Angela Stewart and The Boys of Karachay Lake
Stewart recounts how sometimes nature can revolt against its destruction @ Granta. When the fish in Karachay Lake, south of the Ural Mountains, Russia, went blind, not everyone stopped eating them. It was only a game. The boys, bored on a hot summer day, would wander down to the lake through the forest and pull off shirts and pants and splash into the murkiness, jump on one other’s backs and spit lake water into the air from their sunburnt lips. It was always warmer in Karachay than any other lake. When they had cooled off, they stood with their toes shoved into the silty bottom, knees bent, eyes flicking over the surface, hands hovering. The fish came to nibble at their calves and ankles, and even blind they could turn and flick away from the boys’ diving hands as fast as light winking off glass, as if turned by some secret code.
The fish had milky-blue eyes that bulged and reminded the boys of the old Red Army soldiers that sometimes wandered into the village and sat with tin cups and crusts of salt dried around their lids and lashes, stunned and hungry. The fishes’ gills opened and closed in panicky gasps and seized in the boys’ hands until the boys knocked them on the head. They filleted them and roasted them over a small fire, plucking the hot white meat from the sticks.
Once, one of the boys caught a fish and yelled at the others to come see. They splashed towards him where he stood with his catch held far from his skinny white chest. It was a small carp, slick and silver-brown with fat grey lips and both of its eyes on one side of its head. The boys laughed and poked at it, brought it back to the shore and sliced it open on a hot rock in the sun. They dug around in its guts looking for other oddities, and then dared each other to eat chunks of it raw. One boy picked up the head and flung it at the back of another with a bloody thunk.