Joe and Bill fish the Fault By Wadin’ Boot At the very edge of the sunken meadow there’s a dropoff to deeper waters. It gets deep fast and my presumption was that tides moving through made it that way. My father-in-law said that wasn’t the case, there’s a fault that leads to a steep drop of anywhere from 20 to 70 feet. The fault runs roughly north/south, all along the west side of the island, and Joe says it’s a good candidate for a solid quake sometime in the next ten-thousand years. He calls it a geologic nail-biter. In any case, we were on the 20 foot drop, and through tide or geology or both, a series of currents met, warmer ones drained out over the meadow and from the deeper troughs North and South, cold ones. If you looked closely you see the different densities of water, miraging up, mixing like a cocktail. I’d never been skunked here, and on a good low tide, you could see them- rockfish darting along the fault wall, deeper torpedos of other, bigger fish, facing the draining meadow. Balls of bait move down through the narrowing, nervous and fitful for the site's perfect for an ambush. Today was one of those good days Anchored down I rigged an 8-weight for Joe, tied on a candlefish pattern I’d corrupted with beads to get it down. On a whim, years ago, I had painted the beads hot pink with some garish nail polish my daughter left when she went back East to college. I had come to believe this my lucky fly, a sure thing, in part because it reminded me of her, but more because it damn well took fish and it was my creation. If pride is a sin, then I'm going to hell. I called it a "Jenny" in her honor. I handed him the rod and watched him strip and cast. “What are we fishing?” “Jenny.” “How’s she doing?” “Last I heard she’s doing great. She met some guy, seems to like him.” “Nice guy?” “Seems that way?” Ten years ago Joe would have asked “what does he do?” and would mentally weigh up the guy’s chances of providing, advancing, becoming a captain of industry, all this in a job title. I’d seen that end of things for decades, he’d ask me when I’d quit painting and get a real job. But no more. My wife had pointed that out to me, said this about her old man: “he’s less of an asshole now that he’s blind.” Which is how we all came to see it, even him. “What does he look like?” “He’s six foot eight, simian brow and his knuckles drag on the ground. He doesn’t speak , prefers to grunt. He’s got a mullet and a peg leg.” He’s grinning now. Adds to my fabrication: “he dresses only in a banana hammock, likes to whistle tunelessly, and is flatulent to a fault.” “sounds like you Joe. Oh and he hails from Oregon, shaved himself down to get into a grad school back East. Studies sociology and doesn’t have a lick of interest in money.” "Sounds like you and him will get along fine." "You know me Joe, so long as he's good to her. I already call him son." He’s looks like a WASP version Stevie Wonder. That sounds like a cheap shot, but with his sunglasses on and his head back a little, a thin-lipped smile over his crowned teeth, wearing an argyle sweater and chinos, a Kangol golf cap turned around on his head, hiding his bald and shading his neck, you’d say the same. Then his rod bows and he’s on, something that’s pulling line out at a clip, not a whirring, handle-blurring spin, but rather a constant unwinding, determined, head down, get-to work kind of fish. Joe lightens his drag and palms. He’s feeling with his feet where the edge of the boat is. He knows the way the fish is moving, and turns to follow. Line continues to pull, sometimes dipping his rod in faster bolts. “Feels like a ten pound fish.” I watch him work, he still hasn’t turned his reel over, the line is moving unabated towards China or some massive tectonic plate, due West. With a cloud over the sun, I look down into the channel, there they are still, those big logjam fish, schooling up in the emeralds below, now and then turning and flashing, splitting off to attack. I hear Joe grunting, the reel ticking. “better put some brake on that boy or we’ll be here all day.” Joe palms it a little more, but in response, the fish senses his attempt and works his way out, the rate of line loss has doubled, the handles start to blur, the last of the flyline is out and now backing is moving into the waters, a tiny pinpoint on the ocean’s surface. Joe turns his rod from vertical to horizontal, tries to pull it around, but the fish has nothing of it “Still think it’s a ten pounder?” “twenty maybe.” “It’s an old hook. A rusted one. I put it on just for you Joe. For being an asshole most your life.” He’s still grinning: “you’d do that to a blind man?” “Blind, lame, crippled…. old man, I owe you.” “What did I do to deserve such a sumnabitch? ” He’s laughing now, me too. Most of our outings end up with at least one conversation like this. “ I’m not a vengeful man, that’s a new hook, tied last week. Tell me when you need me to net this thing. I’m going down below to heat some beans.” I clomp around a couple times, but never go below. I want to see this. It’s clear to me he’s onto a big fish, bigger than I’ve seen from here. Joe’s grin fades when he thinks I am gone. He starts to curse, pushes his palm hard on the reel, and when that doesn’t work, tries tightening the drag screw, first the wrong way and the reel picks up its velocity and then he gets it right. But the fish isn’t swayed, he puts on a bolt that sends thirty yards of backing like it’s strung to a rocket. Joe’s forearm is bulging, frail muscles called out of hiding. I bet he’s in pain, his shoulders are curved, he’s hunched. He wants to sit down, prop the rod, he’s put his arm behind him, feeling around for the bench, and having found it, stumbles a little while he sits, buttresses the rod against his thigh and tugs some of the sweater down over his reddened palm with his teeth. The reel is running so fast now he must be sore there. He puts it back over the rim and tries again to slow the fish, but to no avail. He is ash colored, a thin bead of sweat on his brow, He is cursing a long foul stream of language, he does not look well. If I were to paint him, it would be now, this moment, in all of his human frailty. “Bill- how much line do I have? Bill?” I clomp back over. It’s a large arbor reel, a birthday present from him to me, the most beautiful reel I ever saw, and I quite honestly I don’t know how much backing is on it. All I can tell is there’s not much white left. “I don’t know, I bet maybe fifty yards.” “That it?” “How much did the guy put on?” I realize the stupidity of my question. He didn’t answer. He starts to get desperate, pulls the rod hard with his hand clamped over the rim and for a minute the pace of the fish slows to a yard every 10 seconds, but down deep it must of found some deep fuel. “You want to try Bill?” “Not my fight Joe.” “What if he gets all the way down?” “Then point the tip at the fish and wait.” “You should get a photo of this. I want you to paint this for me.” “I don’t need a photo. Why do you want it, you won’t see it? It’s not a hero moment” “Just do it for me would you?” “I can see the spool, you should drop your tip now.” He does and the last of the line is now on the hub, the line tightens further, stretches, one arm is on the butt, the second just above the reel, and he’s trying hard to keep some flex in his forearms. The line picks up an octave, and another, his arms begin to elevate and straighten, I then fear for my rod and reel, and am relieved when there’s the tink of separation. “Spooled and fooled. Time to start reeling” I clap him on the back This time I really do leave him to heat the beans. I think about how I will paint this one. I will fudge the picture, I will have him hooked and grinning, head tilted back, looking at me. Or where a least he thinks I am. That’s what I’ll do, that’s what I’ll give him. People will ask him about it, and they'll describe it to him, and he'll like it. But what I will paint for me is different. It’s a triptych. The first panel a view from below, from under the water, along the fault line, up towards the gap into the shallower meadow waters, the ghost fish dark and barely discernible in the patterns of monochromes, predominantly olives, emeralds and browns. The second pane, one of the fish, the Jenny in the corner of its mouth, and a close up of the eye. There’s where the detail will be, the eye. The jaw, the gills, the eye, nothing more, a mix of silvers and blues, no garish pink. And the last pane Joe, hunched, crippled, broken. The rod near invisible, just the empty reel on a stretch of small stick. There’ll be no fight, just him on the transom, head like Rodin’s thinker, only instead of muscles and one prop, there’ll be frailty, two hands, curved shoulder, wasted muscles, more of a Vesalius, only with skin. He’ll be near nude, no argyle, no cap, no sunglasses, the mirage in the background of nothing, sea meeting sky without horizon, all in rusts and reds. You won’t see his eyes. That’s what I’ll paint.