The fisherman is the boyfriend of one of my closest friends. Miguel has been trawling his lines for some time, waiting patiently for the fish to take his bait. It began as a tranquil journey, no lines put out, just a coffee or two at innocent public places. Places where it’s normal that an Argentine man gestures while talking, occasionally touching your hand or knee while putting an exclamation point on a thought. Smooth sailing – I proudly tell girlfriends about this male friend with whom I am able to enjoy deep conversations, exchanging ideas on friendship, love, laws of attraction.
My girlfriend, his girlfriend, Cassandra, is pleased that we meet. Two people she loves have developed an alliance. I lost my true love to cancer fifteen months ago and she knows I’m treading water. And, though theirs is an extreme long-distance romance, it is by no means trivial. One or the other travels to one or the other every few months. They whatsapp and facetime daily, sending technology supported affection, even kisses, across devices.
Cassandra would prefer to be here, close to Miguel, but needed to return to the U.S. They plan a permanent reunion after two years of hard work. It sounds good, it sounds possible.
Miguel invites me out regularly now. We do dinner every few weeks. Recurrent, innocent fun. It’s remarkable how intensely you can talk with someone with whom you are not intimate if you both know where the limits lie. Or no? One night I discerned he might be baiting the line. “Marina, do you prefer wine or champagne?” he asked.
“Champagne, of course,” I replied, “but never too much as I’m a lightweight.”
“Next time we’ll have champagne,” he announced with a harmless smile.
Two weeks later he called, suggesting some take-out sushi at his place in order to have a more relaxing evening. Sounds great, I thought, no need to dress up or pay the price of restaurants. I picked up some ice cream and headed over to Miguel’s apartment. We drank champagne with sushi. Do people do this? It felt so avant-garde. We chatted about nothing of import, we laughed; did I sense him flirting? No. Cassandra Skyped and we had a three-way exchange for a few minutes. Totally transparent. He grabbed my hand to make a point; got up to get more champagne and squeezed my chin on his way to the kitchen. He couldn’t have been flirting. We ended the evening as all others with the traditional cheek kiss and embrace. Did the embrace go on a split second longer than usual? Did his mouth feel faintly close to mine? No. The bait stayed just out of reach, requiring the fish to swim closer if she desired it.
The following week Miguel phoned. “We could go out tomorrow or we could unwind again at my place. But, no champagne this time!” he joked.
“Okay, pizza sounds good,” I chirped, drifting towards the boat. We talked about my writing, his music and travel. Now the casual gestures that converted into skimming touches felt natural, comfortable, yet threw electric jolts toward my stomach. I got water from the kitchen and sat down out of reach. The fish’s brain may be tiny but she senses danger. I called it a night and moved into the ritual goodbye. Did I turn my face towards his or did he move his lips towards mine? The hug was longer or stronger; I’m not sure which. The fish whirled away, grinning, believing she was never in any peril.
Miguel rested and didn’t trawl for three weeks. One afternoon he called. “Dinner out tomorrow night?”
“Yes, where shall we go?” she queried.
“Let’s decide tomorrow.”
He called the following day and casually threw out, “I’ve had a rough few days, how about staying in and ordering some empanadas tonight?”
“Good,” she thought. “I’m tired too so we’ll make it an early evening.”
“Do you ever drink Fernet and Coke? We’ll have some tonight,” Miguel declared.
A fish story is a fish story is a fish story. Once it bites the bait, the angler and his prey commence a jerky dance. The fisherman can’t pull too hard or he’ll lose his prize. He must wind the line in unhurriedly and, while fully in control, let the fish regain some distance so she doesn’t realize she’s about to be gasping and flopping about, losing the battle. We ate our empanadas, he asked me the meaning of love, whether I live more in the past, present or future, whether humans can be faithful forever. I let myself be spooled in.
The early night turned late. We permitted pregnant pauses to fill the room and smiled coyly at each other. We giggled at the off-limits subjects discussed, he touched me more freely. Bit by bit I sensed I had swum close enough to jump over the stern of the boat without Miguel breaking a sweat. I uttered a hasty “Goodnight, it’s late and time to go,” and spun toward the door, out of reach of his gaff.
The angling reached its crescendo at our goodbyes. He pulled me into him; I twisted away, and then twisted toward him. We rotated and swirled, halting, resuming, stopping. The fisherman grasped the fish by her gills, and turned to words.
“Oh, Marina, let’s enjoy this moment.
Don’t think, just stay tonight.”
Malleable expressions fused with caresses and the fish can end up as the fisherman’s dinner. Miguel held the line tightly; I kept half of my head and resisted his enticements. We tussled, I gave in to another firm kiss, he whispered his desires then I broke free of his lines and became just another one-that-got-away story, a tale that he will never tell.
Raised in the Midwest, Susan Bonetto has lived in California, Fiji, the Philippines and Argentina. Susan’s work, which is often influenced by her life abroad, has appeared in BioStories, Transitions Abroad, and Sunbeams – The 2018 Joan Ramseyer Memorial Poetry Contest Anthology, and two of her stories received honorable mentions in New Millennium Writings and another was short-listed in an Ink Tears competition.