The fly was an olive green color, and in the grey cloudlight you could see a golden shimmer from the tinsel-like thread that wrapped around its fat inch-long body as it danced feet above the clear blue waters of the Watauga River.
The fisherman stood waist deep in the ripples whipping the fly above him four, five, six times. With every forward motion he shot out a little more of the heavy orange line with his left hand. His right forearm moved in sync with his torso. He brought the line behind his body one final time, and when it laid out flat he cast it forward and released. The line shot through the guides of his rod and fell 15 yards upstream into a deep pool.
After it settled at the bottom, the man stripped in line a few inches at a time until it was close enough that he could pick it up and go directly into a back cast. The dance continued every time he brought in the line.
“There’s a hundred things that can go wrong when you’re fly fishing,” the fisherman told his companions outside his truck that morning while assembling his rods beside the river. “Trout are damn smart.”
The sky had darkened since morning. The wind was strong, but the water was calm enough in the pool. His eyes hidden behind black polarized sunglasses, the fisherman tracked any changes in the conditions. The fly he threw was heavy, unlike the nymphs he kept in the fly box in the left breast pocket of his fishing vest.
“Big flies catch big fish,” he said. “A big fish sitting in a hole ain’t gonna swim out for what ain’t a full meal.”
Time passed unnoticeably as dying leaves rustled in the trees and fell to the river’s edges. Braced in the fast-moving water, the fisherman cast until he felt a strike. His reaction was sudden and instinctive. He lifted the rod tip to the sky. The line tightened, bending the top half of the rod as the fish tugged heavy on the other end of the line.
“Fish on!” he yelled. His friends, who had fanned out along the river, turned and watched.
The fish fought furiously, turning the fisherman left and right. The tension in the line was the same as in his body; his jaw clenched, eyes focused on the fight beneath the water. He stripped in line a wrist’s length at a time, trying to bring the fish closer to him so he could bring down his net. It gave little, bending the rod tip downward. The fisherman had no choice but to release the line slightly so it wouldn’t snap.
“Don’t break off,” he repeated under his breath, his drag clicking. “Steady, boy. Steady.”
Minutes passed: five, ten. The tugging was relentless. The fish endured like a boxer in the late rounds of a championship bout. The fisherman was patient like a painter careful not to smudge the colors and ruin the canvas. Very slowly, the trout relented. When the fish was at an arm’s length, the fisherman brought down the net hanging from his vest and scooped it inside.
Releasing a breath, he shut his eyes then opened them to admire the fish. A brown, nearly two feet long. The trout was tawny green in some places, in others more like the olive green of the woolly bugger hanging from the side of its upper jaw. Its belly was fat and yellowish. Along its sides were brown, black, and dark red spots with pale blue halos encircling them. A heavenly fish.
He kept its body partly in the water and watched its breathing.
“Well, you put up a fight,” the fisherman said to the fish. He wet his hands, then grabbed it and took out the hook. One of his companions had come up river watching the fight. He stood beside him with his phone out to snap a picture.
The fish was too heavy to hold with one hand. The fisherman let his net drop into the water, then brought the fish up near his chest.
“This one’s a beauty,” he said, kneeling in the river while his friend took his picture. “Man, I thought I was gonna lose him.”
They examined the fish together for a moment. The sun was setting, and the wind struck their chests through their shirts.
“Now this is how you release a fish,” the fisherman said, holding the fish in the water by its tail. “This one put up a strong fight, so he’s tired. You move him back and forth, and you’ll feel when he’s ready to go.”
After a few months, the fisherman removed his hand and the fish slowly disappeared underneath the water into the ripples beyond him.
“Well, I’m satisfied,” he said, then shouted downstream. “You finished over there?” The third friend gave a thumbs up.
They all walked to the car, broke down their rods and packed up. They got in the car and drove home.
I wrote a draft of this short story as a final project for an English elective my senior year of college in 2010. I had loved reading Ernest Hemingway’s In Our Time, a collection of short stories where he first introduces his iconic character, Nick Adams. I hoped to imitate Hemingway’s minimalist writing style, while also filling a gap I thought existed in the stories (I hadn’t yet read “Now I Lay Me,” a story from Hemingway’s Men Without Women collection, and wanted to make my own attempt at explaining why Adams returns from war so distraught and detached).
In Our Time is heavy. The stories are full of grief. They are told in an emotionless way (Hemingway was famous for his iceberg theory, where he kept the deeper meaning of a story under the surface). Thanks to two good friends and editors, I’ve made several improvements to the prelude and story, which I’ve titled “The American Offensive.” I hope you enjoy it.
The women cried when we got back from Europe. They said they missed us, but we couldn’t hear them. Our minds were still in Cantigny, Marne and Argonne. Jimmy’s mother and father held him so tightly it made me wish my folks had been there. Mom died from cancer after I left and dad drank himself to death in the old home across from the reservation. The scene at the dock reminded me of when we got to Paris and the women yelled and threw flowers. I will never forget the women in France. Mrs. Gaven was there in the crowd after we got off the boat. Her son was shot twice in the back and died in a hospital in Rouen.
The American Offensive
The soldiers hardly spoke after the fighting ended in Belleau Wood. For 25 days, they had fought off five German divisions in the thick forest. Nearly two thousand had died. The ones who made it were numb from the sound of bullets hitting the trees and the bodies of their friends who were now scattered in makeshift graves beneath the ravaged oaks.
The newspapers commended the 5th Marines for clearing the forest, and Major Mark Johnson told a few of the soldiers outside Jim Harris’s tent they should be proud of what they had done.
“You’ve earned your trip home, boys,” Johnson said. “You made your country proud here.”
Harris, who was 24 years old, stared at his boots while Johnson spoke. He had been stabbed with a bayonet in the left shoulder and was wrapped in bandages. In the forest, he had killed more Germans than anyone. He had come so close to them that when he closed his eyes he could still make out their faces.
“Look at your brothers beside you,” Johnson continued, “and know you wouldn’t be here without them.”
On the first day of battle, the Germans had broken straight through the French lines. The Marines quickly filled the gap, fighting fearlessly, as if it was their own country they were protecting. The French commanders wanted them to fall back, but Major Wise ignored them and told his soldiers to keep their lines until the German offensive was repelled.
On June 6, over a thousand Americans died in a few hours. But, the survivors turned the tide and pushed forward until the Germans were beat. In the end, more Marines died in Belleau Wood than in any other battle in the war.
When the fighting stopped, able-bodied soldiers like Harris moved fast to bury the dead. Shell cases covered the floor an inch deep in some places, and all the Americans felt sad when they found someone they knew well or who had been deformed by the bullets.
Johnson was still talking to a soldier outside Harris’s tent when Harris got up and walked out of camp into the forest. The oak trees were taller here than the ones behind his parents’ house in upstate New York, though the leaves weren’t as green. When he was a kid, Harris had played in those woods until dark. He watched the deer and chased them sometimes. He found snakes under rocks where he collected worms for fishing with his dad. In France, he guessed all the worms were gone from the bombs and the way they exploded when they hit the dirt.
Johnson approached slowly.
“Harris, you should get back to the tent and rest,” he said.
Johnson was three years older than Harris. The two of them had talked about hunting pheasant together at Johnson’s parent’s farm when they got back to the States. Neither of them felt like hunting anymore, but they never said a word about it.
“I’m thinking about home,” Harris said. “These woods remind me of the ones I played in when I was a kid. Sometimes you get so used to killing in these woods that you forget people probably played in them too when they were young.”
Johnson didn’t answer. They walked back into camp.
“You were brave out there,” said Johnson. He patted Harris on the back and paused for a moment.
“You’re going to be home soon, Harris. Then we can get on with things the way they were supposed to be.”
“When are we going home, Johnson?” Harris asked.
“Soon, Harris,” Johnson said. “I know it.”
The other soldiers in the camp had set up logs around wooden crates of ammunition and used them as chairs as they played chess or checkers. They nodded to Harris and Johnson as they passed. Harris’s shoulder wound had bled through the bandage and he sat down on the hardened ground near the tent where he had laid his rifle.
“Why don’t you try to doze off for a bit?” said Johnson, leaning against a stack of crates and looking down at Harris.
“We should’ve died,” Harris responded.“I was supposed to die.”
“Don’t say that nonsense. We’re lucky to be alive after what we’ve been through in these woods.”
Harris shook his head abruptly and stared Johnson in the eyes.
“I killed a boy, Mark” he said. “On Tuesday morning when we charged them, I killed a boy like Timmy. I watched him die.”
Harris stared at the dried blood stains on the wooden forestock of his rifle and thought about his little brother, who he hadn’t seen since he left for boot camp. Timmy had blonde hair like the Germans. Even though Harris had a son back home, he always talked to the other soldiers about Timmy and how when he was 10 or 11 years old, they would go out with their dad’s .410 and shoot squirrels from tree branches in the Adirondacks. One time in the woods Timmy tripped on a rock and fell hard against his arm. He thought he had broken it. Harris was still a kid then and he cried because he saw Timmy bleeding. “You’re gonna die, Timmy,” Harris had said, crying. “I don’t want you to die.” Every time they shot a squirrel and it bled too much it would die, so Harris thought Timmy would die, too. He picked him up and took him home and their mother called the doctor who came and wrapped Timmy’s arm and told him it wasn’t broken.
Timmy wanted to be a soldier, but he died in an accident before the war. Harris’s parents never told him how he died, only that it was no one’s fault. Harris used to joke with Timmy that if he was a soldier the Germans would like him and not shoot him because he looked like them.
Harris killed many Germans that looked like Timmy.
“I hate looking at them, Mark,” Harris said.
“We all killed people,” Johnson said. “It’s war. You kill them or they kill you.”
In the woods, Johnson had always closed his eyes when he pulled the trigger. He never saw a soldier who reminded him of his brothers.
“I’ll let you alone now until I have more news for the boys,” Johnson said.
Harris nodded at Johnson and picked at the dirt caked onto the callouses of his hands.
The clouds hadn’t opened since the battle ended and now it began raining on the camp.
“All this damn mud everywhere,” a soldier yelled. “I’m sick of this damn mud.”
All the soldiers went into their tents to wait for the rain to pass except Harris, who shook as the cold water struck his body and ran down his uniform. No one told him to go inside his tent.
After 20 minutes, the rain stopped. But Harris didn’t lift his head.
“I’m glad you weren’t a soldier, Timmy,” he muttered. Then he got up and walked back into the woods. Johnson saw him going but didn’t follow him.
Harris kicked aside the shell cases, threw his pack against the stump of a tree, and laid down against it. Because the trees were very tall, Harris could only see part of the sky, and the way the light shone through the leaves reminded him of when his family would go to church on Christmas and Easter. He hated to say the Lord’s Prayer, but they were Catholic and his mom always made him say it.
“Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us. And deliver us from evil. Amen.”
Harris watched the leaves on the branches rustle and fell asleep thinking about the last time he and Timmy and his parents were at Christmas service before the war.
A few months later, Harris went back to New York along with Johnson and a few of the other men in their battalion. Nobody in Harris’s family ever got the chance to hear his war stories, and he and Johnson never went pheasant hunting together or saw each other at reunions. Harris remembered Belleau Wood and the dead boys underneath the oak trees until the day he died of tuberculosis at 44.
This short story is inspired by the song “Elephant” by Jason Isbell.
Emily’s long porcelain legs shivered in the drafty cold of the sleepy Tennessee bar room. Above her, two dusty speakers rang out Clay Pigeons. She sat stoically in a short dark blue dress that clung tightly to her body. One of her hands tickled the chicken skin forming along her thigh.
“Take my sweater, Em,” Andy said to her.
“It’s Emily, Andy,” she replied with a smile.
Andy shook his head. For six months, they’d met at the same bar every Thursday night to watch singers with beards and sweat-stained hats play songs for middle-aged couples and a few yuppies, like Andy, who lived in the neighborhood and were bored with other bars where college kids hung out.
The first Thursday, Andy noticed Emily, blonde and skinny, sitting by herself. She had big blue eyes and her arms were pale and muscled. He approached and stood beside her to order a beer. She did not turn to face him, even when he spoke to her.
“I didn’t know anyone else under the age of 30 came here,” he said.
“I don’t come for conversation,” Emily replied, her eyes never moving from the bar top.
Andy laughed it off. “So, is it for the music? I think my cat can hold a better melody.”
Emily smiled softly and finally looked up at him. “You’re a cat person?”
They spoke for four hours that first night. Andy told her about how he had moved to Nashville from Clarksville after college. He took a few classes at Belmont. He tried to make it as a folk singer, but stayed instead for a job in advertising. His boss is a fan and lets him take time off to play a few small shows on the road every summer.
It would be a few more weeks before Emily told Andy about her cancer. The doctors had found it in April. She told Andy about her timeline. How her family had moved from Oklahoma to Franklin to be close to her.
“They’re one of those big Baptist families,” she said. “They think they’ll pray my cancer away.”
Now, Emily and Andy sat at the same bar stools again talking. It was late November, as the fall crept to winter. They looked like old lovers half the time the way they sat close but rarely touching. They talked ceaselessly. At midnight, Andy closed their tabs.
“Do you still want to sleep with me, Andy?” Emily asked him, woozy from Jack Daniels.
Andy’s shoulders fell.
“It’s alright, Andy. You can take me home,” she said.
He walked Emily two streets over to her apartment and helped her up the stairs, both of them sleepy and unsteady from the booze. She laid down in her bed and they spoke until she fell asleep. He felt her skinny body beside him. Soon he got up and washed the dishes in her sink, threw away the old mail on her desk, and swept the floor where strands of her hair had fallen. Then he left.
Andy and Emily spent the nights they could together under the dim light of a barroom or her bedroom. On her bed post, they kept a tally they scratched off after every time she was readmitted to the hospital. He met her family there on one of the hard days. She had been sick to her stomach the night before.
“It’s a blessing Emily’s found you,” her dad told him. He grabbed Andy’s forearm and gripped it, as he stared kindly at him.
Emily laughed. In his other hand, Andy held a cup of coffee he shared with her.
“Can I get you another cup?” her dad asked him. Andy politely nodded no. Emily’s parents left for a few hours to meet her cousins who were in town to spend the weekend.
“Seagrams?” she said when they were out of sight. “Really, Andy? You crack me up.”
In the hospital, Andy sat beside her bed. He brought his guitar some nights and played her old country songs. The blue veins in her skin were rivers throbbing under the harsh fluorescent lighting. High from the medicine, she sang shamelessly.
“Play Hank Jr. next,” she said. “Family Tradition.”
It hurt to play the songs. It hurt to watch her die. But Andy stayed until the end. He loved her completely and irrationally in a way he never did the others who came before her.
Emily died on a Tuesday morning. Two days later, Andy returned to the bar two blocks from her apartment and sat at the stool where he first saw her. He listened to a guitar player on stage sing a love song that ended with a happy-ending line he hated deep inside himself. Then he ordered Jack Daniels until he was blazingly drunk.
Jacob picked up the ball and walked it twelve paces to the spot in the dirt he had marked off with his foot. He dug the toe of his boot into the dirt and beat it down enough to fit the old ball so it wouldn’t move. He set it down and then lifted it a foot off the ground, spinning it carefully in his hands, before placing it firmly in the spot again. Jacob’s dad had taught him to always set the ball down this way: “Never let the referee do it for you. It’s your penalty kick—not theirs,” he had told him.
It was mid-July and the summer heat was stifling. For three weeks, Jacob had spent hours in the little park behind his parents’ house in New Jersey. During the day, he would take his old ball and hop the yellow brick wall at the end of their street, shortcutting his way to the soccer fields. He kicked the ball around until the floodlights came on. That was his sign for when the adults would come out to play and he knew he had to head home for dinner. After dinner, he’d sit on porch with his ball. He watched the older men walk down the dead-end street and hop the wall on their way to play soccer with their friends. They were mostly laborers from Mexico and Central America, and sometimes they wore jerseys familiar to Jacob from the television broadcasts of the professionals: the dark green of Mexico, luminescent yellow of Brazil, orange-red of Spain.
The sun was setting.
After Jacob set the ball down, he stood up and looked toward the old goal. The once-white net was a dusty gray and hung sadly, full of holes. He took a few deep breaths and closed his eyes, lifting his head to the sky. Jacob was in his imagination now.
“It all comes down to this,” he heard the voice of Ian Darke say. “Jacob Costa is going to be the last player to take it for Argentina.” (In his head, he always played for Argentina. It was the only team he’d ever watch with his dad).
Jacob stood to the left of the ball. He opened his eyes and took three steps back and one more step to the left. He was transported to the Maracanã Stadium in Rio. Jacob turned his back and stared into the distance, breathing in through his nose and exhaling deeply. He imagined there were 100,000 people in the stands like the day Uruguay beat Brazil in the 1950 World Cup Final. His grandfather had told him the story many times. The Brazilians supposedly threw themselves to their deaths after they lost the final.
“Costa has been Argentina’s most consistent penalty taker. He hasn’t missed from the spot all year. But, can he do it on the big stage here? Millions are watching all over the world as he steps up to take it. Will Jacob Costa be the hero for Argentina?”
Jacob turned back around and stared ferociously at the goal. He was staring at the biggest goalkeeper he could’ve imagined. He picked his corner, like his dad had always taught him. “This one’s going in the top right,” he muttered under his breath.
Jacob took another deep breath, stared at the ball, and stared again at the goalkeeper he imagined in his mind. The goalkeeper was jumping around, ready for the kick. Jacob smirked. He took two steps toward the old ball, planted his left foot beside it, and drove a shot that curved into the top right corner through a hole in the net.
Jacob Costa jumped into the air celebrating. He fell to the ground and grabbed his head with his hands. “He’s done it! Jacob Costa has done it! He’s won the World Cup for Argentina with the very last kick of the game!”
The floodlights came on as he kneeled in the dirt, imagining his teammates surrounding him. The ball was twenty yards away in a ditch beside the trees. It was time to go home.
This is a short story about a moment, as many of my stories and poems are because of their short nature. Moments are powerful. We can all connect to moments.
When I was a boy, I spent a lot of time in the park behind my parents’ house in Bayonne. It was in that park my dad taught me how to play soccer (it’s the same park from “My Dad and the Soccer Ball”). For years, starting in eighth grade, I’d head to that park alone or with my friends to play soccer. A lot of the time, it was alone. I wasn’t a very good soccer player, but I was obsessed with it. I would watch for hours on TV, and when me and my grandpa drove in the car together he’d never let me listen to the radio so instead I just asked him about what was going on with Argentina’s national team. It was on one of those car rides to the pet cemetery in Old Bridge, where his dog had been buried, that he told me all about Riquelme and El Conejo Saviola.
I remember sitting in my parent’s old vacation home in the Pocono Mountains with my head in my hands as Holland eliminated Argentina from the 1998 World Cup. I remember exactly where I sat—five feet in front of the television, adjacent to the couch where my dad watched with his Portuguese friend—and how I felt: devastated. Even though I was born in the United States, I never watched U.S. soccer growing up. My dad, grandpa, uncles and everyone else in my family watched Argentina, so I did, too. My first hero was Gabriel Batistuta, who I wrote a report on for Ms. Squittieri’s class in eighth grade. The assignment was to write about one of our role models. Many of the other students thought it was Jesus when they saw the picture on the cover (to be fair, this is Batistuta).
I imagine there are millions of boys and girls around the world—maybe even every boy and girl who has ever touched a soccer ball—who imagine themselves as Messi, Cristiano, Zlatan, Mia, Marta, Alex Morgan when they’re playing with the ball. It is what drives us to keep playing. We want to be like the players we admire. We want to celebrate. We want to be loved and idolized. And, for many of us, it doesn’t start in some rigid club system on perfectly manicured turf. It starts in our backyard. It starts in a vacant lot across the street. It starts on a dusty soccer field where no one is watching. Or, maybe, everyone in the world is watching. It all depends on how you see it.
Edward stood at the front door of her apartment nervously combing his hand through his hair and fiddling with the lapels of his blue blazer. It was a seventh-floor apartment in one of the modern, brick-and-glass buildings downtown that he passed on his way home from work. He always wondered about who lived in these downtown buildings and now he knew: Abigail Da Rosa lived here.
Abigail was elegant but cool in a way that made her easily approachable. Edward wasn’t nervous when he flirted with her last Saturday night. They were both out dancing with friends when Adam introduced them. Later that night, she followed him to the bar and they chatted for half an hour, Edward leaning coolly on the bar with drink in hand as she sat on a stool beside him. She told him about how she had moved to the city as a teenager, graduated from a local state university, and worked nearby for an architecture firm. She mentioned a renovation at an old church outside the city, how it was her favorite project. It brought him back to a moment he stood inside the ruins of an old church in the Scottish town of Lanark where they say William Wallace was married. He felt strange and warm inside as she told him.
“Abigail, you’re fascinating,” Edward said to her. “This week let me take you out for a proper dinner, far away from this rowdy crowd, and I promise you won’t regret it.” She tilted her head to the side and smirked the way young women do. “Well, you’re smooth,” she told him. He tried hard to hide his tell, keeping his facial expression blank. She checked the calendar on her iPhone and suggested Wednesday evening. In that moment, he looked up toward a corner of the bar and murmured pointlessly under his breathe; he knew he had no plans. “I have a few meetings that may run into the early evening, but for you I would happily clear my schedule, chéri.” Abigail smirked again. “I’ll meet you at Ste. Ellie’s at 8 p.m.” He paused trying to read her reaction.
“Actually, I’d much rather pick you up and walk over,” Edward said. “It’ll be a nice night for a walk.” It was October and the air coming down from the mountains was cool and pleasant. Abigail said okay. She grabbed his phone, asked him to unlock it, and put in her phone number. “What a fitting last name,” he said, smirking as she handed it back. She smiled.
Now it was Wednesday night and Edward was there outside the door trying to control his anxious breathing. She texted him her address that morning with a smiling face emoji at the end of the text. He left so early from his place 15 minutes on the opposite side of the city that he sat in his car trying to prep himself, opening and closing website tabs on his iPhone: “15 questions for the perfect first date”; “Keys to a romantic night out on the town”; “How to show her you’re a real gentleman.” He had chosen an outfit two nights prior, but decided he didn’t like it at the last minute and ironed another outfit for the night: his favorite blue blazer, brown checkered button-down, brown wool tie, tie bar, olive pants, and brown dress shoes. “You look like an idiot,” he told himself in the mirror when he tried it all on.
Edward’s iPhone, still in the back pocket of his pants, vibrated. He checked it. “Go get ’em tiger. You got this.” It was from Adam. That night when Edward asked Abigail out they giggled about it in Adam’s car for 15 minutes. On Tuesday, they met at Adam’s place to talk about what he should do. “Just try to act like a normal human being,” Adam told him.
“People don’t like me when I’m normal, Adam,” Edward said. Adam rolled his eyes. “Do it your way, but she’ll figure you out eventually, Sinatra.”
Edward tucked the phone into the right pocket of his blazer. Then, he checked the inside pockets to make sure he had remembered everything: a roll of spearmints on the left side with a freshly-washed handkerchief, plastic black hair comb on the right. He hardly used the comb, but his grandfather always tucked it into his own coats when Edward was a boy and he liked the habit.
Pacing in front of the door, Edward whispered to himself. It was 8:00 p.m. now. “Hey, darling, all well tonight?” No, no, that wouldn’t work. “Well, you look dazzling this evening, chéri.” He couldn’t figure out his opening line. Frustrated, he hit himself on the forehead with his closed fist and scrunched his face. Further down the hallway, an older woman passed by with a young boy and stared briefly at him. He smiled at her, she didn’t smile back, then she and the boy went inside their apartment. “You’re an idiot, Edward,” he muttered to himself.
Finally, Edward knocked on the door.
He didn’t hear anything inside, but he didn’t want to text or call her. He waited for another moment. “Oh shit,” he groaned, suddenly anxious and with a strange feeling in his gut. He closed his eyes and sighed.
Inside he could hear her moving around now.
“One second, Eddie,” Abigail said in a strong, steady voice. He loved her voice. “I’m coming.”
She opened the door, fiddling with the strap of her left heel. “I’m sorry, I can’t get this. Is it late?” It was 8:03 p.m. “You’re perfect, Abigail,” Edward said smoothly, half grinning. “Absolutely perfect.”
“Well, you know just the thing to say to a lady,” Abigail responded, smiling. She grabbed his hand and kissed him on the right cheek. Edward smiled.
Abigail walked out into the hallway and closed the door. “Can you hold my bag for a second?” she asked him. “For you, Abigail, anything,” he responded. Again, she smirked. He was so nervous he could feel sweat beads forming on his neck and moistening his shirt collar.
Abigail wrapped her arm around his and they walked toward the elevator.
In the sand nearby, the dark-skinned boy in tattered shorts sat looking out at the crashing blue waves of the Caribbean Sea. I sat close to the boy; only a few feet away (though he either didn’t notice me or was indifferent to my intrusion). I watched him as the rain fell on us and dripped down our clothes. I wondered if what we saw in that water was the same; if we were both daydreaming about the future or reminiscing about something from the past. I wondered about his dreams or maybe his heartbreak. The clouds overhead were dark and the rain kept falling on us, but the boy didn’t move. He leaned forward stoically, with his left arm resting on his raised knee, and kept his gaze on the empty distance in front of us.
To the left of us other boys were playing shirtless in the rain as the wooden boats of the local fishermen headed back to shore. One of the boats sped forward, crashed with the waves onto the beach, then settled. The fisherman jumped out to push the boat deeper onto the beach. The shirtless boys ran over, joined by other young men who were drinking rum under the palm trees, to see the catch and make offers before the older men from the stores bought up all the fish. The dark-skinned boy still didn’t move.
I thought about saying hello to the boy, but I resisted. There was some kind of peace in him that I didn’t know. I fidgeted, trying to soak in a moment of solitude away from the city, but ultimately failing to soak in much at all aside from the salty Caribbean water.
The other young boys ran over to me showing off the fish. “It’s loro,” they told me. “Parrot?” I asked them. “No, it’s a fish, it just looks like a parrot. Can’t you see that it’s a fish?” they laughed. The fish was a turquoise color with pink and yellow lines running along its mouth and body. It was a beautiful fish.
“Enrique, come play with us!” they yelled at the boy nearby. He turned to shrug them away, but one of them jumped on him and the others started dancing around in the sand trying to distract him and break his stoicism. I giggled at how happy the boys were. Enrique didn’t giggle; he got up.
“Vamos,” he said. “Nunca me dejan en paz.” You never leave me alone.
The boys were still laughing and dancing. One of the boys held the dead fish the entire time as he shook his body and stuck his tongue out. They ran off and Enrique followed, walking slowly behind them and not turning back to look at the ocean again as they disappeared from sight.