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Charles Israel Jr

On Break

I’ve got a rented fishing rod at my side and the end of the pier all to myself. A shitty place to fish, but a fine place to think. I walked the couple of blocks down here from Ocean Drive (O. D.) Memorial Hospital. They’re keeping my daughter overnight—in a room where all the light is green and wavy and comes from a respirator. Caren’s got pneumonia—a weird strain they can’t draw a bead on. She’s only one and breathing like she’s underwater. Elise, my wife, is watching her for the next eight-hour shift, midnight to 8 a.m. Me, I’m on break.

The waves are little numbers rolled tightly as Havana cigars. I’ve heard that the moon tries to tear each wave off the earth. From here, thirty feet up, you can watch the moon try and fail, try and fail. You could watch all night.

When I slide a shrimp onto the hook, I catch my finger. Suck on it to get it to bleed. My blood tastes like a knocked-down wrought iron fence with rust blooming over it.

I hear whoops from the shore-end of the pier where the real fishermen hang, those who love fishing or those who need to catch tomorrow’s breakfast (three pan-fried sunfish and a leftover cigarette), or those who can’t do anything else right. I head their way, over the planks that roll just a bit with each big breaker. The real fishermen are in a small circle, and I work my way through pretty easy—I’m tall and not smiling. Somebody’s pulled in a baby hammerhead about the length and size of a woman’s forearm. With the hook cutting back out through the skin about two inches behind his wide head, blood is running on the wood. He keeps trying to flip himself. The pier lights seem latched to his white belly.

Hammerheads don’t have eyelids, so they get 360 degrees of all this. Day and night, underwater and out of water.

Some guy with urine splashed on his pants, beersmell, and slit-eyes: Why’ont you club that mother to death? Before the guy can grab a cooler, the fisherman who caught the shark cuts his line to save his line, leaving in the hook. Then he kicks the hammerhead toward the far end of the pier, nailing it right between its wide-set eyes, over and over. A fisherman can do whatever he wants to with his catch: that’s the code of the pier.

I hope he don’t do that to his wife, the one woman there says.

My shark, slit-eyes says, but he stops kicking it.

I pick up the hammerhead, go over to the rail. His blood pools warmly in my palm; his skin is deep-ocean cold. The fishermen go back to fishing, talk soft. When I drop him, I remember the old saying about dead bodies falling faster. With his wide head and fins as wings, he glides down. I stare at his wake in the waves.

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