Harbour

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It had been weeks since the first sunshine had come like a blue revelation from the sky. This was when the North Sea rock pools in Anstruther would be as clear as a desert spring pool of the Kalahari. The crabs could feel the warmth and the scorpion fish and razor eels would be that bit more active when you lifted the large stone baubles that defined their world. Although it was April now your hands would be in morbidity shock as they touched the zombie and chilled skin of the sea anemones. As you turned the boulders and universe ceilings of the legged and finned citizens of each pool then a swirl of mud, sand or stone debris would develop. Like the storms and whirlwinds I would see in Kansas and Ohio a miniature twister would hide the razor eel or small flounder from the stubby and cold fingers intruding into their world.

The harbour side although long decades quiet from the herring drifters of the past it could still be busy. We-my friends and I would wander down Ainster High Street then walk along the harbour side that faced toward Elie. We would run along the rough dragon spine on top of the harbour wall. A shot of adrenalin and fear would burst in your chest if a toe caught on the uneven rocks that shot through the gnarled surface.

It was probably a Saturday as the sun, I remember, was high. The sand was fully exposed on the beach that went right up to behind the bus stop on the High Street. In winter white flares and tangles of sea weed would festoon the pavement opposite the tight grimace of the Carnegie Library opposite.

A creel boat had come in and since the tide was well out the fisherman had to climb up a long way to reach the harbour side. The small white and blue boat had a small list to it on the low water. We peered over the side next to the small temple of creels next to where the boat was moored.

The fish boxes were lying on the side. They teemed with life. The great partans and lobsters had their claws secured by bands and the helpless but free small shore crabs and starfish danced in all directions.

The exception was the conger eel. We knew to respect this face. The sneer and power in the creature had been demonstrated to us. I had had one on the end of a hand line-a quarter of the size of this leviathan. It had nearly pulled my arms off as it took off under the water in the Billowness Bathing Pool some summer before. We could see the grey skinned bully nose out the green shore crabs through the clear water of the pool. It then wanted a pull and battle with the dry skinned object holding food.

The fisherman had brought up the last of his gear and laid his jacket on the bonnet of his van. He loaded the three boxes on top each other then brought out a gutting knife.

The slit in the belly of the conger eel was like a birth. A large fish and small crab slipped out in the liquid. The eyes and the mouth. Despite being still and dead reared-a body following. The jaws of the beast locked on the yellow waterproof leg. Blood immediately seeped as the eyes looked ahead but the jaws locked tight.

Screaming the man shouted something as his right hand reached for the discarded knife with his right hand. His jaw clenched as he ended the shout scream. A small man his thick leg was still nearly covered by the jaws.

‘The van…the back. Get the yellow screwdriver. Now boys. This bastard has me tight.’

The blood was running down the oil skin of the trouser leg.

The man cut the beast in half which rounded on itself like a question mark come alive.

Another bit was cut and still jaws and eyes worked together. We got him the large screwdriver and he grabbed it as he sat with his legs straight out in front of him.

The two tools were worked into the jaws and the liquid trails of blood grew stronger.

‘Ay, never let your….aagh guard doun boys. Like a wee Nessie…’

The man’s tears ran down his cheeks and a woman walking her dog had run off to get help at the Harbour Master’s office.

Two years before that I had stiches in a foot cut and the agony of getting stitched then the drying carapace of the nurses’ work made me fear for the ordeal he was to get later.

You could see how the grey demon had indented material and flesh.

The man cut and cut again and got the two in: knife and screwdriver. There seemed to be some looseness as his back arched with the pain of this brutal surgery.

Both of us watching-Ricardo and I had backed off and we saw a policeman and the woman returning from the start of the harbour.

An ending of sorts. The man closed his eyes a lot and lay full down as the mess of red and bits subsided to his moving. Like a stubborn weed being pulled his thick leather belt was taken off and secured tight round the leg.

A small huddle was over him. His left hand gave us a small up and down as we left the scene.

We kent the boat-Mary’s Pride II. As we left the seagulls gathered to place their forensic interest in whatever pickings were on offer.

It was a slow and thought heavy trek back to the west of the town. Even the small stickle backs of the Dreel burn didn’t get our interest.

We crossed the Stepping Stanes over the burn listening for what was behind the sound of the water.

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