REPEATABLE SEQUENCE #51
"The Squid Jig"
About the Writer
Ian Woollen's third novel, UNCLE ANTON'S ATOMIC BOMB (Coffeetown Press, 2014) was a Finalist for the Balcones Fiction Prize. His short fiction has surfaced recently in Bartleby Snopes, The Smokelong Quarterly, Curbside Splendor, and Blackheart Magazine. He lives in Bloomington, Indiana and visits Maine in the summer.
Right here, right now. A gentle surf. The clouds retreating. Careful on the wet rocks. A man with an aluminum walking-stick ponders an emerald tide pool. Barnacles, moss, periwinkles, hermit crabs, lichen. The man feels like a divine intruder, peering into a distant universe. All is well. All will be well.
Not for long. The funnel-like rock formation containing the tide pool shape-shifts into a giant martini glass. Brim full with an exotic cocktail. The man suddenly craves a drink. He reaches into his pants pocket and clutches his five-year sobriety token. Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change… One of the periwinkles begins to move, its shell lifting ever so slowly from a monopod foot.
The man remembers his coroner father’s oft-repeated advice: “Always carry your wallet, so they can identify the body.”
Temp: 73F. Partly Sunny. Humidity: 32%. Wind: SW 10mph
Long ago, far away. A gusty, autumn afternoon in the hinterlands. Football weather. Smell of leaves burning somewhere in the neighborhood, in violation of the new municipal ordinance, but who cares. Mixing with the scent of mown hay. A man on a riding mower. Waves of overgrown meadow giving way to his relentless progress. Drunk, of course. The man on the riding mower spontaneously salutes a circling turkey buzzard.
He is being watched by a woman in a squeaky glider on the back patio. Sunbathing in Bermuda shorts. The game on the radio. She lifts one arm and, clutching a cordless phone, waves it back and forth. She yells: “Yoohoo! It’s your client at the club! He wants to know if you sell asteroid insurance!”
Temp. 67F. Chance of Rain 70%. Wind: NE 15 mph.
Right here, right now. Inland forest. Spruce, fir, birch groves. A gentle rain. It could turn into a downpour, one of those five-inch deluges that recently flooded the basement. But why assume the worst? The man hunches and takes cover under the blue-green branches of a stately spruce. A nearby brook grows louder. The pungent smells released by the rain grow stronger.
The man squats and leans against the tree trunk. Indian-style, as they used to say. The surface root system in the forest floor appears eerily similar to the web of veins and arteries along the back of his mottled hand. The man studies the mix of rocks and needle loam among the tree roots and alongside the brook. Using the tip of his aluminum walking-stick, he begins to dig. Within a matter of seconds – bingo! He unearths an arrowhead. A kid’s dream come true. But he isn’t a kid or a dreamer anymore. And he can’t risk pretending to be lucky. He tosses the arrowhead into the brook.
Two hours later the woman finds him asleep under the tree. Resting comfortably. Six months out from bypass surgery.
She has been searching all over the island. Merchants Cove, Boom Beach and, lastly, the Herrick Trail. Nobody ever hikes the Herrick. Except him. It’s not even on the National Park map anymore. The man loves the crumbling stone walls that appear mysteriously deep in the forest. Artifacts of the early Maine settlers. He waxes about the mossy stone walls at dinner parties and with newcomers at the church coffee hour…same way he tells the story about tacking around Seal Ledge in a squall with her father during the Retired Skippers Race. The same spiel over and over. Should she wake him? The eternal question.
Temp. 39F. Chance of flurries. Winds: SE 15 mph.
Long ago and far away. A suburb of St. Louis. Six inches of snow on the ground and more falling. Separately, they’d volunteered to supervise a teen overnight lock-in at the church. Both new to All Souls. A young divorcee and a young widower. Talk about parenting challenges. His son and her daughter are classmates in junior high. The man brags nervously about cooking steak tartare for the kids’ breakfast. A no-nonsense gourmet, the woman corrects him: hey, there is no cooking with steak tartare, and besides, it would be lost on them anyway.
The man promises the youth minister that his insomnia will be a supervisory plus with the nocturnal teenagers. Wrong. He falls asleep within fifteen minutes, sitting in a pew. Deaf to the adolescent uproar. Same way the woman’s father, a family court judge, nodded off on the bench, and at the dinner table. The woman alternately glares at him and turns to hush the marauding teens. She remembers the judge forbidding anyone to wake him. Finally, screw it, she reaches over and jostles the man’s shoulder.
He wakes in a dream about his late wife’s cancerous breasts. He gazes at the woman with a somnambulant nod of recognition… a long-sought soul mate.
She thinks, “You already divorced one insurance guy, for chrissakes.” But his gaze feels surprisingly comfortable. The man leans forward to kiss her, and she folds into his arms.
Temp. 77F. Partly cloudy. Humidity 30%. Wind: NW 5 mph.
Right here, right now. Supper on the boat at the mooring. The man. The woman. The son. The daughter. A slight swell. Cumulus cloud bellies reflecting the sunset over the Camden Hills. Red sky at night…the man summoning memories, out loud, of splendid sunsets on their early cruising trips. The two kids sprawled together on the bow in those pillowy, orange life jackets. All getting to know each other.
The man proudly wearing his moth-eaten letter sweater. He wrestled at 150. Lately, 210 feels slim. The woman wraps herself in a shawl from their anniversary trip to Mexico. She says, “The children have something to tell us.”
The son, in jeans and a blazer, clears his throat and sternly states, “First, we’re not children anymore.”
The daughter nods and chimes in, “We heard what happened with dad lost in the woods again and the search party.”
The son continues, “Mom was worried. We know you both are very attached to the island. But sis and I both live on the other coast. We can’t get out here that often. ”
“And, frankly, we couldn’t afford to keep it up anyway,” the daughter adds.
The man growls, “What the hell are you trying to say?”
“This is the last summer.”
“We think you should sell.”
The woman covers her face with the colorful fabric and sobs. Avoiding the man’s slack-jawed stare of betrayal.
“Don’t blame her,” the son says. “It’s been obvious to everyone for a couple years.”
The daughter jangles her bracelets and adds, “It doesn’t mean you can’t still visit. You could stay at the Inn. It would be a lot easier and safer, without having to care for the house and the boat.”
Temp. 54F. Fog. Chance of thunderstorms overnight. Wind: SE 20 mph.
Long ago, far away. The church parking lot. Just after her parents went down in a small plane crash. Almost the same conversation. The annual trek from St. Louis was an organizational pain in the ass and all their friends vacationed in Wisconsin or Michigan. Let’s face it…we could do something different. They slept on it and drank on it and finally decided on one more summer. Which turned out to be the summer of the squid.
Everyone called it “once in a lifetime.” Thousands of ghostly creatures circling the town dock every night. The spirits of the ancestors. The spirits of the unborn. Were the squid drawn by the strong light atop the flagpole? Were they feeding on krill? No one could explain it. Pale, gauzy apparitions just under the surface. Nightly crowds of gawkers and fishermen and kids with nets. Pulling up buckets of fresh seafood. Laughing at the ink squirts. Sudden splash of seals getting in on the bonanza.
The man and the woman ritually strolled down to the dock after supper, with a jig and a line, not only for the culinary rewards, but because of something deeper, more magnetic. As if they were being drawn to the night light too. All part of a grand, migratory convocation of fish and humans and moon and ocean. The luminescent squid jig special-ordered from the mainland chandlery – a circle of thin wire teeth that hooked the wispy, white tentacles.
Every summer after that, they returned to the island without question.
Temp. 74F. Clouds and Sun. Humidity: 20% Wind: SE 15 mph.
Right here, right now in the harbor. ‘Second Chance’, their sailboat, rolling in the wake of a passing trawler. Otherwise, the water is calm. The man says, “Lemme tell you a story.”
The woman, the son, the daughter. Smell of fish chowder. They all shift into the pose. Legs crossed. Hands in lap. The here-we-go-again pose. Assuming he’s going to tell the story of the squid miracle and the shiny jigs and the crowds on the dock and his perfect batter and the crunch of the calamari, fried up right out of the water. His standard parable for all existential debates. A true insurance man, he will use it to try to talk them out of selling the cottage. To convince them that the situation is more complicated than they realize.
Instead he launches into a description of a tide pool. A man with an aluminum walking-stick ponders an emerald tide pool. Barnacles, moss, periwinkles, hermit crabs, lichen. The man feels like a divine intruder, peering into a distant universe. All is well. All will be well.