Trout the existence of cod

A man enters the only restaurant in town on a Sunday evening.  It is not a fine restaurant, the varnish on the chairs and tables is faded and the menus are covered in plastic film, but he finds the atmosphere congenial and the food accessible. As he takes his regular seat in the corner, underneath the print of The Siesta, the waiter approaches him.

“Good evening, sir. Would sir like to see the specials this evening?”

“No, thank you. I’ll have the usual please, a half-litre of merlot and the cod.”

“I’m afraid there is no cod.”

“Since when? I ate here, why, last week on Tuesday. There was cod then. And the week before. And the week before that.”

“The chef, you see, has taken rather a sudden aversion to the whole idea of cod and only yesterday struck it from the menu. Here, you can see the red ink, right through ‘Fried cod and potatoes’.”

“An aversion to cod? Who ever heard of such a thing? Why, this is a cod-loving town, has been for ages. Don’t tell me he’s suddenly become one of those meat-dodging salad grazers, has he? Every time I turn my head, there seems to be someone preaching on high from a crate of bean sprouts the evils of flesh and how our digestive systems are in some way so fragile that we can’t even so much as touch a pork sausage without causing intestinal cancer.”

“Yes, sir. He was unfortunately rather adamant about it.”

“Eh? And what , pray, is his reasoning? Why did he feel it necessary and appropriate to change the menu in such a radical fashion?”

“He says that cod has had its run and that it is time for something new. We have a new fish-based dish however, fresh trout from the river. It looks delicious, I must say. The chef says he has never seen such a good and healthy eating fish; that it’s beyond.”

“Beyond what?”

“Beyond trout, of course.”

“That’s the most ridiculous statement I think I’ve ever heard. Here we are in cod country, we are cod people! What makes him think that cod is suddenly out of fashion?”

“I really don’t know, sir, I’m just the waiter.”

“Well you should know if you’re serving it! Or not serving it in this case. He probably heard it somewhere in the city. Ha! You know, this town is full of fine-upstanding citizens who run about, doing their upstanding business, contributing to our town’s well-being and what happens at the end of a hard day, just when a serving of cod would be most pleasing and adequate? They’re told to forget it because some city folk say it’s no longer in fashion! That … that … that only the sublimely ignorant and clay-eating peasants have any need for cod in their pathetic lives. Now it’s all about having some healthy trout!”

“Well it has been catching on, sir. It’s quite popular with those who have already tried it.”

“And what next? If someone in the city suddenly declares, say, milk to be the new evil, what then? Would we immediately ban the intake of whipped cream and start burning dairy cows in the fields? Oh, here: take this delicious tofu, it’s the latest thing, tastes fantastic and you will soon learn to love it as much as you loved all those cheeses! I mean, lactose intolerance is one thing, but this!”

“Would you like to order the trout then, sir?”

“I most certainly would not like to order the trout! If cod’s not on the menu then I will just have to starve to death!”

“And the half-litre of wine?”

“Oh go on. And bring me a loaf of bread too while you’re at it.”

 

The farmer’s journey

Owen’s gaze brushed over the horizon. The 5:30 lights of the town had already dismissed the stars and were now winking him reminders that the day ahead, like many before that year, would be hard. The dogs would be alright for a day on their own. He might call Tony later and ask him to drop by the gates just to be sure, but they would be back tonight anyway. Tomorrow at the latest.

Connie was to be put on the plane and sent to Sydney again (apparently that’s where all the best doctors were) and this time he had to go and leave the farm to run itself. It hadn’t come suddenly, Owen would have preferred something he could have reacted to, taken immediate control over. No, the trouble had accrued in portions. His wife could still ride up the hill on the motorbike, shoot a struck sheep in the head and drag in back down over her back. She screamed at cloudless skies and kicked iron when it wouldn’t bend to her will. Her cancer, however loud it might deride and chastise her, tried but it could not drown out the daily rhythm of the past fifteen years. But the headaches and tiredness which arrested her in the evenings had become worse and her way of moving contracted and stiff, as if planks of wood had been stapled to the backs of her legs and arms.

He jingled the keys in his pockets to announce once again that he was ready to leave. Might lock the house this time, he thought. Connie was upstairs. Her coughs echoed down the stairs, around the corner, past the picture family frames on the wall and out the door. “Everything alright up there, darling? We’ve got to get a move on if we want to catch that plane.”

“Give me a bloody minute,” came the answer. Owen smiled and went out to start the truck.