The Middle Aged Man and the Sea

First Place

Posted: Sunday, May 07, 2006

He was a middle-aged state worker who fished alone in the early mornings before work, and the evenings after, and anytime he could, and he had gone one thousand two hundred and sixty seven rod hours without a strike.

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He sat contemplating this, after dark, after two more rod hours, after fueling up the boat for the morning and putting fresh baits on salt, after thinking about her and the kids, and after ordering a Long Island iced tea. The drink had so many different things in it that he had come to regard it as dinner.

The bar was in Douglas, a short walk from both the harbor and his home, and was called Louie's, after the original owner. Louie was a local boy who had mistakenly been separated from his twin brother Harry at birth. Harry owned a bar in Manhattan. They had accidentally found each other many years later, and liked to secretly swap businesses and families for a month or two a year. They were so much alike that no one noticed but the family cats and Harry's mistress, who didn't seem to mind.

One of the regulars, known only as Bob, sat down next to him and ordered a beer.

"How's the fishing" he asked.

"Bad."

"Oh. How's the wife?"

"Gone."

Bob picked up his beer and looked at him for a moment. "One out of two isn't bad," he said, and went to the other end of the bar to roll for drinks.

Editor's note: The Juneau Empire dared Southeast Alaska to get tight and take a stab at some bull, in a mock-Hemingway contest to glorify spring and the return of salmon season. The bell tolled for 28 guerillas, and the Empire's cracked team of judges deemed three bad to the groan.

She had left him, disgusted finally, in June, and had gone to Paris to be with family and to go shopping.

"Why?"

She was busy packing, with much resolution. "Because you are not married to me anymore. You have left me for some mythical fish! Well, just go to your fish! Besides, Paris in the springtime has better shopping than the Nugget Mall."

He had just started the kicker after lowering the salt-herring and flasher rig to exactly twenty fathoms on the downrigger. He knew that this was deep for June, but he believed in luck, and he had the optimistic, ex-commercial fisherman, middle-aged state worker feeling that his luck could change any minute. The sun was glowing on the horizon, and the sky above Dumdum was the exact color of her lingerie on their wedding night. It was a lucky color, and he felt happy. The kicker was smoking and purring erratically, as if it would quit any second, and it made him feel happier still.

He watched the rod tip bouncing with the slow climbing, almost stopping, sharp swing-down rolling action of the herring and the flasher. It was good. He wondered if Tom McGuane felt like this on his mornings off Key West. He wondered how he was going to pay the credit card bills rolling in from Paris. He looked into the morning, and waited for his luck to change.



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