This short story of mine was originally published, under my old name, in the first issue of the now-defunct literary journal Belletrist Coterie in 2012. I don’t like presenting writing with my former name stamped on it, and, since I always had a soft spot for this story, which was influenced by much reading of Jose Saramago, I wanted to re-share it here.
The fisherman had told everyone but his love that (and his wife) he saw her in the worst of places: in the crests of waves, in a purple night’s constellations, in white dreams that left him as embarrassed as a teenager. He could not tell her — either of them. He had a wife of thirteen years and two bony little girls who had dim cowlike eyes so unlike the eyes of the lawyers and even presidents he had imagined they might be, eyes that melted him all the same when they told him Thank you for getting us dinner, we love you, and he would say You doh need to fank me for nothin’, and they would say Yes, we do, and Fank your mawder for preparing it, We did, but you caught it, Silly little girls, and his wife would stare and not say much but smile; to the fisherman, she could speak so well and it had to be because she had started getting an education before her parents could no longer afford to send her to primary school, and she was sometimes pretty, but she said little, and the girls spoke like she did. His rum-shop friends, who he had told about his vision, laughed. They had never seen anything like it and thought he had made it up or was crazy and they told him, You need better sex. Tell de wife — wha was her name again — Jordan aunt’s cousin, not true? Yeah, tell her to give you de Eve before de apple. And he had tried and it was all fine but not grand, not grand at all, yes, he had someone to hold and someone’s hand to press and trace besides his own as he did with himself alone in the boat, as he caressed the Dora the Explorer shirt he had worn for years, and he wondered what the girls thought the noises in the house were and decided many days that he didn’t want them to know, not for thirty or fifty years.
The fisherman would sometimes drift off instead of looking for fish, and it would make no difference because most of what he caught was garbage, mossy sandals and Rasta locks that had come off in the water and Styrofoam containers that looked to him like clams, the one creature he felt awe and repulsion for. One time, he had drifted further out than ever, for he had felt that gray afternoon that he wanted nothing more than to just go into the horizon and never come back, leave everyone on shore. He had gone far, far, past the little guano-splattered rock where the clams bred and where the great sharks were said to live, he had just kept going, kept going until the sea turned gray and there seemed nothing to go to, and it was then he believed he had reached the end of the world, a concept he had not believed in until he felt its sublime terror.
The fisherman had tried and tried to paddle back but he had lost sight of everything, madness, he went for five minutes in one way before deciding he was only going further towards that silent cataclysm; and then, as he lay in his boat and began to pray, first to God and then to his wife and daughters, he felt the boat tremble. He flew up. Silent grayness, and then a whale the size of a comet rose out of the water, and on its back was a beautiful dark woman wearing nothing but her beauty, dark hair curly and matted as a mermaid’s. A tremendous wave rocked his boat. At the crest, he was suddenly, briefly, face-to-face with her; she had smiled, cradled his face, and blew him a kiss on the nose with breath that left him with visions of glistering neon palaces in far-off metal lands, and the only word he would remember thinking was Fortune.
The next thing he knew, he was on the shore of the island, body soaked and lungs gray with pain, his net filled with a vast quantity of fishes he had never seen before. A crowd had gathered around him. His wife was in tears, his daughters silent and staring.
Oh, my God, she said as he sat up. Thank the Lord.
He had opened his mouth and gargoyled his face but no words would come out; indeed, he wasn’t able to speak for seven days, despite the incantations of Monsignor Bakkus and the fisherman’s wife’s new sexual positions, which she implored him to try each night for a week. It was only when he went out to fish on the seventh day, rowing as far as he could and finding nothing but the neighbouring islands of the archipelago and teetering cruise ships and white speedboats filled with scuba-diving tourists in tight black suits off to who-knew-where he’d often wondered, that his voice returned, and it returned when he swore at the heavens and the deeps, realising after a strain of you stupid bitchfocking mawder of Christ that he was swearing in his old voice. Except his voice was weak and ragged, a long-lost thing found. He sounded so different, indeed, that when he went home, his wife shrieked in a voice louder than he’d thought she was capable of and had alerted the Monsignor, who had been on his daily walk. The fisherman realised Bakkus would try to exorcise what he mistook for a malevolent deity and so he fled, running through the town of rusted and rotting shacks until he was out of breath.
When he returned, the monsignor had gone and his wife had prepared the last of the fish they had saved up; he had brought nothing home that day. It was enough for one and a half persons.
Sorry, he said. Is it really you? she asked, Of course, he said, My voice jess ole, is all, and he looked at the fish and said, Give it to de girls, What about you? asked the wife, I doh need any food, he replied, give it to dem, and have some too, You need it, she said, I not hungry, he said, You have to eat, you getting thin like a skeleton, she said, I doh want to eat no damn fish.
But he went out to sea again that night and tried his best to catch an octopus that had been lounging on the surface and then rowed back when he felt his boat being bumped by creatures he couldn’t see. He brought home a crab he had found on the beach when bringing the boat ashore as well as a bouquet of moss and seaweed and coral he had assembled, and when his wife, who was in tears as she cooked a can of corned beef because he had not told her he was going, saw the things in his hand, she swore, then chuckled, Always a sense of humour.
I love you, he said. Thank you, she said. It’s true, he said, and I’m sorry, Me, too, she sighed, but don’t worry about those kinds of things, and let’s just go inside and get some rest, and in the morning you’ll have a crabback and you can look at the bouquet when you eat at the table, and I’ll hold your hand like you like, No, the fisherman said, I brought de crab for you, and I go make it for you myself, and all you need to give me at de table is your hand.
And that night the fisherman slept in the arms of his wife like he had done with his mother and his girls came in to sleep in his own arms, and soon they were all snoring and sighing except for the fisherman, who tried and tried to silence the sound of the breached ocean and erase the sight of that impossible woman from his memory, and after he had tried for an hour, his younger daughter woke up and said, Daddy, why are you crying, and he whispered after glancing at his still-sleeping wife, Daddy isn’t, he jess has some salt in his eyes, and when he gets a good night sleep, he will be fine, jess fine, better than ever.