by Stephanie Renée dos Santos
Saffron daisies tucked behind each ear, a bottle of cachaça dangling from his hand, the drunk asked the painter, the fisherman: “Why are you painting your boat like that?” A turquoise backdrop framed the painter, the fisherman, his callused feet buried in the sand as he wiped salt from his eyelashes. From his castanho hand, a brush jutted, the paint on its end drying in the noontide sun. Paint cans, with rivulets of color running down their sides, and rust at their rims, sat around the skiff. Onlookers: old salts, critics, fans, and strays loitered around him and his wooden hull.
The painter, the fisherman, hunched down and painted a sepia areola, placing it on the black mermaid; he floated in his own world, as he cast nets of color.
“Leave him to his work,” an admirer scolded the drunk, as the painter, the fisherman, leaned over the turned shell of the boat, the sea to his back, calm and steady like his brushstrokes.
Cigarette smoke drifted through the crowd, as a pair of weathered lips sucked and released nicotine tendrils. Last season’s mural, of the coral pocked reef and clouds, slowly disappeared, a shipwreck amongst the burying sands of new paint.
“Ah, come on, why?” the drunk prodded, swinging his bottle side-to-side, pouting.
Looking up from his breast, the painter, the fisherman, stared cold at the drunk—eyes that knew the shifting sea, eyes used to squinting from the sun’s white glare, eyes that followed the night’s stars.
The crowd ebbed into silence.
“To seduce. To delight the fish,” he declared, and turned back to his work.
“God Damn!” the drunk hollered: “God Damn! To seduce the fish?” The drunk stumbled in close. “Does it work?”
“Do vultures have balls? Come back, see for yourself in the morning,” the painter, the fisherman grumbled, his head down, hiding his smirk.
The sun laid into the hills, as the painter, the fisherman, brushed out the last iridescent emerald and aqua highlights of the siren’s scales; they glinted and shimmered like a Samba dancer’s sequined dress. One rum-colored body, with red locks, bumped the hip of the nighttime mermaid, their sea-grass hair mingling, swaying.
Abandoned on the sand, two wilted saffron flowers, the drunk face-down under a palm tree; the painter, the fisherman, readied his nets and craft.
Sardines nipped at the twilight waters, rain bubbling from below.
The painter, the fisherman, pushed the skiff down greased timber-ways into the water. The oarlocks squeaked as he stroked, while riding the riptide. At the outlet of the bay, his women dancing below, he broke from the coastline, and rowed awhile.
Then stopped and drifted. Inspecting.
Standing up, he tossed a rock anchor and watched the cord scroll into the sea. Next he cast a flagged buoy; it bobbed and swayed. Then he trolled the net out the stern, a bride’s train as she walked her way to captivity.
Night drifted in.
In the expansive blue-black, stars appeared—pin-pricks in a tarp.
He headed for shore.
Owls hooted in the pre-dawn, a gull accompanying the painter, the fisherman, as he paddled the skiff through sop sea air. Nose up, he sniffed a briny smell; the scent of fish hovered like fog.
He located his buoy flagpoles, careening and dipping, and then glided the boat along them. Positioning his feet, he hefted in the buoy; hand-over-hand coiling in the nets, a spiral heap at his feet, while his callused toes gripped the floorboards.
Pulling and twining, pulling and twining.
Where is the siren’s catch?
He continued hauling in the drift nets: one, two, three pescada, and one sardine.
Beads of saltwater swelled on his upper lip.
And he said a prayer of thanks to the four fish for giving their lives.
His seagull friend skirled and took flight.
Up he threw the sardine.
The bird caught it.
A wind began to blow from one of the six directions.
He looked to his last buoy, his last net panel.
In came the siren’s catch!
Loaded, he headed for shore. A group of men waited. In unison, they entered the water, manning the skiff’s sides, pushing it up onto land, their legs rubbing the painted mermaids.
The drunk stumbled and shoved through the crowd, cachaça bottle in hand.
“God Damn!” the drunk cried, vapors of cane liquor spewing.
The painter, the fisherman, looked up from his bounty, smiled and said: “To seduce. To delight.”
This debuted in the “Front Porch” (click to buy) issue of literary journal American Athenaeum, April 2013, pages 101-103.
To go to my “Published Writing” blog page.