A small rowboat wobbled on the denim sea. Clouds were coming in from the north and the weather was changing. This morning the sea had been like turquoise silk; at noon it had been sapphire velvet. Now it was dark, rough, blue and worn.

The old man was completely familiar with these variations on a theme. he went fishing every day/ Today his catch was modest, but he’d still make a few euros, he hoped. He pulled on the oars and headed back to the harbour, as the sea rose under him like the humped back of a whale.

His brown old arms were still strong; rowing was second nature. But his gut had grown in the last few years – too much pasta perhaps. But what was life without pasta? His legs, too, weren’t as sturdy as they had been. he wasn’t quite sure when he’d transformed from a strong, straight man into a fat, unsteady old man, but it was clear that there was no going back.

He moored his boat at the dock, shipped the oars, and made everything secure. There likely were thieves from Naples about. Those Neapolitani – bah! He dragged his catch to the cleaning area on the dock and set to work with his serrated knife, the water hosing down the stone slab. He slit the fish, barely out of the ocean an hour, and scooped out their guts. He rubbed off their scales with his knife. He left on the heads – the best parts of the fish, as all the locals knew.

When the cleaning was done, he put the fish in a bucket and walked slowly and a little painfully up to the piazza, his old hips grinding slightly as he took the steps. There he found the plastic chair that his friend Franco at the bar kept for him under an old archway, and he sat, with his bucket at his feet. One by one, his neighbours came by and asked him what he had. One by one, they bought his fish for their dinners. It was illegal for him to sell his fish like this. EU regulations wouldn’t have it. Everyone knew this, but everyone bought from the old man anyway. Why should he be stopped from doing what he’d been doing for years? And why should they not have fresh fish, cheap?

The old man made twelve euro for his days work. If the finance police knew that, they’d want tax.


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