Tuesday, March 08, 2011


“Ah, shit!  Another tear!  Dammit!”

Simon watched the hard-earned haul of fish disappear into the water as he attempted to pull them in, his powerful hands now powerless to gather in the multitude pouring out of the tattered net.

“I swear to God if the old man doesn’t get us some decent nets I’m gonna quit!  Dammit!”

“You know, you should have quit about fifteen times by now,” his brother said from behind him.

“Oh, shut the hell up, Andrew.”  Simon threw the frayed net, and four straggling fish, into the hull of the old boat and sat with an audible thud. His back was to his younger sibling, and Andrew watched his silently fuming brother.  Simon’s large frame always seemed a little larger when he was angry, with his hands resting childishly on his hips.  The wind tossed his dark hair about, giving to Andrew the apropos effect of his brother’s head being engulfed in a kind of black flame.  

The voyage back to the shallows was a silent one.  When the water was waist-high, Simon threw himself out of the boat, and stomped and splashed his way up the beach, the dark flame unextinguished by the water.

Andrew, still seated in the hull, had once again been left to clean up Simon’s mess.  He smiled sardonically and rowed in until he reached the soft thud of the shore.  He hopped out and pulled the boat partway into the sand.  Reaching inside, he carefully pulled out the net, and stood for a moment, watching the four fish take their last useless gasps.  He carried the net to the beach and sat, thoughtlessly fingering the frayed cords.  He did all of this silently and without complaint.  

He was used to his brother’s rants.  They came often and furiously, especially when he’d been especially venturesome at the tavern the night before, and was nursing a low- to- mid-grade headache.  Last night’s excursion to the tavern had been particularly venturesome, and had ended with a black eye for just about everyone but Simon, though he was definitely nursing his wrist today.  Andrew was fairly certain Simon’s headache was no mid-grade ordeal.  It was a throbbing, blinding penance inflicted on him by a body that was sick of being mistreated.

Andrew was patient with his brother, perhaps to a fault.  Though he was long past the age when the younger idolizes the older, Simon still held a place of honour in Andrew’s mind, like an heir to a throne.  Although the “throne” in this case was a struggling business and a leaky boat.  Besides that, Andrew was fairly certain that when the time came for Simon to ascend, he would gladly abdicate, and Andrew had some ideas about how to rescue the faltering kingdom.  The first idea involved spending significantly less of the earnings on alcohol.

But there was another, stronger reason Andrew was patient with his brother.  Her name was Adah.  She had been perhaps the most beautiful woman Andrew had ever known.  She and Simon would have been married 25 years today.

He remembered the first meal he had eaten with Adah as a member of their family.  He was  still quite young, no more than twelve, and it seemed to him that Simon had married into royalty.  He remembered Simon making a terrible joke, and Adah spitting her water through her nose.  She was very embarrassed, but kept laughing through her apologies with an ease that was completely endearing.   To a twelve year old little brother-in-law, she had become a legend: a gorgeous woman who blew water out her nose and laughed like an angel.  Perhaps she was a goddess.

Over the years, he heard much more of that laugh.  It was free and boundless and always betrayed her attempts at stifling it or being polite.  Sometimes she hid it behind her hand, but this only brought attention to her laughing, green eyes.  Her joy, so often, had been a perfect foil for Simon’s temper.

When she died, however, that joy did not become the stuff of consoling memories for Simon.  Rather, the lack of it became a constant reminder of all that he had lost.

Her death had been tragic, and unexpected, though slow and painful.  Such a disease rarely came to one as young and vital as she, but it had come nonetheless, and Simon became a widower at the age of thirty-five.  Simon had always been prone to moodiness and a simmering vexation, but it had been tempered nicely by his wife’s ease.  With her death, his capricious nature was tainted with something that turned it from an almost laughable quirk into something truly destructive.  Bitterness had taken hold of Simon somewhere deep in his blood, and, like the disease that took Adah from him, it grew with an alarming intensity.  Over the years he seemed to become an ill caricature of his worst traits.

Most distressing to Andrew was how Simon had lost his faith in God.  He had lost his faith, though not his belief.  He lost his faith the way a man loses faith in a friend who betrays him.  In such a relationship, the two may see one another from time to time, perhaps even exchange hellos and pleasantries, but the friendship is dead, lost forever to a dreadful silence.  To Simon, God was a faithless friend.  He went to synagogue and said hello, shaking God’s hand from a distance with a look in his eye that said, “Never again.”

Now, Simon had once again exploded over a matter which shouldn’t have mattered at all.  Andrew, lean and and still youthful despite the crows feet creeping into the corners of his eyes, watched his older brother, large and older than he should have been, stomp up the beach toward home.  He knew that the night would bring another adventure at the tavern.  He knew that he, Andrew, would need to watch over his brother, that he would have to remove Simon before he repeated the previous night’s story, or was tossed out by the management.  He knew that Simon would very likely take a swing at his little brother, and that by the time Andrew had brought him stumbling to his bed, Simon would be crying in his arms like a baby.

“I miss her so god damn much!” he would weep.

“I know,” Andrew would say.  “Get some sleep.”

Andrew thought of all of this in the space of a few seconds.  He sighed, and slapped his knees in a kind of concluding rite to his moment of contemplation.  Inspecting the worn twine of the torn net more closely, and certainly with much clearer vision than his brother, he quietly set himself to the steady work of mending.

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