An old woman stands boning fish for the Christmas chowder. It’s a tradition she has kept up even after her husband died. She wipes her forehead with the back of her hand. It leaves a trail of silver scales that match the streaks in her hair. The bones are piled on old newspapers she’s never read. She can’t see the tiny print, only the headline: WORLD FAMINE. There are always plenty of fish, her son says. Though the last bombs ruined the farmlands a few years ago, her son has always managed to find food for the table, though most was from the sea. “Fish are like the news, something to get by on,’ that’s what he’d always say.
Where this world famine is, she doesn’t know. They have no neighbors, no visitors. Her son makes sure to pay the bills, he’s good with figures. All this is done by mail. No postman has come for days. Surely tomorrow there will be a jolly card from her sister Marie, though she’s had no word from her. She forgets how long it’s been, but it can’t have been that long.
Her son usually leaves his boots on the porch, but not this time. She drops the knife when she sees his face. “Bad news?” He slumps in a chair, staring at something distant. He’ll tell her when he’s ready, always has. She returns to the fish, arranges a row of neat fillets and covers it with a plate. There are a few potatoes left. They’ll do, if he has brought the shrimp. She doesn’t want to bother him right now, but she must ask. When she gets no response, she touches his arm.
“Don’t,” he says, pulling away. “They’re gone.” She hears this but doesn’t understand. It’s something bad, she knows that much. In the cabinet under the sink is a bottle. It is time for this bottle. She puts it on the table. He looks up at her, “The fish, the men, the boats. Even mine.”
She frowns, clicks her tongue. “Then we’ll have to wait,” she says. “Can’t make a Christmas chowder without shrimp. They’re coming back, aren’t they?” He says nothing. She wraps the fish in the last piece of newspaper. She should ask him to get more paper, but not now. The wine is good.
Marge Simon’s work appears in Daily Science Fiction, Strange Horizons, Dreams & Nightmares among other publications. She is a former Bram Stoker winner. www.margesimon.com