We are two things: a unique genetic soul and a reflection of the life that’s all around us. It was something that I sensed early. I had to, in order to survive.
The truck jumped and buckled as it battled through the deep sand of the beach. I gripped the dashboard handle. The tackle box bounced on the vinyl seat, and Dusty held the steering wheel. He was my mom’s boyfriend with long, reddish hair pulled into a pony-tail and an American flag tattooed on his biceps. Out through his window, the morning sun was fighting to get over the horizon. And the gulf ocean was just plain flat … not a wave in sight.
DUSTY: Helluva day to fish.
ME: Could’ve just stayed back in the shallows.
DUSTY: Said you wanted to make some big bucks. Right?
He smiled, but not at me. The truck stalled for a second, as the back tires spun up two rooster-tails of sand. Dusty shifted into low and popped the clutch. We heaved forward. In the open truck-bed, the huge Igloo ice chest slid around. Behind me, the 20-guage shotgun jostled in the window rack.
Dusty had appeared with her one day. I got home from windsurfing and he was on the porch-swing next to Momma … couple of beers and some country music playing. Whatever. Our black lab didn’t seem to mind, so why should I? Whatever. I’ll say this, he made her smile more than the others. Plus, he had a sailboat.
ME: How far we going?
DUSTY: Right here.
And that was it. He killed the engine and stared my way. Then he laid into the truck horn. I jumped. He laughed. Whatever.
DUSTY: Pop open the glove box.
Dusty reached over to grab the roll of duct tape and the flask. His hand seemed too big for his arm and his pinky was gone, odd.
ME: How’d you lose it?
DUSTY: Great White.
DUSTY: Nah. Sail rigging, during a squall.
He swung open the rusty truck door. The smell of seaweed and saltwater was thick.
DUSTY: First things first, kid.
As he stood on the sand, I saw him tilt back the flask for a few seconds. The sunrise seemed to be sitting right on his shoulder, but it didn’t burn him. I jumped out and my bare toes hit the sand. It was deep. Nobody came down the beach this far, no reason to.
DUSTY: The black-tips are calving. They’ll be close.
I guess that was the reason. Dusty pulled off his Endless Summer t-shirt. That was when I saw the big handle of a big blade sheathed in his cut-off jeans pocket. It’s not a knife an ordinary man would carry. But he wasn’t an ordinary man. I wasn’t an ordinary boy.
ME: I’ll get the tail-gate.
It clanked open as he jumped into the truck bed. With his one-leg shove, the Igloo chest slid to the edge. I tugged it onto the sand. When I looked up, Dusty had let loose his hair. Strange, but in that moment, I saw what a renegade prophet must have looked like. A dude from the desert dunes who maybe knew a little more truth than anybody else.
ME: Now what?
DUSTY: Get some water.
Dusty tossed a 5-gallon bucket down to the shoreline. A blue heron was high-stepping away from the lapping surf as I grabbed the handle and went knee-deep. It felt good, the ocean. It was my peace. It healed everything. A school of mullet darted around my legs. Out here, the water got deep pretty quick. The first sandbar was a rock’s throw away. Beyond that, well, it was perfect for sharks or whatever.
DUSTY: You ever heard of Manitou?
When I turned, the six-foot ice-chest was open and a lawn chair was anchored. There was a huge inner-tube beside it that had a loop of chain wrapped around it. Dusty held up two raw chickens above his head. Weird. Gone was the prophet.
DUSTY: It’s a belief. Spiritual.
I lugged the heavy water bucket up to the open ice chest.
DUSTY: Pour it in.
DUSTY: We’re making us an aquarium.
Another question was not going to do me any good. So I just obliged.
DUSTY: The Karankawas had beliefs about nature. Know who they were?
ME: The island Indians, here when Cabeza de Vaca landed. The Spaniard that shipwrecked.
DUSTY: Not bad …
This was my home, I knew some things. I read a lot. His eyes stuck to mine. Then he passed over the flask. The tequila didn’t mix well with my mindset.
DUSTY: Everything shares the same spirit, you know. Man and the animals. The wind and the sea. The heavens and the earth. Karankawas called it … Manitou.
Then the wind blew his hair as if on command. Strange. My buzz cut stayed stiff. Dusty tossed a dead chicken for me to catch.
DUSTY: All things are one and the same.
ME: So me and this chicken are the same.
DUSTY: And the black-tip sharks.
ME: Which will make us money.
A hand-sized fishing hook appeared from the tackle box. He jammed it through the bird carcass and attached an arm-length, steel line to the eye of the hook. That’s when it hit me. In my life, I was used to crazy, but I figured today was going to be a new sort.
DUSTY: Grab the tube.
Around at the front truck fender, the winch motor churned into action. Dusty unspooled its cable, pulling it down to the surf. I walked towards him, rolling the big tube, with the chain, beside me.
DUSTY: The bitches are out there. You just gotta get out to ‘em.
ME: With that bait?
He nodded as he snapped the winch-hook onto the link of chain on the tube. The wire-lead with the chicken-hook was attached to another link in the chain.
DUSTY: Can’t nothing break this. Set the hook and the winch does the work.
Dusty held the bait against the tube and double-looped a strip of duct tape to hold it in place.
DUSTY: Get some more water.
He sat in the lawn chair and dropped that big knife onto the sand. I pulled another two buckets of water up to the chest. It was a long moment. As three gulls nose-dived over our heads, I fixated on the scar on Dusty’s shoulder. Round. A bullet hole.
DUSTY: If you can just chill, just be at one with it all, then it all works out.
DUSTY: That’s right.
I stared into the ice chest, at the floating ice and a zip-loc bag filled with red mush. Then over at this guy who was way smarter than he looked.
DUSTY: You good?
ME: So far.
DUSTY: I’ve always been a helluva swimmer. How about you?
Then he nodded, not at me but at the vast horizon. The smooth sea that offered him some kind of memory and the reflection of the sun, with not a wave in sight.
DUSTY: Good thing. ‘Cause it’s time to go shark fishing.
To be continued …