Tom was ecstatic. An inner-city kid, he’d never been fishing before. An invitation from a school friend was too good to be true. The price of the ticket meant squatting on a cold steel tray wedged amongst full, rattling crates of milk in a truck heading down the coast highway before dawn. The stink of sour milk was overpowering, and he was close to nausea, but Tom didn’t say a word.
The surf club car park was desolate when they arrived. Unloading their rods, tackle, bait and bucket, his friend’s father wished them luck.
“Catch me something for lunch, OK?”
He winked as the truck rattled away to deliver the morning’s essentials to a waking town. Tom and Shawn raced over the dunes to confront a thunderously high tide pounding the beach.
Feverishly the boys baited their hooks, before casting their lines far into the churning darkness. Like centurions of the sea they stood motionless, surf rods held vertical, cold, wet fingers gently touching the lines, waiting for a pulse.
“We’re going to catch a ton!” trumpeted Tom optimistically.
Five hours later the boys were standing in full morning sun, low on bait and with nothing to show for their patience.
“What the hell are we going to tell everyone?” Shawn opined.
The boys reeled in their lines and began to explore some of the nearby reefs, now exposed by the receding tide. Balancing precariously on a razor-sharp outcrop of slippery rock, Tom was startled by the sun’s rays reflecting off a powerful, brilliant, silver tailor, held captive in a shallow sandy rock pool.
“Shawn! Get the bucket! QUICK!” commanded Tom. The boys scooped the stunning prize into the bucket and stared at their new trophy in awe.
“Dad’ll be back soon. Let’s use the last of the bait to see if we can double our luck,” Shawn grinned, winding the last worm around his hook.
Standing knee-deep and squinting out to the blinding blue horizon, the boys heard a distant plop as the bucket sloshed on its side. They turned to witness a pelican flapping about the beach, its beak wide open and pointed toward the sky as it struggled to swallow the sparkling fish.
The bird stumbled like a drunk as it laboured to pick up speed, just getting airborne as the young anglers arrived, howling. The fish was plain to see slung in the hammock of the bird’s distended creel as it flew in low circles above them, disappearing into the sun, victorious.
The boys ran in pursuit, throwing driftwood and shells skyward in a vain attempt at retribution. Cursing, they came to a standstill, defeated and humiliated.
“Now what do we tell them?” wheezed Shawn, hands on hips as his father approached waving from the dunes.
“The truth,” Tom answered. “It’s all we’ve got left.”
Robert Lastdrager is a Montmorency-based writer and children’s author.