“Hey, Jim. You sure do stink.”
I finished plugging the head of a dead herring on my hook and stuck out my tongue at Benjamin. He was peering over the back of the breakwater, watching me work on my rod. I needed firm ground to adjust the sinker.
“You think you’re gonna catch anything with that cutesy line?” Ricky Garret called out. Ricky might be sore from the time I bombed him with a water balloon, but that’s no excuse for insulting a man’s gear.
“Yeah!” I told him. “Your relatives!”
“Hey, hey,” said Meredith. “We’re fishing here.”
Meredith had a point. Da says all great fishermen have quiet minds and steady hands. You can’t catch a striper when you’re angry at the world.
Besides, putting my mind to the task would give me a chance to figure out how I could get hold of Mom’s address in California. I hadn’t forgotten the idea of using Kramer’s Beach as bait.
The real trick was finding a way to make that bait extra tasty. To get her back forever, I was going to need something more en-tic-ing than a summer holiday.
I picked up my rod and climbed back up on the wall. Life was looking good. I had a chocolate bar from John in my pocket, a line in the water, and friends for spades. I might spend the whole afternoon like this.
Plus, I’d finally got everybody’s names figured out.
There was John and Dillon and Meredith and Katie and Benjamin Garret—all from the same family. Most of the time they lived out west past the city, but they came to Cape Mary every weekend.
Da took me to visit their regular house a few years back. They have a barn and a dog and this awesome pond with the creature from the black lagoon in it. I kid you not—it’s like a mutant eel crossed with a crocodile.
Then there was Ricky and his younger brother, Chaz. They’re known around town as the Grumpy Garrets. For some reason, they’ve got a real beef against the world. They’re the kinda guys who charge you a buck a day to rent their basketball net.
Then there were the Twister Sisters: Dinkie, GoGo, and Pips. They’re called the twister sisters because they’re huge into gymnastics. Dinkie can bend her leg up behind her until her head is sitting in the arch of her foot. Dinkie says it helps her think. It makes me feel kinda sick.
That made ten kids. And me, of course. According to Dillon, they’d been sitting on the breakwater for most of the day without any luck. Though I didn’t say it aloud, I was hoping to show them what a Fisher boy could do.
But first I had to answer their questions.
“How come you haven’t been back for so long?”
“Did your Mom really run off with a fireman?”
“I heard your Granddad was feeding you on baked beans and grapes. Can you eat that with ketchup?”
That last question was from GoGo. She’s not exactly the sharpest hook in the tackle box.
“No, you can’t eat that with ketchup. And my Mom didn’t run off with a fireman. She went to California.”
“I’ve been to California,” Katie piped up. “They’ve got buses that run on vegetables.”
“That’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard,” Ricky said.
“Don’t call my sister dumb,” John shot back.
“I didn’t call her dumb, I said buses that run on vegetables were dumb.”
While they were arguing, I went back to fishing. I was glad they weren’t asking me anything else about the day that Mom left.
Mainly, I guess, because I didn’t know.
I mean, I remember coming home from school and seeing Da’s truck in the drive. Which was strange for the afternoon. And I remember walking into the living room and seeing him just standing there. Not doing anything. Just standing at the window where Mom had hung a stained-glass lighthouse.
And the lighthouse was gone.
And Mom was gone.
And that was it. We didn’t really talk about it. Da said she was in California and would try to write. Then he told me to go brush my teeth. I asked him when she was coming home and he said he didn’t know. Then I went and brushed my teeth.
I’d like to tell you that I went Hollywood and smashed my mirror and stomped on my toys and chucked my drawers through the window, but that didn’t happen ‘til later.
All I felt that night was this queer sorta ache, like a cramp mixed with in-digest-ion. You know those times when you’ve been out too long in the water and your body is trying to push through the pain? That was the feeling. Like your heart’s been shoved in a vise.
Course, I can’t speak for Mom. She was always what Granddad calls a little absent-minded. Maybe she didn’t realize what she was doing. Maybe she thought Da would tell me more about California and palm trees and vegetable buses. Maybe she forgot how to write.
That being said, I’d like to know why she left in that way. It seemed kinda blunt.
I got so far out in space musing about the past that I barely noticed the tug on my line.
“Jim’s got a live one!” Dinkie shouted.
You ever see a car get mushed in a trash compactor? Well, that’s about how I felt when ten kids started jamming in on me.
“Haul him in slow!”
“Is it a keeper?”
“Make sure the hook is nice and tight.”
I was getting so squished that I hardly had room to let the line play out.
“Back it up!” John yelled.
Katie and Meredith wriggled over to the side and Benjamin let go of my elbow.
The striper was really fighting now, yanking hard back whenever I tried to reel it in. I’d let my line drift so far out that it was impossible to see where it was heading. Maybe there was a whole school where those birds were going bonanza!
“Don’t lose him, Jimmy!”
Was Pips kidding? Stripers were my reason for being. I wasn’t gonna lose him for nothing.
I was just getting a good play on the reel when Chaz started to laugh. Real loud.
“Hey, look! Fisher Jim’s caught a seagull!”