Becky watched Ged hook a rainbow right out the lake and push it clean down his throat, still wriggling. Dusk smeared the sky up like fish grease. Ged wiped his mouth with his sleeve and slapped his lips. He laughed: 'it's just the way I like 'em.'
Folk might have figured Ged had another thing coming if he reckoned tipping live fish down his neck that way was a sure-fire way of impressing the girls, but that would figuring without Becky Bright.
Becky took one look at Ged's party piece and the bunch of teen drunks toasting his trick by whooping cans of Tartan Special in the lakeside half-light, and saw a one-way ticket out of Fryup shining deep back out of those wide trout eyes.
Becky would count down the days till the circus rolled back in town each summer and she'd hang out round the back of the big top till the ringmaster came by and she could try to impress him with her latest routine.
She'd tried fire clubs and broke-glass walking and the ringmaster had fixed his eyes on her sprout-out chest and told her, 'broke glass walkers is ten to the dozen, lady, and most of 'em, well, they'd walk over broke glass just to get a shot.'
The ringmaster would tug his eyes off her front and stomp off to his caravan, careful to leave the door ajar. Becky just came to reckoning she'd have to work twice as hard to get that shot. So the second time she saw Ged make a trout disappear down his throat she clapped up a fuss with the rest of them and asked him, 'tastes good, huh?'
Ged, seeming surprised by her interest, coiled off, smelling another of the stitch-up jobs that came with being the kid who always turned up at school smeared up in trout inners.
After all, that Becky Bright, she was no way one of those dim sorts set on fathering kids to some soon-gone daddy, the sorts Ged was maybe hoping on reeling in himself with his trout-tip trick.
Ged reckoned when a girl like Becky with that chest of hers and those tight-back pig-tails started chatting you up on its account, well, there was something else fishy going on. But it turned out that Becky Bright's mind was turning over sharper than shark's teeth.
'Gotta go,' said Ged, flicking his head back, not meeting her smile. He headed off deeper, leaving Becky watching him go, her friends to jibe her: 'what'd you want with freak-boy, huh? Imagine his fish breath.'
Ged's folks had run the trout farm through three generations. Ged would be the fourth, provided they could hold off the poachers long enough to still make profit. Old Artie Blowes had about exhausted himself on ways to stop them, only ended up digging himself in deeper each time. Had already been up in court for planting airgun pellets in the backsides of a couple of kids with carrier bags. Ged had took his fair share of revenge beatings and what with the fish grease problem he was counting down the days till the daily hassle of legal schooling was over and he could dip his feet in what was left of the trout farm world for real.
First time he'd tore open a trout's inners and fed it in his gob was when Kristy Morgan promised him a blow-job for it. Ged had slapped the thing stone dead and fair tossed it down his throat, guts and all. He found out later Kristy Morgan never even hung round for his lip-smack bit, let alone the one of her own. She just smacked them together in cackles as she headed off home. But word got round and Ged reckoned the best way to get what he was owed was to keep on trying with the one thing in his life he knew he could beat all else at.
Becky had wrote off her good grades and took a job on the hook-a-duck stall on the in-town seafront funfair. She hoped it could help book her ticket out of there. Since she'd been small it was about all she'd wanted. She'd been grazing her calves on washing-line trapeze acts since she was five years old. Juggled fresh-picked apples till they bruised up so bad her father vowed to beat the circus shit out of her. It was all going about as well as an evening on a hook-a-duck stall ever could till the day those damn Thackeray boys rolled up and set their hearts on hooking a whole lot more.
Billy and Caleb, they were bad as hell, and that night they'd got it in their fucked-up heads it was time for their younger kid Jake to become a man. They buttered up Becky well enough to tempt her into taking a ride home with them at the end of the night, and all that got known about what ensued was that the youngest Thackeray started strutting round like he owned the place and Becky set her mind on shipping herself and her bruised-up thighs the hell out of Fryup any way she could.
Ged soon came to accepting Becky wasn't the type to play some mighty kind of trick on him, but came to thinking even a trick would be an okay price for his spending some time with her. His reluctance came from his fears for the fish grease smell and the way he was always liable to boil his words in a pretty girl's company. The first couple of times Becky traipsed up the gorse-pricked lane and charmed off the yapping yard dogs, he'd done his best to keep her at bay. Old Artie Blowes was up to his neck in poaching problems but even he found time to have fears for his only son, squirreling away round the back while such a fine specimen was persisting for his attention on the doorstep.
Ged eventually resisted, slid into unstained shirts and made sheepish grunts about hiking it to the lake-edge where they watched the surface foam with fish.
Becky smiled, 'you gonna show me how, huh?'
Ged turned at her sun-tipped pig-tails, said, 'why'd you care?'
She said, 'just do.' She turned, clasped her knees, squinted into the shine. She said 'teach me.'
Ged shrugged, turned, flicked his line in the lake. In seconds his rod was bucking, a silver rainbow reeling in, shiny as diamonds. Ged leaned out and plucked it off its hook. He held it tight in his fist till it tired. He looked over. She was about drowning him in her moss-pool eyes. She said, 'do it.' Ged tipped his head back and held the flapping fish over his gob and lowered it right in, till there was only its tail to see. A couple of burp-gulps and it was gone right down with no trouble, bones and guts and all. Becky wore a paste-on smile. She said, 'that rocks!' Ged spilled in the grass and patted his stomach. He said, 'I'd be lying if I said it don't gripe.' Becky sat and watched the sun grease down and dreamed of that ticket.
Becky came to turning up at the Blowes' front door begging for more fish-tip lessons. She didn't figure on Ged being over much concerned with the way she looked but she'd tramp up in loose skirts and tight spill-out crop-tops all the same. Her first tries were fingerlings she had Ged bite the life from first. Often she'd retch the things right back up. Ged said, 'it's in the gagging.' He said, 'you gotta ride it out.' It took a bare handful of tries till she could hold one down. In a couple of months she was taking down live ones, even built up a knack for giving it a good wait then hauling the thing back up, whole and wriggling. They'd spark a fire and sometimes cook up what they caught. They'd sit round till the smoke wisped into black and she'd tell her circus dreams, tell Ged she was fixing a costume to win over the ringmaster, would make her the kind of act to headline that thing single-handed.
Ged did his teaching and never asked for nothing else, was just happy with the company and the stolen looks when she closed her eyes and threw back her head. Sometimes she'd catch him skegging, would smile and play-slap him and sometimes press a fish-grease finger to his lips, tell him his own special show was almost coming. When old Artie stumbled on the cause of Becky's interest he wasn't best pleased. The way he saw it, he was losing enough rainbows to the night-time poachers without his son and some circus freak girlfriend of his gulping down his profits. He said, 'them fishes is money, and I 'spect you to cough up.'
Ged and Becky came to spending longer time at the lake-side till Becky could swallow a six-pounder smooth enough, and give it a right good pat on that flat belly of hers before burping the thing right back out. She worked on her costume till the fair rolled back in and the next night she turned up at the lakeside with a plaggy bag full of glitter and said she was ready.
Ged gazed up at the fresh pink sky and had a hope his whole trout-tip tricking might be proved worthwhile. Thought how he wouldn't swap this chance for nothing even if Kristy Morgan was to show up with her mouth slopped open offering something she owed. Was stuffing his head full of fanciful dreams when he heard a low groan come from the bushes.
Ged said, 'hear that?'
The groan came again. Becky froze up. Ged coiled ready. Becky said, 'what the hell?'
Ged took a branch and crept forward. He hissed, 'some mutt, prob'ly.' He pushed back some boughs and said, 'shit!' Becky peered in over her shoulder. He felt her warm breath on his neck. She said, 'if it ain't Jake Thackeray.'
The boy flailed on the bank, his face drained, a rusted-up trap clasping his soaked red foot. He tried to swing upright, swipe at Ged. He croaked, 'get this thing off me!'
Then, 'I been here night and day.' He shivered in dew, his blond hair matted out and darked by wet. A plaggy bag rustled just out of reach, filled with dried out rainbows. He panic-eyed up, raged, 'you're dead for this, Blowes. So dead.' Then he flailed again at his leg. He said, 'my leg. I can't feel it.' White bone glinted up. Ged reached in at the trap, made to wrench it. It bit fast. Becky sucked in breath. Jake swung his eyes, set them on Becky, saw how hers tipped with memories. Becky peeled her crop-top, ripped a seam, leaned in to tug it tight round Jake's calf. She tugged Ged's shoulder to have him stop the wrenching. She said: 'it's show time.'
Ged watched Becky head in the dark with her plaggy bag. He wasn't letting no-one take away what he reckoned he'd earned, least of all a Thackeray with a bag-full of his profit. He reached for his rod, cast a line. Jake's blond hair flopped with the sweat. He raged at Ged, 'you think you'll get away with this, huh? You think they won't find out?' He said, 'I swear, you help me go and there'll be no-one hears a thing of this. Far as I'll say it, I got tore up on open moor, pulled free. Won't no-one hear. Jesus, I swear it.' He said, 'my brothers be her soon. They'll know exactly where. Usual spot. They'll be wondering.'
Jake's voice croaked out. Ged fixed his eyes on the lake, reeled in a fat eight pounder. Becky swirled out the black in a tight-fit mermaid suit, grinned, 'ta-dah!' Ged feasted how her hand-stitched sequins glinted different blues in the dusk light, how it V-ed to her belly button, scaled up on her thighs. She struck a joke pose, flicked back her pig-tails. She stood straight and paused, said, 'I ain't got a name yet.' She limbo-d back and pushed the fish up skywards. She grasped its tail and hung it flapping over her gob for tension, then dropped the thing in whole. She retched her chest a couple of times, turned to Jake. She said, 'them brothers of yours, they done enough to not scare me.' She turned to Ged, said, 'you think maybe topless?' She heaved the trout back out, held it slime-covered, still wriggling. Said, 'tah-dah!' She struck curtsy poses. Jake lay paled up, still. The dusk faded out like stage lights.
Mark Staniforth lives in a small village in North Yorkshire, England. His fiction has appeared in Night Train, Aethlon, Eclectica and others. His e-books of short stories, Fryupdale and XXXmas Box, are available for free download via Smashwords. He is currently at work on his first novel.