By Tori "Mad Sally" Baur
They’re taunting me.
Fish. Big ones that swim languidly in the tidepools just off the balcony of our house.
And it hurts.
There are six of them circling together. Some sort of spotted sea trout. Big ones. Ones that inspire fish tales, only these fish are big enough that lying about their size would be unnecessary. I have been watching them dancing in the clear, blue water circling clockwise together, black fins and tails lifting out of the water, circling, circling, circling together for the last three hours.
They are taunting me with every liquid turn and dip. And it hurts because I don’t have a fishing pole.
They are certainly beautiful. The biggest fish is the leader. She decides the path, mostly clockwise around the perimeter of rocks, but sometimes she chooses to swim counter-clockwise as if to test what it would feel like to swim in Australia where the water does indeed run backwards. The other fish obediently follow along just behind and to either side or under her. Their bodies are all touching as if this is some sort of private love dance among them. And it may well be. I thought at first that the fish might be feeding as the brown pelicans seem to find plenty of fish to eat near this spot as they circle above the water and then take a nosedive down into the water, pause for a moment, and then lift their long pelican bills into the air to let gravity help them swallow the fish they’ve caught. But the longer I watch these fish, the more I think that they are mating, procreating. I imagine the biggest fish a female full of eggs. I envision her dropping streams of her eggs onto the rocks that she has been swimming over and around for hours. I can almost see how she has been leading the other fish, all males in my imagination, around and around over her dropped eggs and in her seductive circular swim, she entices them to fertilize her eggs.
As full of wonder and mystery as these creatures of the water may be, I still want to bait my hook and toss out my line. I want to feel the tug on my pole as I reel in “the big one.” I want to pull it onto the shore, and feel it shake and wriggle violently in my hands as I remove the hook from its mouth. I want to dash its head on the rocks to make it stop moving, and plunge my knife into its belly and clean its insides out with deft handiwork.
I want to smell like fish.
I want it all over my hands, on my clothes, on the counter I work on, even in my hair. I want to find fish scales under my nails and down my cleavage when I take off my bra at night. I want to feel a tingle when I wash my hands and realize I must’ve cut my finger on a sharp fin or bone. I want to bleed with my fish. Just a little. Just enough to say, “I appreciate your sacrifice, big fishy. Here is mine to you.”
And to taste it.
I want to cover my freshly cleaned fillet with butter and lemon, wrap it in foil and put it on the grill for about fifteen minutes on each side. I want to see the look on my family’s faces as they taste the fish that I caught and cleaned and cooked for them, for me, for us.
There is nothing like being the one who brought the big fish unto the dinner plate.
While I may rationally understand that the fish – beautiful fish ¬– swimming below me are possibly fulfilling their predetermined life cycle and it is a miracle to bear witness to such an event as egg fertilization in the wild, nonetheless I still want to catch them, rip them open and eat them.
I’d like to think that living on St Croix in the wild Caribbean makes me feel so acutely hunter-gatherer. “It’s just the sound of the waves crashing so violently against the rocks,” I say to myself as I try to reason with my piratical obsession for wanting to capture and kill these majestic fish.
But I know there is no rationality behind my desire. Fishing is like a drug and I am an addict, an obsessed junkie who needs a fix. This is who I am. Its in my veins. So tomorrow I will buy a fishing pole and as I know nothing about ocean fishing, I will seek out others who are like me and court them until I glean the knowledge I so crave. And over time I will learn how to fish the surf. I will learn the best places to go, what test to use on my reel, which lure works best, how to properly bait my hook and in doing so I will cure my helplessness and feed my addiction.
Tonight my family will eat fish. I will go to one of the many fish markets on St Croix, where vendors sell fresh fish, lobster and conch right off the street. I will pick something up, perhaps some bass, tuna or snapper and I will clean it myself, grill it and serve it.
And although I didn’t catch this fish myself, I will feel a little bit better for having plunged my knife in its belly. It is my methadone until I can get the real thing. I know that in all the ocean there is a fish out there – a big one – who has my name on it.
But right now, it hurts.