Rushing Water Held Tightly in Place

This is flash-fiction-sort-of-memoir prose that I wrote after a fishing trip with my brother a few years ago.  We try to hit the Owens Valley every year or so for fishing, coffee, and sometimes snow. Aren’t all fish stories fiction?

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We paused at the rim. The chill air was alive with spring sage. The water below, a dark ribbon. A lone string of fog, floated by, as we scouted our descent into the Owens Gorge, some 500 feet below. It was carved by years of river flow. Just water, gravity and time. Allen pointed to a bend in the river, maybe 400 yards from us on the far side of the gorge, his voice, waxed paper on a gritty floor said “Let’s try there?” I’d follow my brother just about anywhere, especially when there’s fish at the end. We picked up the pace, not a race, just a quickening heart-beat, our feet knew what to do. It was slow work. We watched our steps, lest we tumbled or jumbled our gear on a crag. And we’d heard there might be snakes as the gorge warmed up.

We turned the first bend and heard the kingfisher before we saw its streak of blue and white flight. The bird’s cackle brought a sparkle of light, as the first trout rose and splashed, just ahead, where the river turned. We looked back up. Why did it always look steeper going down than from the bottom?

The water made its own music as it flowed free. Loud and boisterous, then a meandering melody that always seemed to slow me down. We walked carefully on rocky river stones. My brother was a bird sitting on a branch, just watching. His clothing all tan and green, straight out of a fly fishing magazine. This stretch of water ran clear, over smooth rocky bottom, golden green, mossy streaked, and then there was a flash of tail, and another. The sound slapped our ears. The fish were out. They were feeding on the surface.

Allen was the first to assemble his rod. I wasn’t quite ready to fish, still too much in my head, so I got my camera out and made a couple of test shots to check aperture, shutter speed, and ISO. I’d ease into fishing this way. He started with a look around. What would catch him? A branch behind, the reeds in front? He started in close, with a short roll cast, barely upstream. The fly tangled on a reed and with a flick of the tip of his two weight rod, the fly flipped over backward and landed softly in a tiny eddy just downstream from the reed. Schwack! A solid 14 inch German-Brown trout flung itself against the parachute Adams, but left the fly unscathed and still floating. Allen looked my way and laughed.

He took two steps, and casted again, just ahead of the reeds. I managed to get a shot of the fly landing softly right behind a rock. It looked perfect to me, but he picked it up for two short false casts, to dry the fly. Then fluid poet on a rocky river, he slipped the fly into the seam at the head of the pool. The current curved the fly like a crescent moon as a tail flashed, a mouth grabbed and the rod tip pointed instinctively to God.

The trout reared its head and exploded from water, turned gently and seemed to hang in the air, then came down with a splash. It sent spikes of spray. It landed hard a wet crash. The line ripped off the reel spraying Allen’s glasses and face. A quick swipe from his sleeve and he sees the fish heading down stream. The fish, heavy now with the weight of the current, headed straight for a log. Allen ended it. He pressed his palm against the reel. Pulled the fish to a stop, a moment before the log. Will the line snap? With one power move the fish could set free, but the line held, the fish tired. He reeled it in quickly for a moment of fame and an upstream release so this fish could meet another day.

Daily Prompt: Fishing

Hanalei Blues (fiction)

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The end of September brings Hanalei back to the locals. There are still tourists. There are always tourists, but they thin as the air cools; as the days grow shorter. And most tourists fear the looming possibility of heavy rain, flash floods and large waves as the calendar turns toward winter.

The pier belongs to the bay, which is nestled in the Hanalei valley surrounded by steep, irregular ridges, shrouded in a lush tropical green. When the sun strikes the mountains in the late afternoon, the green glows like it’s made of light. Waterfalls streak the north facing walls. They are flash flood monitors. If there are more than 7 it’s time to move the kids, cars, and farming equipment to higher ground. If there are more than 10, just get the kids to the cliffs. There’s no time for cars and equipment.

Waves lap at the pier piles as tourists march along the length of it, sipping drinks and chatting into another sunset. Mano sets the hook on a nice fish, plays it longer than needed, and hoists it to the deck. He strikes a pose against the setting sun, like he is the king of this pier, though much younger than his uncle who has four rods in the water, and sits on a beach chair, sipping something from a plastic mug, ice cubes clinking. Mano is pleased to be seen but acts like the tourists are not there. He steps on the spine of the small hammer head. The shark thrashes and shimmies. Mano whacks it hard on the head with the butt of his knife and lays it out on the picnic bench where two tourists play a game of checkers. A pool of blood gathers under the hammer head. Tourists get close to see the tiny teeth.

The last of the sunset sends the tourists back to the bars, the restaurants, the expensive vacation homes. Mano casts again and speaks in hushed tones to his uncle. They laugh as the last light brings their village back to them.

In the morning, Mano tosses a leash at a tourist who is renting a board from the Green Trees Surf Shop. He intends to startle the tourist, maybe laugh at him, but gets a look of contempt from his co-worker who is filling out a rental agreement. Mano acts like he owns the shop, but is just another worker who seems like a truant. Like he’s not working at the shop even when he’s there.

Mano hasn’t always hated the tourists. Not that it matters, but they sold the house next to his bungalow and now it’s a rental. Tourists come in with their red Mustang convertibles, their tan muscular bodies with slinky girlfriends and think they can do what they want with his beach. They make noise until late at night and their leave their haole trash on the beach.

The tourist, a thirty-something guy from San Diego, sweats as the boards are loaded. A twinge of fear gathers in his gut as he selects a paddle. He’d surfed at Hanalei ten years ago, but not on a stand up paddle board. Not at the reef. He is nervous about looking foolish. He is nervous about falling onto the reef in shallow water. He thinks about sharks.

He surfs for an hour and catches his share of waves. As he paddles to catch his last wave, a movement comes from his right. Mano is paddling an outrigger canoe into the wave. The tourist tries to back off, but it’s too late. He jumps from the board as it slams the canoe.  There is a pause, like the ocean has forgiven them. The tourist pops his head up to see the canoe sliding by, then is pulled under water and dragged behind the canoe. His board is caught on the outrigger. His leash is strapped to his ankle. The weight of the tourist pulls canoe to the left. The tourist breathes water. His knee scrapes the coral reef. The canoe exits the wave with alarming speed. It pitches into the air, nearly flips over, but Mano stands, leans into the wave and settles the canoe into the water. The tourist surfaces and sputters for breath. Mano jumps from the boat and yells at the tourist to unstrap his leash. The tourist thinks he’ll be left without his board. Mano yells again for the tourist to remove the leash, which he does. Mano pulls the leash through the outrigger stays, and pushes the board toward the tourist who is standing on the shallow reef, paddle in hand. Against the setting sun the tourist looks like Neptune. Mano tells the tourist to swim to the board and he does. Mano climbs back into his boat and paddles hard. As he passes the tourist, he stands and slows. The tourist is standing on his board. He does not know what to do.

“Haole dude. Ok now?”

The tourist nods his head. His knees shake as blood drips to the deck of his board.

“Dat some kine ride brah,” says Mano. “Betta you paddle in brah. Sharks like sunset. Sharks like blood.”

Mano paddles toward the setting sun. As blood drips onto the deck, the tourist paddles toward shore, scanning for the fin of a reef shark.

Change Seven Magazine 2.2

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I submitted three flash fiction stories to Change Seven Magazine, and they published them today.  Each story is in some way connected to surfing.

Change Seven is an online literary journal that pays tribute to Dorothy Parker, that feminist dame who was so far ahead of her time that it hurt.

The origin of the site’s name comes from the following:

“It takes me six months to do a story. I think it out and write it sentence by sentence—no first draft. I can’t write five words but that I can change seven.” ~ Dorothy Parker, The Paris Review, 1956

I am honored to have my work in this journal.

The magazine is here                      https://changesevenmag.com/issue-2-2/

The Battle by the Bay

The Giants have been whooped by the As three games straight in their annual battle by the bay.  Tonight the Giants have one more chance.  Back in 1989 this same match up was set against an area-altering event during game three of the World Series.  This is short short fiction about that day from the point of view of a very young not-yet-baseball fan.

On the TV a man with no hair talked about a battle and a bay.  He called a little man a giant.  The little man had black streaks under his eyes.  The TV made a funny noise, then squiggly lines, and then it went black.  Mama Rose took my hand, put Bobby’s hand in mine, and ran from the house.  The screen door slammed.  She took us to the park across the street and set us in swings.  She kept looking up at the trees and wires. She looked at her watch and then looked up and down the street.  She asked us if we’d felt anything.  We both shook our heads.

A woman with bright red hair came into the playground with a little girl and a brown dog.  She asked Mama Rose if she’d seen the news.  Mama Rose said, “Don’t scare the boys.”

“What happened,” I asked, but Mama Rose didn’t look at me.

The red haired woman talked about a game and a stick and a cypress.  She talked fast and looked up at the trees.  Mama Rose asked if her husband was ok.  The red haired woman did not answer.

A man smoking a cigarette came into the park carrying a small girl with snot running from her nose.  The man closed one eye and held the cigarette in his lips.  Something from the smoke end dropped on the little girl’s arm.  She yelled “Ouch,” while he wiped up the snot with a white rag.

“The Marina got hit hard,” he said to Mama Rose.

Mama Rose shook her head and shushed the man.  She took me and Bobby back to the house.

She looked up the stairs and said, “Dave I need you.”

She told him to watch us while she ran next door.  He turned on the TV.  A man with wires and stuff coming out his ears talked fast with a crunched up face.  There was a large grassy place with lots of orange seats and people running.

He pushed a button on the remote.  A car was driving on a street over water.  The road in front of the car fell and the car vanished.   He pushed the remote and there was a sideways house with smoke coming out of the windows.  He pushed the remote and a car was driving on a street over water.  The road fell and another car vanished.  A woman with big eyes and a bright red mouth talked fast about an epicenter.  She did not blink.

“Daddy Dave,” asked Bobby, “What’s an epicenter?”

Daddy Dave turned off the TV and said “Let’s have a snack.”

Bobby asked if we could watch cartoons.  Daddy Dave said that the TV was over heating and we would have to wait until it cooled down.

Mama Rose came back with two kids I did not know.  The one with the orange shirt said a truck was squashed like a pancake.

“A pancake?” asked the other kid.

“A pancake,” said the kid again.

Mama Rose told the boys to play in the back yard.  The one in the orange shirt said that he’d just seen a bunch of people squashed like pancakes.

“Out, out,” Mama Rose told the boys.  “Out!”

The Pier

My mom was afraid of the pier. It was tall and could carry us way past the breakers where fishermen tossed their lines far into the sea. From below, surfers yelled at each other and rode crashing waves toward the pilings all crusted with barnacles, star fish and bits of fiberglass from the mistimed maneuver. When the waves hit the piles the pier shook like the ocean had some hold on it. But the pier was sturdy and wide with lean white buildings sporting shiny glass windows where life guards kept watch over their flocks. The bait shop had red licorice on racks and anchovies in tanks. They flashed streaks of silver when we bumped the tub with our hips. The bait man’s tiny furry eyes did not want us messing with his fish.

Past the bait shop my mom would not venture. It was over water and there were hooks on the pavement, old men smoking, and kids casting for the first time. It was deliciously dangerous. But it was years before we could go it alone.

The afternoon beach was tuna sandwiches with sweet pickle, wrapped in crunchy waxed paper, cool crisp grapes and soft juicy plums, plus a bag or two of Fritos. The air was thick with salt spray and Coppertone.

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The Mackerel, me, and my brother

Our cabin, the Mackerel, was tropical paradise on the outside.  A patio with hand-made wooden chairs, was shaded by dry palm branches. Inside it was creaky plywood floors, painted some kind of brown, peeling from weather, and always coated with sand. Mother moaned of bugs crawling along the Formica counter, pale blue like her eyes. Hot skillet stains could not be cleaned, but it only bothered her. I saw none of this; only a room with the sound of the ocean, right across the street. Every day held the promise of another day at the beach.