Captain Blackfin


Christine Griffin




Granny sat down with a thump and plonked her shopping bag on the floor.

            ‘I’ll take a cup of tea, Jean, if I may.’

I saw Mum glance briefly at the dusty mantelpiece before disappearing into the kitchen to make the tea. Granny always noticed dust. Mum and I always laughed about it after she’d gone.  I sat, pushing my toy cars around the table, waiting for the usual question.

            ‘So, young man, what did you do in school today?’

She always started with that one.

            ‘Erm, well we did some number work, and I finished my reading book.’

Granny gave me a stern look.

            ‘You look a bit pasty, lad. Did you run round at playtime?’

Playtime. No I hadn’t run round. I’d sat on the side and after a bit Mrs Hawkins, the playground lady, came over to me. She knew about Granddad ’cause I’d cried one day. I couldn’t help it, but she was nice. I told her about fishing in the lake. On Sundays, Granddad would call for me and off we’d go. I was allowed to carry the bait tin, which was one of the best bits. I loved thinking about all those crawly things inside being carried by me. Granddad always had these long wellies and I wore my ones with ducks on, even though they were a bit babyish. Mum said we couldn’t afford new ones, so I had to put up with it.

            ‘Honestly, Jean,’ I heard Granny saying. ‘Not a word to throw at a dog, that lad.’

            ‘Talk to your granny, Joe,’ said Mum.’ She’s come specially.’ Mum was always trying not to offend people.

Granny used to say that Granddad hadn’t a word to throw at a dog either, and I used to imagine people picking up words and throwing them at the horrid Alsatian next door. He used to say that he went out fishing to give Granny a bit of peace and quiet, but I wondered sometimes if it wasn’t the other way round. Not that we talked that much at the lake. Granddad said it upset the fish.

As well as the big wellies, he always wore his fishing jumper. It was knobbly brown, smelt of pipe smoke and had holes in the elbows.

            ‘It’s what a good jumper should be, lad,’ he’d say.

Mum went mad one day when I cut holes in my jumper to wear fishing, but obviously Granny didn’t mind. That was strange, because Granny minds about most things.

Then one Sunday he didn’t call by to take me out. Mum cried when I asked her about it and she told me to go upstairs and be a good boy, so I did. Later that day, Mum told me that Granddad was very sick, so he wouldn’t be going fishing again. In fact, Mum said, he wouldn’t be able to see me again ’cause he’d gone to heaven. I knew about Heaven ’cause David Parker’s mum had gone there last year, but I couldn’t bear to think that Granddad had gone and I’d never see him again. I told Mrs Hawkins about that in the playground and she said she knew about Heaven too. She said Granddad would be happy there.

I was glad about that, but I didn’t think he could ever be as happy as the day he caught Captain Blackfin. Captain Blackfin had lived in the lake for ever and all the fishermen talked about catching him. They all knew what he looked like. He was a great big’un with a mean-looking face, a squinty eye and black fins.  I was dying to see him. Then that particular day, Granddad said he was going to have another go at him. He said he’d had enough of being teased by a fish.

            ‘That fella’s number’s up today, Joe. You mark my words. And you, lad, can choose the bait,’ he added. ‘Reckon you can make a good job of that.’ I was so proud and I took my time selecting exactly the right thing.

We went off to a different part of the lake from where we usually went and sat down and waited for ages and ages. Granddad kept muttering ‘Come on, you mean old buggar’ Mum always told him off for saying that word in front of me, but I didn’t mind. Then suddenly he went quiet and the muscles on his arms bulged.

            ‘Think I’ve got him, lad,’ he said, frantically reeling in the line. And it was him. He was the meanest-looking fish I’d ever seen and Granddad put him in a net and started calling to the other men further along the bank.

They all clapped him on the bank and said they’d buy him a pint later.

            ‘Nay it’s not me that’s done it. It’s the lad here. He chose the bait.’ And they all smiled at me and one of them gave me sixpence. I told Mrs Hawkins about Captain Blackfin and she said she wished she’d been there to see it.

All that day, Granddad whistled and smoked his pipe while Captain Blackfin fought and struggled in the net. Then when it got to teatime he said, ‘Well, goodbye for now, old fellow. See you another time.’ And he slipped the fish gently back into the lake where it dived for the bottom.

‘That’s been the best day of my life,’ he said.’ Bar none.’ And we set off for home.

Granny’s voice broke into my thoughts. She and Mum were sitting drinking their tea and talking about the neighbours. They always did this. Suddenly Granny broke off and dived into her bag.

            ‘I’ve got something for you, lad.’ she said. And to my surprise she pulled out Granddad’s bait tin.

            ‘I was clearing out your granddad’s stuff and thought you might like this. You always seemed so fond of it.’

Granddad’s bait tin. I felt tears coming into my eyes and bit my lip sharply to stop myself crying. Granny hated people who cried. Blubbering, she called it.

            ‘Thanks, Granny,’ I whispered. ‘It’s the best present I’ve ever had.’ Mum was smiling at me.

            ‘That’s not all either. I was going to give that smelly old jumper of his to the rag-and-bone man, but then I thought, no, waste not want not. So I’ve unpicked it and knit it up into a jumper for you. Try it on, lad. Let’s see if it fits.’

And there it was, held up in front of me. A miniature version of Granddad’s fishing jumper, complete with a hole in one of the elbows.

This time, I did cry as I tried it on. It still smelt of Granddad and I remembered the day we’d caught Captain Blackfin, the best day of Granddad’s life. I knew Captain Blackfin was still in the lake. One day I’d get him. I’d say, ‘Hello, you mean old buggar. Remember me? Remember this jumper?’             

I put my arms around Granny and hugged her even though she wasn’t that keen on hugs.

‘Thanks very much.’ I sniffed. ‘Mum, can I take the things to school tomorrow   to show Mrs Hawkins? She’d love to see them.’ Mum nodded. She had that look like when she’s going to cry.

            ‘Well, you’re not such a bad lad after all,’ said Granny.

She paused suddenly in the middle of eating her Rich Tea biscuit.

‘Jean, that mantelpiece could do with a dust.’

And Mum smiled her secret smile at me. This had been the best day of my life. Bar none.

©2009 Christine Griffin

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