Afternoon on the Jetty

15 Dec

The warmth radiates through my shoulders, arms and even to my fingertips. After a few minutes I feel it sting and slick on another coat of sunscreen. The concrete jetty stretches out before me, with waves crashing into it on either side. Surfers wobble, stand, glide and crash through the waves, even though the rip tide warning’s posted. The hurricane will come tomorrow, they say. Before it does, the surfer crowd enjoys the rollicking water. I stood in the sand earlier, close enough so that the water came to my knees. I turned back to look for my sister, and as I did, a wave swooshed higher than I expected, splashing up to my stomach and knocking me off my feet. I fell into the water and slid a few feet toward the ocean before regaining my balance. It scared me, left me feeling powerless, which, in front of the ocean, I am. I didn’t go near the water again, not on a day when a hurricane’s only 24 hours away.

Water dampens the concrete beneath me, water and fish guts. Men lean on the metal railing holding out their fishing poles, as if they reach further with them the fish will meet them half way. When one’s caught, they struggle for a few moments, the line growing taught. Then out of the water flipping, twirling and looking fierce comes the fish, bright-eyed in the Florida sunshine. It lands splat on the jetty, and the fisherman holds it down with his dirty hands. The scales heave with its labored breathing, and the red, blue and gold of its body sparkle brilliantly against the gray concrete. A few minutes before it swam free through endless ocean water. I feel silly for wanting to wrestle it from the fisherman and throw it back into the water. I feel ashamed to see such a beautiful thing caught by such an ugly man with such ugly fishing tackle. I look away, but the same scene’s played out everywhere. Some men gather in clusters, talking seriously about which bate works best with what sort of fish. Some sit alone in folding chairs, drinking a beer. Nearly all go shirtless, and their skin is brown and crisp like the tips of palm tree leaves. None slick on sunscreen wear hats with wide brims or don sunglasses. Like everything else about the jetty, they’ve adapted. The fisherman unhooks the bate from the fish’s lip and puts it into a blue bucket, where it idles listlessly.

I feel the sun soaking further into my skin, through into my blood, warming my bones. Heat doesn’t come this hot in the north, where the summers are short and other seasons, fall, spring and winter, still hang in the air, just out of reach, as if tucked away on a shelf when not in use. The sun comes for a short while, a few splendid, perfect months, until it whisks away again until next year. Here there’s solidity about the sunshine, a year-round permanency to it. And it’s something I not only feel but see in the fishermen, as if they’ve digested it and it’s become a part of them, part of their blood and sinews. They say the ocean also gets into your blood, that it becomes a part of you so that you cannot leave. I feel the pull. I walk to the tip of the jetty and feel the salty breeze mussing through my hair. The wind whips the tips of the waves into white caps, rippling and rolling and rollicking. Beside me in clusters the men, and a few women and children, busy about their poles, lines, buckets and fish. Whenever one’s caught—which is frequently—they shout and pull it out of the water. It slaps onto the concrete, and I see again the same sad stare, straight forward, defeated. No fight left. I recall the surface of a globe, spinning on its axel, the green and the blue, mixed together. Something I can trace with my finger, spin with my hand and see with one good look. Out here the ocean’s not tame, charted, or even together in one glob. You know the maps exist, but it’s easy to forget them when you’re up close. I look toward the horizon and nothing but water, endless water, fills it, with undiscovered worlds underneath.

One surfer swims beyond the tip of the jetty, windmilling his arms through the waves with his belly flat on the surf board. I am the typical northern girl, imagining a shark around every reef and shadow. I worry for him, for the lurking fish nearby and for the undercurrents that could sweep him away. He paddles his arms faster and faster toward a dark blue stretch of water. He swims toward it furiously. As it crests, he leaps onto the orange board in one fluid movement, lifting higher with the wave until it pushes him horizontal. He rides through the ocean as if on skis going sideways. The sun hits his sandy blond hair, his green swimming trunks and orange board, and I hold my breath, wondering how long the incredible feat will last. As soon as it began it ends, and for a few seconds he disappears before popping back up with his board. A huge smile spreads across his young face, and he swims toward shore.

I turn back from the end of the jetty and begin walking home.


3 Responses to “Afternoon on the Jetty”

  1. Choco December 15, 2011 at 11:53 am #

    And I felt like I was there with you. So visual.. the writing… And I agree with your view on the fate of the fish… born to swim.. free…

  2. slippedink December 15, 2011 at 12:22 pm #

    Thanks for the comment, Choco. I’m glad you felt like you were there. That’s often my goal. I’m not really one of those people who don’t believe in fishing, actually. It’s just how I felt in that moment. I’d never seen it up close before. It was sad. Again, thanks for stopping by, and have a wonderful day. 🙂

  3. Grayquill December 16, 2011 at 4:44 am #

    Good job. Very well written. I am one of your horrible fisherman…except, no bait.
    I loved reading An Afternoon on the Jetty!

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