The Trout and the Lonely Woman by Stephen Myer

A broken woman finds an unusual source of companionship in the shape of an ugly fish she bought from the market.

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Ahimsa Fiorskaya wanted nothing to do with people, because they lied - or chose not to tell the truth. They greeted her during the coldest, dreariest mornings, telling her how delightful the weather was and that she should stroll in the warm sunshine and bring color to her pallid cheeks. Or, they looked forward to dancing with her at the village festival though she could hardly walk, let alone dance because her right leg suffered damage at an early age. Even worse, they assured her that a handsome prince from a faraway land would arrive in the village and sweep her off her good foot. I am done with all of it, she thought. I will not waste my time listening to their nonsense.

One day, the lonely woman, who lived on the banks of the Rushing River in the village of Sazloni, walked into the local fish market. As she eyed the large selection, she found herself attracted to an unusual-looking trout.

Its mouth remained closed and its left eye was missing as if gouged from its socket by a fisherman's careless hook. And, if that wasn't horrible enough, the lower half of the trout's slender body was missing its scales.

The woman stared at the trout, perhaps out of sympathy for a creature whose defects likely resulted from misfortune - not unlike hers. The sight of the fish triggered dark memories of the brutality she suffered long ago.

Suddenly orphaned at the time when girls blossom into womanhood, she remembered the night the soldiers on horseback stormed the village, crouching in the stirrups of their wild horses that snorted with rage as they reared and kicked down the wooden doors of the houses. The soldiers slashed at anything that moved. Her left eye was plucked out by the tip of a mercenary's sword and her innocence taken. Ahimsa's entire family perished at the hands of those ruthless butchers. The attack left her partially blind and crippled, to live the rest of her life in physical and emotional pain. The villagers insisted the bloodshed never happened - the night love fled Ahimsa's heart.

"I'll take that one," she said, pointing to the freakish trout.

"He's an odd-looking fellow," said the fishmonger. "Why, he must have had a rough time of it in the Rushing River."

"I suppose so," she said.

"Surely, Ahimsa, there are more appealing fish to choose from. My counter is stocked with handsome trout."

"I want him," she demanded.

The fishmonger shrugged his shoulders and wiped his wrinkled fingers on the soiled white apron wrapped around his rotund body.

"Very well," he said, lifting the disfigured trout off its icy bed.

Ahimsa noticed its tail flopping back and forth in the fishmonger's hand.

"Wait! It's still alive," she said.

He glanced at the flaccid trout in his hand then looked at her and burst out laughing.

"Oh, my dear Ahimsa, you're funny and have such a wonderful imagination to boot."

He's lying, she thought, or too foolish to see things as they are. "I am not funny. Nor do I have a wonderful imagination," she said. "That fish wiggled in your hand."

"No, no. Impossible," said the monger. He reached for his grimy spectacles dangling from a fishing line around his neck. After a thorough inspection, in which he prodded, tickled, and queried the fish, he presented his evidence to the woman.

"You see, Ahimsa. Nothing. He's quite dead."

"Don't make a liar out of me, Grub. I know what I saw."

The rising volume of the fishmonger's voice betrayed his hidden frustration.

"Who knows the truth about anything, let alone a trout? I don't run a pet store. I sell dead fish. Do you want it or not?"

Grub gestured to toss the fish back on the ice.

"Stop. I want him."

"Him? You seem to have an extraordinary interest in this creature," said the fishmonger.

"Treat the fish with kindness. He has suffered."

"How would I know if he suffered? Ask God. Who but the Almighty and the fish know the truth?"

"Ask God?" she said. "He never answers my prayers... and fish can't talk."

"Please, Lord," said the monger under his breath. "Forgive me, but I can't listen to this mad woman any longer."

"I heard what you said, Grub."

In an oath not taken lightly in the village, the monger raised his hand and swore on his mother's grave that the fish died peacefully and suffered nothing more than the quick sting of a hook when caught in the Rushing River.

"You realize you wagered your mother's soul?" said Ahimsa.

The fishmonger's face grew pale.

"Very well," she said. "Wrap him up... gently. How much do I owe you?"

Grub sighed in relief.

"I've never seen anyone so taken with a fish," he said. The monger handed her the package. "Here. Enjoy. It's a gift from me to you. Now go. Go!"

Grub's generosity surprised her. She couldn't remember the last time anyone offered a gift. In her heart, she forgave him.

Ahimsa tied the shopping sack around her waist, then limped home along the riverbank. She felt the sack slap hard against her hip with each uneven step. She arrived home and quickly unwrapped the package to examine the fish.

At the market, she noticed the trout was missing its left eye and its mouth remained shut. Yet, in her house, its right eye was missing and its mouth was wide open.

She thought how wonderful it would be if his left eye and her right eye belonged to each other and both of them could see like they once did. Ahimsa set the fish on a plate, shoved it in the icebox, then rested on her rocking chair. She picked up a newspaper. The words seemed written in a foreign language. She could only think of the fish. As the sun set, she lit the candles and said her prayers.

"The days pass slowly, yet I look in the mirror and realize how fast time goes by," she said to herself. "Once, I was young and pretty. Not that I'm old, but who would look twice at a woman like me, let alone desire her?"

Ahimsa lit the stove and tossed a handful of herbs and spices into the frying pan, then opened the icebox and took out the plate on which the trout lay. She stared at the fish, relieved its anatomy had not changed again. She lifted the trout and held it over the frying pan.

"Please... Please don't!"

She stepped away from the stove and glanced around the room.

"Who's there?" she called.

No one answered.

"Ugh, I must be imagining things. That's all I need," she muttered.

Again, she placed the trout over the pan and heard the same plea.

Ahimsa looked at the fish and the fish looked at her with its singular eye.

"Yes, it's me," said the trout. "See here. Don't you think I deserve to live?"

One would have expected the woman to drop the fish and run screaming out the door. She looked at the trout as if nothing unusual occurred.

"You're alive," she said. "I knew it. That liar Grub tried to deceive me."

"What does Grub know?" said the trout. "He's a simple man."

Ahimsa nodded.

"You chose me from all the other fish in the market. I made quite an impression on you."

"I suppose so," she said.

"I have an idea," said the trout. "A hot frying pan is hardly a suitable place from which to carry on a conversation. Why don't you fill the bathtub and put me in it? I don't think you're in the mood to eat me, are you?"

"No. Given the circumstances, I don't think I could," said Ahimsa.

She set the trout on the counter. "I'm in no hurry to get back to the Rushing River and risk being caught again. I'd love to stay here with you, even if it's just for the night. Tomorrow, you can decide what to do with me."

She considered the trout's request. "I must be dreaming," she said.

"What's the difference if you are or aren't? It's not often two unlike creatures can see eye to eye these days," said the trout.

The woman placed her hand over her eye patch and started to sob.

"Oh, dear. I'm sorry," said the trout. "It's just an expression. I meant no disrespect."

"It's okay," said Ahimsa, dabbing at a tear with her apron. "By now, I should be used to such remarks about my deformity."

"You're not deformed and neither am I. It's who we are. You make too much of it."

She stood up and walked to the mirror on the wall.

"You're quite mad," she said to her reflection, "having a conversation with a fish."

She turned and walked into the bathroom. "I'll draw the water in the tub," she said.

The fish wagged its tail as she prepared his accommodations.

"What about my dinner?" she called from the other room.

"How about that leftover chicken I sat next to in your icebox?"

Ahimsa took the trout's suggestion. He's perceptive and quite clever, she thought.

After dinner, she visited the fish. She heard him splashing around in his new home. Ahimsa cleared her throat to alert him of her presence, then pulled back the curtain and sat on the edge of the tub watching him. His slender body glided back and forth. He raised his head above the water and arched his lips in a smile. She grinned and folded her hands on her lap. The trout darted around the tub, making figure eights and turning somersaults for her. Ahimsa applauded. She heard herself laugh for the first time since childhood.

She thanked the trout for his dinner suggestion, then confessed she felt uneasy eating a bird after conversing with a fish. The trout flapped his fins and winked his eye.

A steamy mist settled upon the walls as they stared at each other. The trout suddenly stood erect on its scaleless bottom and asked her if she would turn the spigot to let cool water trickle over him, like the waterfall by the river.

"Yes, of course," she said, delighted to please him.

"Thank you, Madam," said the trout. "You're very kind."

"You may call me Ahimsa if you like."

They quietly enjoyed each other's company. She suddenly stood and told him it was best if she retired to her room. After all, she had experienced a most unusual day and felt exhausted. Ahimsa closed the spigot and leaned over the tub, letting her fingers penetrate the trout's domain. He brushed against her hand. A tiny bubble escaped his mouth and burst when it reached the surface. She believed it to be a kiss.

He bid her good night as he settled in for a peaceful rest at the corner of the tub. She drew the curtain and left his room.

That night Ahimsa dreamt a handsome prince from a faraway land, dressed in plate armor, chose her name from the Sazloni Directory of Lonely Women. He visited her and promised she would be lonely no more. The prince asked her to marry him. She immediately accepted.

She awoke the next morning hoping to find the prince lying beside her. He wasn't there. Although only a dream, she felt something extraordinary had happened to her.

She had removed her chemise during the night and now lay on the bed musing about her dream lover. She tossed off the quilt. Only when she sat up did she notice flat shiny fish scales covering her body from the waist down.

Ahimsa jumped off the bed in horror and limped to the bathroom. She pulled back the curtain and found the trout waking from his watery dreams.

"Look at me!" she shouted. "I'm covered in fish scales. What have you done to me, you evil creature?"

"Fish scales?" said the startled trout.

"You cast a spell on me, Devil Fish!" she cried.

"I certainly did not," insisted the trout.

"Liar! You are no better than the rest. I thought I could trust you."

She wrapped herself in an overcoat, bolted out the front door, and hobbled down the street toward the police station.

Ahimsa told the constable that she was turning into a fish, the result of an evil spell cast by the trout in her bathtub. The policeman looked at her but saw no evidence and said she must have had a nightmare. She raised the bottom of her coat to expose the scales. Shocked by her immodesty, the policeman told her a second time that he saw nothing unusual except a very attractive woman.

"You liar. Look at my body! Am I the only one who can see them?" she said.

"Ahimsa, this is foolish. You're imagining things. Go home and make yourself a nice cup of tea. You'll soon forget this nonsense."

She refused his advice and railed until he agreed to visit her house and see for himself. When the policeman saw the trout swimming in the tub, he immediately snatched the fish out of the water and arrested it.

The trial lasted several days. Ahimsa sat alone at the rear of the courtroom, hidden behind a veil and a long black dress that covered her entire body. She desired to remain unnoticed by the townspeople who argued with each other for the best seats. None of them wanted to miss the most bizarre case in the history of the village.

The trout kept his own counsel but never spoke in his defense. What was the use? He knew no one but Ahimsa could understand, and now she chose to reject him. The prosecuting attorney presented his case, insisting the fish was a drifter disguised as a trout who had arrived in Sazloni, using sorcery and deceit to take advantage of a lonely, helpless woman. The fish remained silent when the judge asked him to respond to the prosecutor's accusation. The crowd in the courtroom gallery laughed, then hissed at the accused.

The fish glanced at the snarling jurors and knew he was in trouble. The verdict seemed obvious even before the prosecutor's closing remarks.

The sun shone brightly on the final day of the trial. A sunbeam penetrated a crack in the stained-glass window of the packed courtroom and struck Ahimsa's forehead. She shifted her body forward to escape the light and noticed a pool of glitter on the floor beneath her. Upon closer inspection, she realized the glitter was a pile of shiny fish scales.

Ahimsa slowly ran her hands up and down her legs. Scales fell from her like rainbow confetti. She cautiously looked around, then raised her dress and saw that her body had returned to normal. Ahimsa scooped up the flakes and placed them in her bag. Befuddled by this reversal of misfortune, she thought it was just another humiliation stacked on top of all her others.

She held the bag full of fish scales, trying to think of one good reason why the fish would lie to her as she claimed it did. The trout always showed her respect and compassion. Perhaps I made a terrible mistake, she thought. Ahimsa admitted to herself that she had overreacted to her transformation without understanding the reason for it. She and the fish had forged an unbreakable bond. Neither she nor anyone else had the slightest notion that love flowed upon the Rushing River to touch her plaintive heart. She had not recognized its extraordinary disguise.

Still, she refused to speak in the trout's defense, fearing her testimony would amount to an admission of madness. As expected, the jury found the trout guilty. One week later, prison guards delivered the fish to the judge who pronounced the sentence.

"We do not know who or what you are, just that you resemble a fish. You have failed to defend yourself and produced no witnesses to speak on your behalf. Therefore, I sentence you to Death by Drowning."

The trout stared at the judge, dumbstruck by the absurd punishment meted out. The next day the authorities escorted the fish to the banks of the Rushing River and placed him in a sack. The executioner lowered the bag into the river where the shallow water slapped against the rocky shore. After the mandatory five minutes of drowning, the coroner pronounced the trout dead. The executioner removed the fish from the sack and tossed it back into the Rushing River. The strong current carried the trout downstream into the deep and secure waters of his natural home. The trout decided he had enough of the foolish village called Sazloni and vowed never to be caught there again.

Time passed and Ahimsa grew old. Although the trout was long gone, she kept him in her heart. She no longer resented the words of others as she came to understand that truth can be as deceptive as lies.

She kept the bag of fish scales on her mantelpiece. Every evening, before she lit the candles and prayed, Ahimsa tied the bag around her waist and limped along the banks of the Rushing River where she cast a scale into the water as if sending a love letter, hoping the trout would find it and return to her.

Desire became her only hope and hope her only desire.


  1. This line made me laugh out loud, “ sweep her off her good foot” (As opposed to sweep her off her feet).

    I thoroughly enjoyed this read. I had to suspend disbelief even of the logic in the story, as in, if they saw no scales, why the trial? But I didn’t mind. I loved the main character. More and more as the story went on. Though she was a mystery. Why did the villagers say there was no violence upon them? Was she imagining it? Still, I loved her. She was all alone. The trial was kafkaesque. I loved it. The dialogue throughout was engaging and many times full of kindness. I loved this story! Fantastic job!

    1. Glad the suspension of disbelief worked for you. Thanks for your feedback and kind words. ----Stephen

  2. The story succeeds in defying my expectations. Turns into a prince? No. Ahimsa finds her prince? No. Fish and Ahimsa reunited? No. Ahimsa turns into a fish? No.
    Mr. Mirth Doug Hawley

    1. Yep. Life defied Ahimsa's expectations as well. Thanks for the comment.--Stephen

  3. The structure, tone, pacing and subtle humor of the story are classic for Jewish/Yiddish folktales. It is an homage to Isaac Bashevis Singer.
    I especially love how the deformities of the trout mirror the deformities of the protagonist.
    Sentencing a fish to death by drowning is an absurd, and absurdly excellent, ending.
    Well done!

    1. I've always read I B Singer for his insights regarding the humors and pathos of fate. The story is indeed an homage to him. Thanks! --Stephen

  4. This story has the playfulness of absurdism at its very best. Undisputed, of course, is the fact that Ahimsa is quite mad. For the townsfolk to try and then find guilty a trout is evidence of their madness too, unless that action was likewise a part of Ahimsa’s lack of touch with reality. I laughed out loud when the policeman repaired to the MC’s home and “immediately arrested the fish.” I wonder what sort of restraints he placed on the trout? Ahimsa has been horribly treated throughout her life, and that is sad. She suffers piteously from low self-esteem and misinterprets others’ remarks to fit her own low opinion of herself. This story is at once whimsical, thoughtful and melancholy. The care with which you penned it, Stephen, is evident, and thank you for doing so.

    1. Thanks for your comments, Bill. It's great to hear what readers find in one's stories. --Stephen

  5. I love the last line of this story. The writer has created a world with its own rules. However, the ending is so grounded in reality. We can all identify with the regret of letting a cherished friendship or love slip out of our hands. Well done, Stephen!

    1. Thank you, Rozanne, Even the absurd is a reflection of reality. --Stephen

  6. Cherilyn DeAgueroMay 12, 2024 at 5:45 PM

    The description and back story of the Woman leading to her sympathy for the Trout hooked me in this unique parable. As in life, her perception quickly unfolds through the absurdity of events leading to a trial and the verdict of a magical fish. Entertaining read with humor sprinkled throughout the fable.

    1. Thanks for your comment, Cherilyn.

  7. A truly unusual, but compelling and highly amusing fairytale like story. I particularly enjoy the interaction between the villagers and their absurdities. The sentence meted out to the 'smarter-than-the-lot-of-them' trout is a great way to end this tale.

    1. Thank you, Paul for your comments. Where does madness thrive, in the individual, the crowd, or is it simply an unalterable trait of humanity? Yes, why bother to proceed rationally when for the price of a few fish scales, one can possess enough crazy to feel comfy inside life's delusions.