The Women Who Clean Fish
The women who clean fish are all named Rose or Grace. They wake up close to the water, damp and dreamy beneath white sheets, thinking of white beaches. It is always humid where they work. Under plastic aprons, their breasts foam and bubble. They wear old clothes because the smell will never go. On the floor, chlorine. On the window, dry streams left by gulls. When tourists come to watch them working over belts of cod and hake, they don't look up. They stand above the gutter. When the belt starts they pack the bodies in, ten per box, their tales crisscrossed as if in sacrament. The dead fish fall compliantly. It is the iridescent scales that stick, clinging to cheek and wrist, lighting up hours later in a dark room. The packers say they feel orange spawn between their fingers, the smell of themselves more like salt than peach.
From Natural Affinities by Erica Funkhouser, published by Alice James Books. Copyright © 1983 Erica Funkhouser. Used with permission.