Along the dyke swam the largest eel the man had ever seen. He limped ahead, set his net under the bridge. Heedless, the eel swam straight in. He carried the creature home struggling and writhing in his arms, dumped it in the sink.
He awoke before dawn. In the scullery a woman stood, a woman with shining silver hair, but not old. More beautiful than he could imagine. Speechless he hobbled towards her open arms.
The sun rose over the fen. The eel slid from his bed into the kitchen. She built the fire, boiled a kettle, made breakfast. She took a reed basket and slithered down the village street to the baker.
But the nights, oh the nights.
The villagers jeered. All he can get is an eel-wife. He must lie in a cold bed.
The man smiled at their words.
So they went on for a year. His house was clean, his meals were cooked and the nights, oh the nights.
But the man was a man and wanted a son. His eel-wife drooped her head. The man persisted. They won’t be jeering when I go fishing with my son.
In spring as the willows burst their buds, his eel-wife relented. She grew thick, slid heavy along the street. The villagers cast knowing looks, warded off the evil eye.
Deep in winter while the man fished along the dyke, the eel-wife’s pains began. She writhed and struggled alone until, as the sun rose over the fen, she delivered a boy. Holding him close, she slipped something round his wrist and spoke one word, Protect.
When the man returned, he found his son lying in a bed of moss, a band of eel- skin round his wrist.
Of his eel-wife there was no sign.
Nor ever was.
Diane Jackman’s poetry has appeared in magazines and anthologies, including The Rialto, Outposts and Words-Myth and a “Shoreline” in “Story” (Happenstance Press). She was winner of the Liverpool Poetry Festival competition 2006. She wrote the libretto for “Pinocchio”, for the Kings’ Singers/LSO performed at The Barbican, has published seven children’s books and many stories. She lives in Norfolk.
Diane’s work is featured in Elbow Room Volume Three