The Fisherman and the Golden Fish

[The story is not entirely mine. The words are.]

Once there was a poor fisherman who lived with his poor wife in a poor hut in a poor village by the Sea. Every day he would set out from the poor village in his poor boat to fish for fish in that Sea. Every day he toiled and toiled, fishing for fish and catching very little, until the sun slid low in the sky and, exhausted but content, he rowed back home to his poor wife with his meagre catch. On a good day there were fish for smoking and fish to sell; and on a poor day, there were fish to eat.

One particular day, when the sky was bright and the sun was gold and the light danced and sparkled on the Sea, there came a mighty tug on one of the fisherman’s lines. He ran to it, he caught it, he pulled on it, he fought it, and finally, after much struggle, he landed a fish. But what a fish! It was immense, with scales like beaten gold, and intelligence shone from its deep red eyes.

Though the fisherman was amazed when it started to speak, it was no surprise that it did so in cultured tones.

“Ah, so, now you have caught me,” said the fish. “And since I have no desire to become supper, and since it is within my power to do such things, I should be glad to grant you a wish, if you will be so kind as to let me go.”

But the fisherman, while poor, was content with his lot, and replied, “O Fish! It is kind of you to offer, and kinder still not to be angry with me, but there is little that I need in my simple life. I have my wife, I have my home, I have my boat, I have food to eat and the sun and the sea to keep me company as I work. Since this morning I have already caught enough to feed my little family for today and for tomorrow and for several days after that. I can think of nothing more that I need, and I will gladly let you go so that you can continue to bring your obvious breeding and gentility to the Sea.”

“Well said, O Man,” replied the fish, “and so indeed I shall be about my business. But I shall remember this meeting, and if your fortunes should ever change for the worse, and there is ever a thing that you need, come back to this place and call for the Golden Fish, and I will give you what aid I can.”

So the Fish leapt back into the Sea with a mighty splash and swam upon its way. And the fisherman reflected on this event and the curious ways in which one meets the most amazing people as he rowed back to his village and his hut and his wife.

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When he got home, his wife was getting ready to make fish stew, and was carrying the big old chipped clay pot from the back of the hut to the front. The fisherman greeted her with a grin and a laugh, and said, “O Wife! Wait until I tell you what happened today!” and proceeded to tell her the story of his meeting with the Golden Fish.

As she listened to the tale, the wife’s face grew longer and paler and the big clay pot slowly slid from her grasp, until finally it fell with a crash! on the ground.

“Do you mean to tell me,” she said, “that you caught a magical fish,” (the fisherman nodded) “and it offered you a wish,” (the fisherman grinned) “which could be anything you wanted,” (the fisherman laughed) “and yet you came home with nothing???”

Puzzled, the fisherman replied, “Well, I have fish! And he was a decent sort, and so polite, and there is nothing that I want that I don’t already have.”

“But couldn’t you think of anything?” asked the wife? “Not even – not even – not even a replacement for this cracked old pot that I must somehow cook our supper in?”

“But,” said the fisherman, “but I did not know the pot would break, and it seemed a perfectly serviceable pot this morning. And in any case, I had a good catch today, we can take some fish to the market as soon as it opens and trade for a brand new pot.”

But the wife would not be pacified, and her words turned to anger and her anger turned to shouting and the fisherman soon left the hut and went for a walk along the shore in the moonlight, lest any other pots be damaged in the storm.

When he came home his wife was calmer, but he could tell by the way she apportioned the stew that she was not truly happy.

So the next day when he put out in his boat he thought as he rowed, and finally he came to a decision. He went to the place where he had met the Golden Fish, pulled in his oars, and called out as politely as he knew:

“O Golden Fish! O Golden Fish! It is your friend the fisherman. Might I have a word?” And not two minutes had gone by when with a burble and a splosh the Fish leapt from the Sea and rested its head on the side of the boat.

“Aha!” said the Fish, in jovial tones. “Let me guess. You went home and you slept on it, and you have realised that there is something missing from your life. You are a simple man, yes, but not quite as unworldly as you yourself suppose!”

“Well,” said the fisherman, “perhaps you are right. There is this pot, you see, a clay pot, in which we cook our supper. And last night, in a stroke of misfortune, it came to grief. It is still a pot, you understand, and it still holds water, mostly, but… my wife’s life would be much easier if it were a little less cracked.”

“I see,” said the fish. “You would like a new pot.”

“Would that be a big problem?” asked the fisherman.

“Why no, oh no!” laughed the fish. “Pots are quite easy. I’ve done quite a lot of pots for one thing and another. Should I make it a nice one?”

“Um,” said the fisherman. “I’m sure a clay one like the old one would be quite adequate, practically speaking. But my wife might like something a little more fancy. It would be nice. But I don’t want to put you to any trouble.”

“No trouble, I assure you,” said the fish. “In fact, I think you will find one behind your hut when you get home. I hope you like it. It looks quite ornate, but I put a little extra magic in it to enhance any fish that might be made in it. And I don’t think it will easily break if you drop it.”

Well, the fisherman was delighted, and thanked the fish, and thanked him again, and the fish told him he was quite welcome. But by now it was late and the fish had to go to see a cousin about some seaweed, and the fisherman went home to his wife.

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When he got back to the hut his wife was standing in the door. In her hands was a huge metal pot.

“Will you look,” said the wife, “at what I found out the back?”

“Ah, yes,” said the fisherman, “I had a word with the Golden Fish. He really is a very nice fellow….”

“But this pot!” said the wife, “Just look!”

So he looked and he looked, and he stared and he stared, and he had to admit that it was a very fine pot. It was elegantly shaped and made all of silver, carved and decorated with oceanic motifs. And, by way of signature, at the top of each handle was a discreet golden fish that made a sort of a wink when they caught the light. On the bottom he found engraved in script so fancy the fisherman could barely puzzle out the letters: For my newest friend: A simple pot for the making and serving of fine stew.

“Well,” said the fisherman, “that is a fine pot.”

“That’s as may be,” said the wife, “but you are a fine fool!”

“Huh?” said the fisherman, puzzled once more. “Didn’t we need a new pot?”

“A pot!” shouted the wife, slamming the door so hard that the doorpost cracked and the door twisted out of its hinges. “You capture a magical fish, and it grants you a wish, and here we live in a disintegrating hovel like this, and you ask for a mere pot!? A pot, at that, which says right on it that it’s for stewing fish, if I remember my letters aright. Now you run right out and you speak to that ungrateful fish and tell him that he can keep his fancy pot. He is to give us a house, a new house, a proper house made of stone, with columns in the front and glass in the windows and a pump for fresh water in a room at the back!”

The fisherman went for a walk.

The next day the fisherman put out in his boat. All day while he fished, he thought; and all day while he thought, he fished. And when the end of the day approached he made his decision, and rowed over to the place where he had first met the Golden Fish, and pulling in his oars, called out as politely as he knew:

“O Golden Fish! O Golden Fish! It is your friend the fisherman. Might I have a word?” And not two minutes had gone by when with a burble and a splosh the Fish leapt from the Sea and rested its head on the side of the boat.

“Hello, hello,” said the Fish, “And how does this fine day find you?”

“All is well, by and large,” said the fisherman, “except….”

“Except…?” prompted the Fish.

“Except…. The pot, you know, is wonderful. I cannot thank you enough for the beautiful pot. But….”

“But…?” prompted the Fish.

“But… my wife… um. I wonder…?”

“Yes…?” prompted the Fish.

“I … think that she doesn’t like our hut very much. And she was wondering—we were wondering—I don’t think she really likes our hut very much, and….”

“…And you were wondering if there was something I could do?”

“Um,” said the fisherman, “Um, that is to say, perhaps, yes?”

“It’s not such a big problem,” said the Fish. “I think I should be able to help.”

“Are you sure?” said the fisherman. “It’s really not too much to ask?”

“No, no,” said the Fish. “I’ve done houses before. It really shouldn’t take more than a few minutes.

“Tell me, do you like staircases?”

So the fisherman thanked the Fish, and thanked him again, and was embarking upon a third and more thorough thanking when he understood the embarrassed look on the Fish’s face and stopped. But it was getting late and the Fish had to help his great Aunt with an accounting problem, so they took their leave of each other and the fisherman went home to his wife.

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When he arrived back at the village, the fisherman was bewildered. His hut was simply not where he had left it. He walked up the shore and down the shore and was half way to the market when he noticed, far up on the hillside, an unfamiliar mansion.

Slowly he walked towards it, taking in the great row of windows with real glass in each one, the huge pillars flanking the ornate porch, the discreet golden fish that made a sort of a wink when they caught the light, set at each corner of the entrance by way of signature. An ornately engraved foundation stone near the front door read, For my newest friend: A modest dwelling suitable for family living. And from that very doorway issued his wife.

“Will you look,” said the wife, “at this house!”

“I have been looking,” said the fisherman.“It is amazing.”

“Amazing, yes, it is,” said the wife.

“I think our friend the Fish did a fine job!” said the fisherman.

“Our friend? You call him our friend now? You caught that fish fair and square, husband, and you gave him back his life. And now it is only right and proper that he should repay our kindness!”

“But hasn’t he done that?” said the fisherman, puzzled. “He gave us the pot, and this astounding fine house, and he was always so nice about it. No trouble, no trouble, he said.”

“But he is a magical fish, and we gave him his life! Isn’t that worth some trouble? Isn’t that worth more than some stupid house? Don’t you think he owes us still? Here we are, me and you, with this mansion to live in, and yet—we are still just a humble housewife and her slack-jawed fisherman of a husband. Living here in our mansion, and having done what we have done, we should be nobles, me and you! I should be famous, and rich, and beautiful and young—people should come from miles around to see us and listen to our tales and bring us gifts to win our favour! Isn’t you precious fish willing to give us at least that much?”

And slack-jawed indeed the fisherman was, and dumbfounded too. But after a moment he recovered himself, and though he had hardly been able to wait to see the inside of the new house, he found himself saying, “Wife? I think I shall have to take a walk and think hard on what you have said.”

And take a walk he did.

The following day as he set out in his boat, he was still thinking. The following day as he fished for fish, he was still thinking. The following day as he rowed to the place where he had first met the Golden Fish, he was still thinking. The following day as he called out, as politely as he knew, he was still thinking.

“O Golden Fish! O Golden Fish! It is your friend the fisherman. Might I have a word?”

Not two minutes had gone by when with a burble and a splosh the Fish leapt from the Sea and rested its head on the side of the boat.

“Hello, oh, hello!” said the Fish, “And is it possible, let me guess, that I can help you again, this fine day?”

“I think,” said the fisherman, “that I could use a new wife.”

“That might be better for both of us,” said the Fish.

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