The Jewel Fish
Fiction by Charles Bane, Jr.
This happened long ago, exactly as I will describe it to you. One morning, an Indian named Jacinto walked to the headwaters of the Amazon, where he lived. There was yucca in plenty at his home, but he craved protein, and cast his line into the coffee-colored water and hoped for a delicious catch. Almost at once, the line went taut at the end of his wooden stick — I will not call it a fishing tool — and he lifted his catch in the air. His eyes grew wide; the fish, perhaps one pound in weight, glittered in the morning sun. Jacinto turned to his left with the fish held aloft, and let it down slowly onto the grassy bank; he squatted and watched it gulp for air and at last lay still. Inside its gills, stones sparkled. He took a finger and pried them loose. A single diamond and single emerald fell to the ground and, picking them up, he marveled at their properties. It defied credibility. He pocketed them and turned over the lifeless creature. Again with care, he ran his rough finger down the length of the fish, and then reached beneath its gills. Again, stones emerged: a diamond, flawless in its handsomeness and an emerald as richly green as the basin of his home.
Jacinto held the stones in his palm and considered. His life was marked by careful tracks. He walked flatly, putting one foot down at a time, in the way of the country man. He sat back now against a tree and weighed what he should do. At last, he rose and walked home. He said nothing to his neighbors or to his wife, but gave her the fish to cook before an open flame. Quietly he retreated, and discreetly buried the stones behind his modest home. He enjoyed his mid-day lunch, and then drowsed in the southern sun.
Many months later, change stirred in the Amazon with the arrival of loggers. The villages were abuzz; like a jaguar the loggers came ever closer with their saws. How can we resist such change? all asked in despair. Jacinto dug beneath his home and retrieved the stones of the jewel fish. Without ceremony, he placed them in the mouth of his toothless wife. They set off for the logging camp. The foreman saw their approach. He shook his head: More peasants, he thought, to mollify.
Jacinto asked the foreman, in a businesslike way, about his operations. The man was surprised. He explained that the tall growth of the Amazon was like a hand placed over the vision of the future. The work of the loggers, he lied, would bring prosperity and civilization to the region. Jacinto did not disagree, but inquired whether the company of the foreman did not know of the greater treasures of the earth. What treasures are these, asked the foreman? And Jacinto kissed his wife upon the cheek, and she smiled.
The 2016 Luminaire Award for Best Prose
We are pleased to announce this piece as a finalist for the 2016 Luminaire Award for Best Prose, honoring the independent press’ best short stories and hybrid prose works of the year. The winners are selected by an external panel that judges all pieces blind and selects the full list of finalists. Alternating Current does not determine the final outcome for the judging; the external judges’ decisions are final.
CHARLES BANE, JR. is the author of three collections of poetry, including the recent The Ends Of The Earth: Collected Poems (Transcendent Zero Press, 2015), as well as I Meet Geronimo and Other Stories (Avignon Press, 2015) and Three Seasons: Writing Donald Hall (Collection of the Houghton Library, Harvard University). He created and contributes to The Meaning Of Poetry Series for The Gutenberg Project.
Originally published on 2/14/16.