Sand rasps between her bare feet and the warm boards of the dock. Fish teem in the water below. Carefully she pulls three strands of her hair and braids them together. She ties the end around a wriggly worm that she dug up from the bank. With a plop it's dropped into the water.
Patiently she waits, the time drawing out like taffy. Finally there is a tug on the line. She pulls the line in, hand over hand. The fish flops onto the dock. She pounces on it to keep it from flopping back into the water. Her knife is in her hand and poised to cut.
"Oh you're an ugly girl."
With a start she looks around; there's nobody around. She shakes her head and turns her attention back to the fish.
"Decidedly ugly indeed."
Did ... did the fish's mouth move? She leans closer.
"It's rude to stare."
"You can speak?"
"Of course. So you're stupid and ugly."
"I've just never run across a fish that speaks before, though admittedly, my experience is limited."
"Your education should be remedied."
"Indeed it should be, thank you so much for enlightening me."
The girl picks the fish up and kneels on the edge of the dock.
"You're throwing me back?"
"Yes, I believe you're not right for me."
With a splash the fish is in the lake; a flick of the tail and it's gone. The girl digs up another worm, carefully ties it, and returns the line to the water. Fish after fish is pulled up, each with insults upon it's lips. Every time the fish is thanked and returned to the water. The sun slides across the sky as the day passes. The last of the dying light sparkles red and gold across the newest fish’s scales. The girl is struck by the sheer prettiness as she holds the fish and waits to hear it’s words.
"You are most skilled at catching fish."
"You compliment me?"
"Oh yes, I saw you catch many of my kind and I wondered why you returned them all. I had to see for myself. And I see that you are very patient and very pretty."
"Oh, I, I don't know what to say, thank you."
"You are very gentle too, I can barely feel you kneeling on my side. Why are you fishing if you return all the fish to the lake?"
"I was hoping to catch something for my dinner. I'm very hungry but I didn't want to fill myself with negative."
"Many of my kind are mean and cruel, until they mature. You are wise to send them back. Will you eat me?"
"Well, that was my intent, but," the girl trails off, a little unsure.
"Oh please! I would be very honored to nourish you so that you can continue your quest."
"Are, are you sure?"
"Yes, it has always been my dream to help a maiden."
"Thank you so much for giving your life for me. You are very kind."
Later, sated and ready to continue her quest the girl walks back through the small village. Contentment rests on her face like a kitty in a sunbeam. The villagers stare at her, the questions are evident. Finally, one miserable woman steps forward, her frown creases her face.
"Why do you look so happy? Nobody returns from the lake happy."
"All can return from the lake happy, all you need is a bit of patience."
"Bah, that can't be all."
The girl looks around at the villagers surrounding her. They glare and scowl at her. They have eaten so many of the negative fish that it colors their world. Even the baskets of flowers hanging under eaves look sad as they sway in the light breeze that whispers through the village. The girl smiles, almost sadly. The answer is so close, if only they had seen it before now. Finally she speaks.
"Patience ma'am, and you have to throw back the little ones." The girl bows and continues on her way. The villagers stare, astonished, at her departing back.