Fish Story: A “Tail” of True Love
Finalist in the Minnesota Romance Writers of America 2013 Romancing the Lakes Contest
(a romantic comedy in novel length)
by Shari Broyer
“If he’s not big enough,” my mother always used to say with a lascivious wink, “or if he’s not quite to your taste,” and a quick dart of her little pink tongue over her lips, “throw him back, Gilda. There are plenty more fish in the sea.”
It was a motto that Mother lived—and died—by, to be sure. Still a bombshell at forty-six, she always had a bucketful of “fish” flopping around and gasping at her feet as if for air or water or whatever. I found her washed up on the beach one morning, deader than a catfish in a frying pan, still clinging for dear life—or should I say death?—to her latest catch. Poor little man. He reminded me of Don Knotts in that sixties movie, “The Incredible Mr. Limpet”, I’d seen once on Nickelodeon. His eyes bulged nearly out of his head and his mouth worked soundlessly as he struggled to escape my mother’s death grip. Evidently their love boat had capsized, and Mother latched onto him as they went under. (I took pity on him, pried him loose, and threw him back.)
Mother always wanted a burial at sea, so I zipped her up in her favorite Halloween costume—mermaid, of course—and braided her hair with seaweed before enlisting the reluctant help of my best buddy Louis to haul her down to the water’s edge.
“Aren’t there laws against this?” he asked, struggling under her dead weight in his arms, his feet sinking deeper into the wet sand with each step.
“No duh, Louis, but this is what Mother wants, and Mother always gets what she wants, even now.”
“You’re sure she wants to be buried at sea in a mermaid costume?”
“The mermaid costume was my idea. I figure she’ll blend in better that way, be less likely to be spotted by the Coast Guard. They’ll think she’s just another fish in the sea. That’s why I also braided her hair with seaweed. Since her hair’s light brown, the green of the seaweed blends with it so it’s just one more camouflage. Pretty smart of me, eh?”
“Pretty wacko’s more like it. How do I let you talk me into these things? Well, hurry up before I lose my grip and drop her. She’s heavy.” Louis’s face was red, and his breath came out in huffs.
“She’s not heavy; she’s full-figured, like Marilyn Monroe. She’d tell you so if she could.”
Louis grunted. “Her figure’s going from full to bloated even as we stand here. Will you please get on with it?”
I said The Mariner’s Prayer as quickly and as reverently as I could, then kissed Mother goodbye on her clammy forehead before Louis waded in and released her.
As he started back toward me, a big wave came up and swallowed Mother. I felt melancholy as I watched it take her, but I didn’t get the chance to feel sad for very long. A few seconds later, it spat her back out and she slammed right into Louis, knocking him down as she rolled toward the shore.
Louis came up eating sand and sputtering. He scooped up some water, swished it around in his mouth, and hawked, grimacing. “Damn it!” he said when he could speak again. “We should have waited for high tide. We’re going to have to take her out further, or she’ll just keep coming back to haunt us. Are you sure this is what she wanted?”
“I’m sure. Now get over here and help me, please,” I said as I reached Mother and began yanking her off the sand and back to the water’s edge. Louis ran to my side and grabbed her other arm.
We’d just gotten her out about two feet deep again when a particularly strong wave twirled her like she was a spinner on a line between us and then snatched her away. Louis swore as he started to wade out after her and saw a Coast Guard cutter out on the horizon heading in our general direction.
“Oh shit!” I cursed, too, when I saw what he saw. “What are we gonna do now, Louis?”
“Don’t ask me! You’re in charge of this f-ed up funeral!” He let out a stream of profanities I wouldn't have believed he was capable of if I hadn't heard them with my own ears.
The wave finished its waltz with Mother and deposited her back on the sand.
“Oh. My. God. Louis!” I screeched. “Mother’s back on the beach and the Guards are almost on us!” I pointed to the vessel, which was now close enough that men could be seen on her decks.
“Well, don’t just stand there!” Louis barked like an angry sea lion as he fought the breakers to get back to shore. “Grab her! Sit on her, and don’t let her get away before I get there.”
I tried to grab her, but another wave came in and licked at Mother like she was a delicacy as I neared. She rolled over and went with it as it pulled her back out with gentle, lapping tugs, like a lover kissing her into final surrender. At that exact moment, a voice came over the cutter’s loudspeaker, “Suspects of a crime; give yourselves up!”
We jumped and threw our arms up in the air. But the craft veered away from us to head downshore, and the tinny order was repeated over and over. We’d been so caught up in our own guilty panic, we didn’t notice the lifeboat off in the distance with two figures in it, oars churning so hard and fast they looked like twin propellers. Louis and I wiped our brows and breathed identical sighs of relief as we watched the vessel move in their direction.
And Mother? When we thought to look for her, she was gone. I like to believe that the tide carried her away to a bounding main, where she could frolic forever with every sailor ever lost at sea.
I couldn't eat seafood for the longest time after that—I kept wondering if I were eating a piece of Mother.
Time passed, as it always does. The waves rolled in to shore and back out again. Eventually, I overcame my grief enough to walk the beach and dig for clams again. Every now and then, Mother’s voice would come crashing in to me on the waves, comforting me with its boisterousness. (No gentle waves lapping for my mother.)
I missed Mother and the way she was always “angling”, but I have to say that I, personally, have never been much of a fisherwoman; no “fish” had ever been worthy of my notice, and I never liked the smell of them, anyway. I used to let Mother handle that area, though I must admit that it did seem strange not to have all her “fishing” paraphernalia around anymore. No more perfume and makeup cluttering every bureau and tabletop; no low cut dresses and tops, short shorts, tight jeans or stiletto heels lying in heaps waiting to trip the unwary me; no Victoria’s Secret lingerie hanging from the shower rod or lying unwashed on the floor by the bed (ick!); no frilly aprons hanging off the backs of the kitchen chairs to put on for show when Mother invited the catch of the day over for dinner. (Mother couldn't cook a lick, so whenever she did this, she ordered in catered food and pretended she’d prepared it herself.) I got rid of all Mother’s bait and tackle and told myself I’d never go to such lengths for any man.
But that was before the fishing bug bit me.
(Mother would have been so proud!)
One summer morning, I was out taking one of my solitary walks on the beach when I happened to espy a prize catch. His bronze skin shimmered in the early morning sunshine as he jogged easily toward me. I gasped at the magnificent size of him. He was indeed a whopper. When he looked at me, I nearly drowned in his aqua blue eyes. Yes, I was hooked in that very second and more than willing to be whatever kind of bait it took to land him.
FISH STORY. Copyright © 2013 by Sharon Gayle Broyer. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or produced in any manner whatsoever without written permission except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews. For information, email the author: firstname.lastname@example.org.