Three old men on a wharff meet a mysterious young woman
|CO-WINNER OF THE WRITER'S CRAMP 1/21/20
We saw her every day for about two weeks. There wasn’t a lot we knew about her. We called her “Sally” until that young feller came looking for her and told us her real name. We used to argue about how old she was. We couldn’t tell. If she was twenty, and I think personally she was around twenty because she had good legs and she dressed in short dresses and tennis shoes. You know? Young woman’s clothes. Now, if she was forty like Les says, she didn’t act it. I’ll admit her eyes said forty. But, her smile was young. She had a good smile. Not when she smiled at us, then it was kind of a weary howyadoin smile, but when she looked off over the ocean at clouds, say, thinking nice thoughts to herself, she could smile a real pretty young girl’s smile. She laughed like someone young. She laughed at things you might say were rudimentary. Things like rain. Rain could make her giddy. Standing in it made her laugh. Sometimes dance.
A star would hold her attention for a long time. Distant sailboats could make her moody. A noticeable darkness seemed to take hold of her. She would stare off at those sailboats forever, just sit there on her bench and look off at them and not with pleasure. More like heartbreak. I’ll admit she looked a lot older when she was watching sailboats.
Now, pelicans. . . they fascinated her. I once saw her stare at a perched pelican named Old Sam for so long he finally became bitterly agitated and flew away in a huff, cursing a strange growl you wouldn’t think a bird could make. We haven't seen him since, and he been a regular on the wharf longer than us.
It was her eyes made Sally old. It was like they belonged to someone else. They were the eyes of the half-listener. Her laugh jingled with merriment like Christmas sleigh bells, whereas her eyes remained the long, slow bong of church bells.
“There’s Sally!” one a us would say and we’d all look.
You might think we was just three dirty old men, and you might not be all wrong, but we meant no harm. We were out there fishing and drinking beer on a regular basis. Anyways, dirty old men or not, we didn’t bother her. Up until that day with the big fish we didn’t even talk to her. Maybe a Hiya Sweetheart once in a while, but she liked to stay by herself and we let her. No, up until that time Arty caught the eighty pound Sea Bass we really never said a real word to her. But then, like I said, all a sudden, out a nowhere, Arty caught the fish, and things changed.
For one thing, Sally came over to us! Art was trying to land the fish and she asks us what we’re going to do with it. I say, we’re gonna sell it. She says, “Put it back! Put it back!” We say there ain’t not no way we gonna put her back. She goes full tilt! Starts crying. Raving. She says, “I’ll buy it!” We says, “How much?” She says she got thirty-two dollars and we say “Sugarlips, that fish there is gonna bring two hundred, maybe three!”
“You can’t kill it!”
By that time the fish was near the surface. Now all four of us was leaning over the rail watching. The fight was most out of it. It had a few struggles and yanks left, but the real battle was done.
“Please!” she screamed to me. She had me by the shoulders and her eyes looked crazed with anger! I wanted to step back from her but she had me up against the railing and leaned into me so close I thought for a fool’s moment she was going to kiss me. Instead, she pulled a red shoestring out of her shirt. Tied to the shoestring was a big old diamond engagement ring. It was worth something, too, let me tell you!
Les and me looked from the ring to each other and back to the ring. Then we turned to let Arty in on the offer, it was his fish, but by that time a big feller from down the way had come over with a gaff and had it stuck in the fish and was helping Arty pull it over the rail, and then it just flapped around on the timber while Arty got to work with clubbing it in the head. Blood was everywhere. Arty hit it hard six or eight times and still the fish was flopping and bouncing and refusing to die.
We was high-fiven when we heard the splash, and looked around and Sally was gone. We looked over the railing and maybe saw a little bit of blond hair down under the water, but it could a been seaweed. Lots of seaweed in that water.
We looked up and down the wharf and saw nothing of her. A crowd had gathered to look at our fish but then more arrived when they heard a woman had jumped off the wharf. Rescue was called.
They asked us a bunch of questions as the fish lay there in the sun. We told them everything we knew. Then a young fella came up all wide-eyes, and he says, “You seen Jolly?”
He says, “Jolly! Jolly! A pretty blond girl?”
We answered his questions too. All the while the fish lay there in the hot sun. Seemed an awful waist, a fish like that. Finally we wheeled it into Salty’s. Got a fair price for it too.
What else could we do? You tell me, what else could we do?