May Day

May the 4th be with you all…ok, so we’re a little bit late for that, but May Day was our latest story prompt and Mike delivered a wonderful story for the occasion.


May Day, by Michael Bailey

Today is the day I have been looking forward to all year. I feel it in my bones. Something about the weather, the way the clouds press down on the water. There is a new soft feel to the river. It is taking its time, slowing, thickening as it eddies over the deep pool in the elbow of the bend. There are shadows here underneath the willow tree. You can’t see the sky, just the dark of the leafy canopy. The willow leaves reach down to trail their tips in the water, tickling the surface so the river flow makes them bob and skip making tiny ripples that feel like the high notes of a piano played over and over. Tinkling in repetitions that chase each other, criss-crossing, fingers playing on the ivory cool, ebony dark of the water.

It’s my favourite day because today the special insects will hatch and fill the air on their weightless and colourless wings. They rest on leaves, folding down transparent triangular sails over plump curved bodies, three long bristles waving in the breeze. They dance their air-borne courtship above the river’s flow, twisting and plunging, then drop to kiss the water, laying eggs through the meniscus so they sink to the pebbles on the bottom. Sometimes they misjudge, flattened to the surface by a sudden gust or sucked down by a rogue ripple. That’s my moment when those amber flies tremble in the centre of their sparkling ring. They make discordant tumbling notes an octave lower than the leafy trills, atonal but mesmerising music to me.

This is my moment when the fish rise swiftly to gulp the oily flies from the seam between air and water that tangles them in its moist embrace. The fish disappear again with their mouthful of water and air and insect leaving an audible plop and an expanding bulls-eye of dark and light.

Fishermen love this day. Their rubber booted feet crash into the river. Base notes grinding on the stones. Long deep heavy rolls of music like a church organ. The flow tugs at their legs so that even when they are still they are not silent but rumble with a thunder-storm’s menacing approach.

The fishermen’s shadows reach over the water, long and wavering as they flick their rods in languid arcs. Their silvery line snakes out in lengthening lightning flashes and somewhere beyond on the sparkling silken surface the deadly lure of feather and metal drops with a single noise, quiet as a heartbeat. The artificial fly floats, its spiky fingers coaxing a hesitant ghostly melody as breeze and current roll them on the river’s elastic skin.

Young fish are quick and foolish, I can tell you. They are over-excited by the sudden glut of rich food, unable to resist the siren whispers of the flies trapped between the sky and the river. They are soon caught, pulled in a cacophony of panic, their bodies writhing, fins and tails churning as the sharp hard steel tears the soft pink flesh of their mouths. Rough hands bruise their scales, trampling over delicate skin, deafening nerves attuned to the slightest vibration.

You can take it from me that old wise fish hang back. They avoid those unfamiliar shadows, the booming drum roll of the fishermen’s legs. They hold themselves suspended, close to the bottom, nose into the current, riding the water with imperceptible play of their fins and the subtle wave of their tail. They are patient, dark as shadows. Listening, listening. Each unmoving yet every nerve is taut with their response to the almost irresistible promise of this exquisite moment.

The sky is darkening now as the sun drops close to the western hill. A new chill freshens the water. The magical day of bursting transient life is almost done for another year. Fishermen are making their last despairing casts, muttering prayers for the big one. That blunt nosed torpedo of a fish, brown spotted flanks and a back the black green colour of deep water. They know it is there, lurking heavy and shy in the gloom.

One last flicker of lightning streaks across the sky, glinting with a final ray of sun, a single heartbeat throbs nearby. My body is stiff with the tension of the day and suddenly I’m hungry. I haven’t eaten at all, I’ve just been concentrating on the fishing. Now nothing else seems to matter. I bite. My mouth explodes in tearing pain and a sharp line cuts across my tongue as it rips my head around.

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