The creature lies still in the villa’s pool,
waiting for the day the caretaker rolls back the tarp
and the first wasps of the year thrash themselves
to stillness. Then they come, writhing on their inflatables,
the holidaymakers. It’s not until midweek
that the family’s youngest, grown sufficiently bored
and appalled, takes a rock in each hand, sinks cross-legged
down to the cool blue tiles, relieved to meet this speaking eel,
talk business, stroke its flex of tangle-proof neck.
As the child’s bubbles shrink to little pills
the creature offers her a scale from its back,
an oiled disc, indisputable proof to take up there
where, of course, her parents just adore her story
of the unamused eel-thing – and how clever
of you to find… what is that? A foreign coin? –
so even when she insists they meet the beast firsthand,
still they come up grinning – oh, yes – very fearsome.
Bet it would taste delicious on the grill.
All through lunch the child keeps the sharp-edged
eel-scale secreted beneath her tongue
(Are you feeling okay, sweetpea? Not hungry?)
an almost-pleasant numbness in her gums,
the certainty that behind this yellow sun
a blue one is waiting and while her parents
won’t listen, she sees it in their afternoon headaches,
in how they loll, woozy-necked in deckchairs, mouths slack,
bobbing for air – another world they refuse to believe in
and soon it will slide dripping
from the water – slip down their throats
Joe Dunthorne was born and grew up in Swansea. His debut novel, Submarine, was translated into twenty languages and adapted for film. His second, Wild Abandon, won the 2012 Encore Award. His latest is The Adulterants. His first collection of poems, O Positive, was published by Faber in 2019.
(Photo credit: Tom Medwell)