This is an older piece I’m sharing, still very rough. I lost my more polished revisions when my last computer died. Any and all constructive criticisms and critiques would be appreciated…
The morning is foggy, shrouded in the marine layer the sea creeps in. He lives on this island as his family has lived on this island their whole lives down the generations, as a fisherman. The shore, ever changing and ever the same bumps up against his calloused feet as he was absentmindedly down the path to the water. No matter how many times he walks the path, there is always a new stone in the moss and sand jabbing into his foot; there is no clear footing in the fog. The sea is placid, and almost always is. It is the peace of the water that holds the fog to the pathway, grows moss upon the sharp rocks, and milder in the sand. It is this peace that holds him here.
He carries the empty nets across his back, slung from shoulder to shoulder. They are heavy on his shoulder, but they remind him of his strength, so he carries them not just for his livelihood but also for his memory. He feels the sand turning icy and mucky, sucking around his feet, feels the stones beneath his feet slowly becoming round and the fog thickens around him. He absently notes that he is getting close to the water and his heart lights with the hope at the splash beckoning him.
He thinks back to those few days when he was a child and the sun drew the fog up from the earth and warmed the sea. The sweet kiss of an open sky’s freedom and the wonders of the water’s pregnant depths lighten his mind for a moment before he sees his father calling to him from the cottage to pull the nets to the shore. The sea that clashes against his skin is cold and he opens his eyes to see the gray liquid surround him, the distant splashing of fish in the waves. Now, just as then, he feels his duty to his lineage, to himself for survival. This is what his father taught him, and his father, and his father down the family line: to take from the sea what they can.
Few fish live here now. Generations had fed and gorged themselves on the plenty of the sea yet ever kept fishing, never satisfied by what the sea had offered up to them. As life drained from the sea, so the sea stilled and so the fog crept in upon them, covering their eyes and muting the music what little life left played in the wind.
He walks along in the shallow water, mirroring the shoreline while his eyes scan the water for the drop-off. The water darkens a few feet in front of him and he wonders where the fish have gone as he ties and coils the hand line around his wrist. Then he hears the water moving, sees ripples coming toward him. He grabs the net half an arm’s length down and checks for tangles as he divides it in half and rolls the top portion over his thumb.
He stands there mid-motion; every muscle memory paused as his thoughts slowly move about as a school of fish in winter waters. Perhaps there is life beyond the fog. If he leaves maybe he will find a sun above warm waters where fish are plentiful. His hand slides down from thumb to the net’s lag line as other men might slide their hands over a woman. But he has not known a woman. He is a fisherman on an island deserted by the others as the fog remained and thickened. All he knows is fishing. His father had refused to leave and so now he refuses to leave there is none left to refute.
His fingers feel for the lag line again and grasp the midpoint between the net halves, bringing it to his lips as his fingers follow the edges down again and grab hold of the net’s top half along the lag line. He watches for the ripples as a distant splash whispers hope in his ear through the fog. The net is salty in him ought but he is used to it, has been seasoned with the salt through and through. Holding the lag line and half of the net in one hand with the handline and net in the other, he curves his body around and swings them all out over the darker ocean. He stands in the icy water, hand line still about his wrist, and gazes over the ocean wondering when life will return, where the sun had gone to, and why nothing can permeate the fog.
The water turns mucky as the day progresses and the water shifts away from the shore. He braces himself against the rough, moss-covered edges of rock at his feet and begins hauling in the net. But the net is light and it is easy to pull in, which makes his heart heavy with disappointment. Seaweed and slimy ocean much cover the net, only two fish lie in the net, brilliant colored scales flashing sharp light into his eyes. He sighs, it will be another meager day of meals, but perhaps tomorrow the fishing will be better. He empties the net of the garbage it has dragged up from the ocean floor. He hears a splash out in the fog, yes, he thinks, life is returning.
There is no life here. She waits. She watches. The fisherman has grown from boy to man, no longer free to fancy the unknown. He has bound himself with blood ties to the shore. When he was a boy he would swim out with her and they would swim together in the sea, wondrous with life. But those waters were far, very far, from his cottage home. The older he grew the closer to the shore he stayed, not even boating while he fished now. She weeps in the sea while she waits for him in the morning.
She sees him walking down to the shore empty nets across his back like lash marks of hurts past. She calls to him in her sing-song way. He does not even look up. Her voice is lost in the fog. She pushes herself out of the water, splashing and waiving, beckoning him out to her. She sings of warmer waters where the sun shines deep into the waters and winds tickle the waves, but he is deaf to her.
She pleads over dead waters, recalling the times they had played as children in the sea. “Escape the island,” she offers, “swim the depths with me again, let us find life together.” He stares out over the sea, unseeing, un-hearing, an ocean creature himself who has been beached on the shore too long.
The sea is as lifeless as his eyes and it breaks her heart for him.
He walks along the shallow water and she swims closer to him, a satchel over her shoulder bearing gifts. For a moment, it seems he senses her and she smiles despite herself and the warning in the back of her mind. Perhaps, she thinks, he will see today. But he is readying his nets, his eyes unfocused. She says his name and he pauses. She is so close to him if only he would come back to the sea. Be with me, she beguiles, and come see where the life has gone. And it seems as if he hears her offer. Please, oh please return to me, she begs over the swamp like shallows.
But his hands are at work with the net again. She flings her satchel into the water, disturbing the glassy surface. Fury pulses through her, for his blindness, for his entrapment by those who raised him, by her inability to break him from himself. She dives under the waters and clutches the satchel to her, immediately repentant and heartbroken. Her tears mix with the sea as the net hits the surface above her. She panics and swims a short distance away, fearful of being caught in those terrible lines.
She returns to the surface, peaking out above the waters, hopeless with another attempt failed. She watches him from the sea until the tide begins to ebb. She returns to the net as he begins pulling it up. She carefully empties her satchel into it as it closes. Two fish from her homeland, and a pearl from her garden, and scales from her tail. The water is turning foul as the muck condenses. The foul waters weaken her, they sicken her a little more each day, but she continues to return for him, hoping. She swims to deeper waters and watches as he picks out the fish and disposes of her treasures, hidden by the muck. Anguished, she flings herself back into the sea and begins the long journey home.