Mel in Her Element
Mel went down to the docks alone and hired a fishing boat, took it out all by herself. She brought with her a plentiful supply of fresh water, not knowing how long she’d be out. Given her track record, she figured it might be a while. She sat on the boat with the fishing pole in hand, staying hydrated, watching the sun dance on the sea’s glassy calm. It was so quiet out there on the water, peace and awe flooding in around her. It would be nice to be able to share it, to turn to her love and say, “Pass me the crackers?”
By late morning she was sweating in the hot, hot sun, but she’d brought a wide-brimmed hat and sunscreen, and she knew to drink water consistently. When she had to pee she went in a bucket, then dumped it into the sea. But by midday she was dangling over the side of the boat to pee in the ocean just like the fish themselves, enjoying the liquid movements all around her. In the late afternoon, Mel cracked open a cold seltzer and cast her line, yet again — and shortly after that felt a sharp tug.
She reeled it in, nearly breathless, heart thumping as the fish hit the floor of the boat. It was a good-sized, good-looking fish, but it was flopping so violently back and forth, desperate for air, and freeing the hook from its lip was a struggle.
“I can’t breathe,” said the fish, “I can’t breathe.” And Mel knew then that he wasn’t the one for her, so she threw him back into the sea. He darted into the depths straight away, and she wiped blood and scales from her hands. She hoped his lip would heal quickly. She felt terrible about having hurt him. It was selfish of her, she saw that now, to reel him in just because she felt ready for love.
She stood looking at the water for a while, hands on hips, her fishing pole kicked into the corner of the boat. Then she lay down on her back, put the wide-brimmed hat across her face, and let the waves rock her so gently. Far below, she could tell what was happening. She could sense schools of fish rushing by, flicking light back and forth with their bodies’ quick movements; she could sense all the sharks getting ready to cruise. She could feel herself swimming with all of them, encased always in liquid and breathing in a magical way. But the thing our dear Mel thought to hope for was rain.
Phoebe Brueckner is based in the San Francisco Bay Area. Her short fiction has been published in Flash Fiction Magazine, Boston Literary Magazine, and Jet Fuel Review.