BANDS OF A SMALL HURRICANE
FOLLIES OF LESSER MADMEN
Richard Quinn digs his feet into the stern as he struggles to control the line. The sky is a falling curtain, billowing closer to earth with every ocean swell. He licks his lips like he is tasting a lover. The salt of her. The warmth of her. The intoxication of her. He swallows it all.
“Hey Ishmael!" Andy calls. “Catch your white whale yet?”
Richard looks to the fishing rod between his knees. The line is water-taut, not swordfish-taut. He shoots his friend the bird. “Caught your wife’s lily-white ass.”
Andy reels in a wahoo. It’s a small one, but she pummels the side of the Valkyrie like an angry drunk, thrashing against the hull. She’s nearly dead by the time Andy wrangles the hook from her mouth, launching her back to the ocean.
The scales smudged across the Valkyrie glisten and flash in the moonlight, and in the moment before they’re washed away, Richard sees the galaxy and the boat and the sparkling ocean as one. An abyss of coal and diamonds.
Between his knees, the fishing pole rattles, and Richard grabs the rod with both fists, wedging his feet against the rail. But the line goes slack.
“Almost had ‘er,” he calls out.
“Bet you did.”
Andy clicks on a flashlight.
“Goddamn it, Andy!” Richard shouts, shielding his eyes.
“Just checking the line. Won’t happen again.” He clicks it off.
Richard grunts. Sometimes teenagers are easier to train than grown men.
The ocean is a single wave tonight, rising and falling—a pair of watery lungs beneath the hull of the Valkyrie, ready to blow them away, or suck them under, depending on her mood. A fickle beast.
Something tugs the line beneath the boat, and the rod jostles in its holder. Richard snatches it before it sails away with the wind.
“Got ‘er!” he calls, wrestling the pole.
“Damn you,” Andy says. “And all the luck you rode in on.” He spits into the ocean and leans across the rail to watch the duel. “You got yourself a tarpon.”
“We came for swordfish!” Richard screams over the crashing waves, the creaking of the pole.
“No way you caught a swordfish already.”
Richard grunts, hungry for the fight. And for the promise of a fat cigar between his lips, brown and sweet as honey.
Richard muscles the pole, rushing from one side of the boat to the other to maintain the line.
The fish will tire soon. He has only to wait.
Andy threads another squid below the green light on his pole and tosses it to the ocean before returning to watch Richard versus The Fish.
The fish stalls, and Richard tugs on the line.
Richard stumbles to the other end of the stern, out of breath, nearly tripping over Andy to join the fish in the depths.
The clacking of the reel echoes across the water. With Andy behind him and out of sight, it’s only Richard and the night and the never-ending sea. And the swordfish. He wants to be alone when the fish finally reveals herself, glinting in the light of the moon.
A flash from the water.
“Here she comes,” Richard announces as the fish pulls him to the bow.
Another flash from below as the fish zips beneath the boat.
“Well, I’ll be damned,” Andy says. “That’s a swordfish.”
The fish thumps the hull of the Valkyrie. She’s a fighter. Richard's kind of woman.
Water peppers his face as a fin breaks the surface.
The clacking of the reel.
“Get your flashlight!” Richard calls to Andy.
“Now you want my flashlight,” he jests, shining it into the depths. “Got the spear, too.”
Richard grinds his teeth as he coaxes the fish closer to the surface. Just one good look is all he wants. To peer into her eyes, to know that he has won.
The fish floats into the flashlight beam, depleted and buoyant. A small torrent of blood pours from the corner of her mouth, melting into the surrounding waters.
Her scales glisten in the moonlight, prisms of silver and pink. A living, breathing kaleidoscope, delicate, and oh so very dangerous. Her upper jaw, nearly as long as her entire body, stretches into a wicked harpoon of sharpened bone. A biological Excalibur.
Richard leans forward to grasp the beast’s mighty jaw in his hand. To fetch it from the water, to hold it in his fist. The weight of it. The violence of it.
He strokes the length of her sword and is preparing to release the fish when she rises from the depths.
Her body arcs, sending saltwater cyclones spinning across the deck. Richard falls back, shielding his eyes, as the fish splashes back down only to set herself aloft once more.
He pulls a knife from his pocket and cuts the line, but the swordfish twists beside the boat, unaware that her ordeal is over.
She fights against the waves, grappling with the water, the air, the line whipping back and forth above her.
There’s a large splash. A bang.
A scream from Andy.
And then everything is still and silent.
Andy's flashlight rolls across the deck, coming to a stop, and Richard squints into the beam aimed directly at his eyes. “Andy?” he calls out, laughing. “You okay?”
Andy grunts, collapsing to the deck of the Valkyrie. He kicks the flashlight and it spins off the stern, consumed by the ocean.
“Hey Ishmael,” Andy blurts out, his voice a little shaky, a little nervous. “We’ve got a problem.”
Richard leans forward, his eyes adjusting to the abrupt darkness.
Andy wedges himself against the rail, gripping the tip of the swordfish that has pierced through his calf. He grimaces, spittle foaming at the corners of his mouth as he tries to leverage the weight of the fish. But the battle is already lost as she begins to slip over the edge, pulling her sword—and Andy—with her.
Andy wraps his arms around the rail and screams as the fish plummets back into the water, leaving a gaping hole in his leg, spewing his blood into the black waters of the Atlantic.