Monday, May 5, 2008

The Same Pink Shell

The sun on the morning shoreline shines as silver as the combs in my Juana's hair. I breathe in the smells of the sea and blow out slowly, watching the gulls which will soar on my breath, free to fly where they choose, while I stay, a fisherman, ready for another day. I walk to the sea hoping it will be more generous than yesterday.
Behind me, like spider webs, my nets wait on the dry sand. The birds dance around me, in and out of the water, to the music of the sea, loud, soft, then loud again, like metal brushes on a drum.
Jose is late again. He will come down the high sandy hill where the sun flames behind the palm trees, wave his hat high in the air and shrug his arms in apology that he is late again. I will not see his face for the glaring sun behind him, but he will be laughing. He laughs often because this life is right for him. He had no use for school and has no wife he must send to work. He fishes hard then joins friends at the cantina after dark. It is always the same. A day of no fish to sell is a night when a friend will buy Jose his cerveza.
On the way down the hill, he will pick up a shell and throw it far into the ocean, the same pink shell which will wash back onto the beach, a little more worn by the sand, only to be thrown again tomorrow.
"Hola, mi Amigo!" he will laugh and slap me on my back. "I am late again! Lo siento!" He will be sorry but he will have helped a neighbor, or stopped for huevos and chorizo at the little hotel because he had extra pesos in his pocket. He will tell me how the chorizo was especially delicious this morning because fat Sra. Hidalgo gave him one sausage for free.
"And, you know, her fingers, they themselves are like chorizo!"
When Jose comes we talk of things I will not remember when Juana asks me in the evening, but it is his stories that lighten the weight of the nets. After hours of pulling and lifting, both hands must support our backs as we stand straight again. Jose's talk of old Manuel's wooden teeth or his stories about his red haired Carmelita make me smile, but are not enough to soothe the ache in my back or the pain above my brows.

This morning, my Juana washes the clothes of Señora Vega, who stays in her room and listens to Salsa. A tiny yellow bird in a golden cage hangs above La Senora's bed and she blows smoke to it, through the bars, from her thin, filtered cigarettes. She kisses the beak of the little bird and calls it "Cara". Together, surrounded by scarves of grey smoke, they listen to the music. Sometimes my Juana hears La Señora cry.
She wonders if La Señora cries for her husband because she could not give him a son or for herself because she is so often alone. It is the music and the little bird that help her forget her sorrows, or the red wine that was in the bottles that Juana throws away each morning. When there is a little bit of wine left, Juana pours it into a fancy glass, sits in the courtyard of green orchids and is, for a few moments, a grand señora with nothing to do. But only for a few moments.

My Juana is like a warm towel against my tired body. Her whisper wakes me late in the night and, later, I hold her and listen to her breath. It is Juana who makes me feel like the Don of a grand hacienda. It is her enchiladas and rellenos I smell when I come home to our little house. Sometimes it is the thick, sweet scent of corn and pork fried with peppers which welcome me even before our sons run out through the open door. Each one I hug, grateful that the youngest is not yet too big to swing in the air. The laughter of the children eases the pain in my eyes and the tightness in my jaw. Their laughter is like a prayer for the future. I hug them to my body and pray that God will listen.
My Juana too wants our boys to have more. It is in the morning that she dreams out loud what her tired sleep did not allow.
"They cannot, will not, be fisherman," she says. I tell her it is not such a bad thing. I remind her of the fishermen of Galilee.
"Our Theodore will be a doctor," Juana braids her hair like she is playing an instrument, her fingers work swiftly and, like sticks on a drum, they fly as she tells me her plans for our children.
"Maximillian will be the mayor...and Alessandro will be the lawyer."
"Why not Emperor?" I laugh.
She has heard this before. I do not have to remind her again of my childhood and how I wanted to go away. She knows how my mother wanted me to be a businessman, not a man who came home with calloused hands, smelling of fish. It took money to leave the village, to go to a good school in a place far away. I had to learn to be happy to work with Papa, and to be proud when I pulled as much fish as he. After Papa died, when I did not see Mama's smile again, I knew my dreams of leaving would forever be dreams.
"Our boys will be different." Juana echoes the faded words of my mother. "And they will be good men because you are their father."
The boys rise and Juana prepares them for school. Then she goes to La Señora's, where she will water the red geraniums, cook the meals, and clean the golden cage.

Finally, squinting through the flames on the hill, I can see someone coming. But it is not Jose. It is Carmelita.
Her long, loose hair is the color of old tangerines. She is running and dry sand flies like the ocean spray around her feet. I see she wears no red lipstick or her golden earrings as big as Juana's silver bracelet. She is crying. I can hear her now above the surf. She uses the back of her hand to wipe tears from her face.
"Jose is gone! Last night! His brother came and Jose has gone with him!"
We stand six paces apart as the shallow tide pulls at our feet. I watch the birds run away down the beach. "I will not see my Jose again!" She stares into my eyes, angry at me as she is at Jose.
"Carmelita, he would not leave for good. You will see. Jose is happy here."
"You are wrong! He has always wanted to leave this nothing place. 'This is my chance! My brother has plans,' he told me last night. He said I should come to you this morning, to tell you he is sorry, and that you were a good friend."
"He will be back, Carmelita."
"He said he hopes you wish him luck!" She drags the back of her arm against her wet face. "I don't wish him luck!"
She turns and runs away from the beach. Her body gets smaller as she climbs up the hill, and I can see her beat away the palm leaves that hang in her way. Then she is gone, like Jose.
It is the quietest it has ever been.
When Carmelita has been gone a very long time, the birds run close to my legs again. They have forgotten I am here.
"He cannot be gone!" I hear myself scream. My hands are fists with nothing to hit.
The weight of the sand and water pull me down. My shoulders feel hot from the sun rising higher in the sky, and a seagull soars over my head, turns, then flies far up the coast until I cannot see it.
Pulling my feet out of the heavy sand, I let the water wash them clean, and walk, trapped with my sons in the nets of our fathers, trying not to drown.



CJ said...


Anonymous said...

This is beautifully written. A simple life, and dreams unfulfilled.
Sometimes we are destined to stay in our comfort zone, which is what your subject feels compelled to do.

I choose not to look at this story as one of hopelessness, but one of resignation. Staying with what one knows. Not everyone is an adventurer, but that's not necessarily a bad thing.

There are those who would like to leave their hectic city life and dream of lazy days holding a fishing pole, or casting a net, and waiting for that moment of thrill with a catch.

I think for many, the grass may be always greener on the other side, only to find if they get there, it was an illusion aftr all.

I think Jose will be back.


Z said...

you think Jose will be back!? VERY interesting! I never thought he would come back (but he could!), but I did want to paint our 'hero' as one who had pain at his friend's 'breaking away' BUT that he'd realize later that his family and his town were what he knew, what he loved, and he'd be okay with that, too, soon as he got over the shock that SOMEONE had the freedom to leave.
Thanks, cj, and Pris, I'm glad you like it.

Anonymous said...

A bit over-accentuated, but nice. I'm curious as to why you selected the fisherman as your main protagonist, and why he might favour fishing with "nets" over "lines" (as opposed to Hemingway's 'old man'). Is it because the work is harder and will require him to draft one of his sons into the "family business" in Jose's absence or to emphasize his occupational "entrapment"? Jez curious.

Anonymous said...

btw - I would paint the fisherman "peg-legged". 'Property' and 'responsibility' has a tendency to do that to people. Just ask Hephaestus. ;-)

Maybe I'd substitute a peg-leg for the sock and a boat for the wheelbarrow...

Anonymous said...

I KEEP telling you you need to publish something!!

That is a wonderful piece! Just wonderful...I was THERE...


Z said...

Pati, thanks. I'm SO glad you liked it.

JUST SOME GUY...well, believe it or not, I was going to leave a message for you today saying I missed seeing you around yesterday. But, never mind. :-)

Seriously? I picked a postcard with a fisherman with nets on it in a writing group about 12 years ago and had to write about it...and our fisherman came to life. Maybe I'd have picked nets, anyway, since it's harder to imagine your sons and you drowning in the LINES of your fathers, HUH??? You'd have to say something like "Tripping in the lines of your fathers" (which sounds like cocaine abuse, come to think of it!) and it wouldn't have the same RING..OKAAAAY?? geeeeeZ! (heh heh)

glad to see you, anyway! (sort of)

Gayle said...

It is indeed beautifully written. I have no critisizm whatsoever and very seriously doubt I could even come close to writing anything that well.

Karen Townsend said...

Z, you are quite a talented writer. Thanks for sharing some of it here.

Anonymous said...

Since he's a commercial fisherman the following makes sense;

You catch more fish with a net, than you do with a line.


Z said...

Thank you VERY much, ladies...I really appreciate your reading it and commenting so favorably.

Pris...thanks for the techie info!!

Me! said...

Hola Z, where's part 2? What happens to Jose? And Señora Vega? And Carmelita? I was right there, in the middle of the story!

I love it! I agree with Norwegianwood, you should publish something.

Anonymous said...

Sorry Z, but I expect my visits will always be a bit of a two-edged sword...

Course, you could get a sex-change and write nothing but epic poems of strife and struggle... ;-)

Z said...

JSG....I loved your criticism and had a blast sassing back, of course!
I don't care WHAT you write here, just keep darkening my doorstep. I like it!

re: sex change operations and writing epics? Are you challenging me to write an epic poem from the feminine point of view? Maybe the Iliad and the Odyssey told by Helen? how'd that be!!? HA!! I love a challenge!

The Merry Widow said...

Poigniant, like life often is.
It's what you do with the cards you are dealt...and you play them the best you can, or throw them dowm and leave the game.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for the bright spot in my day Z!


Anonymous said...

Dear Z,

I will take time to savor this properly late in the day tomorrow. I look forward to reading it with an uncluttered mind. ;-)

~ FreeThinke

Anonymous said...

Farmer John!

"POLARITY" is what keeps the earth from spinning out of its orbit, bursting into flame and disintegrating into octillions of tiny cinders flying pointlessly without direction through Space.

It takes every one of the many and varied souls on seven continents to make this world what God obviously intended it to be.

We are not all meant to be warriors, though I thank God for the rough men who are willing to do violence on our behalf–––at least I HOPE they are!

It's their COMMANDERS who worry me these days. Bunch of wusses if you ask me. Can you imagine General Weasely Cluck (aka Ashley Wilkes) prevailing against the likes of Hitler and Tojo?

Bah Humbug!

~ FreeThinke

David Schantz said...

I'll go along with Norwegianwood. This should be published. Are we ready to vote?

God Bless America, God Save The Republic.

Z said...

I appreciate all your kind words.
Am actually thinking of going on with it.....we'll see!
Anybody got any ideas about what happens next?
This could be fun!!

Incognito said...

Wow... wonderfully descriptive.. and she speaks spanish, to boot. You've captured the whole feeling of the latino sensibility. Very cool!!

Next, hmmm .. let's see... Papa runs off to el norte.. realizes he misses his wife, and being a fisherman, and returns.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

Sorry about that.. How about our fisherman friend nets a mermaid who grants him three wishes...

Yeah, I like this story MUCH better...

Anonymous said...

...okay, maybe not a mermaid, but the Old Man of the Sea, himself!

He wrestles with the shape shifter, and in return for the old mans release, is thereby given the power to "overcome" three impediments to human progress.... over which he struggles to decide which are the most heinous.... disease, war, poverty, etc.

The whacky repurcussions upon the future of mankind would make GREAT comedy/tragedy.

Anonymous said...

... an NO, he doesn't wish for a sausage... which his wife wishes upon his nose...and then gets wished off.

No, this time the world must PAY for its' irrational love of whirled peas...

Anonymous said...

Okay... so he wishes that the American imperialist's currency collapse... that capitalism not exist... and that Hugo Chavez's Socialism of the 21st Century become a reality....

Z said...

JSG: Leave it to you to turn this into the story of Pinnochio with pork...
I'm thinking a LITTLE more on the lines of OLD MAN AND THE SEA and less I DREAM OF JEANNIE with fins.

Our man is NOT a Socialist. I INSIST! He is a hard working man who wants better for his family, JSG, that's proof enough, right?

Z said...

I like INCOGNITO's idea..... but, he just doesn't seem the type who'd leave Juana for more than a day for love OR money.

OKAY: Here's the dream scenario:

Jose stays away for six months after which he suddenly shows up at Sra Hidalgo's again telling her you just can't GET good Mexican food in Los Angeles and, anyway, he got sick of living 15 to an apartment so he went to a local hospital in Monterey Park and was told "We don't TREAT illegals here anymore" and then he tried to get some girl pregnant so the baby'd be born here and he could stay, but the woman told him "Are you CRAZY? they changed the laws and there ARE no ANCHOR BABIES in the US anymore" and then the INS made this HUGE raid on EVERY building and EVERY workplace in California and its surrounds, and they were all herded back in big black buses.

The End.

And no, I hate historical fiction, so this wouldn't be the way to go. But, I could DREEEAAAM!!

Anonymous said...


Now no-one will be inspired to join a Bolivarian cooperative in Hugo's Chavezuelan paradise.

Lets face it... if Chavezuela's so great, how come the Mexicans & Salvadoreneans aren't migrating south?

Z said...

I was just told, by a frequent business visitor to Caracas, that even her cab driver HATES CHAVEZ, JSG.
Why the HECK don't the people rise up and get him? You've gotta think at least half his army hate him, too. Everybody's suffering...businesses closing, hotels closing..because nobody's there anymore with the money to support them.
But, then I used to think the people would kick Castro out, too.
maybe I'm more naive than even I think?

Anonymous said...

Actually, Hugo was popular because he was in the right place at the right time with the right answer. As a direct result of his actions, only 30,000 Venezuelans died from the torrential rains, mudslides and flooding that devasted that country in late December of 1999. And Hugo deserves a lot (but not all) of the credit for the State's preparedness and the emergency response to that "partuclar" disaster. (Imagine the political effect if Bush had just overhauled FEMA and had been stockpiling supplies in advance of Katrina and immediately responded with a SUCCESSFUL total mobilization for relief/rebuilding)

Unfortunately, most Venezuelans came away with precisely the wrong lesson from those events... that the "state" should henceforth manage the economy and national resources in PEACETIME and under NON-EMERGENCY conditions as well. After all, if they could respond under those extreme conditions, IMAGINE what they could do under normal, peacetime circumstances...

And so Venezuela will unfortunately be paying for that political mistake for many years to come.

Fortunately, the gilding has begun to tarnish on the Bolivarian military-socialist lily ever since, as the media continues to expose gross incompetence and corruption on a scale much larger than was ever possible under private capitalism (which is why Hugo's become so hell bent on shutting down RCTV... and now Globovision [CNN World]).

Anonymous said...

WHAT do you MEAN...what happens next???

The story IS complete...the point made very poignantly..

It's a short-story...the literature Americans have perfected to a T...or this case!

Why would you need to add anything?


Anonymous said...

Z, I didn't read the other comments...afraid it would affect what I would say.
This was so touching. I was there. I could smell the chorizo and beans. I could feel the tension and the pain, taste the wine.
Just wonderful.
I loved it.

Z said...

Pati, no worries...I veer in that direction of leaving it as it is. It's complete, yes. We get the picture, I think. Thanks! I just thought it would be fun to see what people came up with to further the story!!

Pinky, thank you very much, I'm so glad you liked it, and I'm glad you didn't read the comments first. Smart girl (as usual)

JSG: Thanks for the history lesson; I hadn't realized about that storm thing and it sure makes sense that people look now upon the government for everything.
I hope they wake up soon....from what I hear from someone hearing it firsthand THERE, they might. The cab driver told my stepdaughter that only the VERY poor like Chavez. Too bad the VERY POOR are such a majority. Too bad they don't even realize they're like that now due to such little opportunity. Meanwhile, he's stinking rich.

Anonymous said...

Dear Z,

Finally got a break that enabled me to enjoy this beautiful work of yours.

It is more a poem than a narrative. You could easily arrange it in "free verse," and it would work as well–––or perhaps even better–––than it already does.

It seems to end on a sigh of hopelessness and resignation, but the vividness of your imagery and the inherent sweetness of the people in your story affirmed in me the feeling that fulfillment of our lives is hardly ever "out there." Instead it is with us all the time–––inside.

As Dorothy so famously said after her trip to OZ, "There's no place like home."

The simple peasant life you evoke is not dreary; it has great beauty.

The well-worn phrase "Bloom where you're planted" came easily to mind as I read your story.

There is nothing wrong with the ambition to better yourself as long as you don't spoil present reality by failing to love and appreciate what you already have.

Jose may never come back, but that should not matter, for the memory of his presence should endure and continue to warm and cheer those who knew him–––unless they are determined to be morose, which is their responsibility and not Jose's.

I feel most sorry for the russet-haired woman he left behind, who obviously loved him. That her love was not enough to keep him home is a bitter pill for any woman to swallow.

Interesting that you wrote from a man's perspective. It works, but you might as well know that few men have the gift for unabashed lyricism that is yours.

Thank you for allowing us to peek into your soul.

~ FreeThinke

Anonymous said...

I never hear the word escape
Without a quicker blood––
A sudden expectation––
A flying attitude.

I never hear of prisons broad
By soldiers battered down
But I tug––childish––at my bars––
Only to fail again.

Emily Dickinson (1830-1886)

That about sums it up, I should think.


heidianne jackson said...

wow! your talent and imagery is astounding. thanks so much for sharing...

heidianne jackson

Z said...

thanks, Heidianne! I appreciate your comments...I'm so glad you liked it.

And Thanks SO MUCH FT...that ED poem does dovetail with my story.

both of your comments mean the a LOT to me.

Makes me want to start writing ...

John said...

That's an excellent short-short, Z.

Good control of imagery and metaphor and solid structuring with them (the gulls and nets as bookends was effective and their transformations wrenching--although the net as a "trap" at the end was hinted at as a "spider-web" in the beginning). The tone is excellent. It has the rhythm of the surf, begining with soothing laps but ending with the abrupt crash of a wave hitting land.

You succeeded in making a short-short about a simple fisherman living in a seeming idyllic paradise a poignant tragedy of sorts that raises philosophical questions.

You succeeded in making me think and feel genuinely sad at the same time (need you ask for more?).

Jose won't "wash back onto the beach," though. He's not the pink shell. The narrator is. :(

The negative:

The voice is good. Am I picking up echoes of Gabriel Garcia Marquez, or Virginia Woolf? If so, that's fine, but the loudest ring is Hemingway's *The Old Man And The Sea," and it's a loud ring.

If it's a coincidence, good for you for sounding like a master.

If his style was role-modeled (consciously or unconsciously), good for you again for being able to align with it so well.

However, there can only be but one Hemingway, and, coincidence or role-modeling, you have to develop your own distinct voice...


That was unfair. I just read it again, and again, and you do have your own voice, style, story, and character which departs from Hemingway's Santiago and his own ordeal, but Hemingway's trademark element of the futility and tragedy of life amongst a simple, good-hearted people who you want to live happily ever after (but don't) is present, and his classic has assured his haunting presence in any story set in a Latino fishing community, so his ghost distracted me in the first read and will probably distract others accordingly (and invite unfair comparisons).

That's the only "problem" I had with it, but it's not major and, again, is unfair.

Submit it.