She went fishing - but it was not a fish that she caught.
You asked me, "What's the matter with you?"
Well the thing is, yesterday I went fishing. With my Dad. A lovely day out, you might say. Sparkling water and the rhythmic movement of the line in my hands. Like meditation; a clearing of the mind. Uninterrupted time to reminisce with my father. Perfect. I should be refreshed and smiling, not scowling at you like a thundercloud. So, something must be the matter with me. Not with you, John, never with you.
What with the incredibly important things you have on your mind, I expect by now you have forgotten that I was supposed to be going out with you. Lunch at the marina, a walk in the sun, perhaps a movie when the late afternoon chill began to set in. We'd been looking forward to it all week, as we trudged up and down stairs to classes, laden with our lecture notes. Remember?
Your text came only an hour before we were due to meet. My hair was washed and brushed and shining. I had my red dress ironed and ready to wear, despite the chilly breeze. The one that slips off my shoulders and shows off my legs - those things I wax and tan, and spend hours in the gym toning, so that you can enjoy them.
Couldn't you have come up with something more original than, "Sorry, can't make it today"? Did you think I wouldn't wonder what on earth that meant? Had something terrible happened? Had your mother been in an accident? Were you ill? Did you have to take the dog to the vet? Was I suddenly so boring that you would you rather be sitting at home watching Netflix?
I know better than to appear needy (thanks Facebook for the relationship advice). So when you replied to my "Is everything OK?" with that verbose "Yeah", I left it there. Fishing with Dad it was. The dress went back on its hanger. I topped off ripped jeans and grey t-shirt with that flannelette shirt you hate. I scraped my shining mane into a ponytail and shoved it under a cap. And off we went.
The hooks caught in my fingers and drew blood. Fortunately, these injuries were somewhat numbed by the cold, slimy bait. The smell of salt spray was tainted with that of dead fish. The gulls screeched in endless squabbles, wind ruffling their backs. The line floated off on the wind back towards the jetty when cast, and it was a constant battle to keep it from snagging on the pylons. The current tugged hard, every time I thought I had caught a fish, my hook came back empty. The endless rippling of the water reminded me how cold I was.
When the inevitable happened and my line snagged under the jetty, I left Dad to it. He was in his element - pipe caught between his teeth, squinting against the glare, impervious to the weather. I weaved my way among a surprising crowd, given the silver clouds chasing each other across the sky. Pulling my shirt closer around me, I thought I would catch a cold instead of a fish. Visions of being warm in bed, sneezing, while you brought me flowers and chicken soup floated in my mind.
Dogs strained on their leashes, barking at the gulls. Children shrieked. Water slapped against the hulls of dinghies by the jetty, and rigging twanged on yachts in the harbour. Phones rang tunefully. One particular tune pestered its way into my thoughts. At first distant, then growing louder as I walked toward the shore. It accompanied perfectly the buzzing in my ear as I called you. Several times.
I stopped calling once I had your location pinned down. I expected you had come to make up for the aborted day with dinner - perhaps pizza at Alfredo's. Were you laughing at me as my name came up on your screen over and over? You didn't know I was there, did you, as I came closer and closer to the beach under the jetty, where you were sheltered from the wind.
I was grinning as I hopped off the boards onto the sand, ready to surprise you. You didn't see me. But I saw you. And Maisie. Wasn't it was only the weekend before last that you remarked how great she looked in her new bikini?
"What, better than me?" I winked at you that Saturday, teasing.
"Don't fish," you said.
Apparently, Maisie looks considerably better than me in her bikini. Her hair catches the sun more brightly. Her skin is softer than mine, her tan more even, and her laugh more melodious. Because your arms were around her bare shoulders, one hand tugging at the dangling strap of her bikini top. Your lips...no, I can't even say it.
And now it's today. You have your answer. Yesterday I really fished, and I caught you. And I can't throw you back. Dad's old fishing knife - the one I used to cut the snagged line - is still in my jeans pocket. I can feel it there, in its leather cover. It might be old...but it is still sharp.
Co-winner in "The Writer's Cramp"