ben black



When I was a boy we lived out in Mosfellsbaer, in the valley between Mount Esja and the hill we called Langahlið. It was only my mother and me in a small cement house; my father had moved in with his other family. Next to the house there was a small pool, called a kettle pond, of a type common in Iceland: round and deep, left over after a chunk of glacier melted. It had no inlet or outlet except the sky.

Every day after classes I sat by the pool and fished. The pool had no fish, of course—I could see clear to the gleaming bottom.

We had no regular garbage collection in those years, and many unwanted things had found their way into the pool. I made a game of fishing them out again, and presenting them to my mother to cook for dinner. I caught a black umbrella, a water-logged hair ribbon, and a potato, which my mother refused to cook, despite my insistence that it looked delicious.

Another time I hooked up a silver bracelet. Mother had been looking for it for days. She patted my head when I brought it to her and said, “I wonder how that got in there!”

But each time I caught something and reeled it in, I pretended it was a fish. Occasionally I thought I saw a flash of silver in the deepest parts of the pool. Secretly I told myself that there was one old fish living down at the very bottom of the kettle pond and brooding on his hunger. I was still young enough to believe that impossible things were only unlikely.

One day as I was fishing, my rod bent double, nearly pulling out of my hands. I was afraid I had hooked another umbrella; the last one had been a fearsome fighter. Well, I began reeling in the line with a prayer in my chest. Under the surface of the water, swirling higher, I could see something flashing and dappled like a shadow. When I had brought him close to the shore, I reached down and hauled out a large whiskery cod. At first he flapped viciously, but when I held him up by his gills, face to face, he panted like a friendly dog. That was a strange year, for me and my mother.