The sky was made of lint the first day the boy went fishing. It was grey and forgotten. He sat on the edge of the pier, its wood rotted as if it were about to break. The boy feared the ocean, so he was careful where he stepped. The rain fell from the cracks in the fingers of the clouds, grey and loud, crunching like dead leaves under a boot.
The fishing rod was freshly bought, its hook glimmering in the dismal drizzle. For bait: bits of chicken, fidgety worms, and the eggs of other fish. The boy pierced the hook with a sliver of chicken breast, and lowered it into the waves below. He enjoyed chicken, and suspected the fish would find it similarly enticing.
But to the fish, chicken was a cuisine entirely foreign. Other than some sparse, timid nibbles, they showed no interest in expanding their palate. The boy grew restless, sitting off the pier. The clouds grumbled in the distance, as if they were as hungry as the boy. But clouds could not eat, and did not need to eat. The boy did.
The dark sky became darker and grey slipped into black. The boy knew the day was over, and he would sleep hungry for a night. He reeled in the line, only to find the bit of chicken had fallen off. How long ago, he could not say. The boy sighed, turned, and carefully walked back up the pier.
The sky was made of wool the second day the boy went fishing. It was rough and spotted, but bright. The pier creaked as the boy sat, startling him. But he paid it no mind. The wood had held for this long, it must hold for a little longer, to keep him safe from the water below.
Chicken had failed him, but the worms could not. Though they were ugly and detestable, the boy knew all fishermen had once used worms. And why would they, if it did not attract the fisherman’s prey?
The boy opened the can of worms and grimaced. He pinched one between his fingers. It was wet, but not as wet as he thought it would be. If it felt pain as it was skewered onto the hook of the fishing line, it made no sound audible to the boy. He let it descend into the water, where it quickly drowned to become one with the water.
The wool thickened and thinned as the day continued to progress, oblivious to the hunger of the boy. The sun behind the wool would not wait for a fish, though the boy must, and hoped that the day did not catch up to him. He feared that the worms would do no better than the chicken, that he would sleep on an empty stomach once again. There was a tug. And then, a stronger tug.
The boy pulled the rod up and began to reel in the line. As the hook emerged from the water, so, too, did a squirmish fish. The boy went to grab it from its string, but the fish hit his hand away with its tail. The boy reached again, and firmly grasped the creature. It was slimy, and its scales felt uncomfortable against his skin. They pinched him as the fish wriggled back and forth.
Its mouth was left agape. A pool of blood had accumulated below the hook’s puncture. Half of the worm hung from the hook, motionless. The boy held the fish. It struggled. It fought. But, slowly, its flops lost their strength. The boy grasped the fish with one hand, and used the other to pull out the hook. He wasn’t careful and the fish began to bleed again. The fish winced at the pain. There was a hole in the bottom of its mouth.
The boy could not eat this. He would not. And so, he knelt down at the edge of the pier, and dropped the fish back into the sea.
The boy could not sleep hungry again. He gathered his savings and went to the market, where he bought a fish. It was dead. But the boy could still see a hole at the bottom of the creature’s mouth, much like the one he had made earlier in the day.
In his home, he cooked it, and took a bite. For a moment, it was sweet. He took another. And another. But soon, the taste was not enough. It was a fish, but it was not his fish. He did not catch it. And so he threw the rest back into the sea.
“Tomorrow, I will go out into a boat and catch a very big fish. And then, I will not go hungry for a long time,” the boy told himself. And so he slept hungry for a second night.
The sky was made of cotton the third day the boy went fishing. The sun pushed through the clouds in some parts, creating spots on the ocean. Seagulls passed overhead. The boy knew today would be as good a day as any to row on the waters. He pushed his wooden boat from the shore, wiping the muck from his feet once he was safely aboard. The boy grabbed the oars and began to pull. The dock was to his left, and with every stroke he came closer to the pier’s end. The waves by the shore were small. He had to row with strength to overcome them, and yet the boy felt there was a pull to the waves, bringing him in even as they washed up against him.
The boat passed the dock and the boy kept rowing. The waters were calm and the oars sliced through it with ease as his strokes swiftly brought the boat out into the open ocean.
The boy stopped in one of the yellow spots of sun sprinkled onto the water. The pier was a speck, barely visible on the horizon. The boy retrieved his fishing rod and speared a fish egg onto its end, and offered it to the waves. He hoped that the refined taste of caviar might appeal to one of the fatter fish.
When he felt the tug, he knew he was right. He tugged back. The fish tugged harder, determined to escape with both his life and the egg. But the boy could not let that happen, and reeled in the line, exerting more force with each rotation of the pulley on the rod.
And then the fish was in his arms, and the boy’s hunger filled his throat. His tongue watered and his teeth struck. The meat was juicy in his mouth, but the taste was wrong. Very wrong. But why? It was his. He had earned it. This was supposed to satiate his hunger.
The spot of light shifted away, and the clouds turned from cotton to lint to coal. Thunder grumbled as if the sky was filled with the hunger the boy feared would never leave his body. Winds rose and waters rumbled. The boy spit the meat from his mouth, but the tempest had been wrought.
The boy reached for the oars, but they had already slipped beneath the waves. A wave lifted towards the boat and so the boy clutched to the edges of the hull as it was rocked from side to side. A wind punched the back of the boat so it spun in a circle. The water spit at the boy and he spat back. The winds roared at him but all the boy could do was whimper. A wave rose like a mountain above him, and the avalanche fell over his body. The boat twisted and snapped, the wooden boards splintering like twigs under a heavy boot, and then the boy was submerged.
His skin was frozen in a moment. A stopper was put on his lungs. The boy pushed himself above the waves, gulping at the air before the wet hands of his tormentor plunged him down into the ocean again. He could taste the salt on his tongue and could feel the fear in his heart. He could not pull himself up again. The water sucked him deeper, its interlocking currents battered him to and fro. All he saw was hues of blue and green and bubbles streaming from his nose. He drifted, he sought breath, he struggled and strained to reach up. It was like the surface was a sheet of plastic wrap, put over the surface to keep the dirt from above out.
He needed to breathe, just as he needed to eat, but he could not fish for air. He could gulp, but he could not do so here. He needed to fight. He needed to be free from the tons of water above him. The boy felt it weigh upon him. He felt it crush his lungs. He felt his lungs calling for something more, something to fill them up, to make them whole again. He could not let them win. He could not give his body what it thought it wanted.
But the boy’s brain grew fuzzy. His lips were a dam, but it was about to cave in. It was as if there was the ringing of an alarm in the boy’s skull that was completely silent, telling him he must. He must. He must.
There was a moment of silence. An acceptance. The boy closed his eyes. His lips parted. He drank.
It rushed into his throat and down to his lungs and stomach and filled his body and then something changed, for he became one with the ocean. The thrusts and hurtles became the steps and jumps of a dance. He was lifted beneath the waves, not sunk. And the terrifying cold became the most welcoming warmth he had ever known. He opened his eyes and saw the waters anew. The dreary grey sprung into hues of blue and green, refracted as light from above shimmered down.
He could feel it all, too. He could feel the thrusts of the waters for they were his thrusts. He could control the pulls of the currents because they were his pulls. He could kiss the ocean and it could kiss back, as if it were his own lips. He could feel every inch of the waters body as if it were his own, just as the water touched every inch of his skin and every shell of each organ.
The water was inside him as he was inside it. They were one, and the boy had no want to feast on fish, for he consumed the ocean with every bit of his body and let it consume him.
(Photo courtesy of Ian A Wanless)