When I got to the
end and could see the islands with their ruins, I could observe the narrow,
glittering tidal rip like an oceanic continuation of the rocky ridge of the
A few days
before, the water had been cloudy and full of kelp and weed, especially the
puffs of iodine-colored stuff that clung tenaciously to my plug. Today, though,
the water was clear and green with waves rising translucent before whitening
onto the hard beach. I stuck the butt of my rod into the sand and sat down.
From here, beautiful houses could be seen along the headlands. A small farm ran
down the knolls with black-and-white cattle grazing along its tilts. An
American spy was killed by the British in the farm's driveway.
My cousin Fred
came that evening from Fall River and we fished. The surf was heavier and I
hooked and lost a fish very early on. There were other bass fishermen out, bad
ones mostly. They trudged up and down the shore with their new rods, not
casting but waiting for an irresistible sign to begin.
When it was dark,
Fred, who had waded out to a far rock and who periodically vanished from my
view in the spray, hooked a fine bass. After some time, he landed it and made
his way through the breakers with the fish in one hand, the rod in the
On my previous
nights I had gotten a fish on my last cast of the evening. I made one more
tonight and got nothing. I kept casting, hoping to take a bass on my last cast.
Nothing. And my time had almost run out.
It is assumed
that the salient events of childhood be inordinate. During one of my first
trips to Sakonnet, a trap boat caught an enormous oceanic sunfish, many hundred
pounds in weight. A waterfront entrepreneur who usually sold crabs and tarred
handlines bought the sunfish and towed it to the beach in an enclosed wooden
wagon where he charged 10� admission to see it. I was an early sucker—and a
repeater. In some primordial way the sight seems to have taken like a
vaccination; I remember very clearly ascending the wooden steps into the wagon
whose windows let water-reflected light play over the ceiling.
One by one we
children goggled past the enormous animal laid out on a field of ice. The huge
lolling discus of the temperate and tropical seas met our stares with a cold
eye that was not less soulful for being the size of a hubcap.
Many years later
I went back to Sakonnet on a December afternoon as a specific against the
torpor of school. I was walking along the cove beach when I saw the wagon, not
in significantly worse repair than when I had paid to get in it. And, to be
honest, I never made the connection that it was the same wagon until I stepped
There on a dry
iceless wooden table lay the skeleton of the ocean sunfish.
It seemed safe to
conclude in the face of this utterly astounding occasion that I was to be
haunted. Accommodating myself to the fish's reappearance, I adjusted to the
unforeseeable in a final way. If I ever opened an elevator door and found that
skeleton on its floor, I would step in without comment, finding room for my
feet between its ribs, and press the button of my destination.