The Dogfish

Romolé careened into the city marketplace. He was pedaling hard, staring straight ahead without looking right or left; he had decided that if a cop yelled at him to show his permit, he would pretend not to hear. A man with a clear conscience— in other words, a vendor with a permit in his pocket— would be the last person to imagine that a cop was calling him rather than someone else.

The cop said nothing, and Romolé pedaled through the market, which was scalding under the sun. He headed straight for the fish section. There was a lot of activity over there. Amid the chaos, the vendors waited for their customers, surrounded by crates full of fish.

Romolé circled, circled calmly.

He was in good form; he could feel in his heart that things go well for him that morning.

He sidled up to a stand.

Among the crates, in the last row, there was one that contained two large cod. He picked one up, lifted up its gills to see if it was fresh,and held it against his nose to really get a good whiff; in other words, he went through all the motions. He squeezed and sniffed the two cod and then put them back in their crate. Then he pulled the crate back by about twenty centimeters and stood in front of it, still messing about fastidiously. Then he gave the crate a kick with the heel of his shoe and sent it flying into the middle of the floor.

Combing his tuft of blond hair— which came down almost to his nose—, he walked towards the scale, calmly, as if he were a fishmonger preparing to make a purchase, just to see if anyone had noticed the kick.

So far, so good. He went over to the case with the two cod and dropped a receipt into it. Then he picked it up, quite openly, and walked off with it under his arm;. Once he was outside the area of the fish vendors, he put it in a wheelbarrow that belonged to a fishmonger friend of his. He paid his friend fifty Lire upfront.

Then he headed back into the fish market.

He went around two more times, checking out the merchandise at the other stands. The crowd and confusion had increased. The morning sun was boiling hot.

Then Romoletto noticed the dogfish. It was a big fish, and must have weighed about 15 or 20 kilos. He stared at it, openly, and immediately noticed that it wasn’t fresh. He walked confidently over to look at some fish on the other side of the line of cases and then doubled back, grabbed the dogfish, and walked off slowly with it under his arm.

Someone else was using the wheelbarrow, so he stashed the dogfish in a corner near the back of the market. A cop came into the fish market to take a look around, and Romoletto walked away, whistling. He fetched his bicycle, wrapped the cod in paper and tied the package to the seat of the bicycle with string, hiding it as best he could. Then he went back in to the fish market. The cop was still there, but Romoletto calmly picked up the dogfish and walked right by him with the it under his arm, whistling. He appeared nonchalant, but his heart was beating hard, and all he could think about was how he was going to get out of the market without showing a permit. It would be more difficult now, with the goods. Just at that moment someone walked by with a wheelbarrow. Romoletto dropped the dogfish into the wheelbarrow and followed on his bicycle. Ten minutes later, the cod, the dogfish, and he were outside. He picked up the dogfish, tied it to the bicycle seat along with the cod, and took off. He pedaled fast, feeling happy. It was late morning, the air was hot, and the Testaccio neighborhood market would be crawling with people. After a quarter of an hour he was at the market. The fishmongers were packing up for the day, so he had to hurry. Romolé ran over to one of them who was closing up shop, a friend of his, and asked to borrow a table. He bought two bunches of leaves, and set up shop.

The two cod went in the blink of an eye.

They were nice big fish, about two-and-a-half kilos each, and Romolé got 1,200 Lire for them. Now there was just the dogfish to unload.

Romolé had high hopes for the dogfish. He peeled it, never doubting that it would be red on the inside.

In fact, it was black, black as pitch, and it reeked of ammonia. Romolé ran his fingers through his hair. He was tempted to throw it away: he didn’t want to have it on his conscience; whoever ate that fish was taking his life into his hands. But he needed the money. He brought down the price; after all, dogfish was a fairly obscure fish, and people didn’t know what it was supposed to look like.

But even at the lower price no-one bought the fish. They came over, caught a whiff, and turned away.

Romolé was feeling even blacker than the fish. Then he had an idea. He ran over to a lamb vendor, bought two portions of blood, and put them in his handkerchief. Then he squeezed the blood through the handkerchief and spread it over the fish, painting it bright red. He worked carefully, scrubbing the creases and folds on its belly. When he was done, the dogfish was flaming red, fresh as a rose.

Romolé cut it in half and placed the pieces on a lovely green bed of leaves.

But what about the stink? Now, people came up to look at the bright red fish, but as soon as they caught a whiff of the ammonia smell they turned away.

“Get your beautiful dogfish!” Romoletto yelled. It was beautiful, but it reeked. He had another idea. He ran over and bought two old lemons and started to scrub the dogfish all over, all the way to the backbone. Until the stink was gone.

Now Romolé could yell as much as he liked.

“Get your beautiful dogfish!” he yelled, “get your dogfish for just 400 Lire! Take a look at this beauty! I’m giving you pure gold, I am! Get your dogfish for 400 Lire!”

People started to come over, and someone bought a piece. Romolé sold 100 grams right away. The news traveled fast around the market, and people started to crowd around. After half an hour the dogfish was gone. Romolé gave 100 Lire to the young man who had lent him the table and beat it out of there, heading for the Trastevere.

1. Abbreviation of the diminutive (Romoletto) of the name Romolo.

Pier Paolo Pasolini is known primarily for his films. He was also a remarkable poet and novelist. In 1975 he was murdered by a homosexual prostitute.

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Pier Paolo Pasolini

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