Flowers And Fish
The scissors slide easily through the thick stems of the sunflowers I bought at the market this morning. Taking care, I arrange them into bunches and place them into buckets of water, alongside the dahlias, poppies, and carnations. I sip black tea tinged with minty freshness and let it wash through my mouth, down my throat. My heart skips a beat—fear, delight, wonder, I don’t know. Today is Saturday.
Every Saturday, passengers disembark from the Peninsula Ferry on the hour, people wander about the stalls, he walks past my stall at 4.30 pm. He is happy where he is and where he is going. Sometimes he stops to buy a bunch of flowers, and at these times, words dangle between us, tantalisingly close to articulation, but then, my words retreat, and I go back to saying nothing at all.
Today, I will say hello, and the following week, I will ask how he is? Then, I will add a new word or two, perhaps more. First, they will pollinate into stories—then memories.
Summertime, the water is so flat and still but never really still. I love the smell of January, the scent of jasmine trailing along backyard fences. Hints of mint in acrid black tea. The mango lassi in the tin lid of my flask and the delicious salty residue left on my skin.
I am a florist in a family of fisherwomen and men.
My family has lived in the village for five generations. Before I had thoughts of becoming a florist, my dad taught me the relationship between flowers and fish. Like when the Ti-tree blossoms, Snapper is in season, and flowering dandelions signal Flathead coming. While families prepared to go out onto the bay, I stayed collecting flower cuttings.
In the dawn light, as most people sleep, my uncle takes out old Lorna. Our family-owned trawler was skippered by him, my two brothers, and my sister. They leave the bay’s calm waters chugging towards the southern ocean swells of the Bass Strait, where it meets the rugged coastline. I, too, leave our snug village but in a battered red van steering it down the highway destined for the fresh produce market in a harbour of concrete and steel. Our community of fishing families has changed. Now it is an industry beset by capitalist interests—moving fast, forgetting essential knowledge passed down through the generations.
Things in dad’s world move slowly. A couple of years ago, he stopped going out to sea and now spends his days ashore knitting and repairing the fishing nets with mum. It is a skill many of the old fishing families passed down to the younger generations, and he has done the same. However, my eldest brother, of a different mind and manner, dared to suggest machine-made nets. Dad, not one to ordinarily engage in the politics of progress, gave him his answer.
Machine-made nets are no good; they have no history or tradition to bind the thread to make a robust and healthy net. Their stories are not passed down through the generations. They know nothing of family and culture. What do they know of the secret lives of fish? My nets have generations of knowledge tied into the knots, twisted into the thread strengthening the layers of family, culture, and tradition.
Days turned into weeks, eight weeks later.
An end to another Saturday. In the fading light under a deep lavender amber sky, we sit together silently, hearing each other’s stories in our heads. I wonder whether it will be enough.