How to Cast a Net
by Jessica Lee Richardson
All the people I’ve forgiven and I went on a trip to Alaska together. Looking over the prow of the boat and watching the freezing turquoise water, the weight of us wrote a poem into my fascia. It was heavy, but it featured tuna.
We rented a car so we could visit hardscrabble ranching towns and meet ice fishermen and buy handmade items, sweaters we pictured, but wound up with mugs. At least they were local mugs.
In one town, a publishing professional I’d forgiven had a wedding to attend. She dressed like it was a funeral, in black with sober lines. I asked if I could accompany her to the serious wedding. She looked my body up and down, took my hand and said clearly, “No.”
I remembered why I forgave her, and tried again. “I forgive you for thinking you’re cooler than me,” I chanted within, “and I ask that you forgive me.”
It didn’t work.
“I forgive you for being richer than me.” But there was no cooling release.
“I forgive you for believing in your Internet savvy.” Nothing.
My heart was a husk.
My ex-boyfriend saw me half-meditating in the street and took my hand. We browsed the shops and soon we kissed. He had a warm mouth, and zany ideas. But soon he disappeared into a bar. Probably a bar. I don’t know, I couldn’t find him.
My main unrequited love spotted me looking for my ex-boyfriend and took my hand. Instead of shopping, we hit the seaside. I told him about the publishing professionals. He pointed out coves. He took an interest in maritime refuse lodged between rocks. I took an interest in his confident stride and eye for meaning. The poem in my fascia came alive again with a handful of broken shells in my grip.
I confessed that the ex-boyfriend and I got back together. He dropped his head. It was clear as the shot of light crossing the choppy sea—he was in love with me too. His foggy downturned eyes confirmed it. But we had been through this for years. I knew if I dumped my ex-boyfriend he would lose interest. So instead I listed my ex’s redeeming features:
- warm mouth
- provides space
- bouncy walk
My main unrequited love muttered about irresponsibility, but I pretended to be too in love to hear. On the way back we explored alleyways. We traced our fingers on cobblestones, writing words to each other we couldn’t make out. When we emerged from the dark passages blinded by the white ache of sky we would strike up conversations with Alaskans. They would tell us what it means to love a home of extremities and ask if we would like to buy a crab. We would.
We passed the wedding hall and publishing professionals were pooling outside. My heart was not a husk anymore, so I tickled the crowd with my jaunty humor. Soon they were slipping me cards. The ex-boyfriend skittered by for a drunken kiss, then disappeared again. I forgave him because of the way my main unrequited love looked at me after. Like I was in the soberest of dresses, like I was rich and savvy, but also knowledgeable about social media strategy and extremities and how to properly nut-crack crab legs.
Even the social smokers noticed our chemistry, and what drew them to us now inspired them to retreat and take notice of intentional foliage. But I couldn’t kiss him or it would be over.
“I forgive you.”
“And my ex boyfriend.”
“And the publishing professionals,” I thought. “For how distant you all require me to be.”
I sighed and faced the water in my best impression of remove. The men all reached out to touch my hand.
On the boat I practiced more unimpressed seagazing until I got bored. Then I taught myself how to cast the nets. To tug the lead lines and toss them like a parachute. To wait. To haul the catches and sort what’s right to eat and throw the rest back to their free swim in the cold dusky blue, while I warm topside in the sun and try not to think about all that Mercury.
© Jessica Lee Richardson, 2019
Jessica Lee Richardson performed Off-Broadway and elsewhere for years before earning her MFA from the University of Alabama. Her collection, It Had Been Planned And There Were Guides, won the FC2 Ronald Sukenick Prize and was longlisted for the PEN/Robert W. Bingham Award. Stories have appeared in Adroit, BOAAT, Joyland, PANK, the Rupture, Slice and others. She now dodges reptiles in the lowcountry with her partner, Yasu, and her pupper, June. More at jessicaleerichardson.com.
How to Cast a Net was read by Hannah Seusy on August 20th, 2019 as part of the 2019 Short & Sweet Flash Fiction edition.