The Catch

Whilst the North Sea commits suicide over the rocks of Northumberland, the town’s fishermen repair their nets and pots. It’s hard to figure the coarse, knotty meshes piled at their feet for the silken webs the men back home spin over their heads; like the most skilled pizzaiuolo, my fellow Florentine’s artistry set their nets so delicately on the Arno.

But Muir ignores the practice of repair days. In rapture he rides the roaring waves, a marine Napoleon on his horse. Wielding a gaff instead of a trident, he’s at home on the marea brutale. He fears neither the towering anvils of the swelling storm clouds that never miss their winter appointments, nor i cavalloni — the foot soldiers’ abrasive onslaught at the cliffs of Durham’s coastline. Everyone knows someone who’s been lost to the sea, the only difference is Muir’s still alive.

He’s skilled — all of us are in some way or another — but the demand for mine is hard to live off. A barber in a fishing village (God forbid you call it hairdresser!) isn’t exactly a necessity.

I’ve lived here for a season but already feel like a local now I can fish. The habits and routines of coastal life are quick to identify, slow to master (I was severely chastised yesterday for taking out-of-season salmon, so lately there’s a constant susurrus and pointing directed at me).

Today Muir came into my salon. First time; all corkscrew beard and hair. As I sectioned his scalp, I saw scars behind his right ear. I clipped and snipped through the stench of crab and ragworm, and found more scars, behind his left.

I’m mystified at such injuries — if they are injuries; Google’s no help on the subject of scars that gasp.

But they seem to be catching.

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