Kyle Bradley Cassidy
We're part of a living web, intricately bonded to others and the earth. And when we can't understand the point to our lives, sometimes we understand the bait on our hooks...
It's midnight and Dominique wants to go to The Rat. She wants to be around a lot of people.
"Yes, go out," she says, "like to a bar or somewhere. I'm tired of hanging around here... and I have a baby-sitter."
We meet a bunch of annoying people and a horrible band is playing good songs. I run into this guy whom I used to live with; I haven't seen him in a long time and we start talking. Dominique buys me a beer in a plastic cup. I listen to the band and I'm relatively happy. We're there for an hour and they turn the lights on. It's pretty late and the bar starts to close. Nivin and Sandy's friends are sitting in the corner, maybe twenty of them. It was dark before and I hadn't noticed them. "We're going over to Nivin and Sandy's," says one of them.
I ask Dominique if she wants to go back there, and she says "Yes," and that she'll wait outside for me. She is talking to some guy at the door. I sit down with a small woman with black hair, dressed in overalls. "I'll see you guys over at Nivin and Sandy's then," I say, and wave.
Dominique is sitting outside the bar watching television. We get up and walk back to the car.
"Do you want to know what our problem is?" Dominique says suddenly. "Do you want to know why I don't love you?"
"No. I don't want to know," I say. I get out of the car and slam the door. "It's pointless. I don't care. I really don't anymore."
I start back across 322, heading for my house. She's yelling at me across the street: "Remember this! You're walking out on me! You're the one who's walking away from this relationship!"
I get home and it's about two o'clock. I sit around the apartment for a while holding my face in both hands, like I'm trying the Vulcan Mind Meld on myself, and then I call my sister in Oak Park, Illinois. She's not home and her answering service gives me a number in Florida. I call her at the Holiday Inn in this town called Stuart.
"Hey, what's up Big Bro?" she says. That's what she's called me since she was about five. Before that she called me "Beehee," which was her best attempt at enunciating the difficult collection of consonants and vowels in my name. She doesn't sound as though she were asleep.
"Nothing," I say. I haven't talked to her in a long time; apart from holidays I haven't seen her in seven years and I hardly know what to say. "What are you doing?"
"We're busting a firm here in Stuart," she says. My little sister is a secret agent. She works for the government in the Department of the Treasury. I say it like that because it sounds glamorous. What she does is pose as a naive investor with a lot of money and go to brokerage firms and get defrauded and then pull out a gun and a badge and a calculator. A bang and a crash and a whole squad of SWAT accountants come in and take over all the best offices in the building and start to dismantle the place by paperwork. There is a lot of sweating going on and sometimes, I suppose, people jump out of windows or run to Paraguay or call their mistresses and tell them to get the hell out of the condo before the accountants find out about it.
"Are you okay?" she says.
"Okay? I'm fine."
"You sound listless."
"I'm always listless. I'm having a crisis."
"Oh. Well, hey, why don't you come down here?" she says. There is genuine concern in her voice. "The weather's nicer and it's therapeutic."
"Ha," she says and there's some giggling. I think that maybe there's somebody else in the room. She says, "Hold on." A click and a mechanical silence and I'm on hold for what seems like an hour. She comes back on the line. "You have five hours to get to the airport for the 7:20 to West Palm Beach. It's USAir and the flight number is 302. Is that okay?"
"Okay? That's great."
"Do you have any classes?"
"Classes? I don't need no stinking classes. Hell with classes."
I'm really glad I have a sister.
On the plane ride down I sit next to a zombie who sleeps the whole way and keeps retching, like he's about to hock up a hairball. I eat a lot of Eagle peanuts and write a letter to Dominique on the barf bag.
West Palm Beach: I'm going down the escalator towards baggage claim and I can recognize my sister by her feet because she's wearing really stupid shoes. The rest of her comes into view and she sees me and runs up the escalator and throws her arms around me and almost knocks me down.
"Hi big bro! I missed you! I really have!"
"I missed you too, little sister."
"What's your crisis? You sounded so awful on the phone. Want to talk about it?"
"I don't know how. It's a moral crisis. I think. Maybe it's a generation thing. Are you suffering from angst, nihilism, boredom, and depression?"
"Ah, no," she says, "I suffer from Lawn Doctor, condo payments, and inadequate tax shelters." My little sister makes a lot of money.
"How long can you stay?" she says.
"I don't know. Until I go back."
"Won't they miss you at school?"
"They'll survive," I say.
She squeezes me really tightly and we walk outside. I'm blown away by the weather which is amazingly warm, while I'm dressed for New Jersey where it's about two degrees above freezing. We talk on the car ride back about stupid things, and then she says: "How's Dominique?"
I sort of grunt and look out the window.
"Is that your crisis? Did you guys break up or something?"
I think about this for a while. "We broke up, but I don't think that's my crisis."
"Do you and Dominique get along?"
"No. Not really."
"Wow. It's been how long now?"
"Off and on, five years."
"And it's not getting any better?"
I laugh. "Ha. It's never gotten any better. I've spent five years in an unrequited maelstrom of emotion and panic."
"You're being melodramatic."
"Of course I am."
"And you're not being fair."
"Of course I'm not. Dominique? No -- she's not even part of it -- it's me, there's something inside me, like a magnet, or a black hole that's pulling everything into this singularity -- I have a feeling that my universe is about to implode. But that has nothing to do with..."
"With anything," then I add, "I don't know if it's me who's crazy, or if it's the people around me."
I look out the window again and I'm wondering what's wrong with me, or if there's anything wrong with me. I figure that there's nothing wrong with me.
We don't talk the rest of the way back to the motel. When we get there she introduces me to the Attack Accountants, David and Joe. David has red hair and freckles, so does my little sister. Joe is a stocky guy with black hair and glasses.
"He's a republican," my sister whispers in my ear as I shake hands with him. His hand is slimy. The two of them are sitting in Joe's room, watching some basketball game. Joe is talking about The Symposium and gets into a fight with my sister about absolute beauty and homosexuality, or five armed lovers, or something weird like that. I'm sitting on the edge of the huge bed not really paying attention, staring into the upper left hand corner of the television picture. Joe accusingly calls my sister Cartesian, and somebody says something about breakfast. As we get up my sister is saying: "Cartesian? Me? You stink, therefore you are."
Though I'm full of peanuts I go along with them to Denny's. About a billion old people live (expire?) in Stuart, which boasts an enormous billboard which bears only the isolated word RETIREES! in huge white-on-black letters just as you enter the town. All the old people are bloated and they keep looking at my long hair and calling me "ma'am." They are also all at Denny's. This doesn't put me in a good mood. But then David buys a paper and gives everybody a part of it while we're waiting for our food. I end up with the Lifestyles section which has a big article on Ernest Hemingway teaching F. Scott Fitzgerald's daughter, Helga or whatever, how to fish. Picture of him standing on the back of a boat with a machine gun. The caption says that he used the machine gun to shoot sharks while fishing in Key West.
"You know," I say, "while I'm here I'd like to go to Sloppy Joe's, that bar that belonged to Hemingway."
"You know," says my little sister, "Ernest Hemingway was born in Oak Park. His house is right down the street from mine, like a block away."
"That's cool," I say, "I never knew that."
"Yes," she says. "He called Oak Park 'the land of wide lawns and narrow minds.' "
"Ha ha. What did Oak Park think of that?"
"They named the library after him."
After breakfast I fold up the Hemingway article with the intent on taking it home and reading it, or at least hanging up the pictures on my bulletin board, but the maid is going to throw it out the next morning when she cleans the room.
My little sister and her squad of Stormtrooper Bookkeepers run off to work to make peoples' lives miserable, and I sit by the pool reading a tattered copy of The Fifth Column, which was on the night table, a spy thriller by Paine Harris called Thunder of Erebrus, as well as a rather quaint little book called The Abortion by Richard Brautigan. I'm so bored that I read about six pages from each at a time and then switch.
The sun broils down upon me and old people thrash around in the pool in front of me and I can never tell if they're drowning or not. Every couple of minutes I look up over the pages of the book and pick out the ones worth saving if they do start to drown. I figure that I probably wouldn't save any of them. But then I could be wrong.
On the ground by the pool tiny lizards dart out and snatch up huge, black, radioactive ants off of the concrete, chewing with thoughtful pause. The lizards are very swift and disappear beneath the sheltering branches of low shrubs.
I pick up my journal and write down some observations about the people in the pool. I think these observations are pretty shrewd and fairly articulate (if not disquietingly misanthropic), though unfortunately very Hemingway. My delusions of literary grandeur will however be put aside a week after I get back; the good people at Coma get extremely upset when they read these, especially a strange young girl with straw-yellow hair who for some odd reason thinks I am insulting her grandmother.
By four of the clock I have finished both The Abortion and The Fifth Column, but of all the things I was reading the one that I found most entertaining was the spy novel. I wonder about this and go back to the room.
I take a shower and notice that I have a pretty good burn started on my front and back. As always, my sides have not tanned, neither has my neck nor the underside of my chin. These white spots are in collusion with the iron shaped white patch on my chest. It's the 'I was reading a book' sun tan -- the only kind I've been able to get.
I watch TV for a while and then write in my journal about an old woman and her granddaughter I had watched fighting at the airport. The woman was so old that she had forgotten that she was once young and the granddaughter was too young to imagine getting old. They sat facing one another, despising one another, and making no attempt at understanding one another's position.
Nothing there on television, so I grab my books and wander back to the pool, thinking to do a few laps or something. The pool is too small to do laps, but I want to get in the water for a while if only to justify my being in Florida.
"Oh, hi. How are you?"
"Well, I'm under the delusion that I am Ernest Hemingway. I'm warning you now."
"It's the fair thing to do. Thanks. Hey, about last night--"
"I'd rather not talk about it."
"Sure, of course."
"I mean I'm sure you've got your reasons and all... I don't know. I just can't think about anything."
"Do you ever think of anything?"
"I am the architect of my own destruction. Sometimes I just can't do the right thing even when I know what it is, when I know I'm doing something wrong, something that I'll regret, I just go on and do it anyway. I mean, sometimes, well, most time I guess it looks like I don't care, but I do, I mean about everything. I care, I'm just not... there. Hey, I was a poet and was unaware of it..."
"I think that sometimes you don't know what you're looking for and that sometimes you don't know how to get it. I think that sometimes you won't talk to anybody and that pisses people off and they think you're a snob or something."
"That's not it at all. I mean, sometimes I won't talk to anybody, but that's because nobody knows what I'm thinking. And I can't articulate myself to anyone. Sometimes I'm not even thinking about anything, sometimes I'm just there and people look at me like I'm out of my tree or something. I feel like I've got to be doing something all the time or I'm letting someone down. Hey, have you read "Everything Always Reminds You of Something?" It's about this boy whose father is a famous writer. Not only is he a famous writer, but he's good at everything else too; everything he touches turns to gold. He's especially fond of sports, he shoots pigeons -- they shoot clay ones now, but these were real -- and he shoots them really well, like 99 for 100, and the last one limps, ya know?"
"Yeah, I know. Right."
"So the kid's got to live up to this father, who has tremendous expectations of him. The father's not pushy or anything, well, actually he is... just by being so great at everything, he's pushing his kid to be really great at something. So the kid starts to shoot pigeons, and he's really good at it, and the father marvels at how great the kid is at this and he's proud and happy and all."
"Yeah.... A football dad."
"And so one day, the kid brings his dad this story that he's written and the father is cowed, completely floored -- the story is fantastic! It's amazing, the father has never seen anything like it, he's sure his kid is a genius, and he starts pushing him even more, slowly, subtly, like he's trying not to, but he is..."
"And the father keeps saying to the kid, 'Why don't you write something else? You can show it to me, and maybe I can help you with it. If you want to.' And the kid says, 'Yeah, sure dad, I will.' And the kid goes back to boarding school, and like two years later the father is in the kids room at home looking for something and he finds a book of short stories by somebody and the story that the kid says he wrote is in there, he plagiarized it, word for word, including the title, just to impress his old man."
"So what are you saying?"
"I don't know. That's my point, I'm not saying anything. Do I always have to be saying something? I can't be profound 24 hours a day. I mean, it's just a good story, and I've been thinking of Hemingway and of, you know, crashing through the waves and catching marlin and harpooning them and machine-gunning sharks that attack my catch.... I think like that sometimes. It's in my universe."
"This is pointless. Look, Bradley, I don't want to talk about this anymore. Maybe you think like Hemingway, maybe Hemingway's in your universe. It's nice to know that somebody is. But you don't have any space in your universe for me. You never have -- you've always been alone with yourself and in love with yourself. I've made up my mind. We're through, you know. Forever. There's someone else in my life now, someone who doesn't fill me with empty spaces and dread and nihilism. I've given this a lot of thought. I don't love you. I've never really loved you. I'm sorry. I don't want to talk to you anymore."
About an hour later I hear the carload of economists pull up outside and three doors slam in rapid succession. Joe is talking about some contraceptive device they've been testing on chickens, he'd read about it in some agricultural magazine. It was some sort of body condom. Then I hear David remark: "For the hen-pecker?" They all laugh, and I can't help but snort myself from where I'm sitting on the bed, dripping wet hair into my journal.
My little sister comes into the room and I say "Hi," and am very glad to see her. She is smiling; we look for movies on T.V. There is one on with Adam West, the guy who used to be Batman. It's a campy thing about some race of aliens trying to recruit high school kids to go back to planet Mung with them or something. I'm not really paying too much attention, but it is funny and sad in parts. We watch this movie for a while and then my little sister wants to go out to eat. These attack accountants, they eat out a lot. We go. I am not hungry, but I eat an omelette stuffed with mushrooms anyway.
My little sister had three books on her night table, the aforementioned Fifth Column, which I'd since thrown into the pool, Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe, and Foucault's Pendulum. When we get back to the motel, she sits down on her bed. I've always held that you can learn a lot about a person by knowing what books they're reading.
"What the hell are you reading Catcher in the Rye for?" she asks. She is going through the books on my night stand.
"It's a good book. Aren't I allowed to read good books?"
"Brad," she says heavily, giving me a sort of serious look. "I trust you, big bro, really I do, more than anybody else in the world, and sometimes when I think that I've done something really clever, I look back and think of something even more clever that you've done."
"Sometimes though I'm afraid that you're deluding yourself."
I frown at her. "Of course I'm deluding myself. I am deluged with delusion. All of it self-indulged. Of the most deluxe varieties. How am I deluding myself?"
"You're an idealist."
"You're an anarchist."
"But that doesn't work. It doesn't work outside of Walden Pond and it'll never work as long as there are more than thirty people on this planet. The vanguard is gone and the current leaders are deranged."
"I'm not really an anarchist." I can't think of anything to say, any way to explain anything to her. I suddenly feel very inarticulate. "I used to know this guy named Bateman, he was a chess player, still is -- it's weird, all these things that have happened to me that you don't know about. It's been a long time. The thing is, he's crazy as a loon -- Bateman that is -- excellent chess player, but he talks to leaves -- I mean the kind that fall from trees. He's crazy, completely, but we used to play chess all the time together. Anyway, he admitted to me once that he didn't like to play chess. He couldn't stand it, but he liked the way people looked at him when they knew that he was a professional chess player."
"What are you saying?"
"Nothing. Whatever I'm saying I guess I'm not saying it very well. I'm not really an anarchist. I don't believe the anarchists. They just dress really well."
When it gets late we turn out the lights, but the curtains are open a little and the light pours in yellow and bright and stark in a manner which is particular to motels. We're both sitting up in our beds, and the entire place feels like a motel. Even if I closed my eyes and shoved my fingers in my ears and pinched off my nose, I'd still know that I was in a motel somehow. The bed feels like a motel bed, the sheets feel crisp and cheap like motel sheets. I've already stolen the Gideon's Bible, which I do every time that I'm in a motel for some reason. I've got dozens of them. I don't know why, I suppose it's a character flaw. It's a lousy translation anyway.
My sister bounces a couple of times in bed and starts talking about the form of Zen she's been practicing, how she's been sitting zazen in the full lotus position with her legs bent up all crazy around her neck like pretzels. No one in my family was Zen before her, it requires far too much discipline. My sister's really practicing hard, though. From the way she's talking, I doubt that she's searching for, or even believes she will attain any form of enlightenment -- whatever that may be -- but she's a lot more peaceful than anyone else I know. My little sister is considerably more relaxed within self than I am. She's more forgiving and less cathartic. She's been able to forgive me in a way that I never have and let dead things pass.
We talk about what we want to do tomorrow. I say that I want to go snorkeling or go to Sloppy Joe's. She wants to go deep sea fishing.
I plop down on the bed, still laying on top of the covers. It is quiet for a long time. Then my little sister says in an amazingly quiet voice:
"Are you alright?"
"I'm fine, really."
"You sounded so bad on the phone, you sounded awful."
"I'm sorry about that. I just got carried away, I mean, I overreacted to everything I guess. You know how I always exaggerate stuff... nothing happened and I made a big deal about it."
"You sounded like you lost... everything."
"Heh, no. Really I'm sorry, sis. Nothing happened. I'm okay. Okie- dokie. Sometimes I just get pissed at the world because it's not what I want it to be. That's all. No cause for alarm."
"This is the first time that I've known you as a grown up. Like you're a real person now. I haven't really seen you since you were in high school."
"This is the first time I've ever met you, it seems like. I'm really sorry. I must have sounded like a wreck on the phone, but really nothing's wrong. I'm fine, though I'm afraid that I'm not a very likeable narrator."
Sometime during the course of the night I fall asleep.
The next morning we eat at Denny's again. The place is packed with octogenarians who all look at me weird. I'm getting tired of this so I start looking weird back at them. David tells us that his older brother Rob played Oingo or something on The Banana Splits Show, back in 1968 or whenever.
"Like sports?" he says to me.
"Nope," I reply, looking up into his sort of thin red face.
"There was this one guy, he owned a baseball team, I shouldn't say who he was, but we busted his parent company -- when?"
"February," says Joe.
"Yeah," says David, "February. Joe and I went in, he had a seat in the futures exchange, and -- "
"I don't understand any of the economics stuff," I say, "it's all over my head."
"Oh," says David, looking disappointed, as though the best part of the story had to do with decimal points and pork bellies. "Well, uh, after we busted him, like there were cops and treasury department agents crawling over this guy. He had a hundred and ten safes in his building and we pulled all the papers, everything and this guy was rotten, let me tell you, every scrap of paper we looked at, even the toilet paper, it was all adding up: this guy was crooked as a corkscrew. He was lookin', just from a preliminary standpoint mind you, at six, seven million dollars in fines. Your sister just threw him the hell out and set up in his office. He was sitting in this meeting room across the hall with two treasury police just shaking like a leaf and your sister was calling him in every ten minutes for files -- she even sent him out for doughnuts -- and he couldn't take it. He just hit the bottle, got completely sloshed. Plastered, this poor guy was, drinking whiskey or something, sloppy all over the place and when we closed up for the day to come back to the hotel he asks your sister if she wants to go out to some bar with him -- what one?"
"Scaramuchi's," my sister says.
"Yeah," says David. "Scaramuchi's, ever heard of it?"
I shake my head.
"God, killer expensive this place. Well, anyway, she says yes, and they go out to this bar and he's there, young guy, maybe thirty five, watching his life going down the toilet. I guess she felt sorry for him or something."
My sister shrugs.
"And there's a couple other people from his company there, his golf buddies or what-not, and they start doing these drinks called Flaming Liberties."
"Statue of Liberty," says my little sister.
"The drink is called a Statue of Liberty."
"Oh, right, yeah. Well anyway, this drink it's like a shot of Everclear, grain alcohol, like 190 proof or what-not, and you stick your two fingers in the shot glass, your index finger and your middle finger, and then you hold them over your head and somebody sets them on fire with a match. You hold them over your head like the torch on the Statue of Liberty and you do this shot, like you drink the grain, and then you put your goddamn fingers out in your mouth and drink a chaser of fruit juice. And they were doing these things and this guy was already drunk, I mean, wasted, and here he was doing shots of Everclear.... Well anyway, 'bout his third shot he dips his fingers in the glass, holds them up in the air -- your sister sets them on fire, right? So his fingers are flaming... he throws the shot into his mouth but he forgets to swallow it, shoves his fingers in there, and BOOM! Blows his face off."
"Not really," says my sister.
"Well," says David, "there was this huge fire ball and he burned all the hair off of his face, like his goddamn bangs and his eyelashes and his eyebrows, and they took the poor guy to the hospital. That's about the funniest damn thing I ever heard of."
"Pretty funny," I say. "The world's a dangerous place."
"Hey, you wanna go deep sea fishing today?" asks David.
"Fishing," I say. "Sure. Sounds good."
A map is produced and over breakfast some decisions are made as to the why's, where's, and how's. By the time the check comes we pretty much know what we're doing and we head out of Denny's into the Stuart sun, aimed for coastal waters.
Captain Joe is a scruffy looking character who ought to have been in Jaws. He sits in the fighting chair on the back of his boat the Lady Skids -- whatever the hell that means -- burned almost black by the sun, squinting at us through creviced eyes. He is probably fifty or sixty and he looks us over as though he knows we will never amount to anything like what he has -- even if we live to be a thousand.
"Are you Captain Joe?" asks David as we get out of the car. "You charter, right?"
The captain nods.
"My name's Joe, too," says Joe with an idiot grin. The captain nods again.
"Hi," says my sister, squinting back at him. "I'm Rachel."
The captain says nothing, looking us over warily with a creased face like worn leather. His eyes are white-blue, like a pale sky and they are incongruous on his dark face, like that girl on the cover of that National Geographic. He seems strong yet tired and in his hands he is absently tying and untying a piece of twine.
"I'm Ernest Hemingway," I say, stepping forward and staring solidly into his eyes. The captain's face slowly splits in a huge grin and thirty teeth like white doors clap together in a mastication of a laugh.
"HoHoHo!" he bellows like a jolly Florida Santa Claus, slapping his leg. "Well by all means then, come aboard, Papa! What you after? Spoonbill? Swordfish? Sailfish? or Marlin? Cobia? Dolphin? Kings maybe? Blues? Grouper? How about Spanish Mackerel? We got it all, it's all out there, in the water. Water's blue, like your eyes are blue. Barracuda! Sharks! Eat you whole they will, won't they Papa?" he says, looking down at me with a stern but manageable eye.
"Splashin' and hollerin'," I say out of the corner of my mouth, looking back at him, "and the eyes roll white when they bite down..."
Captain Joe laughs again and holds out his hand. I take it and he pulls me on board and the others after me.
My sister gives the captain two hundred dollars, which he counts, first wetting his thumb on a wide slab of tongue, then counting the fifties out loud.
"We got the two mates comin' aboard and then we're off." He clambers up the stairs and a few seconds later a loud boat whistle sounds. The captain returns and shortly a pair of even scruffier- looking characters approach and board the boat. The first is tall with long, curly brown hair and sunglasses. He introduces himself as Bayan. The captain jerks an impatient thumb at him and he immediately climbs the stairs. The second individual is a seasoned salt named Matt, who has short, poorly groomed hair and a beard almost two feet long. He is wearing blue overalls and one cotton work glove on his left hand. His eyes are permanently lost behind dark wire sunglasses and I wonder if he even had any eyes.
We get under way and Matt starts explaining how we're going to be fishing, what we're using for bait and all. Basic crap like that. All I'm worried about is not getting seasick, which is an experience I had once at the age of twelve. It is not one which I would care to repeat.
As we are crashing through the waves at speeds which can only be considered reckless, a flock of pelicans flies along side of the boat, flapping their wings easily and remaining motionless in the air, stationary ten feet away from where I stand at the rail. Matt throws things at them and curses. And I start to think, somewhere in the dank recesses of my head:
The pelican begins with its vengeance, A terrible curse of thirst has begun, His shipmates blame bad luck on Matt-the-Mate, About his neck, the dead bird is hung....Joe -- the accountant, not the captain -- is sitting on a bench upstairs looking rather green. I sit down a few feet from him, mostly because there's less wind up there behind the flying bridge and it's still outside. My sister and David are inside, I think, where somebody is handing out small orange bags of potato chips, that they may be thrown into the ocean and choke whales or something. The boat continues in this heedless manner for about half an hour, after which time the captain drops anchor -- no doubt after consulting his sonar rig or something. Matt-the-Mate comes around and throws a bit of squid on everybody's hook and we drop them over the side. No sooner has my bait struck the bottom than something hits and my pole bends.
"Hey!" I call, "I got one on!" There is a sudden rush of exhilaration and Matt-the-Mate comes to stand beside me. I reel the line in. There's not much resistance and I can tell that it's a small fish. Looking down I can see an insignificant silver shape, maybe ten or fifteen feet down. This is my fish. I watch it as it gets closer to the surface. It breaks and I lift it out of the water. It is a sea bass, about nine inches long or so.
"I'll get that for you," says Matt-the-Mate.
"It's too small for anything -- " I am saying when he grabs the fish in his gloved hand and removes the hook.
"Good for bait," he says laying the fish down on a table and cutting into it with a long knife. He cuts down behind the dorsal fin and then drags the blade along its spine, fillets the flesh from its body. The fish flops madly but Matt-the-Mate ignores this. He flips the fish and repeats the procedure. There is very little blood. He chops the meat into chunks, sticks one on my hook and walks away.
The fish looks up at me with that wide, round, black, unblinking eye for a long time, flapping slowly. His mouth gasping air that goes to nourish nothing; all that is flapping seems to be a spine and the visible row of thin ribs. His body is gone -- to tempt and be consumed by a dozen other fish before that eye winks out, black within black.
"I'm sorry," I say to the fish. I am horrified and I can't stop looking at it. I know that this is my fault, that if I hadn't dropped my line into the water this bit of the world never would have been disrupted. I wish that I had not come.
"Ha!" says Matt-the-Mate, when he sees me staring at the fish finally. "That's nothin. I seen 'em live hours after ya cut em up. None of the organs is in the parts you use for bait. We just throw 'em back in -- blood's good in the water." He picks up the fish and flings it into the sea. The fish floats, a white patch on the blue surface for a while, wiggling slowly. It is unable to right itself and swims sideways. From beneath it rises a long, brown, torpedo- shaped shadow -- there is a flash of white and a furious splash and the fish is gone.
"Barracuda!" shouts Bayan from the bridge. "Big ol 'cuda!" I look up and see him pointing into the water. Later we see them, there are two, slowly circling the boat just below the surface, each maybe five feet long.
"Anybody feel like a swim? Hahaha!" cackles Matt-the-Mate. This breaks him up and there is much knee slapping on his part. A few minutes pass like this and then Matt-the-Mate notices that I haven't put my line back in the water.
"Hey," he says, slapping me on the back with his gloved hand, "can't catch 'em if you ain't got your line in the water. Gotta get your end in. Hahaha!" This sends him off on another laughing tirade. He shakes his head and walks around the corner.
Bayan comes down the steps half way and sits down, setting a can of Coors between his legs.
"You folks doin' all right?" he asks.
"Yes. We sure are," says David. "You do this every day?"
"Do what?" says Bayan listlessly, looking over at David.
"Fish, out on the water. Like this."
"Most days," says Bayan. He looks out into the water.
"Some days there's no customers?" asks David.
"Some days. Some days there's no charter."
"What do you do then?"
"Cut bait, drink beer," says Bayan.
I'm standing in the corner, holding onto my rod. The bait is swinging freely on the hook as the boat rocks up and down. It slaps me in the side of the face. I can feel the wet flesh and the metal of the hook in that instant. I touch my face and there is blood on my fingers: not my blood, it is mixed with scales. I tuck the hook into one of the eyelets on the rod.
About three minutes pass and David hooks a small green fish which has swallowed the hook and he looks at it helplessly, then around for Matt-the-Mate.
"Just rip it out," says Bayan from his seat on the steps. "Don't be afraid to hurt them fish, there's one fact about this world, and it's that organisms eat other organisms. So don't worry about that hook, don't worry bout them fish, just tear it right out. Nature is not pretty." He sits with his elbows resting on his knees, which are spread far apart, in a wide "V." He leans his shaggy head across us like some grizzled guru instructing neophytes.
I look away from the boat into the water and wonder if I could swim to shore. I can see the buildings plainly, but am not sure how far away they are. The sea is flat like a table. I guess that it is about half a mile. In the distance a school of porpoise pass, their backs moving out of the water in a semi-circle and then disappearing like the pistons of some Atlantean engine.
Meanwhile my little sister hooks a fish and we watch her fight to reel it in. Her rod bends and she is shouting and laughing with her mouth open. She has put white zinc sunblock on her nose, which protrudes incongruously from the dark lenses of her sunglasses. The butt of the rod is wedged high in her armpit and she pulls up and cranks down in turn. We all look over the side and finally a fish breaks the surface.
"Red snapper," says Matt-the-Mate, "good eatin' fish." He eyes it a bit. "Too small to keep. They gotta be thirteen inches ta keep. Ya gotta throw this one back. But let's ya catch somethin really big...." He takes the fish from her hook and sets it down. With his knife he cuts the fins from its body and then forces the hook through the spine and casts it back into the water.
"Watch this," he says. The snapper flaps in the water and swims in circles, trailing blood. Only twelve feet away we can see the circling shapes of the barracudas, two or three feet beneath the surface. They seem to notice a difference in the water almost immediately and begin to swim towards the snapper. One of the barracudas sinks out of sight and the other noses slowly towards the injured fish. There is a flash and a spray of foam and a harsh buzzing. Rachel shrieks as line begins to run from her reel.
"Hit him," says Matt-the-Mate. "Hit 'em hard, pull up, pull up now!" Rachel pulls back and the hook sets. She grabs at the reel but Matt-the-Mate is right behind her.
"Don't waste your time. You won't be able to pull him an inch. Let him run. Let him tire himself out. Hoo-Hee, you got em on!" Then he calls up into the air, "Got a 'cuda on down here!" Everyone begins to crowd around my little sister, Matt-the-Mate keeping them at a healthy distance, giving her room to move.
"All lines up!" he shouts. "Lines up! He's moving, he's moving. Follow him around, little girl. Walk him around the boat." The fish has begun to pull towards the bow of the boat, dragging my sister along she walks around and a crowd follows her. I climb the stairs and look down. Her line disappears into the water at a sharp angle; the fish is diving. Along the other side of the boat the other barracuda keeps swimming as though unaware of its companion's absence.
Rachel fights the fish in the hot sun for forty-five minutes. Sometimes she is on her knees, laying against the bulwark. Twice she tries to give the rod to David, but Matt-the-Mate won't let her. He makes her hang on even though there are tears streaming down her face. After three quarters of an hour she has brought the fish to the surface and it swims alongside the boat, exhausted. Matt-the-Mate has her walk it to the back of the boat where a gate is opened and Matt- the-Mate and Bayan-the-Other-Mate gaff it through the side and pull it into the boat. The fish is huge, amazingly large. Five feet long, shaped like a loaf of bread, it is brown and silver and its teeth are many and curved into an evil looking smile. It lays on the deck of the boat, its mouth moving slowly. Once it starts flopping and smacking its mouth shut and people scream and jump back. But Matt- the-Mate puts his foot on its head and holds it down while Bayan takes a picture of Rachel and the fish. Then Bayan kneels down in front of the fish and slits it open from its throat to its tail. Entrails begin to slip from the thin gap which looks like the cut of a razor blade through smooth, thick rubber. The fish flops tremendously but Matt-the-Mate keeps a good hold of its head and they shove it back over the side.
"Watch this," says Bayan, and leans over the railing to watch. "They're gonna tear each other to pieces. Heh heh."
The barracuda swims slowly in a tight circle, trailing blood and moving its head from side to side as though searching for something. From beneath the boat rises the second barracuda in a shimmering cloud. It bites down hard on its companion's side, quickly tearing a piece of flesh from it. Matt-the-Mate points and laughs.
"Now it'll get good," he says, but I am no longer watching. Rachel has come up the steps and is sitting on one of the long benches. She is covered with sweat and is resting her head in her arms. She breathes heavily and below I can hear splashing and laughter.
"These people are not nice to fish," I say.
"No," she replies, looking up at me. She looks at me for a long time without saying anything and then puts her head down on the rail.
Kyle Bradley Cassidy (firstname.lastname@example.org) lives in Philadelphia with his lovely wife Linda and her 28-pound cat Thunderbelly. He has been a frequent contributor to InterText. He also has a great collection of fountain pens. (Bio last updated in 1996.)
InterText stories written by Kyle Bradley Cassidy: "Circles: A Romance" (v2n6), "What Are You Looking For, China White?" (v3n2), "The Nihilist" (v3n3), "The True Story of the Gypsy's Wedding" (v3n5), "Bread Basket" (v3n5), "The Monkey Trap" (v4n5), "This is the Optative of Unfulfillable Wish" (v6n1).
InterText Copyright © 1991-1999 Jason Snell. This story may only be distributed as part of the collected whole of Volume 3, Number 3 of InterText. This story Copyright © 1993 Kyle Bradley Cassidy.