Wednesday, July 29, 2009

East of the Light

By Jim Parks

Rudy saluted Bubba when he came out of the water after he had lashed the ends of the purse seine back together in a circle and we waited for the fish to gill off in it, to become packed in the mesh in their panic..

He stripped and stood in a jock, staring into the sun overhead, balanced on the rail outside the pilot house. His hair looked blue, so black and glossy in the sun, his brown Caribe skin sweating. He fought the grin that kept threatening to capture his face, make him burst into a long series of giggles.

With a flash of white teeth, he shouted "Chingada!" and dove into the ultramarine blue water beside the net where the bull sharks had been eating in a frenzy, chopping up the fish who were caught, tearing holes in the mesh, making the water foam with a froth of reddish blood soon fading to brown and dissipating to a green tinge in the warmth of the sun.

The stream comes closer to the mainland U.S. there than anywhere else - less than a mile.

It's not like in the Keys where there are chains of coral reefs and islands. This is a huge limestone peninsula washed by the warm water out of Africa and the Caribbean, bound for the British Isles and the European continent, thence back to the tropics.

In the stream, there are game fish and schools of mackerel, tuna, jack, all competing for the needle fish, anchovy, squid. You can see them from above - a thousand feet - a shadowy gray stream within the deep blue stream, moving along in a frenzy of feeding.

The boats work with airplane pilots who radio to let them know where they are jumping at baits shoved to the surface and sometimes out into the air. Everything moves briskly in the stream, at about six knots, to the northeast.

As Rudy jumped, Hector shouted "Ai! Cojones!"

Bubba stood transfixed, watching as Rudy splashed back to the side of the boat and climbed the rope ladder dangling over the side.

He pulled Rudy's arm, boosting him back over the gunwale in the crisp December air. They stood beaming at each other for a moment, then they embraced, laughing.

"It is necessary, no, cabron? It is necessary," Rudy said.

Bubba grabbed him again and they hugged, taking each others' crucifixes between thumb and forefingers and kissing them, slapping each other on the back repeatedly.

Simultaneously, almost whimsically, they spit into the ocean where the bull sharks still chewed at the net, the fish blood foaming, the dorsal fins working it all into a froth.

Then they both put their clothes back on while the rest of the crew slammed batten boards on the deck to panic the fish in the water beneath her keel, to make them try to swim out of the encircling pursed seine.

We drifted along to the northeast until the pilot in the little 150 buzzed us and we started to feed the foot ropes over the dishpan winches overhead, faking the loaded seine down on deck, shoveling ice over the fish in layers, faking another layer, then more ice, finally tarping the whole load and heading for the inlet and the fish house, the twin V-8 turbo Detroit diesels singing in the engine compartment under the fiberglass deck, the hull struggling to plane in front of the propulsion nozzles proven in the shallow waters of Vietnam, Thailand, Cambodia, Brazil.
We headed back through the inlet, ignoring the other boats stopped by Customs and the Marine Patrol, Coast Guard. It was not our fate today.

Only we knew what lay beneath the stinking mass of fish and netting.

It would be a long night and a longer day after.

We were heading home. We were East of the light. That meant sewing up huge holes in the mesh, holes chewed by bull sharks in a frenzy of feeding upon helpless Spanish mackerel in the deep blue waters over the marl where tons and tons of gold and silver and cannon and bronze hails lay at rest after endless northeasters that blew it all to smithereens long, long ago.

Cojones. Yes, cojones.


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