the last rope had been cut she threw her arms around his neck and began to work her lips around his throat. ‘We’re going to have the best time, she said. ‘We’re going to have freedom. Tomorrow will be the first day of the rest of your life.’
They stayed in a nearby B&B that night. She told him she’d been there a while. Watching, waiting for the right moment. She jumped on the bed and went straight to sleep. When he touched her she pushed him away and told him tomorrow, tomorrow was the day. She talked in her sleep. Mad ramblings about freedom and the evils of the human race. He laid staring at the ceiling wide awake. He never closed his eyes once. He just laid there wondering what he’d gotten himself into. What he’d thrown his whole life away for.
The sun came up and hit her face with a beautiful glow. He felt happier again. She was a lovely girl and this was his reward. This is what it had all been for.
She awoke with the day and jumped off the bed and went straight to the window. She threw it open and put her head out into the cold morning sea air. Then she screamed. ‘You bumbling idiot!’ she yelled storming back towards the bed. She began punching him, madly, wildly, over and over again all over. ‘They’re all dead! They’re all dead! They’re all dead!’ She collapsed onto the bed sobbing while Mark just stared at her wondering what he could possibly have done.
He got up, shaking again, and looked out of the window and saw it. Crowds and crowds of fishermen stood knee high in the water holding buckets. Picking up fish and putting them into buckets. Every single one was in the shallows. It would later be referred to as the easiest day’s work they’d ever had. Sabotage the news reporters said it was. An inside job they reckoned.
Between sobs he heard her say ‘Never trust a man who eats animals’ and he wondered again why this was his fault. He only knew one thing for certain. The Mrs, his little boy, he’d lost it all. He could never go home now. He may as well go jump in and sleep with what was left of the fishes.