Her Youngest Customer

by Margaret Gillies Brown

First Published in 'The Lie of the Land' 2004


The fish-wives from Arbroath
still venture round these Perthshire farms;
Not by walking from the train
with creel and wide striped skirts
as they once did,
(these days have long departed)
but smart in starched white coats,
white van proclaiming FISH.

One comes each Wednesday.
Her youngest customer,
my grandson barely three,
is sent by busy mother
each fish-day with the money-tub
whenever the loud horn blasts.

Wide van doors swinging open,
With kind and twinkling eyes
the fish-wife crouches to his level
where they discuss play school,
the picture he will paint her,
the merits of the fish.
He scrutinises well -
Salt-white haddock,
Pink crabs from the ocean floor,
Smokeys fresh from the barrel.

Knowing what mother wants
she does not always wrap,
in crinkling paper, the fish at which he points.
No matter - he opens up the tub
(once holding margarine).
Between them they solemnly
count out the money she is due
in this his first departure from childhood
into commerce.

Last Wednesday his cousin,
a blue eyed, red haired girl,
six months his senior,
with whom he has already learned to share
his Lion King, his flying bird,
his train set, appeared.
'I'd like to buy fish, too.'
He turns a scornful eye,
stating emphatically
'This is my fish
my money and my lady.'