Talking Fish

Appears in

Kitchen of Light: New Scandinavian Cooking

Kitchen of Light

By Andreas Viestad

Published 2003

I once kissed a fish.
It was in no way a romantic “I love you” kiss, nor a passionate “I want you” kiss, rather a quick, cautious kiss of the kind that is normally reserved for old aunts and remote French acquaintances. But these clarifications do not really make a difference, for it was a kiss. For a split second, my lips were in contact with the cold, wet skin of the fish—before I hastily retreated.

When I was a child, I loved the fairy tale of the fisherman who caught a talking flounder. As a trade-off for its release, he got three wishes. (As is so often the case with slightly moralizing fairy tales, he got greedy and ended up back where he started.) So when a shouting halibut landed in my boat, I was perplexed. It did not behave as fish should behave, for fish—I have always been told—are not supposed to make any sound. The shouts were low and hoarse, as if from a human trapped in a cave, and for a few seconds its eyes looked almost human. I held the hammer in my hands but I could not simply end its life without knowing for sure that it was not in fact something more than a fish. As my more cynical fishing companions were busy pulling in the rest of the net, I tried talking to the fish. There was no reply. That is when I did it: I gave it a quick kiss. The fish responded with another shout, sounding genuinely appalled, then it started flapping violently. When nothing else happened—it did not transform into a beautiful princess, nor did the shouting turn comprehensible—I whacked it on its head and returned to cleaning out the net.