“Good fishing today?” a tall man in a Boston College sweatshirt who was loaded down with gear called out to Cormick. Cormick looked up at him, squinting against the sun. The man was probably about 30, burly, and badly sunburned.
Cormick had been planted on the shore with his rod since five that morning. He stared out grimly at the gray churning surf before replying, “Not a thing.”
The stranger nodded. “Overfished around these parts I’m sure.” He moved a few yards down and set up a pink folding chair. Cormick eyed it with distaste. Cormick watched as the man opened his cooler and pulled out a baggy with something gray and solid looking in it. He set his rod in the sand; a nice piece, Cormick thought; broke off a bit of the gray thing as bait, and then cast off. He pulled a book out of his backpack and settled in to wait.
Cormick looked at his own rod. It was probably time to reel in again and refresh the bait. Or call it quits for the day, it was about eleven but the morning hadn’t warmed up at all. It they’re not biting they’re not biting, his dad used to say. It was hard to go home these days though. The house felt empty without Lydia, his wife of 46 years. Cormick stood to grab his rod and noticed that the line on the other man’s reel was bobbing.
“Fish on,” Cormick called out.
The stranger lowered his book and looked at his line. He stood up and grabbed the rod in one fluid motion, and then in practiced motions reeled in a beautiful silver striper. The fish flopped along through the shallow water until the stranger deftly scooped him up and finished him off. He pulled a piece of brown paper out of his bag, wrapped the fish up and tossed him in the cooler.
Cormick watched all this in shock. He prided himself on being a pretty fantastic fisherman, and he hadn’t hooked anything all day.
“Pretty good luck there,” he said, trying not to sound surly.
The stranger looked up. “You’re probably right. Good eating, these stripers.”
Cormick nodded begrudgingly. “My wife used to do the best fish fry in the state. Won awards and everything.”
The stranger began to set up again, breaking off another hunk of the gray stuff for bait. “How’d she do it?” he asked.
Cormick shrugged. “She used to spice the crust. Paprika, little chili powder, sometimes even cinnamon. She just had the touch, you know? And her cornbread… let me tell you, if I could have her cornbread one more time, I could die a happy man.”
The stranger cast off again and then looked at him, “I’m sorry to hear that, man.”
“Hear what,” Cormick said. He’d finally managed to reel in his own hook, and sure enough his piece of bait had been nibbled clean off.
“You said if you could have her cornbread again, I’m sorry you can’t,” the man said, settling back into his chair.
“She went a year ago,” Cormick said. He’d warmed to the stranger by now. He considered offering him some of the suntan lotion Lydia had always insisted he use. “In her sleep, all of a sudden.”
The stranger nodded, staring out at the ocean.
Cormick continued. “I thought that was the worst day of my life, truth be told. But it wasn’t. It was three days after her funeral. I went fishing, to clear my head I guess, and when I brought home my catch she wasn’t there to take it. And I think that’s when it really hit me that she was gone.” He stopped talking and sat there quietly for a minute. “You married?” He asked finally.
The man nodded. “Three years,” he said. His line started to bob again, and he stood up, grabbing his rod.
“What are you using for bait, son?” Cormick asked, curiosity getting the better of him.
The man started to laugh. “Honestly? She’d kill me if she knew. It’s my wife’s pot roast.”
Cormick began to laugh as well. The stranger continued. “It’s the worst damn thing in the world but the fish go for it like bees to honey.” He reeled in another striper, this one bigger than the last. He unhooked it and wrapped it up just like the other. “She does a pretty good fish fry though, probably nowhere near your wife’s, and she does a great fish chowder. But her pot roast man, I don’t know what it is, but it’s like she salts a boot and then makes it even more bootlike. I try to keep us stocked up on fish so she’ll cook that instead.”
“Well, I’m glad to see you’ll be eating well tonight at least.” Cormick said, gesturing at the fish. The man nodded mournfully, and added, “I had to slip out to McDonald’s last night, just to fill up. She thinks I took the leftovers today for lunch. Anyway, I should be getting back, I’m probably sunburned enough as it is.” He began to pack up his gear. Cormick, to his surprise, felt a little disappointed that the man was leaving so soon.
“Have a good day then son,” Cormick said, as the man walked past him. The man paused, then pulled out the little baggy of leftover pot roast and dropped it in Cormick’s lap. “Take it, I hope you have some luck with it too.” He smiled and began walking again.
“Thank you,” Cormick said. He began to pull in his reel to bait the hook when the man turned around again.
“My name’s John,” he said. “We live in the smallish blue house with the purple windows on Ocean Drive? The one across from Clancy’s. Have dinner with us tonight. 7:00. I hope we’ll see you.” He turned and strode off headed back to the parking lot.
Cormick cast off his line and settled back in his chair. I just might, he thought. I just might.