“You have to do it slowly son. Otherwise, the crab will know something fishy is going on,” said Thomas, chuckling between his teeth.
“Crabs aren’t fish, they’re crustaceans,” said Andrew.
“Don’t be a buzzkill.”
“I’m just saying… slower is the key.”
“When I go too slow they eat all the bait.”
Andrew lifted his line from the water, revealing a bare hook.
“If it was easy it wouldn’t be any fun? Now get another piece on there and try again.”
Andrew mumbled something.
“What was that?” asked Thomas.
“That’s right, now smile,” he said, and snapped a picture with his camera.
“C’mon dad,” he said, holding up a hand over his face.
“Oh c’mon yourself. One day, you’ll be happy to have these. I really captured your teenage angst.”
Thomas stepped off the dock and took a knee next to his younger son Caleb, a toddler of three, who sat in the sand wearing nothing but a pull up.
“What do you got there bud, seaweed?”
Thomas brought the viewfinder to his eye, zoomed in and took a picture.
The dock bobbed with the water atop the bay. A seagull, perched on a buoy off the coast, squawked to the rhythm of the ebbing tide. Vacationing families filled the backyards along the horseshoe coastline. A smattering of kayaks, inner tubes, and paddleboards drifted out towards the horizon.
Music filled the air from their neighbour’s dock. A male singer crooned in Spanish over what sounded like steel drums. Thomas’s wife danced with her brother on the deck of their rented house, comically imitating salsa. Under normal circumstances, Thomas would be irate at having his senses bombarded with someone else’s musical tastes, railing on about the rudeness, pacing back and forth, allowing rage to consume him until the point of exhaustion. But Janine looked happy, moving, dancing. And Thomas had promised himself a relaxing trip. He took a picture of his wife and brother in law dancing. He waited for a downbeat and avoided any blur.
Lying in the sand where the dock met the coast, Aunt Caroline sunbathed in an undersized one-piece bathing suit. Her distended paunch stretched the fabric to its limits, distorting the suit’s floral pattern. Her caterpillar brows hid behind a pair of horn-rimmed frames, which rested firmly upon her lotion-painted nose. Every ten minutes or so, she emitted a bovid groan, and rolled from her back to her stomach, stomach to back, providing her body equal exposure to the sun, an equal chance to burn.
Thomas watched his boys with pleasure, aware that he would one day remember this moment and reflect on it with a bittersweet nostalgia.
It seemed to him that only a moment ago his father had been watching him drop his first line in the bay.
“I can’t believe he starts high school next fall,” Thomas thought to himself, looking at Andrew through the viewfinder. “Where does the time go? The moments you miss…”
He shifted his focus to Caleb, now positioned on the edge of the dock, seaweed wrapped around his finger.
“I will appreciate every moment from here on out,” he thought.
He pressed the shutter button and took a shot of Caleb playing with the seaweed.
“I won’t miss a thing. I will cherish every second.”
As these thoughts sprung forth from his inner voice, Thomas sensed the ingenuity of his trite clichés. He wasn’t going change a thing. He hadn’t done anything wrong in the first place. Was he going to quit his job? For the sake of free time? No, nothing would change. He would miss the majority of Caleb’s youth. Fifty to sixty hours a week he’d miss, and more around crunch season. Regret was natural. Normal. Inevitable. And he had little of it, compared to some, just enough to inspire an internal monologue full of platitudes on a dock while feeling nostalgic.
“Daddy, the stwing,” said Caleb, pointing at the taut line tied to the piling. With a half-contained skip and a clap of the hands, Thomas reacted.
“All right buddy. I think we got a catch.”
He pulled up the line.
“You’re going too fast!” said Andrew.
“This is the cage line,” said Thomas, “No escaping this one!”
Thomas lifted the cage out of the water. Inside were two fully grown crabs.
“Cwab! Cwab! Cwab!” yelled Caleb, clapping his hands.
“That’s right buddy. Now we want to be careful. They pinch okay? I’m going to lift the front panel here and dump them in the cooler. You can look, but do not touch.”
Caleb nodded in agreement.
“Got one?” asked Janine from the deck.
“Two big ones,” he yelled back.
Janine responded with two thumbs up and a twist of the hips. She twirled to the music and took a long drink from a highball.
“Make sure to keep them away from me,” groaned Aunt Caroline. “You know how I despise bottom feeders.”
The day floated on in undisturbed bliss. Thomas did his best to savor the smell of the ocean and the simplicity of each moment. He basked in the uninhibited Americana of the whole affair, recording each and every piece of datum for later remembrance. If there was ever a day in the future, when one of his children claimed that he was a lousy dad, he would remind them of this day, on the dock, where his father once took him, this untarnished place with clean air to breathe and fresh food to eat, right out of the sea, free of cost and questionable processes. He will show them the evidence. He will always remember. He will make them remember—there was a day in July when they were young, where everything felt fine and comfortable.
“This is just what I needed,” Thomas reflected, “A place where nothing changes. A break from the flow of time.”
“You’re looking a little red,” said Thomas. “Do you want some sunscreen?”
“Nonsense,” said Caroline, “I’m only beginning to bronze.”
“You’ll be sore tomorrow. I can see you’re burned from here.”
“The price of beauty,” she replied, waving him off with her hand.
“Anyone want a hot dog?” asked Janine, from the deck.
“Boys?” Thomas asked, and tallied his fingers. “We’ll take five altogether,” he replied.
Caleb climbed down off the dock and into the sand, where he leafed through a picture book.
“Daddy what’s dis one?” he asked.
“This is a dolphin,” said Thomas. He sat on the ground, cross-legged, next to Caleb.
“That’s right. Do you know what this one is?”
Caleb bit his bottom lip, thinking, and shook his head.
“It’s a shark,” Thomas said in a scary voice.
“Shawk,” Caleb repeated in awe.
Thomas turned the page.
“And dis one?”
“That’s a turtle. You can tell by the shell.”
“Toytell,” said Caleb. “I like the toytell. He’s funny!”
“Yes, he is. And do you know what? Turtles can live to be over 100 years old! Isn’t that something?”
Caleb perched up, wide-eyed, amazed by the fact.
“Dad! The crabs keep eating all the bait and letting go of the line,” Andrew whined.
“Keep at it son. Feel the crab on the line. You have to feel it.”
Andrew kicked an empty bucket off the dock into the sand.
“Stop pouting son, it’s supposed to be fun.”
Thomas focused the lens and pressed the shutter button.
“Dad, what the heck?”
“Teenage angst volume two,” he said, winking.
Thomas and the boys sat on the edge of the dock with their feet dangling, eating their hot dogs. Caleb smeared ketchup around his mouth and fingers.
“How are your tube steaks boys?” asked Thomas.
“Tube steaks?” said Andrew.
“That’s what your grand-pop used to call em’. He was always saying weird things like that. Old-timey phrases. I once failed a history test in school and do you know what he said? He took the test from my hand, scoffed at what he saw and said, “boy, you’re about as stupid as a soup sandwich.” Ha! Can you believe that! What a strange thing to say. Your grand-pop was always saying weird things like that. He never once asked for a glass of water. Earth blood he would say. Get me a glass of Earth blood, I’m parched. He was something else, my dad. He loved it here. Was his favourite place in the world.”
Andrew squeezed the end of his hot dog bun into a compact ball and threw it high into the air over the bay. A seagull swooped in from above and snatched the bread before it hit the water. Caleb giggled uncontrollably, squealing with delight.
“Daddy the birdy!”
Sitting on the dock, tube steak in hand, watching his sons enjoy themselves, Thomas felt imbued with hope. Everything was as it should be. The future seemed bright. The vacation was a success.
“I needed this,” Thomas recited.
For the past couple of weeks, he had been in a funk. Not depressed, but not one hundred percent, as Thomas puts it.
“What’s wrong?” Janine had asked.
“I’m just having a bad day,” he’d replied. A bad week… a bad month… “I’m just in a funk. Not feeling one hundred percent.”
But there on the bay, beneath the coastal sun, surrounded by innocent merriment and potent reminiscence, Thomas felt reinvigorated. He felt full and alive and energetic. He knew that moments like this were a rare commodity, and thus he fully enjoyed each frame of each scene.
“Daddy the stwing!”
“Oh boy, we got another. Step back, buddy. Watch out. Let’s go.”
Thomas gripped the line and pulled up hand after hand.
“Whoa, mama. Feels like a big one.”
The top of the cage broke the water’s surface, exposing the crest of a turtle’s shell.
“Jeez Louise and a bucket of peas! No wonder this line’s so heavy. We caught ourselves a turtle.”
“Toytell! Toytell!” Caleb cheered.
“Make room boys, I’m going to have to open the hatch and scoot this guy back into the water. Sea turtles can take off a toe in one bite, so don’t get too close.”
Thomas gripped a piece of the line near the cage and hoisted the metal contraption from the sea. In a single movement, he released the lock on the front of the cage and thrust it forward. The turtle slid out onto the end of the dock.
“Dad what’s wrong with it?” asked Andrew.
Caleb clapped and shouted, “Toytell! Toytell!”
Thomas stared in horror at the animal.
Wrapped around the turtle’s body was a series of connected plastic rings—the sort used as packaging for six-pack cans of soda or beer. One of the plastic rings wound around the turtle’s torso, causing its body to contort in two directions like a fortune cookie. Another of the rings ran obliquely across the creature’s face between the eyes and over the nose. One of the eyes, a nearly empty socket, had clear juice leaking from it, like a crushed grape. The back and front left legs were folded into crooked little nubs, the plastic cutting into the flesh with a cheesy infection visible along the wound. The smell was nauseating, reminiscent of tonsil stone puss. The animal dragged itself around in a pathetic circle, unable to move in any sensible fashion. It’s bottom jaw slowly opened and closed without a sound, unable to scream but wanting.
Thomas did not know what to do. He felt the weight of the camera around his neck. He wanted to smash it.
Caleb hopped and applauded, stomping his feet.
“Toytull! Toytull! Toytull! Toytull!”