In the afternoon we lay together, you exhausted beside me and me with my head in the crook of my arm too tired and tasting the sweat on my skin. You laying there and me looking up at the desert curve of your waist and hip and the dunes there and the forever landscape of your skin, the softness of your foot cupped in the full strength of my hand.
“This cast. This cast.” Chito willing fish into his net. “This one.” A wave washes to his waist and he sweeps an arm out over it, his father’s net fanning over the surface and sinking, a school of small fish swimming through and washing back and forth in the surf. The weight of the net pulling in is not good and Chito knows before it escapes the ocean that it is empty.
“This cast. This cast.” As always he says it twice. “This one.” The fish stand will be closed today without a full net but with this cast and each to follow he wills fish to fill his net and knows the ocean has been good to his family. From his great grandfather that came to the ocean from Mexico City before it was really a city, from his ancestors even before that who mingled with the Huichol Indians to right now he knows the ocean has always provided for his family and his family’s family. He knows today he will have fish as he waits for the feel of the tide carrying his weight up and over the surf, a pull on his legs as its power moves to shore with noise and washes back to the ocean in silence.
“This cast. This cast. This one.” The net lays on the ocean and sinks and the school of fish swim through it again followed this time by a school of larger fish and the net draws tight. The fish stand will open today and Chito thanks the ocean tearfully, knowing that he takes with his net as it pulls and then eases with the coming and going of the easy surf, the weight of the catch growing as the fish grow still gasping for water to run through their gills. A tourist sitting nearby on the beach comes over to see the catch, to see the net and asks in words Chito recognizes just barely from the television and his grandchildren talking around in circles as they run through his yard on Sundays. “Pescado” Chito responds with a smile and points to where the fish stand will cook and sell this fish later. “Pescado. Fish.” he says again with a nod and the tourist doesn’t understand and walks back to where he was sitting with his wife where Chito can see him saying something that he can’t hear or understand.
“Pescado. Fish.” Chito says to himself and smiles as he draws the net over his right shoulder allowing it to settle into the tissue there, pulling down and cutting into the strong calloused skin that has been doing this longer than memory. He leans forward at the waist and drags the weight of the net up the shore toward the dry sand. Another tourist comes this timed armed with a little Spanish he likes to practice and smiles at Chito and looks at the net.
“Pescado!” the tourist says and points at the net.
“Si, pescado!” Chito affirms and laughs and the tourist laughs too, proud of his Spanish and Chito is happy this man has reached to him. Maybe he will come to the fish stand in the afternoon and Chito will have the chance to cook him some of this fine fish and they can play with words together that neither of them truly understands.
“Pescado?” “Si, fish.”
“Agua?” “Si, water. Decimos oceano.”
And they will laugh together and Chito’s grandchildren that play on the beach after school but before Chito’s son and daughter are finished their work will come to this tourist and look at him as a strange thing, curious but not running away scared as the man sits on a stool of their grandfather’s and eats the fish their grandfather has taken and cooked to serve, and over food the men curious of each other will not make eye contact often but a glance and a smile now and again as they both look out over the horizon of the ocean as the sun sets.
Before the roosters crow and the pigeons wake with their soft cooing in the garden below the window and before the sun on the rise crests over the hills beside the ocean Chito begins working his father’s net with thread beside the lamp outside in the garden, pulling the net through his fingers and between his thumb and forefinger touching for weakness and working the thread on a needle where it is needed. He would do this work in the evening if business at the fish stand was slow, but business was good yesterday as it seems to be these days so mending the net has to be done in the morning before even fishing begins. Years ago his son Gabriel would help him with the net in the evening and with cooking in the afternoon when it was very hot, before Gabriel had children of his own and before he left the beach for the city for work. But now Chito works the net in his garden before sunrise and sips coffee from a mug. His wife works inside cleaning after a breakfast of fruit and toast and black coffee, and brings another steaming mug to Chito in the garden smiling as she turns back inside. The sun is almost up and they know he must leave to get to the shore before the tide lowers and washes the fish out of reach.
At the beach Chito watches the surf, waves cresting and breaking into white water far off the shore and the pelicans diving and feasting on bait fish in the stillness between waves. Down the beach another fisherman arrives and places his net on the sand and his bucket too that he tips upside down to sit, watches the water just as Chito does, waiting to see what the birds will do and where they will fish. The sun behind them is just over the tops of the palm trees and the hills, the jungle already absorbing the heat of the day.
Another comes to the beach with his hands at his sides, approaching the ocean from Delfines and down past the old restaurant Don Pedro’s where Chito once tried to sell fish, approaching, stopping to remove his sandals and moving slowly forward through the sand slipping between his toes and he stops just beyond the reach of the water. Reaching and massaging the tender small of his back and arching back toward the sky stretching his body out of the morning, and as more light comes to the beach Chito starts to see the whiteness of the new man’s skin who is not from here. His clothes too, they are not the clothes of a fisherman or of a surfer, the beach this early usually belonging only to men of the ocean. Chito rises from his overturned bucket and walks into the ocean toward the pelicans feeding and prepares to cast his father’s net.
This is a very good day having been out early and fishing in a calm ocean the sun just about over the horizon of palm jungle to my back and me casting, casting, casting. Behind the lids of my eyes the surf flows and washes over the beach and the land and the hills and the jungle, ebbs and flows through the sky and wraps the boiling sun that warms this water, this jungle, this surf growing back into itself now and quiet and the sun dripping and shedding what it has left of the ocean this time, like every time the ocean and the sun touch.