Monday, March 19, 2012

The Estuary

The Estuary


Corey Rowley

     It was a dead baby.  Decomposed, chewed up and badly bloated, but not beyond recognition.  It was a baby, no doubt about it.

     Vincent turned and vomited in the sand, dousing his tackle box and one of his flip flops in the process. His chartreuse Lefty’s Deceiver was firmly hooked in the left eye socket, the lifeless swollen body surged and retreated with the incoming tide, looking more like twisted piece of time and tide blackened driftwood than a human body.

     Vincent came to this estuary once a year with a friend. Mexico was therapy for his constantly work warped mind and body, his only real escape from the pressures of family and life in general.  When he was fly fishing, that’s when the rest of the world retreated. The bigger picture would form and he could see God, the “It”, the ultimate and unknowable truth, whatever you wanted to call it. When he was here, he could see his existence in the context of the beginning of time. It wasn’t some fruity tooty spiritual bullshit to him, it didn’t need to be. He didn’t need convincing or someone to tell him what it was that he experienced, he knew full well what it was and he drank from that life spring for five solid days once a year and it invigorated.

     This year, Vincent was on his own, his usual fishing partner Kevin had broken his collar bone pulling a box down from a high shelf in his own garage. It didn’t bother Vincent to be alone except for the fact that it was always safer to travel in Mexico in pairs or groups.  Not that he had any problems in the past, but traveling by one’s self always presented a certain amount of risk that didn’t seem to exist when traveling with a companion. That low level anxiety that courses through your veins when you are in a  foreign land is magnified when you’re alone, sometimes your actions and decisions are affected and you end up doing things that you would never do when you have your back up with you.

     He sat his fly rod down and stared at the dead baby. He was trembling. As the relentless tide pushed and pulled, Vincent panicked and more than a bit unnerved was having a hard time getting control of his thoughts.  As he stood and stared, a small crab scuttled in and started to claw at the toes of the infant.  Instinctively he lurched forward and splashed in the water, startling the crab back into the estuary flow. He started to become dizzy and kneeled in the sand, a fresh wave of vomit finding its way up and out. He tried to steady himself, his body light, an almost audible buzz in his ears and his head. He didn’t know what to do. The usually firm and manageable voices in his head, a cacophony of white noise and internal alarms.  He had to pull that damned hook out. That was the first thing. It glistened in the baby’s eye fluttering with the tide making it appear that the baby was alive and the eyeball moving and following his every move.  It flashed as it flopped to and fro in the water, giving the scene a surreal quality. Although he knew better, he kept waiting for the eye to open and fix on him, waited for a wet and gurgling wail from the baby’s mouth, waited for it to become a scene straight out of a horror movie.

     He had arrived at the estuary at four that afternoon, timing his arrival with the start of the incoming tide.  The best fishing was usually from about two hours before high tide to two hours after high tide. The bait fish, crabs and other sea critters would arrive on the sea swell and as always, the bigger fish were never far behind. When he had finished rigging up and had first stepped into the water he took a moment to survey his surroundings.  He came to the estuary because there was rarely another living soul within several miles and the peace and serenity offered by the sound of the ocean and the expansive views were enough to make anyone fall into a relaxed and restful state almost immediately. That day didn’t disappoint. He had made only three casts before he had hooked a two pound Pompano, a lively fight and a beautiful fish, its silver dollar sides flashing wildly beneath the water.  In a little over two hours, the tide was at its peak, the sun was starting to lower on the horizon and he had caught and released nearly two dozen fish and a four pound skate, a rarity when fly fishing these waters. He took a break and sat in the sand and had couple of beers and a half of a ham sandwich, enjoying the cries of the Turns and the occasional break of a fish or the dorsal of a dolphin in the distance.  Not wanting to wait much longer, he got back up to fish before the sun completely started to set. On the third cast he thought he had snagged his line, another rarity at the estuary because of the smooth sandy bottom.  As he tried to work the snag free, he could see his line floating with the current of the outgoing tide and realized that he had hooked something….something big.  He began to haul in his line as gently as he could, what was on the other end was heavy but not really fighting as a fish would.  When he was finally able to see the end of his line, he could see the black form and figured he had hooked a large piece of plastic. But as he pulled the dark mass closer he started to see the outline. What looked like two tiny arms and one small leg protruded from his catch. He had caught a doll, a kids toy, probably something that had fallen in the water on a family boat trip or had gotten left too close to the water as high tide approached.  But when he finally beached it, he reached to turn it over and his thumb and forefinger sunk two inches into the fleshy hide of the dead infant. He recoiled in horror and pulled his arm back just as the tide rolled the body over allowing him to see what he had actually caught.

    He stood back up and tried to gather himself for the task of removing the hook.  His legs were far from stable, but he managed.  He grabbed the fly rod and dragged the body back up on to the sand, out of the water.  He reached into his gear bag and pulled a small silver and leather flask, Crown Royal. The shaking of his hands made pulling the stopper from the flask difficult, trying several times before finding purchase. He took a large pull, the normal whiskey cringe that shot through his body when he took a shot conspicuously absent this time. The hot dry liquid instead filled his throat and stomach and flushed an almost soothing warmth throughout his body.  He took a second pull and replaced the cork.

     The sun was now a blazing half crescent, one of hundreds of mesmerizing sunsets he had witnessed here over the years. He kneeled at the side of the body, barely noticing the broken clam shell that stabbed at the flesh of his knee.  He wiped his hands on his pants took in a deep breath and reached for the hook.  To his surprise, the hook was loosely attached making him wonder how he was able to drag the weight of the body through the surf without losing it in the first place.  A voice inside his head, a calmer, more rational voice spoke to him.

     Would have been better if the hook would have fallen out sporto.

     He agreed with the voice on the surface, but he was a firm believer that all things happened for a reason and though the easier way out, the deed was done and going back in time is a fool’s thought.

     We should be having a beer and chile relleno in town by now sporto, push it back in.

     The voice was a familiar one, it always took on the quality and tone of his childhood friend Kirk McAllister.  Kirk was a bad seed.  He wasn’t made that way, he was just born that way. It’s not like Kirk could have ever been any other way, for him it was genetic just like it was for his mother and his Mothers father. A good portion of the trouble Vincent had ever gotten into was at the urging of Kirk McAlister’s voice.  It had a low quality, almost a shadowy whisper and Vincent intuitively knew that when that voice was speaking to him, it was better not to listen.

     Ain’t  nobody saw you Vince, just push it back, let the ocean take care of it just like it would have before your superior fishing skills fucked you.

     A chill ran up Vincent’s spine.  He immediately jumped up and looked around, the daylight had faded into almost dark and he hadn’t even noticed.  Had anyone seen him? The white noise returned, Kirks voice gone, replaced by a brigade of wailing high pitched voices. What was he going to do now. He began to pace the beach, as he saw it he had three choices.  Take Kirks advice and return the baby to the water.  Chances were that no one had seen him and no one would ever know. But in his belly he knew that was wrong and what if someone had seen him?  He looked around again.  The Estuary was remote, only one house sat on the beach one hundred yards from where he stood.  But in all the years he had been fishing the estuary, he had never seen anyone at the house. If someone did see him, then he would be an accessory or some shit like that, it’s not like they needed a lot of reason to lock up Americans in Mexico.

     Another choice was to drive back to town and get the police.  But it was an hour and a half away and at the rate the baby was decaying and with the numerous kinds of wild life that lived at the estuary, there was a chance it wouldn’t be there when he got back and then what. They would think he was as crazy as a shithouse rat.  He could bury it until he got back….no, that was just creepy and he was sure that if there was an investigation, as the person that turned attention to the situation, he would be the first suspect , once again, he was a foreigner and the story of catching a dead baby while fishing was sounding ludicrous even to him.

     His third choice was to take the baby to the police and tell them that he found it on the beach and hope to God that they believed him.

     He sat down in the sand, pulled his flask and drank again. He stared in the direction of the body, a black lump on the sand as darkness was becoming complete.  He rocked back and forth, anxiety filling him and causing his stomach to cramp. He drank until the whiskey was gone.  The anxiety was still there but dulled significantly and he started to wonder how the baby had died.  He laid on his back in the sand and wondered if it was a boy or a girl and if as a baby, it had slept through the night or kept its parents up as babies often do. He wondered if its parents had loved it.

     Vincent drifted into sleep on the sand and dreamed of fishing the estuary.  As he casted, small children would jump out of the water at his fly and he would scream at them to leave it alone, that it was for the fish.  They would laugh and try to take the fly anyway and Vincent would cry.

       Vincent awoke to an already blazing sun and the brush of a hand across his face. Startled, he sat bolt upright to see a young Mexican woman wearing a long black skirt and a brightly colored sleeveless top.  Wrapped tightly in her arms was the body of the baby. The horror came flooding back and he began to breathe in gasps and tried to get up, looking around to see if anyone else was there.

     “Don’t worry senor, Its just me,” she said softly in a heavy Spanish accent.

     She stood up and started to walk away.

     “What about the baby,” Vincent asked trying to stand and follow.

     “ This is not your burden senor and thank you.” She kept walking.

     “What Happened to your baby, he said almost shouting as she put distance between them walking slowly down the beach near the water.”

     “She was  a good Girl,” the woman said. “Her name was Gabby.”

     “That’s beautiful,” he screamed after her and collapsed back to the sand and wept.  The ocean air felt especially cleansing that morning and Mother Ocean rolled on as if nothing had ever happened.  But it did, it surely did.





  1. Phewww.... What a thing to happen. To think you hook a fish and instead hook a baby, especially to hook its eye. Sheesh!
    I can see why he would be in such a quandary of not knowing what to do for the best too.
    Very good, riveting, read.

  2. You know how this should have ended, don't you...

    (Yeah, yeah.. you've heard it all before)

    Thanks for sharing this piece on RT. I shall return to read the other reactions. Cheers

  3. okay just saying i keep compulsively clicking over here but this is gonna have to wait till later for me to read it. JUST SAYING.

  4. Man, this went straight to my gut. This is so surreal. Your character is in a nightmare with his eyes wide open. Great piece!

  5. Wow...okay I have to read this again...but oh man...

  6. Yoiks! Riveting tale, well told. It changed my mood completely. Very powerful writing. Now I have to recover:)

  7. What a sensational first opening line...and you kept it up the suspense on what he will do with the dead baby. Great capture of fishing, his drinking, and the loneliness of the place..until finally the ending with the woman taking the dead baby girl.

    Very well written, providing a glimpse of his soul, and that last scene...yes, he will forever be changed. Well done ~ Cheers ~

  8. Wow, what a powerful piece. The imagery, the building tension, just wonderful! I think Vincent has most definitely reached a turning point, so well done!

  9. Whoa!
    Well told, filled with details, emotion and internal conversation.

  10. There's some Hemingway here, bits of Serling here and there, and some William Kennedy. That's keeping some pretty fair company, and this merits it.

  11. I laughed. Yep, I laughed at "everything happens for a reason." Not this!

  12. Wow. I also thought of Hemingway, which is probably natural with a fishing story. You certainly told this well. Although the whole idea is grim, you've handled it with sensitivity. Vincent comes across as a very real person in an improbable dilemma. Excellent characterization.

  13. You had me at dead baby....and then you kept the pacing and the moralistic drama on the edge, which peaked my interest. I was so happy to see you post a short story. Your narrative is tight here, and I love the back and forth that the main character has with the voices in his head. Well done and viva la. This short is Nice cage approved!

  14. it's a terrible thing to say i love this story. it's a (particularly ghastly) story of a dead baby. one ought not love such things.
    but there are these moments here - moments when my insides completely drop. i'm talking drop. not to the floor, but down down into the dark, unsearchable center of the earth. they're gone. ...that moment when his hands sink into the body... i've told you this before... but that particular moment in this story has become part of my personal inner experience. it's a visceral, gooshy, vomit-inducing brand of memento mori.
    and his inner voice, the solid relationship you create between vince and himself, that rings completely true.
    i maintain that you look fantiastic in prose, C.

  15. unreal...yet so real - all the details just amde that story authentic

  16. that bogus "everything happens for a reason" right in the middle there is just perfect. and also i just kept thinking, and i do not fish but from my observation of fly fishermen, don't they throw 'em back? i just kept thinking THROW IT BACK. which gives me a bit of a sick feeling. which could probably be remedied by another cup of coffee but still.

  17. The ocean is unforgiving... this chilled me to the bone. I guess I wanted a bit more, so I could understand. But maybe that is the point.

  18. Very well told story. Chilling, yes. Have you read the Raymond Carver story--I think it's called "So much water, so far from home" - something like that? It's quite different but deals with this idea of body in water and what to do about it. Wonderful story (like yours.) There more about what happens after the fishermen come home.


  19. I am not usually able to handle large bodies of text, but your opening paragraph was so gripping that I read every word. You "hooked" me and held me throughout the entire piece.

    I love the ending, the references to the burden of the baby's mother and also Mother Ocean, both heavy, strong, powerful forces that press on despite whatever grief or horror might enter her body.

    Of course, I'm left wondering what happened. But I like that you left the ending unknown, in the hands of the imagination.

  20. great opening. and very chilling.