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A Time Without Fish
For a Thursday in March, the weather was surprisingly calm. A breeze whipped in through the village from the ocean, lulling the fishermen from their sleep. Some of the fishermen were already awake, packing their boats for the two day journey in order to catch the biggest fish. These were the best to catch, the ones that made the most money in the market. They were not as abundant as the fish closer inland and harder to catch, so most of the fishermen in the village stayed in the bay, hoping abundance would outweigh size. There was no risk to catch these fish—not like for the big ones, the worry that a boat could capsize from waves, a piece of equipment might break, or there would be no fish caught at all, and all the fishermen got was wasted money.
On this day, after the deep sea boats had gone out, the smaller boats began dotting the bay like a scattering of freckles. Men casting their lines and waiting for a bite. The stillness of the bay was interrupted when a boat had come close to another, with a fisherman leaning out.
“Have you caught anything yet?” he called across the water, hoping to catch the attention of the other boat. “It’s strange, normally by this time I would have had at least a bite.” The other fisherman looked at him curiously, then down at the water with the same expression.
“I haven’t no, I guess you’re right, normally I would’ve at least seen something now,” he replied.
“Well, holler if you get anything.”
At the end of the day, the local fishermen went to the market, where they would usually sell what they caught. A group of people had already gathered waiting to get first pick of the fish. The silent fishermen looked around at each other, all wondering the same thing; “did anyone catch any fish today?” One by one customers were turned down, with a shake of the head and a, “sorry, no fish today, I’m not sure why.” After the buyer's left the market, the square was filled with a buzz. People whispering back and forth about how there was no fish.
Someone spoke up, “maybe we should wait to see if the deep sea fishermen caught anything. It could have been just in the bay that the fish left, who knows what happened.”
“Should we even go out tomorrow? I don’t want a wasted day of gas and payments tomorrow.”
“We could not run the boats, just go out with our lines and see if we can get anything,” one of the men said.
“I think it should be each person’s decisions on whether or not to run their boats. What happens if the fish are back and only one or two get all of it? I mean it either way it could be a day of missed fishing.” The men nodded their heads in agreement. After a few more minutes of questions, the conversation stopped and the crowd slowly dispersed.
It was late the next day when the fishermen came back from the deep sea. All dejected from the unsuccessful trip. As soon as their boats came into the harbor, the other men surrounded them, asking if they had more success than themselves, the response was no. It was then that the fishermen got worried. Each one realizing that there were no more fish in the sea. The slight panic of the villagers from the first day had at first been subdued by reassurances from the fishermen, however, after a few days with shoppers coming back hopefully, they realized there would be no fish.
On the third day, those who had preserved their fish began hiding it or selling it in rations to the highest bidder. Everyone was looking to get some of the fish that had disappeared from the sea, and was now disappearing from cellars. The small farmers realized that they could capitalize on the missing fish. Much of the village that had previously only relied on the fish, and started turning to other sources of food. The farmers were quickly selling produce and poultry.
The chickens were the first of the animals to learn exactly what the fish being gone meant. Their nests became filled with more food and hay and the chickens could been seen clucking through fields. More of their nests were decorated with heat lamps. Farmers were doing all they could to speed up the process of laying eggs, but not everything was good for the chickens. The farmers quickly found their eggs running out and happy chickens were not enough to keep up with the demand.
Like the fishermen, the farmers also held a meeting to discuss how to handle their own shrinking margin.
“What are we supposed to do now? The chickens aren’t producing eggs fast enough and we didn’t fertilize enough eggs for reproduction,” one of the younger farmers asked.
“I have to keep selling eggs. If you run out, sell the chicken, people need to eat and we have to provide them with food.” The farmers grumbled but agreed; they had to keep up with the competition.
Those who lived further away came into town to find their source of food gone. It did not take long for the fish shortage to spread throughout the region. Everyone turned to the chickens for hope. Competition for selling rose, prices of eggs dropped and it was not long before the farmers called another meeting.
“I can’t make enough money to buy more feed!”
“Someone has to get rid of their chickens! We can’t all sell and still make enough.”
“You can’t ask us to stop just because you don’t have enough money.”
“None of us have money at this point! The chickens are starving and aren’t laying eggs.” The farmers were all shouting over each other, arguing about how to deal with their failing chickens and coming up with no solutions
It took a week for the chickens to die. The low costs for eggs skyrocketed and no one was able to buy the expensive eggs. The cows and the goats suffered the same fate as the chickens, overworked and over milked until they produced no more. Farmers suffered from price drops until they cannot sustain their farms. Famine struck the village, everyone searching for a new staple, and when they would find one, it was worked until used up. People began leaving the village, hoping to find food elsewhere.
Soon, only a few of the villagers were left, including an old man at the edge of the town with a single almond tree. Every day the old man would go and look along the ground for the nuts that had fallen, taking none from the tree and sharing with those who asked. But people could not survive on almonds and the last few left the village. The old man still sat in his chair, rocking day and night, gradually getting slower, until the rocking chair stopped. On that day, an almond fell from the tree, its shell rolled down the hill toward the sea. As the shell hit a rock, it cracked open and two fish eggs slipped into the water.