Friday, May 20, 2011

The Magic Fish

Better known under the title “The Fisherman and his Wife,” this is an old story which has gone through several transformations in its lifespan. Some versions depict the fisherman getting his wish from a mermaid. Another story has the fish granting three wishes only which are then promptly wasted by the happy fishercouple. Wanting to put my own stamp on this story (and to save me having to do any further research), I’ve turned it into a love story, hence the change of title, as you will see.

Once upon a time and really quite far away, there lived a fisherman named Dave. Now, Dave wasn’t his real name, of course, but this story takes place in a very, very far away country, as I said, and the language they speak there is really quite complicated and the only thing harder than pronouncing the names is spelling them, so, for the purposes of our story, we shall call the fisherman Dave.

Now there are really only two kinds of fishermen in this big ole’ world of ours: Successful and the other thing, which, unfortuantely, is what Dave was. He couldn’t catch a cold. Many is the time he heard a strange sound when he was out in his boat, little realizing that it was fish giggling in the water below him. The fact is Dave was an abysmal failure as a fisherman and anybody else would’ve been considering a career change, but not Dave. You see, there are three very good reasons why Dave wanted to stay a fisherman. In the first place, he loved the life. Living by the sea, up at dawn, the salty air, the struggle of man versus fish. In the second place, he wasn’t really qualified for anything else. His resumé was sort of a joke, he had no administrative skills and the only reference he could list was his mother, and she was no help. She always told the story about the time Dave was little when he jumped off the roof with an umbrella thinking he’d float like Mary Poppins.

This bring us to the third reason why Dave wanted to stay a fisherman: He was stupid. But he had a good heart, and he was very kind and people liked him wherever he went. And, as luck would have it, he liked just about everyone he met right back. Especially Sara.

Ah, Sara. The beautiful girl he passed every day on his way to the fish market. It might strike you as odd that so terrible a fisherman would be going to the fish market every day, but he really just went so that he could pass Sara every day. You see, despite never talking to her and only successfully achieving eye contact once (she thought he was someone else), Dave was madly in love with Sara and wanted nothing more than to be with her always.

One day, while Dave was out in his fishing boat, casting his line, thinking about Sara, something happened which had never happened to Dave before. A tug on his line! For a moment, Dave just sat there in the boat, unable to believe it. In fact, it’s likely the fish would’ve gotten away had Dave not snapped out of it at the last moment and started reeling it in like a mad man. It was an epic struggle of man versus fish, just like he’d always wanted. Even better than the one in that Spencer Tracy movie! Finally, with his last ounce of strength, he was able to land the fish in the boat at which point something even more impossible happened.

“Please throw me back!” said the fish.

Dave took another moment to deal with the last three words of the previous sentence before he was able to respond. “Er…huh?” Like I said, none too bright.

“Please,” begged the fish, whose scales were sparkling as though made from genuine gold, “put me back in the water. I’ve got a wife and eight thousand roe waiting for me!”

“You don’t understand,” answered Dave. “I’ve been a fisherman all my life and you’re the first fish I ever caught! I can’t throw you back.”

“It’s not that I don’t appreciate your predicament, but this is my life we’re talking about! Look, if you let me go, I can help you.”

“Help me? How?”

“I’m a magic fish!”

“No, really.”

“I swear. I can grant wishes. You want a wish? I’ll grant you a wish!”

“You mean I can really have any wish I want? Anything in the whole wide world is mine if I throw you back?”

“Exactly, my friend! What will it be?”

Of course, there was only one thing in the entire world that Dave wanted. “I wish Sara were my girl.”

“Granted!” said the fish. And then Dave picked him up and tosses him back into the sea, where he waved a fin in gratitude before disapearing under the waves. It was a slightly apprehensive Dave who rowed his boat for home. He wasn’t entirely sure that the fish was trustworthy. And, after all, he had just thrown back the first and only fish he’d ever caught. Had he made a terrible mistake?

So, that afternoon, as he made his way to the fish market, his eyes fell on Sara and something else happened that had never happened before: She smiled at him. He smiled back. A flower seller by trade, Sara took a shining blue flower from her cart and handed it to Dave. On his way back from the fish market he felt braver, more confident. So he went to Sara and asked her for a date. She said yes and thus began their courtship.

But soon, Dave was filled with misgivings. Sure, he loved Sara, but what else had he to offer her? He lived in a tumbledown shack by the sea, he couldn’t make money, and somehow, even though he had very little contact with them, he usually smelled strongly of fish. True, she was his girlfriend thanks to the fish’s magic, but he was sure that deep down Sara was not happy. Dave got an idea and rowed his boat out to the very same spot where he had met the magic fish in the first place.

“Hello! Magic fish? Are you down there?”

“Hey, how’s it going?” said a familiar voice, as the magic fish popped his head up above the water. “You and the girl, everything good there?”

“Well yes, everything’s wonderful…for me. But I don’t know how happy she is. I mean, I know your magic made her love me…”

“Er, actually, I—”

“But I want her to be really happy. So, I was hoping I could trouble you for another wish. Not for me, you understand. For her.”

“Of course,” said the magic fish. “What kind of fish would I be if I didn’t aid in the cause of true love? What’ll it be?”

“Well, you probably already know I’m not much of a fisherman…”

“I wasn’t going to say anything.”

“So, I wish I was the greatest fisherman of all time!”

“Granted!” said the obliging fish and he dove back under the water. The fisherman threw his nets overboard and in seconds they were full to bursting with fish. In fact, much to his surprise, he now saw that there were three more nets in his boat, which he also cast overboard to be filled almost immediately. Now with four huge bundles of fish, he walked to the fish market with his head held high, and he caught Sara’s eye on his way and she beamed with pride at her boyfriend, the great fisherman. He sold the fish at market and used the money to take Sara out for a night on the town. Fine food and drink, beautiful new clothes for both of them, and tickets to the theatre to see the new Neil Simon play (wow, that guy’s been around forever!).

And from then on, whenever Dave dropped his nets in the water, he was sure to come back with a bounty of fish. And with the money he made, he fixed up his house into a beautiful estate, he bought new fishing boats and hired men to go out and actually catch the fish and he soon became the most famous fish tycoon of all time. He missed going out in the boat and being a fisherman, of course, but now he could treat Sara the way she deserved. They were married, of course, and she gave up her job at the flower cart. Now they were two of the beautiful people…

But something was still wrong.

Unsure of where else to go, Dave took his boat out late at night to find the magic fish. “Magic fish!” he cried out. “Are you there?”

“Well, this is a surprise,” said the fish when he arrived. “I thought you had people do this kind of thing for you nowadays.”

“I know, I know. But I wanted to talk to you.”

“Let me guess. Things not going quite right still?”

“That’s right. How did you know?”

“You’re not the only idiot I’ve granted wishes to, kid. Don’t you have everything you’ve ever wanted?”

“I don’t know. I live in a big house, I’ve got lots of money, I have the most beautiful, wonderful wife in the world, I never have to do any work…”

“You miss your old life, huh?”

“I do.”

“Look, kid, I know you want to make your girl happy, but what good is that if you have to change yourself so much that you’re not happy? Love is supposed to be a two-way street, it doesn’t work if one person is happy and the other is miserable.”

“How do you know so much about love?”

“How do you think I got my eight thousand kids? A genie in a bottle? Listen, Dave, I like you. You’re none too bright, but you’ve got a good heart and you threw me back even when you had no real reason to. So I’m gonna grant you one last wish. Close your eyes, and listen to your heart. Now tell me, what is the one thing you want more than anything else in the world?”

Dave closed his eyes and didn’t have to listen to his heart because it was clear as a bell. “I wish for Sara to have a long and happy life.”

“You’re sure? Cuz this wish will undo all your other wishes. She won’t be your wife anymore. It’ll be like you and I never met.”

“I don’t care. As long as she has what she wants.”

“You’re a good man, Dave. Granted!”

Dave rowed back to shore. It was dark and the moon provided very poor light, so it some time before he noticed that his boat was changing from the fine fishing boat he had bought to the old dinghy he had before. His clothes were the dingy, smelly rags of an unsuccessful fisherman and when he arrived home, his house was once again a shack and it was empty. He was alone. With a very heavy heart, he went to bed and, in his grief, fell fast asleep.

The next day he didn’t get up early. He didn’t go out fishing. He didn’t go to the fish market to see Sara. He figured she wouldn’t be there anyway. Probably living with some prince charming in some other fairy tale living happily ever—


Being poor, untalented and stupid, Dave had very few friends and, therefore, not many visitors. So he was a little surprised when he heard someone knocking on his door. He was more surprised when he opened it and saw Sara standing there.

“Hi,” she said, timidly. Dave had to remind himself that they had actually never spoken before.

“Hi,” he said.

“Er…I don’t know if you remember me, but I’m—”

“You’re Sara, the girl who works at the flower cart on the way to the fish market…I mean, I think that’s you. Is it?”

“Yes. That’s me. And you’re Dave the fisherman, right?”

“More like Dave the failure. But, yeah, that’s me.”

“Great! I mean, good. It’s good that you’re…er, what I mean is, I didn’t see you in the market today and someone told me this is where you lived. I just wanted to make sure you were okay. I don’t know if you realize this, but I see you on the way to the fish market every day.”

“You…you do?”

“Yeah. I even made eye contact with you once, but I got nervous and looked away.”

You got nervous?”

“Well, like I said I just wanted to make sure you were okay. I guess I’ll leave you alone now, if you want me to—”

“No, wait. You don’t have to go. I mean, if you wanted to come in that would be…if you want to, I mean.”

She said yes, and thus began their courtship…again.

It wasn’t long before Dave and Sara were going steady. Dave couldn’t afford to buy her fancy meals and theatre tickets (which is too bad, since this was just around the time the musical was invented), but they always had fun together, whatever they were doing. Once, Dave even took her out on his fishing boat and she was able to figure out the fairly obvious mistake he was making that was preventing him from catching fish all these years: he wasn’t using bait.

Again, none too bright, good heart.

Now, he wasn’t exactly the greatest fisherman on earth anymore, but he was at least a good fisherman. He was now able to catch something. And he had good days, where he caught lots of fish, and bad days where he caught very few. But he made enough money to repair his leaky shack, keep food on the table and, eventually, to buy a diamond ring (or near enough) for Sara, who would’ve agreed to marry him if he’d given her a ring made of tin.

About a year after he had first met the magic fish, the fisherman was out at work when a familiar voice came from under the sea. “Well, look who’s back!” said the magic fish, popping his head up again.

“Hello, Magic fish!”

“You seem to be in good spirits, Dave. I take it everything’s going well?”

“Wonderful, magic fish…I’m sorry, I never thought to ask, but do you have a name?”

“Yes, I do. It’s…well, it’s David, actually.”


“Yeah, what are the odds, huh? So, you’re doing all right for yourself? And Sara? She’s very happy?”

“We’re both happy, David. It’s funny. When I first wished that she’d fall in love with me—”

“Yeah, I hate to break this to you, pal, but that’s not what you wished. You wished she’d be your girl so I just cast a spell to give her courage enough to approach you with that flower. Which gave you confidence enough to ask her out. But I can’t make people fall in love, that’s well beyond the limits of magic.”

“So…so she wasn’t with me just because she was under a spell?”

“No, Dave, you wonderful idiot, you! She was in love with you from the start. But you needed to realize it on your own before you could have your own happy ending.”

“Well, thanks for everything David.”

“You’re quite welcome, Dave!” And with a playful whip of his tail, David, the magic, talking, wish-granting fish dove back into the water and was never heard of again. As for Dave and Sara, they lived very happily ever after…but, you probably already knew that, huh?


If You Liked My Story, You Might Enjoy:
  • “Fractured Fairy Tales” (TV) A segment of the Rocky and Bullwinkle show which did this story several times. Sometimes I wish I could get Edward Everett Horton to read my stories.

NEXT WEEK: "Goldilocks and the Three Bears"

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