I have been corresponding with Elaine Rosenberg Miller, a very attractive woman in Palm Beach who is one of my new Facebook friends. Elle, as she likes to be called, is a writer, and she directed me to something she wrote called “Fishing in the Intercoastal,” which is on the Internet. It’s only a page, but a whole short story has been compressed into it, a whole novel perhaps, a whole life. Elle describes it as “pointilliste fiction,” “where Eudora Welty meets Isaac Bashevis Singer, whom I actually did meet. See ‘My Visit With Bashevis,” which is also on-line.” The genre, the short form, is something I have dabbled in myself, having started out as a poet and written stories for the Washington Post, and with magazine space tight these days, I find myself perforce getting back into. I just had to collapse a 23,000 word piece to 9,000 without losing any of the important dimensions of the story. So “Fishing in the Intercoastal” is something I am going to be looking at very carefully, for professional reasons, because it’s masterful. Here it is :
Fishing in the Intercoastal
by Elaine Rosenberg Miller
The sea was green. An hour or so earlier, it had been steel gray. Now, like some animated blanket, the verdant water cover spread towards their eighteen- foot motorboat.
She had never been on the sea before, having been born and raised in a large, noisy city.
The silence and empty space of the horizon were unsettling.
The boat was made of fiberglass. Discarded beer cans rolled on its bottom. The turquoise vinyl seats were worn and cracked, the plastic windshield dull.
They had borrowed the boat for the day.
She held her fishing pole lamely in her hand, reluctant to reel in the line, lest she discover that she had no bait and would have to reach into the bucket and pinion a squirrelly, tomato-seed eyed shrimp.
The boat had no radio, no flares and no water.
Feelings of restlessness swelled her body.
“What am I doing here?” she thought.
She would have liked to have stayed back in the apartment and work the crossword puzzle in the out of town newspaper. The local paper published announcements of picnics, bible meetings and the county fair.
“I can’t live in a place that has no sidewalks,” she had cried.
But he asked her to stay. It was his hometown.
She tried to concentra te on the novelty of her surroundings.
Floating beds of seaweed clumped around the hull. A flying fish broke the surface, a lolling sea turtle passed by.
“We’re trolling,” he said, as the boat began to run in a wide circle.
“Trolling,” she thought, “what a funny word.” She felt dizzy and hot. It reminded her of when she had been a child and had spun and danced in purposeless orbits until she had collapsed, breathless, with near loss of consciousness.
She stared as he cast his line.
“Feel anything?” he asked.
“No,” she said.
When they had first come into the open sea this day after other days in the intercoastal waterway, she had announced, as she had those other days, “Okay, throw out the anchor!”
The bottom, he explained, was hundreds of feet beneath them. The cable securing the anchor was thirty feet long.
“Oh,” she responded.
“A storm’s coming,” he said.
She looked up. The sun was shining overhead.
“Over there,” he said, pointing to the far south where clouds had gathered. “It’ll be here in twenty minutes,” he said. ‘We’d better head in.”
He reeled in his line and set his rod in the rod well and reached for her rod and did the same.
She sat alongside him and watched him, his wavy dark hair spilling over his visor, shading his black eyes. When she had first met him she had thought him exotic, some wayfarer or sailor from a far off port. He regaled her with stories of surfing and shark bites, fishing and tropical summers. They had gone off together. It seemed as if she had found a new world.
He turne d the key in the ignition. The small red lighthouse affixed to the key chain jingled as the engine sputtered and died. He strode to the rear of the boat and knelt beside the engine, turning knobs and pulling handles. Suddenly, he stood up and leaned over the side of the boat, retching.
“What’s the matter?” she asked.
“Gasoline fumes,” he said gasping. “Can you drive the boat?”
“No. I mean, I’ve never driven one before. If you can show me how,” she said as he slumped on the floor of the boat.
A cool breeze passed over her as the sun disappeared behind a cloud.
“It doesn’t matter. I don’t think it’ll start.”
“What’ll we do?” she asked.
She looked around. The waves lapped the sides of the boat. The shrimp, darted in the bucket, their transparent bodies and whiskered antennae colliding aimlessly against each other. She sighed. She stared at the ocean, cupped her hand and let the water run over it. The drying salt stiffened her fingers. Following him south had been an adventure. Now, they were alone on the shifting sea.
Suddenly, heavy driving rain filled the air. The boat began to fill with water. He threw a life jacket in her direction. It smelled of mildew. He drew close and helped her into it. It was very tight, fit for a large child. She pi cked up the bucket and, throwing the shrimp overboard, began to bail. “This is where I end my days,” she thought.
She was surprised to find herself calm. She wondered what her family up north were doing. She regretted that they hadn’t caught anything. After days of throwing croakers and parrot fish back into the intercoastal, she had hoped for a large grouper. She watched him, bent over the engine and smiled. Their clothes were pressed to their bodies by the pelting rain. Abruptly, the motor started and he quickly moved to head the boat to shore. The torn seat pricked the back of her leg as they hit the waves with increasing speed.