Fishing for Control

Margaret Ahnert

"We're gonna hook up with a marlin today," Captain Dennis says as we pull away from the dock of the Big Game Club in Bimini. I think of Hemingway who avoided fishing tournaments because he hated to lose. Like Hemingway, I, too, cannot stand losing.

I was 12 when my father died. Mother lost her family and ancestral home to the Turkish government in 1915. My destiny and those of my loved ones has always been out of my control. Husbands, a domineering mother, employers. To all, I've always been the subservient "good girl".

Sitting in this fighting chair I am in complete control. If I win or lose it is my doing; not my mothers, my husband's, or my ancestral legacy of persecution. I must prevail. This thought brings me a serene sense of well being. I nestle back and concentrate on the task at hand.

The sun is hot. I slather on more sunscreen. We change the bait often.

"Let's use the green-machine," Captain Dennis says, I agree.

The "green machine" twirls and turns in the water. Catching the sun's rays, the artificial lure's bright iridescent green turns into a multicolored laser-like stream of color slashing through the sea. In the cloudless sky overhead, following our bait, are flying fish. These birds are looking for small fish to feed on and so is my marlin. The sun sears my skin and I feel sweat trickle down my back, vertebrae by vertebrae. I look at my watch we've been trolling for an hour.

"Marlin!" shouts Dennis; the heavy rod snaps out of the starboard outrigger. The fish hits the line and is screaming out. I grab the pole and slam it into the gimbal of the fighting chair and take a deep breath. I arch my back. Now it begins.

The throbbing life energy of the marlin travels through the stainless steel hook, line, reel, and graphite rod into my arms and back. My muscles scream.

The marlin streaks off taking with him yards of line. Then, the marlin is out of the water tail walking. The enormous body of the fish appears to be suspended in space as it dances on its tail across the water. I'm frightened. Every shake of the huge marlin's hulk jolts my body. The vessels in my arms are engorged. This is the battle I've been praying for. "Help me, it's too big; I can't do it."

"No," shouts Dennis, "if anyone touches the pole it won't be your fish."

Is this marlin too big for me? Will I lose control?

The sea erupts as the marlin rises to the surface again, frothy foam swirls about his thrusting head. He swerves from side to side to escape the piercing jab of the hook. Again he charges the surface. Clouds cover the sun and a cool breeze rushes past my face.

Two hours later I see my fish close to the boat. He is magnificent. His skin is dark purple flecked with deep red stripes. Water flows from his gills. Dennis unleashes the flying gaf and lassos the fish to the block and tackle. We slowly pull in the thick rope. Dennis with a congratulatory tone of voice says, "Wow, you did a great job, Margaret. I bet this fish is over 300 pounds. I can taste the champagne."

And then Dennis stopped, looked in the water and said, "Oh no, they're here."

"Who, who's here?" I mumble my eyes clouded with sweat.

"Shark fin to starboard," says Dennis. I wipe my eyes on the shoulder of my shirt; it smells of perfume and fish oil. Unwashed and ripe I thought it would bring me good luck.

Watching the shark close in on my fish I panic.

"I'm going for a gun. I'm in control here."

"Shut up and keep pulling," a voice says.

I scratch and claw on the stubbly rope. My hands are cut and bleeding. I feel no pain. I spew obscenities at the shark as the dark hulk slides into the cockpit. The latch on the transom snaps shut. I've won. I think of Hemingway.

I gently run my hand along the marlin's deep purple dorsal fin, and slide my fingers over his bill. It's sticky and prickly. I reach under his mouth. His skin is not cold or slimy it feels like fine cured leather. A muscle spasm flinches one eye open. I look away.

My battle for control is over.

Margaret Ahnert lives and writes in Florida. She completed an MFA in Creative Nonfiction at Goucher College and has recently published A Knock at the Door: A Journey Through the Darkness of the Armenian Genocide, a book about her mother, who survived the Turkish government's genocide of the Armenians in 1915.

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