Strange Encounters
 

Tip of the Hook

by Robert Bradford

 
  Winter 2015 Fiction, Memoir & Poetry Anthology  |  Contents  |  Authors  |  echapbook.com

 

Salvador caught a 1,050-pound tuna, and came home to Rikki with a check for $5,000 and the tail, but Rikki wasn't home.

He dumped the tail, 35 inches from tip to tip, on the kitchen table. At the sink he quickly splashed some water on his hands, then reached up into the cupboard and took a big gulp of mescal from a liter of Dos Gusanos. He didn't get either worm, so he muttered —“Matra doo beesh” like the old Portagees and took another swig.

Then he hobbled rapidly back out into the narrow lane that led down to Commercial Street. Every muscle in Salvador's five-foot-five-inch frame, in his arms and legs and shoulders and back, was alternately spasming and cramping in be-bop syncopation, and he could barely unclench his fists, but he was driven by Rikki and the fish.

 

nobody in Provincetown, hell, nobody on the whole Cape, or the Islands or New Bedford even, ever caught a fish like that, well not all alone on a hand line in an open 14-footer with a cranky old outboard, but it was the bait, great bait, I owe Shovelhead down at the Wharf a nice bone, at least a hundred bucks, big fat mackerel, bigger than the trout me and Rikki caught in Maine that first time, when the drummer crushed her after less than a weekend and me, this funny tough horny little roadie, took her to the big woods to heal her sweet sweet soul and angle for her sweet sweet lovin, and she never caught a fish before and I made her gut it and clean it and skewer it over the campfire all by herself and she never tasted anything so good, and she never had The True Linguica before, either, and I said some magic words and she fell in love, ooh, wait'll she hears about this one

 

The Mayflower was still serving, mostly tourists, but wasn't full this late in the season, and a few locals in the back booth cheered and thrust their fists in the air when Salvador eased in.

Dealinda came out of the kitchen and bowed to him, and had his flippers and linguica on the table in three minutes. She had to cut up the flippers, the fried bread dough, and slap on the butter and slurp on the syrup for him, though, and cut the long sausage oozing spicy dull-red grease. He could just hold a fork fist-wise in his good left hand.

The townies called him The Young Man And The Sea, and peppered him with questions, but his replies were fragmentary.

“It's not a story yet,” he said. “It's like I'm still living it.”

When he asked if anyone had seen Rikki, some eyebrows went up and some eyebrows went down but they all said no, uh-uh, nope.

Then his mouth was full, and three minutes later he wiped his drooping moustache and limped back out onto Commercial Street.

 

the gloves, they saved my fingers, the line jumped out so fast, if I didn't grab it quick he'd of spit the hook before I set it, they always laugh 'cause I never ever take my gloves off all day, just one maybe for a minute to light a Camel or unwrap Rikki's sandwiches, tuna fish sandwiches for luck, on dark brown bread she baked from Boston to San Francisco to Puerto Escondido back to Provincetown, 12 years, baked it just for luck even in the bad days when neither of us had no appetite, but the fish had an appetite, took that hook deep, musta towed me two miles, all the guys on the big boats laughin and cheerin and gettin outta the way, musta been goin two miles an hour, guys yellin across the water Jeez that's a quiet sumbitch of a motor, and What the hell is that, a Provincetown sleighride? and I hope that fish lets you go when he's done catchin you, and when he got tired I didn't pull him up to the boat, I pulled the boat up to him, but when I got him close enough for the harpoon and he rolled up next to the boat and I snubbed the line but just one bight, good thing, cause when that big eye rolled up and saw me and he knew, and he shivered that humungous tail and ran and would have pulled me right under if I didn't get that line unsnubbed, and ran and towed and fought it all out again until a mile more and that big eye rolled up again and looked right at me and I could feel what he was thinkin, oh shit, he knew, eyeball to eyeball and I shake the cramp out of my good left hand and heft the harpoon and fling it with all my weight and then he runs again but not far this time

 

The locals at the end of the bar whooped when Salvador staggered into The Governor Bradford, but fell silent when he asked about Rikki.

“Haven't seen her”" said Peace-sign Patty truthfully; she'd been working all day at a gallery in Harwich.

“Me either,” said Pudgie, who'd nodded fitfully all day.

“Me neither,” said Bones, who'd been crashed beside Pudgie.

Everybody else shrugged vaguely.

Don Two-Bellies, Billy Three-Farts and Captain Zig-Zag, named not for the cigarette papers but for the way he steered his boat after he used them, were exuberant:

“Biggest sumbitch I ever seen!”

“Awreddy in Boston, maybe awreddy onna plane to Japan!”

“Raw lunch for halfa Tokyo tomorrow!”

“Twice as tall as Sal and 10 times as big around!”

Salvador could barely scramble up onto his stool. He smiled weakly at Maddie, the barmaid with the 14-carat heart. She already had a double Cuervo poured, and a saltshaker, no lime. She leaned on the bar, her face a foot from his. He'd kissed her in the second grade, a sweet little kiss, no tongue.

“She's gone,” said Maddie, slowly and softly and clearly, as everybody in the bar looked away. “I saw her get on the last ferry. She had her backpack. And a suitcase.”

He stared at her for several long moments through wide dark bloodshot eyes.

“Was she with anybody?”

“No,” said Maddie — make that 18-carat — as she pictured Rikki and Lucy waving from the top deck. Maddie scurried away to take an order at the other end of the bar as Salvador lurched off his stool.

 

and there's Shaky Shoogie, look at him, eyes dreamy hand in his pocket lickin his lips hand in his pocket fingerin bindles of China White, China China China China White, that's how many times I can say it before it flashes white in my brain, white-out, oh door, swing door swing

 

He bursts into the street ragged with stragglers.

 

for if I do not fish tomorrow I surely will die, oh fill my mind fish please

 

end of story

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