The one that got away, p.1
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       The One that Got Away, p.1
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           matthew lewis
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The One that Got Away
The One that Got Away

  Copyright 2013 Matthew Lewis

  I had been standing in this place for hours, thinking about lasting images and the days that passed by in a flash. It had been years since I last visited, a lifetime ago really, returning now as an older man, wondering what to think of such a dreadful afternoon.

  The world I had known was gone now, buried in a consumer avalanche, with so many things turning into unknown variables. Vanished were the days of free fishing, and departed were the ways of the old can and worm. This was the era of the powerboat, motoring through arenas they did not own, flashing plastic smiles to the saps that could not afford the lifestyle. People walked along concrete landscapes, ignoring the sands, communing on beaches littered with signs telling them "Beware of Tide." No one fished anymore; there were only scattered holdouts, burning time, casting lines into waters no longer welcoming their lures.

  Things were in flux, washing the old away.

  My gaze affixed on the old boardwalk I seemed to remember playing on as I walked, the planks as large as life but also burdened, their smell one of rot and lingering, the worst sort of forgotten demise. I tried to envision myself here in that once-ago life, tossing aside the little nuisances as people clamored on the waters, making way for memories.

  I could almost see snatches from before, like out-of-focus pictures, making out a boy and his father, the two fishing these very docks.

  I tried to hold onto them but nothing seemed right , the old world springing leaks, filled with new waves. Two realities clashed for a moment, standing so close together that it felt as though I were watching my youth vanish, taking with it everything I had once adored. I was a rotting timber. My life was the forgotten demise.

  It was terrible.

  Standing on the old wharf, I recalled ghosts dressed in a myriad of colors, some in rain slicks and some in smocks, standing side-by-side as the waves pressed down, my father walking amongst them. I could taste the brine and feel its sting, like tears from an angry goddess.

  Nothing made a man feel so alive.

  That world had been less in the way of yachts and more in the way of bait-and-tackle stores, but roles had reversed and things had grown chaotic. I could make out the places where old businesses had submerged, like caskets that had washed up in a storm, their sun-bleached wooden bones bobbing in the waves or sleeping shattered on the pavement, their cries coming from somewhere out-of-reach. I wanted to hold onto them but their futile gasps seemed almost inaudible, defunct signs with words like "sale" and "mark downs" and "everything must go" littering their forms, showing the hardship this area suffered in my absence.

  Memories seemed the only occupants of a kingdom once adored.

  Staring down at my hands as I baited my line, feeling all the wrinkles and the little cuts and the pains I had once experienced, I mentally traced the mark where I had brought in two gargantuan fish right off this landing, tasting the pressure put on hands as I accidentally tugged line with bare skin. It was a horrible feeling, knowing you might lose your fingers, becoming even worse as I thought about what had happened and why .

  I recalled the aftermath, my mother and father screaming, the tandem of faces going from the elation of winning to the horror of seeing their son's hand open, bleeding like some half-assed suicide. They knew what I had done and what might happen.

  Such a strange life to lead.

  I cast my line into those waters as deeper preoccupations began to intrude, leaving it where it those first motions carried, thinking the fish could come and get it if they wanted, lethargy the mantra of the day. I could have tugged that piece of line to see if any prowling figures noticed, but I really didn't want to, knowing this was more than enough to relive the bygone once more. If the fish were not interested, I would simply be working and straining, and that was not why I was here.

  This place, this world; it wasn't me. Not since my youth.

  At eighteen years of age I had stormed out of this life, because of some triviality no longer recollected, the last twenty plus years spent never once looking back. I simply kept marching, doing other things that led to other states of supposed grace, hoping to lose the connections until there was nothing for me to come back to.

  Even my dreams carried me here less-and-less now.

  It was only when I received that phone call that I thought about returning, hearing how his lungs had finally given out, that soot once ingested was now ending his life. He must have been hurting, feeling his mortality, to reach out like this.

  I drove in with every intention of going to the hospital, hoping to say something to my father that perhaps remedied everything, but one missed turn led to another, one block bypassed leading to five, until I was buying bait, heading for the wharf. What was I going to say that made it all better?

  Nothing made sense and I needed time to breathe.

  My eyes seemed to drift beyond this place, random tumblers spelling out archaic thoughts. In them I was just a boy, staring at a man much taller than myself, his face contorted and smiling, every feature telling me just how content standing with his son made him. I poured over every detail offered up, watching his eyes beam some sort of unspoken message in a tongue known only to those present, recalling how at peace I felt then.

  A broad left hand reached toward his head, eyes still focusing on me as fingers absently looked for bits of hair to stroke, those brown tufts of thinning twine greeting those digits, two teeth missing from the left side of his mouth noticeable as he smiled. His right hand clutched a lure that looked like a small crayfish, allowing me to touch the lure, the rubbery body of the little thing memorable as he began explaining an armada of fishing secrets that would haunt me all my life.

  Some of them were ingenious, old tales that his father had given him, all of them noteworthy; a road map to fishing absolution. It was the first time he had ever taken me fishing.

  I kept waiting for the phone to ring, but the call never came. I had stashed the beeping thing in my trousers, checking it every ten minutes, aware that my father would have seen this as a violation of a cardinal fishing rule. The noise, the distraction, the detraction; this was a world where so many looked for solace, where a man grows gills and swims with his thoughts, not a place where a man walks both on the water and on the ground.

  The prospect of what it might herald terrified me, knowing what I would be losing. Perhaps my father had been right the last time we spoke. Perhaps I wasn't a man at all. I could not think of losing the man who had shown me the sea.

  About six hours of standing and staring passed before the world snapped back to the present, painfully aware that something was awry. There was a static charging the crowds that I hoped to ignore at first, thinking it would leave if only I ignored it, but the feeling kept growing, lingering, not allowing me to cast it aside. Murmurs became a collective gasp rolling through the gathering group of onlookers, reminiscent of the Wave at a Football game, panic felt when something went wrong.

  It was close and the people were moving, some in panic and some far too curious for me not to join them in staring, their fingers pointing out to the sea. Some were brandishing cellular phones and some had cameras, the faces changing as they grew closer to where I was standing, panic sweeping the onlookers.

  A woman with two children in tow told the whole story as I watched.

  Dressed in bathing suits, she and her children looked outward, the two children standing by the water's edge. Both were looking out at the sea, a discarded bucket sitting at their feet, mingling with droves of others that began gathering on the shore, seemingly amazed by something out there. Their mother paid little attention at first, fiddling with what looked like a Kindle, an umbrella keep
ing the sun out of her face, disinterest lingering. One of the children rushed over, tugging at her arm while speaking frantically formed sentences, pulling until her mother finally looked out amongst the waves.

  She glanced up and then paused, squinting for a moment, her color draining into the ether as I watched, tan skin turning ashy as the device fell toward to the ground. Ignoring all her belongings, she clutched her children as tightly as she could, standing amidst tiny whimpers and audible groans, her children not resistant, allowing her to lead then wherever she wanted. She went from staring to stumbling to running at a brisk pace, from the shore and back, bared feet touching blistering concrete, trying to get away from whatever might be present.

  It was like she was watching a nightmare approaching, the terror etched upon her face leaking into my
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