Marisa Plumb

Fishing, or the future of others

It’s hot near the equa­tor and the heat made me feel alone, like I’d been alone for a while and would be for some time. In truth I’d only been trav­el­ing for a month. With a stranger’s eye I wad­ed through the days look­ing at moments rather than lives, and it slowed time. Facts seemed dumb­er than usu­al, assump­tions more tedious.

I didn’t bring a suit­case, just a bag that I could car­ry over my shoul­der, with bug spray, a cam­era, and a few shirts. I got off the plane with a dull sense of dread, but not because I was scared. The dri­ver who picked me up had a red cap on that said, “Yes Jesus.”

I worked very long days report­ing on the NGO’s project, cov­er­ing every con­ceiv­able detail and angle. Each night, I went to a shack by the water that sold beers from a win­dow cut out of ply­wood. It was near the place I was stay­ing, where a strange mix of mis­sion­ar­ies and jour­nal­ists shared bunk beds in a con­crete room.

Without basis, I had always imag­ined that most fish­ing takes place in the morn­ings. I’d nev­er been fish­ing. I watched a group of around 35 Haitians every night from a ham­mock about 40 yards away, with a book propped open on my lap. Their sil­hou­ettes moved slow­ly, first gath­er­ing on a nar­row penin­su­la, watch­ing for fish, then draw­ing spears and cast­ing nets when the fish arrived. It seemed strange that the fish­er­men always got there before the fish, and the fish always came soon after. After they were done for the night I liked to walk by the water. I liked the salt in the air, I liked how dirty I always felt in Haiti. I told a girl I met on the beach that I would help her learn French and English, and she asked me to take her pho­to. The next night I brought her a text­book. She told me she was ugly and I told her it didn’t mat­ter.

*

Back in New York expec­ta­tions were the same as they were when I left but I didn’t feel that any­thing was urgent. For a few days even singing or cry­ing seemed inau­then­tic.

I decid­ed to take a dif­fer­ent job and moved to a shit­ty stu­dio to accom­mo­date my low­er pay grade. Even though I wasn’t real­ly sure I want­ed com­pa­ny, I invit­ed the man I’d been dat­ing before the trip over. We held hands on the futon all night, sweat­ing in the accu­mu­lat­ed heat of the day, and com­ment­ed on the fact that bed­rooms are kind of sil­ly if you live alone. It was too hot for sex.

*

We went on a date that week­end. He was kind and soft, and only ordered a bowl of soup at din­ner. I won­dered why, but not crit­i­cal­ly. I didn’t feel anx­ious or sad. He invit­ed me to come over to his place after­ward, to eat choco­late ice cream, and I agreed. I changed my mind on the walk, but I guess it was too late. His apart­ment was sparse and clean; the cab­i­net under the sink was filled with many vari­eties of clean­ing flu­ids, an iron­ic site for clut­ter. It was endear­ing because any­thing is endear­ing when you’ve for­got­ten what you used to com­pare things to. I asked him if he’d like to watch a base­ball game or some­thing and he laughed, and we even­tu­al­ly made rel­a­tive­ly mean­ing­ful love. In the morn­ing I con­grat­u­lat­ed myself for being nei­ther hung over nor horny.

*

That night I fan­ta­sized about a woman. She was younger; a fig­ure that had popped into my head a few months ago, face­less. I was attract­ed to her track socks. The fan­ta­sy made me feel imma­ture and far away, as though every­thing I thought I knew was false, deci­sions shape­less, and mem­o­ry sim­ply endured. I felt as old as the girl. I felt as young as the girl. For a moment, it was like being cast into a world of dis­cov­ery that mim­ic­ked the awful com­ing of age. Perhaps it was a sec­ond chance, maybe even some­thing redemp­tive. I liked the girl.

But over the next few weeks a prob­lem arose in the fan­ta­sy. I could no longer cli­max just think­ing about the socks and the pos­si­bil­i­ty of her. I had to think all the way into her vagi­na, but I was very dis­ap­point­ed to find that I didn’t have much feel­ing once I got there.

*

The wait­er at the café on the park told me that some­times bad skin is sexy. I looked at him star­tled, because I didn’t think I had bad skin. He said that even though he kept his attrac­tion to girls with acne a secret, it had proved to be a fruit­ful and mean­ing­ful obses­sion in his life. I said that I didn’t under­stand. He just spun around briskly and said he’d bring my cof­fee. This was when I real­ized that the whole com­ment had begun as a metaphor, or a place­hold­er for com­pas­sion, and I won­dered what about me that day made me look as lone­ly and unloved as a girl with bad acne.

When he returned I said, let me get a slice of that new lemon pie. He gig­gled and said he’d refill my water.

On the way home I stopped on the cor­ner near­est my build­ing and looked out at the park. It looked end­less when I peered in through the north­ern­most gate. There was a wed­ding par­ty hav­ing their pho­tos tak­en by the foun­tain, which gave me a brief sen­ti­men­tal feel­ing. I mon­i­tored such feel­ings like one might med­ica­tion. The bride was thin and sick­ly, and the groom was focused and ner­vous. The black and white wardrobes of all involved against the green land­scape was sti­fling and defin­i­tive, but for the first time in a while, imag­in­ing the future was less dead­en­ing. Even the future of oth­ers. The rest of the park was strange­ly vacant, and I imag­ined myself to be the only per­son look­ing at that scene from the out­side, and sure­ly that was even more impor­tant than par­tic­i­pat­ing.

~