There are many lives we might live, if our imagination permitted us, but the whole lot of our existence is determined by convention. -Intellectual Shaman
The sunrise was green, the eye of some wicked light, or a specter in the sky.
Jacob mended his nets. He could do it as quickly and as subconsciously as a woman knitting. The sea was empty, but it couldn’t be. There was a void under his boat, a vortex where no fish visited. He was drinking more, and Peter noticed, but didn’t say anything. The solution was to catch more fish, it was always to catch more fish—Broke up with your girlfriend? Catch fish. Can’t pay the rent? Catch fish. Worried about storms or monsters? Catch fish.
It’s the simple life that everybody wants, but few get to choose. Money and society get in the way. Everyone has to ask themselves what they are doing. You can’t go on pretending; time makes fools of pretenders. The milestones of life are like tombstones; if you miss one, it gets buried. Most regret what they didn’t do, but Jacob wasn’t that way, ten years a fisherman, one of the best, still an outsider in a small town, a pretender. He wasn’t going anywhere, even if the fish had.
“Peter, where’s my coffee?”
“Didn’t think you’d be in a hurry to drink this stuff.”
“Well, I’m not, but it gives me an excuse to drink the other stuff.” He poured whiskey, and sipped it in the morning light. Morning and night were his friends. The day belonged to someone else. Mr. Coleridge. The man was losing his patience. It was his boat. It was his money. The world turned for the owners, and the fishermen were stuck in the storm.
“You know, Peter… I’m getting tired of dropping the nets into the ocean and catching seaweed. We’re desperate men. What’s the pool on us, anyway?”
“We quit or get fired by Friday.”
“That sounds right. Desperate men do desperate things…”
“What do you have in mind?”
“Let’s pull into the harbor.”
“The bar’s not open until afternoon.”
It smelled like seawater and barbecued crab.
“Coleridge comes in here, boys. I wouldn’t let him catch you drinking.”
“Say Sam, you know the customers?”
“Where might we find some dynamite?”
“You need to stop drinking.”
“The farmer blows up an occasional tree stump.”
Jacob finished their beer for both of them.
Coleridge walked in. “You boys haven’t been drinking, have you?”
“No, just regrouping,” Peter covered.
“Catch some fish, or Thursday will be your last.”
“You know better than to sass him. What’s going on with you?”
The dynamite was packed in wooden crates. “We’ll take two.”
“What are you going to use this for?”
“I hope it works.”
“Me too. The fish are staying home.”
“It’s a pandemic. The fish won’t be in school.”
Jacob smiled, a cool smile. A smile that flexed for pain, to set itself above the system.
Back in the harbor, they leaked exhaust, like smog foretelling a tragedy.
“Anything? See anything?”
“Why don’t you take us out into the dark water?”
“Drop the dynamite.”
“That’s a big fish.”
“That’s not a fish. Get the gaff. Attach it to the stern. Start pulling.”
“The engine is coming apart!”
“Keep it going.”
“That’s a giant squid.”
“Call the bar. The town is going to have a barbecue.”
The soup never tasted better.
” I bet that’s why the fish are gone. The thing ate them.”
“Now we’re eating it. Circle of life.”
“You boys did good. Aren’t you going to taste your prize?” Mr. Coleridge asked.
“We don’t eat squid; we’re Jewish”
“Suit yourself,” Coleridge laughed. He served himself another bowl. The fishermen went back to their boat. The week was over.
“We’re still in business,” Peter said.
“That is, unless the creature ate all the fish.”
Sunday swam by and they pulled in tons of Abalone. When they got back to the town, it was deserted.
“What happened to everyone?” Peter asked.
“Let’s go have a drink.”
Muddy slithering was a signature on the floor. There were men swimming in the harbor, with tentacles and fins shooting out of their bodies.
“Monsters,” Jacob muttered. “We knew better than to eat the soup.”