The fishermen are not surprised to see Mango amongst them. Fifty days after the solstice, they are saying. Fifty days past the end of the sea—the darkness of it, the deepness, the dark—not so deep when you consider the fish—not so dark when you see what they’ve done to the birds—well, how do you think mermaids were invented? says a green-fingernailed guy they call Joe. The men are leaning against the concrete walls of the pier, spinning yarns—just like Mango imagined they always must: fog wrapped around, thicker than butter with a cool breeze, wind that could’ve been from Hawaii only some sad romance came and stole all its heat. One of the men starts telling about some drunken sailor who got stuck on an island with all his crew turned to pigs. Mauri, he calls it, or Molly, Mango says, and then they all tell about their different girls. What ever happened to the shine in her eye? a guy says, and that makes someone else remember that they haven’t touched the moon in a long time. An old guy gets a bottle out and they kind of shut up, eyes getting glassy from drink. They lean their elbows against the pier’s concrete walls and stand, salt wind in their faces, looking out at the sea—for miles and miles you could say if this was a river, but with an ocean the distance is so big it’s not worth measuring; you couldn’t succeed if you tried. So the idea of counting the miles doesn’t get beyond an idea. All the fishermen say is that the sea is vast and the bigness keeps shifting around so that it’s no good trying to track every wave. (There just isn’t any number to count even if you were a computer, or Autumn, or god). “I ran away from school,” Mango says because it seems like the best way to get introduced. Everyone except QuiQui laughs. Naturally, they saw her there all along. Why does she think they were talking about mermaids? Just like Habu San said: keep an eye on the weather for a pretty little harpie to come floating by.
“Sure, you ran,” QuiQui says. “What else? I ran away, and Val ran away. Just look where all that learning got us.”
Posing with their pockmarked mugs, the men lean against the pier walls and tell about Hiroshima, how the sagging porch of the beach house brings back memories of when they were the home guard. A few sailed as far as Japan, but you didn’t need to go that far to turn your bones inside out. Some experienced the dancing sun on Three-Mile Island. (When you were right up next to it, it wasn’t a cloud). O for those years before the buildings became patterned with flowers, before shadows had grown concrete feet. Afterwards, every home was more like a boat than a building. The fishermen wanted the land to be flexible enough to shift, like their plans. Just in case the stars fell. Just in case it wasn’t the right kind of rain. This concrete pier is the best protection, they tell Mango, built by FDR before anyone knew an atom could split. Nixon, and those other guys, they never had enough imagination to see man was no longer a rising tide. Besides the real memories of Hiroshima are still buried deep as sea treasures. Just wait! Joey says. Sandra knew about the revenge. She, who rubbed the burns on our arms. Every time she discovered a new ailment, she presented a song. Just a little something to rub the memories out, because we sailors weren’t the ones who dropped the bombs. All we did was plow through the dead fish. Still, a bomb is inside of us, waiting. A bomb is there in the land too, inside of the melting ice caps, inside of the disappearing glaciers and birds.
“And you can’t just fish with anything in this ocean,” QuiQui says. “Allow me to present you with a Gray Hackle in the larval stage. You’ve got to move the water, make the fish see.”
He hands Mango a hook on a string, and one of his flies. The invention is simple but brilliant—a little yellow string wrapped around a bent wire pin. Mango stuffs it into her pocket—quickly so he can’t take it back. The wings, yes, are cut-up rubber bands. (They can’t help but flap.) Joey, with another fly, puts a stick in her hands, a thin, whip-like, stiff stick, exactly the kind to hold its own against the big sea. Casting off is easy with the men’s help. And then, whither that string? Even with the sinker on the end of it, there’s no telling where. Even with the red and white bobber bobbing around. How quickly all the rest has disappeared from view.
“I used to sell hundreds of flies from the bait shack,” QuiQui says. “But no one knows how to fish anymore. No one buys the right flies.”
[see the Western Humanities Review for the full story.]