Hold on to your sprats. It’s fun all the way with this fishy tail
How Catherine loved the night-time. Ever since she had grown to love Vincent, the darkness held no fear for her. It only served to highlight that as soon as the first cloak of darkness spread its fingers out across the New York sky, he would come alighting upon her balcony, bringing with him the scents of the world she held so dear and staying but a moment as their time together was always so limited and so very, very precious.
No sooner had she thought it, while standing overlooking the city lights below, did she feel his presence and turn with anxious expectation for the first sight of him, a sight denied her these past four days when she had been out on an assignment far from home.
“Catherine.” His voice soft as velvet caressed her heart and she melted with love for him.
“Vincent, oh I’ve missed you so.” Going straight into his open arms Catherine loved the solid feel of him knowing that with him she would always be safe.
They chatted awhile of inconsequential things while their eyes said more personal private things, unspoken things wishful things.
Finally, Vincent delved into his pocket and extracted a slim white card with a hint of amusement crossing his otherwise solemn features. “The children extend you an invitation.” He began, then with a quirk of that unique mouth he laughed as Catherine took it and held it to the light from within her apartment to read it clearly. “Don’t ask.” He told her as she read aloud from the card. “Dear, Catherine you are invited to join us in some fishy business at the weekend. Please come.”
“Some fishy business?” Catherine’s face broke into a full-fledged grin. “This sounds like fun. Can you provide me with any clues, Vincent?”
He shook his head. “Sorry my lips are sealed, or should I say clam shut?”
“I see.” Catherine laughed out loud. “Well tell them I’d be happy to come.”
Vincent nodded, his eyes bright with happiness and amusement and Catherine wished she could read his mind.
“Until tomorrow morning then, Catherine. I will meet you at the threshold. Will ten o’clock be alright for you?”
“I’ll be there, Vincent. This sounds very mysterious, and I am already itching to know. Come hell or high water I will be on time.” She hugged him hard, her joy pulsing through him in gentle waves. How he longed to stay with her. Reluctantly he pulled away, “You’re tired you need to rest. Tomorrow is another day, and I have other invitations to deliver. Be well, Catherine, till tomorrow.” A final hug and a kiss to her brow and he was gone, leaving Catherine alone once more.
Still there was the weekend to look forward to, yet even so she wouldn’t mind the chance to start some fishy business of her own with Vincent. If only he could have stayed long enough and had been willing. That was the sixty four thousand dollar problem really… willing…Vincent never was willing…oh, well…what dreams may come…and all that…
*** *** ***
After stepping into the tunnels the following morning, Catherine walked arm in arm with Vincent to the hub and was astounded by the greetings she received. “Welcome Cat…herring, welcome Shark Tooth.” The giggling children chorused as the couple passed by. Catherine’s grin turned into laughter as Vincent replied, “Good day to you, small fry. Shall we go straight to the designated plaice?”
“Of course, Shark Tooth of course. We plan to have a whale of a time today.”
Catherine caught on remarkably quickly as each mention of a fishes name was emphasised and Vincent took her straight to Father’s chamber where the furniture had been rearranged to assemble many friends and tunnel members at once. “Hello, my dear.” Father commented as he set eyes upon Catherine. “So glad that you could hake it. Please won’t you perch on this seat beside me? Good cod they’ve got me doing it now!” His eyes rose heavenward and Catherine was quick to respond with,.“I met the little terrapins on my way down so I know what’s going on.” She laughed out loud.
“Good, good, though it wouldn’t manta if you hadn’t as I would have explained it to you.”
“Thought I’d be a sucker did you?” Catherine laughed. “Can’t pool the whelk over my eyes, Father!”
“I expect Vincent would have welcomed the opportunity to winkle at you, so you’d understand.” Father sniggered. Catherine squealed with laughter and then managed to say, “So are we going to enjoy a tuna from the children or will they be receiving an Oscar for some other delight?”
“Oh, I believe that they are set to skate into action any moment. Just as soon as Peter our sturgeon arrives.”
“The Pipefish and the Guard fish send their apologies, Father.” Vincent cut in, “They cannot leave their grouper right now. Brill that’s to be expected off course.”
“Off course!” Catherine reiterated with a grin.
Suddenly a commotion could be heard heading toward Father’s chamber and a small group of children ran down the steps all shouting at once, “Father, its Mouse he’s pilchard our costumes! What are we to do?” They wailed sorrowfully.
“Have you no mussels surely all you urchins together can do something?”
“Warmouth’s right.” The eldest child clapped a hand to his mouth and looked at Father apologetically.
Father spluttered, “War Mouth! I’ll give you warmouth.”
“No thanks, Father, one of you is enough!” The children ran from the chamber laughing hard and leaving Catherine and Vincent with eyes dancing and laughter in check until they noticed that Father was having a hard time keeping a straight face.
A sound signalled the entry of another person, “Ah, Threadfin I believe, how are you today, my dear?” Father’s eyes twinkled and taking a seat to rest her weary frame Mary told him, “Tired.” She sighed. “So many costumes to make all too soon.” She smiled then launched into one of the best statements Father had heard all day.
“We were squashed like sardines in the needlework room. Coney the tiddlers couldn’t sea it. I was almost limpet when we’d finished as some of those children were like jellyfish and with others it was like dressing an octopus. I became a dab hand at holding them krill before I was done, but it strained my mussels and made me puffer and I moved at snail’s pace toward the finish. Thank God Ray came to collect the urchins that were ready, but then horror of horrors Mouse pilchard the remaining costumes. Ray got a whiff of the problem and moved like an eel. Halibut he couldn’t catch Mouse in time. If only I had smelt it too, I was nearer the entrance I would have hammer-headed him.”
“Bravo” Father clapped his hands. “Well done, Threadfin that was marvellous.”
“Well it made me feel a bit whiting and after running through the scales of the song recital too I do feel a shad tired. Do you think I have time to rest my wearysole before the small fry begin?”
“Oh, absolutely!” Father cried. “Besides they aren’t exactly putting on a show for us, just mooching around among us sending us all balmy.”
“That was disappointing.” Catherine told him “You didn’t say one fishy thing there, Father.”
“You mean you didn’t. I said balmy.” He reminded her.
“Oh, yes I did, I said fishy.” Catherine grinned.
“Oh. Lord this is giving me a flathead ache. I’ve had to put up with this all morning. Ah, is that William I can hear maybe he’s brought refreshments. Or should I say some bait?”
Vincent and Catherine chuckled and listened to another commotion going on outside Father’s chamber. Moments later William’s burly frame came around the entrance. He had a boy at the end of each arm held by the scruff of their necks.
“I caught these two sprats stealing from the kitchen…” He began, as one of the boys cried “no we weren’t you old goatfish it was Mouse he pilchard from you!”
“I hake it back then, why didn’t you ray so earlier?” William let them go and they fell onto their barnacles with a thump.
“Sorry to disturb you, Father, Stargazer and oh, hello Cat herring nice to see you could make it. Which reminds me the sturgeon has just arrived, shall I send him down?”
“Oh, plaice do.” Father replied. Then as an after thought asked the tunnel cook, “William what’s for dinner any ideas? Nothing fishy, I hope?”
“Fish is good for you.” William replied.
“True but not a ton of it in one day. Please tell me we are having some of you delicious lamb stew?”
“Sorry, no and its going to be a surprise.”
“I hate surprises, and I demand that you tell me!” Father replied indignantly. William had always informed him of the menu without preamble.
“Pollocks to you! The children shrimped and scrapped for a month for today’s dinner. Its cod and ships with pickled shallots. That’s onions in case you didn’t know.” William replied striding from the chamber. Father’s mouth dropped open and he exclaimed, “Well really!” making Catherine double over with laughter. Vincent tried to keep a straight face but he soon joined Catherine in raucous laughter.
“Whelk that told you!” Catherine managed at last. “Tench you not to Snook into other people’s affairs.”
“Are pollock’s tasty?” Father wanted to know re-asking the question as the sturgeon entered. “Peter do you know if are pollocks are tasty?” Father asked innocently.
Peter almost did a double hake. “What you asking me for? I’ve never eaten them in my life!” He replied indignantly. “Although I do happen to know that most people call them sweetmeats.”
“William is serving them for dinner.” Catherine explained as best she could. She’d begun to get the hiccups.
“Remind me to make my excuses then.” Peter replied looking decidedly green around the gills. Then changing the subject because he thought he ought to quick smart he asked, “I sea the children have thought up a fun weekend. Mind you I met some right little snappers on my way in, something about Mouse pilcharding some costumes?”
“Yes, we’ve solved that now, the costumes have been found, but it appears that he has been pilcharding from the kitchen too.”
“Well the Queen snapper is on to it now, I met her pacifying the small mouth grunts so it’ll soon be salted.”
“I must say, Peter you have quite a bluenose, is it cold up top today?” Vincent asked with a grin.
“Oh, I was working at the soup kitchens earlier today dolfin out dishes of broth to the homeless. Sometimes I wish I could tell them about this plaice.”
“I know what you mean, Peter. Since I started coming here I’ve wished that too.” Catherine grimaced. “Guess I goofed huh, forgot to say something fishy?”
“On the contrary, dear you did very well we shouldn’t make fun at the expense of the homeless.” Peter told her gently.
There was silence between them for a few moments, long enough to spare a thought for the victims of the city that had nowhere to go and who’s pockets were empty until footsteps signalled the arrival of a school of fish - oops I mean children (Got me at it now!)
“Father, Mouse has hogfished all the party food, never left a shrimp and when we find him we are going to hit him over the flathead with a mullet.”
“I think he’s gone below, become a sand diver.” Another child exclaimed trying to keep a straight face. “Either that or he’s turned lizard fish ‘cos he went like lightening.”
“I think he’s a pigfish myself.” The first told them. “Might even have taken the food to Arthur.”
“Is this true?” Father asked sternly eyeing the two boys sceptically.
“Yes.” They chorused all be it too innocently.
“Hm.” Father replied unsure. “And Mouse took everything? All the food?”
“Everything that William had prepared, yes.”
“Let’s hope he took the pollocks too.” Father whispered under his breath causing Catherine, Vincent and Peter (who had at last fallen in), to laugh out loud, but to the children he spoke louder saying, “Leave it with me, someone will find him.”
“Thanks, Warmouth.” And they ran like greased lightening before he had time to respond to that!
“Do you think Mouse has taken the food, or is this just part of the game they are playing?” Father asked his companions.
“Would you like me to go along to his chamber to see…I mean sea.” Vincent asked.
“Please do Stargazer, that would be most appreciated.” Catherine chuckled, “Can I come too, Stargazer?”
“That would be wonderful, Cat Herring.” Vincent bowed and taking her hand the two left the chamber.
Outside they walked side by side with huge grins upon their faces, both loving every moment of what was going on, and as they passed people they were acknowledged with different fishy phrases that kept them grinning.
“Good morning, Shark Tooth, Good morning, Cat Herring. Or is it Cat Fish?”
“Good morning, Sunfish, good morning, Lionfish.” Catherine thought that might be a bit below the belt but Vincent seemed to take it all in his stride with a permanent grin on his face.
Finally, they reached Mouse’s chamber and to their surprise there he was mumbling to himself over a stack of…food!
“Mouse!” Catherine declared as she entered his chamber. “Shame on you why have you pilchard all the food?”
“Not pilchard, just borrowed. See…” He held out a hand and before them they found a remarkable looking device that Mouse called a micro cooker. In fact, it was the cast off from someone’s microwave, but he had managed to get it to work with batteries and it was warming through some of the food exceedingly well.
“Has it worked every time, Mouse? Or was that just a fluke?” She laughed and fortunately, Mouse knowing fluke was a fish, did also.
“But I shall need to show you which foods cannot be re heated Mouse. Chicken for one, can turn bad when reheated.”
“Cat herring wrong…needs fishy business.”
“Oh, I’m sorry I forgot…let me sea now, Oh yes, off course…well you can’t heat crab or prawns or lobster or any shellfish come to that, halibut I will explain this another day. Can we return the food to the kitchen now?”
Mouse said that they could, and as the three made their way back with arms loaded, Catherine replied, “This feels like a bream. A Wonderful Bream.”
“No, bream, nothing fishy…” Mouse told her, “Just ham sandwiches, sausage rolls and buns.”
“No, Mouse I didn’t mean that, I meant…” She drew in and exhaled a long breath finding that Vincent and Mouse were laughing at her. “Oh you two, you almost haddocked me there.”
When they arrived back at the kitchen and explained the problem and Mouse’s latest invention Mary announced that everyone should assemble in Father’s chamber for the refreshments where they found all the children dressed in fishy costumes, complete with silver tails.
It was quite a squeeze and as they crammed in like sardines, Kanin tried to slip passed the tunnel’s favourite couple to sit near his wife. “Vincent can’t you cockle one leg over another so I can get by please?”
“Shore.” Vincent replied doing just that.
“Ouch.” Catherine complained as she found herself squashed between Vincent, which she didn’t mind and the corner of a table, which she did.
“Vincent why don’t you oyster Catherine up onto the table, she’ll be safer up there.” Father suggested, as Mary announced, "actually how about a bit of dancing? I suggest the hoki coky or the conger,” she told them merrily,
“Hold on a manta
“He has and he leads like a flying fish dragging us all along. Come on, Catherine grab a hold of him, you’ll love it.” Mary told her happily putting on the music on the battery-operated tape recorder.
Soon music filled the air, “Da dada dada duh da, dada dada duh duh…dada da da…dada da da…” Everyone spun around the chamber kicking their legs and tripping over those belonging to the people that had sat the dance out until they started to flounder and collapsed in one heap of arms and legs with Vincent at the bottom of the ocean.
“Oof!” Catherine gasped and at second from bottom clutched at Vincent then screamed, literally screamed with laughter when he told her dryly so that only she could hear, “Careful that’s my periwinkle you almost have hold of there.”
“Koi let go of my mussels you long nosed pig face!” someone cried from beneath the pile. All hell broke loose as good-hearted name calling began.
“Actually that would be a southern pigfish.”
“Oh shut up Jew fish, just move your ass!”
“Hey that’s a donkey…you should use something fishy.”
“You want fishy, I’ll give you fishy! Flathead!”
“Koi who you calling flathead? You Pollock you.”
Furious Father’ rose from his seat, “Here, I say there’s no need for swearing!”
“Bastard and Pollock are fish names, Father.” Someone enlightened him laughing hard.
“Oh, right.” He sat down again feeling foolish. “The little angelfish.” He added under his breath.
Finally, the heap of bodies was no more as everyone got to their feet. “You alright Catherine? You were right at the bottom there.” Peter asked her with concern.
Catherine couldn’t stop grinning. “I’m fine, Peter. Vincent saved my tail.”
Rebecca arrived. She had been planning her own surprise a special candle to remember the occasion, but she suddenly announced, “Can some one help me I’ve run out of cottonwicks.”
A couple of people rose to help and she started laughing. “Only kidding.” She told them. “Here hand these around.” And she began passing the first of the newly made green, silver and blue candles to the people closest to her. “I thought I’d try to capture the colour of the ocean and the fishes tails.” She told everyone.
“Hey, Rebecca these are neat!” Kipper exclaimed.
The food was passed among them, and Father ended the occasion with a fishy tail or two before announcing to the children that it was time for bed as they had school in the morning. For a moment, they believed him then groaned and reminded him that it was Sunday tomorrow.
“Oh, really?” Father replied as if surprised. “Perhaps I just hoped it was Monday. Didn’t you tell me that you wanted to carry out this fishy business all weekend? I don’t think I could hake another day of it.” He groaned.
“Well we were thinking of something else.” Geoffrey told him.
“I’m not sure I like the sound of that. What?” Father asked timidly.
“We thought we would use a dog theme tomorrow instead. Can we, Father, please?”
Winslow was first to reply, “Oh, I think that would be a bit ruff don’t you think so, Father?”
Geoffrey turned to Vincent and Catherine. “What about you two will you join us tomorrow in a dog theme?”
“Oh I’ll have to paws and think about that.” Catherine replied with a grin.
“Hey,” Vincent cried, “Catherine just collared my lead, I was going to say that!”
Geoffrey and the other kids started to giggle.
“Well it was a idea.” Catherine replied with a grin. “Proves great minds think alike.”
“Whelk today went off rather well, didn’t it? The doggy theme might work.” Vincent told everyone.
“Yeah, it could be a bitch.” Cullen said then wished he hadn’t said that as Father replied dryly “That’ll do, thank you, there are children present. Besides today only went well because I kept my bigeye on you.” Everyone groaned the fishy stuff was beginning to wear out.
“Well I have enjoyed every moment, and thank you all for mackeraling my day a fun one and I hake to say it, but I must be leaving. I have some fishy business of my own to attend to at home.”
“So that’s why Vincent likes visiting so often. Way to go, Catherine!” Winslow told her jovially. Vincent blushed beat red making Winslow add, “Oh, Vincent if you could only see yourself in the mirrorfish.”
Father caught up in the ‘let’s tease Vincent mercilessly game’ added his own witty comment. “Vincent will you be escorting your rock beauty home?”
“Aye,” William added loving every minute of the game, “And don’t forget to kiss her painted sweetlips goodnight.”
That did it! Vincent highly embarrassed grabbed Catherine by the hand and almost dragged her out from among his family, “Seems like I’m going.” Catherine told them with a grin as she weaved her way through her crowd of friends. “I’ll try and hake it back tomorrow.” She called over her shoulder, “At any rate, I’ll be bass soon.”
Laughter followed her out.
All too soon Vincent had walked her back across the park and to her apartment and despite his earlier embarrassment was loath to let her go. “Catherine, thank you for coming today and for joining in the merriment with my family so readily. I’m sure your being there will enhance the memory for the children.”
“I loved it, Vincent, thank them for asking me will you? I forgot to do so…What?”
He was looking at her in a way that sent her pulse thundering yet took her breath away. “I too have had an enjoyable day.” He told her sincerely and if I might be permitted I should like to do as William suggested.”
For a moment time stood still, for though William had said many things that day there was only one phrase that stood out above the rest. Wordlessly, Catherine nodded and then held her breath as Vincent hesitantly lowered his lips to hers. For a long moment neither moved though their eyes were drawn to one another until slowly deliberately their mouths adjusted to the unusual textures and slants and each began the slow and deliberate exploration of the other’s delicious lips.
Reluctantly pulling away Catherine murmured, “Now I know that today was only a bream.” Her voice carried with it all the sorrow of waking to find something so beautiful had been just a dream after all.
Holding her close, Vincent buried his face into her hair. “It was no dream, Catherine. It is real. You are real and I am real and we have wasted too much time already.” Standing back from him Catherine searched his eyes, asking questions with her own having them answered by his and finally sure that she wasn’t mistaken she held open her balcony door. “Would you like to come inside, Vincent?”
She thought he might refuse, he hesitated long enough for that thought to take root but then he took up her offered hand and went with her inside her home for the first time in his life.
Inside she turned to him, raised her lips to his and when he kissed her she asked him, “Why Vincent, why is now the time?”
“Catherine, I have something I wish to read to you, may I?” He asked extracting a sheet of paper from within the folds of his cloak, and at her nod began to read to her in his velvet melodious voice.
“The kingdom of the heavens is like a travelling merchant seeking fine pearls. Upon finding one pearl of great value away he went and promptly sold all the things he had and bought it.”
For a long moment he gazed at her saying nothing then drawing her close told her, “Catherine for too long I have withheld myself from you and yet all my life I was like that travelling merchant seeking fine pearls, only when I found my pearl I did not recognise it for what it was until tonight. Seeing you mixing in with my family, taking part so readily, so easily as if you were one with us made me realise so many things, but most of all, Catherine it made me realise just how much you mean to me. I love you, Catherine. I love you so very much.”
Tears sprung to Catherine’s eyes, she had waited so long to hear him utter those words, and now they were said it seemed no time at all, almost as if time had stood still and wrapped itself around the two of them so that they became as one in a world of their own.
“I love you too, Vincent, I have always loved you.”
“I know.” His eyes were soft and warm and sparkled like the stars above and Catherine slid her arms around his neck and drew his head down till his lips met hers.
Everything would be wonderful now, they would have their happy life and no more would their time together be limited. From now on, they would be together forever for Vincent had truly found the most exquisite pearl of all…the love of a beautiful woman...
Finally…Catherine had hooked her man.
There’s only one thing left to say.
*** *** ***
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