“What are you doing?”
Cliff glanced up as his wife entered the garage and crossed her arms against her chest. He returned his attention to the fishing gear piled at his feet.
“What am I doing?” he echoed.
“I hope you don’t think you’re going fishing.”
Cliff straightened. His back ached from bending. He sighed.
“Yes, I’m going fishing.”
“Cliff, come on. You’ve got a doctor’s appointment at two.”
“I’ll be back by then,” he said, picking up his tackle box and heading for the door. “I’m just taking the skiff.”
Cliff walked through the door and stopped. He turned back, his gaze sweeping the workbench covered in bits of metal, scraps of sandpaper and hunks of line. He’d spent most of the morning organizing the garage; hanging fifty years worth of tools on peg boards and sweeping. His father’s lathe sat in the corner, rusted and covered with spider webs. The garage still resembled his father’s messy shop. It had taken Cliff weeks following his father’s death to sort through the junk. His own project would take more time.
Cliff’s wife and her scowl lurked just inside the door. An errant clump of snowy hair hung limp against her forehead. She looked tired. His illness had taken its toll. Nausea, crankiness, pain, exhaustion; nothing she could do but cry, pay hospital bills, pray and wait.
Cliff met her stare.
“Love you,” he said in a low, gruff bark. He cleared his throat, turned on his heel and headed for the skiff.
Cliff walked down the ramp to the floating dock and stepped into the 17′ center console, fiberglass boat. He steadied himself, set down the tackle box and released the lines. Retrieving the key and its day-glow orange floater from the console compartment, he started the 4-stroke Johnson engine. He’d sold and fixed Johnson’s as a kid at a boatyard just down the road, now replaced by duplexes. The engine purred. It was a reliable piece of machinery.
Cliff tooled past his neighbors’ bay front homes and into the marshy areas where he did most of his fishing. He continued to the mouth of the inlet and entered the ocean. He’d been a lobster fisherman for over 30 years; the ocean felt like home. He took a deep breath and closed his eyes as the laughing gulls cackled on the beach behind him. He coughed.
Cliff cut the engine, the gentle lap of the low chop against the skiff the only sound. He gathered his rod and fished a minnow from the box with his meaty paw. The salt water stung his palms, cracked with psoriasis thanks to lifetime of hauling lobster pots.
Dropping a line and setting the rod, he scanned the horizon. No one else had gotten up so early to try their luck with the fish on such a brisk fall morning.
Cliff pulled his wallet from his pocket and moved the oncologist’s appointment card aside to flip through his photos. In yellowed school wallet-size, his kids grinned. Cliff snapped it shut and slipped it into the console compartment.
Cliff stood and dove into the ocean.
With slow, steady strokes, Cliff swam towards the horizon. He’d been a swimmer in high school. It felt different at 68, riddled with cancer, 50 pounds overweight, now a burden on the family he’d spent a lifetime protecting.
The boy with the greaser haircut never could have imagined such a life.
Cliff chuckled and swam until his body grew tired.