I headed to the pier early that morning, as I usually do. I prefer fishing in the early morning. I like the quiet. Not that it is quiet, really. There is plenty of sound out on the pier. The seagulls always have something to say; and, even when they don’t, there is the endless beat of the waves against the pilings. If you stay long enough and pay enough attention, you can hear the waves change rhythm. And, of course, there is the rush of the breeze. The breeze is almost always there, but its intensity fluctuates greatly. When it’s a big blow, I don’t even bother coming down to the pier – no point. But when I do, it can clutch my clothes and wave them around, beating them against my body depending on its mood. This morning is slightly overcast and I smell rain in the air, so I’ve worn a heavier waterproof coat. It doesn’t drum quite as much as my lighter clothes do; the ones I wear when the weather is nicer. Now, I have my hood pulled back and can listen to the sighs of the wind brushing past my ears as I face into the gusts.
I stopped by the bait desk before going out on the pier today. There I bought a new bucket of silvers as I was out of bait from the red-headed teenage kid. Frank? I think that’s his name. He’s not the sharpest knife in the tackle box, if you know what I mean. I think he should be in bed or getting ready for school, but he isn’t. Oh well, I know school isn’t for everyone, but being a bait salesman at this hour isn’t a job for everyone either. As to the bait, some folks call them mud minnows, or so I’ve heard, but my pa always called them silvers, so that’s what I call them too.
My pa was the one that first taught me fishing. I still remember the first time he took me. We dug up worms in the garden by the garage and then hiked down the lane, across the cow pasture, down a trail through the wood lot, and finally got to a small pond. A neighbor lived up on a small ridge back further in the woods, but one couldn’t see the place from the pond. The Kronings. They were an older, retired couple that lived there with their pack of foxhounds. Mr. Kroning also kept the pond stocked with fish – overstocked really.
It’s all gone now, of course. Only my memories remain. That’s the way of the world, I guess. Each generation comes, lives their life, imprints the next few generations to some smaller or greater degree, and then … is gone.
Pa showed me how to bait a hook and cast. I wasn’t very good, obviously, it being my first outing and all. But he was patient, and he let me try with my little green fiberglass rod and reel. He had brought it home for me one day for no reason in particular that I can recall now. I guess he just felt it was time for me to learn to fish. Looking back on it, I suppose there wasn’t any risk in letting me try to figure out the casting business. It was summer and we stood under a brilliant blue sky on the freshly mowed, green grass bank, and there were no trees nearby to snag any wild casts of line. There were cattails in the pond, but those were on the far side, as best I can recollect.
Still, there were so many fish in the pond, casting was actually completely optional. The pond had clear water. Clear enough to see to the bottom, in fact. I remember standing there, line cast all of two feet out, and watching the fish circle the worm on the hook. After a few minutes, one of the fish, either goaded by its mates or simply hungry, would dart in and try to grab the worm. I caught twenty-two little fish in about an hour. Pa put them in a little yellow plastic bucket and then dumped them back in the pond when we ran out of worms.
When I got to the end of the pier that morning, I was surprised then to find a young woman sitting on one of the benches. She was alone and obviously not fishing. From the beach end of the pier, I had thought she was just something someone had left behind the night before. A cooler, a jacket, a cooler and a jacket, perhaps. I guess I thought this because she didn’t move. Not much anyway.
Though, I think I should make another appointment to visit the eye-doctor soon. My eyes aren’t what they used to be. The doc just tells me I’m getting old and that’s what happens when we get old. I suppose he probably knew that from an early age, too. He’s been selling glasses to all the folks around here for decades and lives in a big house up on Hazel’s Bluff. Got a new powder blue sports car – I saw it the other day – and a new, younger wife too.
Anyway, she was sitting on the bench to the right (there are two at the end of the pier) and she was just staring out to sea. A large camouflage duffel lay on the bench next to her.
It is quite a view from there, I must admit. The pier is very high and it juts out far enough into the sea that you have nothing but ocean in your view. It’s almost like being on a bow of a ship: nothing but you, the ocean, and the railings.
She jumped when I dropped my fishing gear. Not that I meant to, but my cooler slipped out of my hand when I went to set it down. I’ll blame it on the arthritis. I saw her give a start though and turn quickly to look my way. I smiled and muttered an apology. She just gave me a look that said, “clumsy old fool.” The first thing that I noticed was that she had close cropped dirty blonde hair. In fact, I have to admit I wasn’t sure if she was a he or a she from the back. She was wearing those Army camouflage pants, the beige and green coffee-stained ones and a dark blue hoodie sweatshirt.
I was going to fish off the left side of the pier so as not to intrude on her space, and was opening up my tackle box and started to rig out my pole, when she got up off the bench and walked over.
“Doing some fishing?” she asked.
“Yes,” I replied. She was closer now and leaned on the weather-beaten wooden railing, looking down the beach. I could tell then that she had been crying from the damp sheen on her cheeks. “Hoping to catch my dinner.” She was a petite, short than myself, and I guessed probably about 5’2″, though I was squatting and digging around in my tackle box.
“Are you in the military?” I asked.
“Yes, sir. On leave for a bit.” She turned around and leaned her back on the railing to watch me fumble around with my fishing gear. “What are you fishing for?”
She was quite a good looking young woman, I realized then. Very pretty, in fact, and despite the Army haircut and lack of makeup. She had pale blue eyes, high cheek bones, and her nose was slightly upturned. “Oh, flounder. Sometimes, I get lucky and catch one. But not as much as I’d like,” I answered.
I shrugged and gave her a smile. “You’re not from around here, are you?”
“No, I’m from up north.”
“We get plenty of Yankees who come down here. Though not this time of year. No offense, of course.”
“None taken,” she laughed. “It seemed pretty quiet. Guess it’s busier in the summer, eh?”
“Yeah, that’s when I make my living, the summer. It’s not as busy as it used to be, but it’s busier than now, for sure. What brings you here?” I opened the bait bucket and hooked a silver on the line. She was about the same age as my boy had been, I realized then. Same age that he’d been when he was killed in the car accident.
She hesitated then for a moment. “Nothing,” she said. Then she turned back around to stare out at the ocean. Her voice sounded different, softer yet also more vulnerable, as she spoke towards the ocean. “I had to get away, I guess. I hadn’t been to the ocean in a long time. It’s as far from Kabul as I could think,” she explained.
“Are you here with someone then?”
“No, no, sir,” she responded quickly, sharply. “Like I said, I had to get away from all that. That crap back home.”
I didn’t know what to say to that, so I didn’t say anything. I just cast the line over the railing and down, down into the surf below. We both leaned on the railing now and watched the waves breaking down the beach below.
“It’s beautiful here,” she said.
“Well, it’s not one of our nicer days, ya know. I mean, it looks like it’ll be raining within the hour.” I pointed to some dark, heavy clouds that were reeling in off the horizon.
“Well, yes. But, I was just thinking how amazing God’s creation is. Just enjoying it all, watching the sunrise over the ocean. Trying to soak up the good. You know?”
“Yeah, I think I do.” I’m not sure why, but I felt I needed to ask. “You said you had to get away. Can I ask? What from?”
She hesitated again. I could see her kicking at an old knot in the boardwalk with the toe of her combat boot. “Sure, why not?” She cleared her throat. “I had to get away from my boyfriend. Ex-boyfriend, that is.”
“Ah,” I said. I don’t know what I was expecting.
“Yeah, he’s a real turd. Found out when I got back that he’d been all, ‘Oh, Meaghan this; oh, Meaghan that’ while I was over in the ‘stan; but, he was selling all my stuff, running around with a couple of hoes, and got himself hooked on meth as well.” She sighed. “Not sure what I ever saw in that idiot.”
“I had to get out of there. I wanted to kill him.”
Something in the way she said that raised the hair on the back of my neck. “But… you didn’t, right?”
“No, sir. Wanted to. Can’t deny it.”
“So, you left and came here.”
“Yep. The way I figure it, there is good and bad everywhere. But, we choose ultimately. I decided to leave the bad behind and look for the good. Like a sunrise on the beach. It doesn’t get more beautiful than that.”
I felt a tug on the line then, so got off the hook. I started reeling the line in. It was a good sized fish and it put up a decent amount of fight.
“Ah, you got something!” she said. “Is it a flounder?”
“I hope so. We’ll find out, su’ enough.”
“Well, what about you? What’s your story? You the local fishing guy? Fishing all the time?”
“Yes. Well, that is no. I do like to fish and I fish a little in the mornings when I can. But not all the time, no. Got things to do, you know?”
“No. What do you do?” She laughed.
“Oh, I run the Lil Sandpiper Motel back in town with my wife. Well, we used to,” I bumbled this badly I realized. “I mean, I still do. She doesn’t. She died last summer… of cancer,” I finished lamely.
“Damn,” she said. “Sorry, sir. I mean…”
“It’s ok.” I tipped my head over towards my gear, “Think you can manage the net there. I’m reeling ‘er up.”
“Oh, ah, sure.” She went and got the net.
“The handle telescopes out…” I started. She’d already figured it out and was extending the net before I had finished the sentence. “You’ve fished?”
“Of course. My dad taught me. He passed away of a heart attack.”
She got the net under the fish and we hauled it up on the deck. It was a nice Southern Flounder. I won’t lie: it wasn’t the biggest ever. Not even the biggest that I had ever caught here. But, it was an impressive fish.
“Nice fish,” she said.
“That, it is. No doubt,” I smiled. I’d be eating flounder tonight, I thought to myself.
The wind picked up then and it started spitting down big drops of cold rain. “You got a rain jacket?” I asked her.
“This rain will soak you through in that thing.” I pointed to her hoodie.
“Yeah, I suppose you’re right. Better get back to the car.”
“You staying in your car?” I asked.
“Got nowhere else,” she said as she walked back to the bench to collect her duffel.
“You know, I was thinking, Meaghan. This here fish is a bit too much for just me. And, I got more than a few spare beds back at the motel. What do you say? Wanna do a little trade? Help me out a little around the Piper and you can stay in one of the rooms.”
She hefted the bag over her shoulder. I realized she was a lot stronger than she looked. “Well, I don’t even know your name.”
I laughed, “O’ course. Well, my name is Danny Smith. Everyone round here calls me Mr. Danny.”
“So, what sort of work, Mr. Danny?”
“Oh, I got some cleaning, patching, painting. You know, that sort of stuff. Sort of fell behind with Sally getting sick and all.”
She smiled a white smile, “Well, sounds like a good deal. I’ll have to go back in a week.”
“Ah, no strings. You’d just be helping me out some,” I explained. “‘Sides I hate to have people sleeping in cars. Motel owner and all.” I shrugged.
She laughed again at that. “What’s so funny?” I asked.
“Just thinking of something my Sunday school teacher said is all. You know, promising to make them fishers of men.”
We both laughed. Imprints.
Daily prompt: Fishing
photo credit: memories_by_mike