By Adam Eaglin
When I arrived at the dock that morning, the sunrise was wrapped
in a wool coat of fog and all the seaside shacks, drawn in a dim
light, stepped right out of my memory frozen in the position as
I had left them. Of course the bait shop was still there, looking
more like a third-world shanty than a yuppie's ex-hobby. I went
up to the side of it, and making sure no one was watching, I broke
off a piece of flaking blue paint. Slipping it in my shirt pocket,
I jogged off to find the boat.
Frothing with the current, waves tapped against the paper-thin
metal, silently grinding at the paint and wearing away the bold
"SS Hoffman" with each successive patter. I've always thought
the sheer expanse of the ocean was enough to make anyone realize
the truth of their own solitude, but fortunately I was not alone
a boatful of fishermen bustled around me. As we pulled out
further, the waves grew stronger, and the lapping of the ocean
nearly drowned out the sounds of the nets slicing through the
water, pulling striped bass and albacore tuna to dinner table
"Hey, how about some help over here," called Tahmos to another
fisherman with that familiar easy drawl that glided like pale
molasses to my ears. It was my first time out on the boat since
the previous September, and I surely wasn't ready for the swell
of sensations that returned to me like scorching sunlight to an
opening eye. The taste of the salt in the wind made my temples
pound achingly, and I rubbed my cheek against the cold rivets
of the boat's side.
"You know, you really made a good choice," Tahmos said to me,
never ceasing his labor. As he spoke, I watched the tendons in
his wrists tighten and release in response to the weight of an
extended net. "Times have been tough lately. Rebecca and I had
to sell her mother's old silver that we promised we would never
get rid of," he scowled, then repeated, "You made the right decision."
Nodding with a sympathetic smile, I was truly too somber to pay
complete attention, or even give him my sincere commiseration
for that matter. Now I think he might've found me to be cold and
uncompassionate; perhaps I was.
With a lull in conversation, I diverted my attention from Tahmos
back to the water I loved the ocean and it's ever moving
strength, how it held power over all five senses; and so the dreams
disturbed me even more. For the past month and a half, every night,
sometimes in a daydream, I would sputter awake, trying to cough
up invisible water that wasn't in my lungs. I was sinking, sinking
down to the deepest trench of the deepest sea, where the pressure
snaps bones and fish eyes glow like sizzling coals. It was only
a dream, and my sticky eyelids would pop open yet, the residue
of the dream would remain like a clammy coat of brine on my tongue,
ears, and fingertips. Sometimes, I swear I could feel it eating
through my thin skin, scalding me as the red summer sun.
"You alright over there?" Tahmos called sensitively, never ceasing
the clockwork motions of his swooping arms.
"Yeah, I'm fine."
Waiting for me like a faithful terrier, my apartment crouched
back in the city. I hadn't been gone for more than a couple of
days, but occasionally images materialized in my head to remind
me of missed comfort: pea-green walls, flannel sheets in desperate
need of washing, or the shag carpeting that plastered a scowl
to mother's face after each visit. But despite my settlement into
the growling metal framework of the city, I was still painfully
close to the shore. If I looked hard enough from my bathroom window,
I could actually catch a glimpse of the Fisherman's Market at
the end of the block, and I'd often imagine foolishly that those
fish were wrenched from the seas by the rough hands of a man whose
cancerous skin flaked off like the paint of my now sold shack
and whose destitute career forced him to sell his wife's heirlooms.
I imagined Tahmos, passionately netting hoards of fish, and then
sending them off like greeting cards to the market by my apartment
building, adorned with little neon scales screaming for my attention
and haranguing me with pictures of spiraling conch shells. In
the hands of burly men, these tuna and bass emanated a feeling
of churning surf and rhythmic seawater that scuttled off to hide
in the echo of my eardrums, piercing so deep that it gripped my
subconscious with icy jaws and destroyed any pleasant dreams.
I pictured Tahmos standing on the stern of his ship, staring off
at the horizon, and smiling.
I imagined Tahmos; but not me.