A Small Group of Fishermen – Arnold B. Cabdriver

A small group of fishermen tend a dock. The fishermen know everything that goes on in our town. The fishermen sit around skinning fish, and dwelling on Benjamin Carson. It’s not right that a boy is born so awful, says the first fisherman, holding a knife in the eyes of a fish. The second fisherman, his hands round as melons, is silent. The third fisherman says, I do not know whether he is worse, or whether she is worse having birthed him.

Not far from the fisherman, a boy runs through the rain. He has told his school companions that in a terrible storm there are mermaids which come up shirtless from the sea. He is going to take one and do everything he wants with her. His companions run close behind him, their clothing soaked and looking more like second skin. 

They reach the dock where it reeks like nets of fish. 

I’m going to put my willy into her, the boy says.  

If you do, says another, she’ll yank it off. That’s what mermaids do to sailors.

The sea is a black-grey, as if the rain has beaten all of the green to the bottom. 

The boys strip naked. They are all going to put their willies into a mermaid. They jump into the water. Their bodies invisible inside the thickness of the ocean. Their heads like small lanterns in the unfathomable darkness.

Fishermen deliver terrible things from the ocean, things which were never meant to be seen or eaten. But such is the nature of fishermen. 

The three fishermen stood very close to the door when Mrs. Carson opened after their pounding. They spilled immediately inside. 

He was caught in the rain. He has changed, they said, the immense storm behind them.

The boy tries to jump from their arms. They rush with Mrs. Carson into the bathroom where she breaks open the bath. 

The fishermen lower Benjamin Carson into the water. He has turned purple around his eyes. His neck was swollen. He flopped his legs in the bath and grabbed at his mother. 

He tried to touch her but had little control of his arms, as his body was kicking and slamming to breathe. 

They did not want to hold her back, but her nose had started to bleed. 

When the water closed over his mouth, Ben became calm. 

His eyes lost all blueness and became two black marbles. His hair drifted in the bathwater like weeds. His skin had begun to gleam.

Two fishermen stayed stooped low beside the tub. The third stood and explained that Ben can no longer survive outside water. He will have to be taken away. 

The fishermen took Ben in their arms. His skin had become more slick and his spine more flexible. It took all three to get Ben into the storm but when he felt the rain he became calm again and lay draped in the first fisherman’s arms. 

Two of Ben’s comrades ran up to the fisherman. Is that Ben? Is he hurt?

He will not be the same, the fishermen said. 

The boys stopped in the street. They wore bright yellow slickers. And as the boys faded under the storm, more neighbors came through. A crowd grew on their way to the harbor, then creaked onto the pier while the fishermen carried the boy to the edge.

We know what it means, begins the first fisherman, for a boy to be taken. He regards the water seeping into Ben’s neck. We know, begins the third fisherman, Ben Carson has disappointed us all. But see his calmness. See his eyes as he departs from us forever. The second fisherman turns to the crowd and shows them the boy. Seemingly he means by this, We will all meet our fate.

We prayed for Benjamin Carson.

Then the fishermen turned to the edge of the pier and lowered Ben into the ocean. He sank at first, like a waterlogged branch. Down and down, until he disappeared.

Until there was nothing, only rain hitting water. 

We crowded the fishermen. Could we have done anything different? Could we have stopped him somehow? 

But we could not move them. They hung their heads, as deaf as rocks. 

It was then that the hands emerged, webbed and brilliantly glowing. Though now drawn back to the body, stunted and delicate, paddling lightly up. Then it broke the surface. The creature regarded us, from the fishermen, to the comrades, but Benjamin’s mother was not there. She sat alone in the house, which she had shared with her son. I, it said, but could not say anymore.

The creature swam away into the dark water and over time the crowd dispersed. But when all had gone home, the fishermen stirred. A boat light clicked on. And their schooner rattled to life. They crept out from the harbor and lumbered out toward the ocean, lowering their nets. 

Long Beach (Washington, not California) native, Cabdriver takes inspiration from the wildlife around him, the wildlife far below him when he’s out in his boat, and the wildlife he used to see as a child during his short visits to the Oregon Zoo. Cabdriver has been a writer-in-residence at the Sou’wester on fifteen separate occasions. And still nobody remembers him!

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