Friday, March 10, 2006

176. The Fish and the Farm

Then there's the story of the fisherman who, unlike Ahab, chose to let the one that got away get away. He pulled up his poles, turned the bow towards shore, and throttled up the engine. Done with years at sea, he decided to try his hand, finally, at farming. As he piloted his boat, he imagined the joy he would see in his wife's eyes when he gave her the news - because she knew as well as he that the sea was always his first love. Until today. He rehearsed the words he would use to tell her, speaking them into the wind. He tried different versions, each simpler and more to the point, until he decided on two simple words. "I'm home."

Just before he pulled past the buoy that marked the entrance to the harbor, not ten feet off his starboard side, the water erupted as if shot out of a cannon and within this column of water, a fish like the one he had been chasing throughout his life. And as in movies, and as in memory, and as it is during those fleeting, pivotal moments in life - time slowed to a crawl, slow enough that he could trace individual trajectories of drops within the cascade. That is, he could have if he was watching the water, but he was not. He was transfixed on the glorious, silver specimen rising up out of the deep, pelagic blue.

Time continued to slow, winding down like clock whose balance spring has lost all tension. And this fish continued its ascent up out of the water. It reached the apogee of its arc through the shimmering, salty air, and for one transcendent instant, it hung there as if mounted on his wall by taxidermy. In that moment, the fisherman was transported back to his house, three streets back from the pier. No, it wasn't he that was transported, it was more that his trophy room materialized out on the open sea, framing itself around the fish right at the spot that he'd been reserving for this one last token of the sea.

There was a splash and the sting of salt in his eyes. The boat rocked, caught his sea legs unprepared, and he nearly fell over but muscle memory kicked in and kept him upright. He shook the water from his hair and the fish was gone. He raised a hand to wipe his eyes. His sleeves were wet. With his other hand, he throttled the engine back, all stop.

And though the fish was gone, and he was still out there at sea, his mind lingered in his trophy room. There was the space on the wall where he had intended to mount his prize. Without it, the room seemed incomplete, empty, wrong somehow. In this space, a need to fill it, to set things right. He could feel the need crescendo, morphing into desire, flooding his heart with bitter want, a livid thirst to complete the room with this one last token from the sea. And then his wife walked in, wrapped her arm around his waist, tilted her head, resting it on his shoulder. And she whispered into his ear.

The propellers spun the sea into a frothy foam. The bow pushed forward through the choppy waters. Thoughts of corn, carrots, leeks, and radishes (all of them organized, row by row) ran through his head.

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