Eyes, Fish, Writing and Painting

Several paintings, a book cover, and a swirl of tropical fish.

Dear Reader,

Over the years I have had many people ask me why fish appear so often in my poems, short stories, novellas and novels. These include those written under my own name and the two books written under the pseudonym of Craig Carden. A lot of my paintings and drawings include, or wholly involve, fish. Why? The answer lies in my early childhood and involves something my mother did during a time when I was experiencing severe eye problems. Here is the story:

My fascination with fish, often bordering on the fanatic, began as a young child. Between the ages of three and a half and nine, I had to undergo several operations to my eyes. At the conclusion of each operation, my eyes were heavily bandaged. I could not see for about a week after my first operation and for two weeks after the second. Whenever the time came to remove the bandages, I was always filled with a great deal of expectation. Finally, I would be able to see again. It was strange to be looked after in hospital by people who I learned to recognise by voice only. As I lay in the dark, I spent a lot of time imagining what they looked like.

Following my second operation, as was done after the first, the bandages were removed in an almost-dark room so that my eyes, unused to the light for some time, would not hurt. The hospital room had blinds and they were slowly, slowly opened to allow more and more light to filter in. Even though this was all gently done, my eyes felt as if they were being stabbed. The first thing I saw after the bandages were carefully removed, and the blinds were close to half open, was a bowl of colourful fish. They were being held by my mother who had bought and then carried them into the hospital for me. As I got used to looking into the light again and the pain began to subside, I concentrated on the moving colours right in front of me: red, black, orange, blue, silver gently moving in and around brilliant green water weed.

The bowl with the little fish stayed beside my bed until I was ready to be discharged about two days later. They were two guppies and two red wagtail platies, and they made the journey back with me from seaside Durban to rural Zululand, a place of rolling green hills, citrus trees and sugar cane. The car was a station wagon and I lay in the back all the way home. Every hour we needed to pull over so that ointment could be administered to my eyes. We also used this opportunity to check that the fish, placed in a plastic bag for the journey, were okay.

To this day I have never been without fish. My mother had unknowingly begun a lifelong hobby. Today, many, many years later, I have several tanks in my bedroom and the fish are the last things I see when I go to sleep and the first when I wake up.

To those of you who write and paint: happy creating.

Andrew Pender-Smith