Before dawn, in the small village of Lorcado off the Mosquito Coast, Tobias broke from the lantern-lit funeral procession for his father and ran to the harbor. Feet pounding on the ancient wooden pier, family voices crying out behind him, “No, Tobias, no,” he jumped into his small skiff and rowed out to sea.
Miles from the village, he lay down the oars to his boat and looked outward. The boat gently rocked in the lapping water as he turned his body westward so that the rising sun was behind him to cast light upon the dawning world. He watched, he waited in the solitude and ambient sounds of the sea.
Here there was the lulling call of gulls and the arching hiss of flying sea swallows that broke the stillness of the ocean’s morning air; but nothing more.
From an early age, his father had taught him to read the signs of the gulf sea to find its valleys of peace. Sights and sound twisting together, threading in and out of the most common of days to become tapestry to reveal its healing hideaways.
“And if you truly follow,” his father had said. “God will grace you to see the billfish, and it dance of dignity in the air. Watch and learn as I have learned.”
Now, as he rowed from the harbor, he cried out, “Show me.”
His muscles soon ached from his movements and he let the currents bear part of the burden of his work. Moving westward, he watched the moon drop behind the horizon and allowed the smell of land to disappear.
Floating his skiff atop deep wells, he soon spotted ghostly schools of bonita and albacore in the purple fathoms below. He gave ear to winging terns whose tentative cries and delicate bodies belied an inner tenacity that escaped understanding.
Sights and sounds, threads weaving in and out as a needle upon the hem of a canvas sail carried him forward to a fortress for his thoughts and very soul that could only be found in the vastness of the sea.
Tobias was not naďve to the cruelties of the sea and those who made their livelihood from her bosom. He had been on marlin catches with his father to watch helplessly the beast’s mighty struggle to live.
At night, troubling dreams would wake him. Dreams of the harpoon finding its way into the marlin’s heart and dark blood spreading like a cloud through the surface of the blue water.
A red cloud, blackening what had once been the fish’s home – liquid red ashes falling, to shunt out light itself. Haunting dreams of the death of a defiant spirit defeated by cunning and violence.
“I could never kill such a great fish,” he had told his father.
And his father, placing a hand upon his shoulder, said nothing.
And now alone in the skiff, his father dead, Tobias stood and shouted once again into the vacant air, “Show me!”
Suddenly, a spear-like snout shot out from the depths of the ocean. Pointed and black, it glistened as ebony in the dawn’s light; and its upward thrust was as if borne as a trident wielded by an angered Poseidon.
Pectorals wide spread, a marlin exploded out of the waters, its dorsal fins pale lavender and its body polished silver with striped violet-blue bars. Its eyes were black and washed with the coppery reflection of the rising sun.
Rising above the sea, sixteen feet form bill to tail, weighing at least a thousand pounds; it bucked in the salty air; water flowing from its fins as a royal robe of crystal sequins.
It hung in the air, linking sky and ocean together in its soliloquized dance; and as suddenly as it had appeared; it plunged back into the dark depths of the sea.
Tobias stood there breathless, watching and praying that it breach the water once more. But it did not surface again.
A hundred yards off starboard, porpoise jumped from the water as if to play tag with some darting terns. But for the cry of looming gulls and the hiss of the wind in the valley of the waves, it was quiet.
The absence of the marlin on the horizon was startling. Its dance but a memory validating an inner truth and in a moment Tobias knew what his father had learned and why he had said nothing when his son had told him that he could never kill the great billfish.
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