Andy hooked the gold spoon to an eyelet of his Ugly Stik and leaned the fishing rod against a mangrove branch. Business before pleasure, he reminded himself.
On his twelfth birthday, ten years ago, he had come to this remote spot on the Texas coast. His dad and grandfather built a drift-wood fire with the wood he scavenged. Until Paw-Paw’s misadventure, they had spent the night wading ankle-to-knee-deep water seeking flounder buried in the sand.
Paw-Paw had come down from Oklahoma and was behind the learning curve on gigging.
“Slide your feet across the bottom Pop,” Dad said. “You don’t want to step on a sting ray. They have a poisonous barb.”
Things were going pretty good and we had several nice fish on the stringer. That is, until Paw-Paw stepped on something and all “H” broke loose. Feeling the powerful squirm of a fish underfoot he lurched backwards yelling, flinging his gig and underwater light. Stumbling over a grassy clump he slipped beneath the brine.
When he thrashed back to the surface Dad froze him in his spotlight’s beam. “Look at you, Pop!” he said, laughing. “Your waders are full of water. Let’s get to the fire and dry you out.”
Paw-Paw’s false teeth were clattering something fierce. He was spewing saltwater and new vocabulary words.
The following day Dad asked, “Pop, where’s your wedding ring?”
Paw-Paw stared wide-eyed at the white strip encircling his ring finger. He didn’t answer.
“You must have lost it when you joined the submarine fleet” Dad said laughing. “We will never find it but let’s go back and look.”
Our search for Mimi’s token of fidelity was as hopeless as a Laughing Gull’s diet.
Today, a half-day’s drive from here, Paw-Paw is in Corpus Christi Christus Spohn Hospital.
A low tide covers the salt water flat in six-to-ten inches of water. Out a ways past a shallow channel, the top of an oyster reef sparkles in the morning sun. The search area is a point on the shoreline south to a barnacle encrusted post standing the test of time. Maybe ten yards from the vegetation line to the channel’s edge.
Surely after fifty-two years of marriage, Paw-Paw will be thrilled to get his ring back. Powering up my roommate’s metal detector I adjust the headphones to block wind noise and make chirps distinctive, and begin swinging the wand back and forth.
The following day I tap softly on the door before entering his room. The antiseptic smell and the gadgets attached to him make me cringe. Some machine is making a whooshing sound.
His eyes peer warily and then flare in recognition. “Hey, squirt! Wha’cha doing here?” he wheezes.
“I’ve come to see my favorite flounder man,” I reply.
“Yeah, yeah. Rub it in. Can’t you leave an old man alone?” He started coughing and reached for a napkin. “I’m still spitting up salt water.”
“Look, Paw-Paw!” I was unable to contain my excitement. His gold ring glistened on my palm.
His eyes squinted and hardness passed over his face like a breaking wave, erasing his smile.
“Your wedding ring. I found it with a metal detector.”
“I didn’t lose it. I threw it away.”
“You what? I can’t…” He was scowling angrily. “I don’t under…”
“Andy, Mimi and I were having a really hard time. I’ve got red-headiness in me. Your dad invited me to go fishing to give me a break. I …”
“Grandmother had Alzheimer’s, didn’t she?”
Paw-Paw coughed, nodding, waiting to catch his breath. “I didn’t know it then. She was accusing me of hanky-panky with a high school cheerleader that never gave me the time of day. Her false accusation stung. I never cheated on Mimi in my life." He dabbed tears trickling down his sunken cheeks. “I wanted to hurt her, I guess. Mimi died three years ago, you know.
“You understand, don’t you?” he said struggling up on an elbow and looking at me with piercing intensity. “Your grandmother was the best thing that ever happened to me. It would remind me of acting like an ass every time I saw it or felt it.”
I quickly put the ring in my pocket. “So, what do I do with it Paw-Paw? Sell it?”
“Put it back where you found it.”
That night, witnessed by a Magnificent Frigate-bird sailing before a lover’s moon, I did.
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