The bright yellow oilskins make him look more rectangular than he really is. He climbs into them with his jeans and wellies on. The legs are enormously wide; the friction makes a zipping sound with every step. It’s a uniform width up, past the waist, to where it ends at the chest and meets the clips for the braces which go over his broad shoulders. With knees that don’t seem to bend, he shuffles along the shoreline, zip zip zip, to the mooring, unties and throws me the rope. Afloat, the boat is not heavy but the seaweed clogs the pulley and I need to lean backwards for leverage and heave, struggling for grip to pull, as the cold sandy rope rasps along my palms. The boat’s prow eventually turns and begins to slink towards me. I don’t notice that I do all of the pulling of the ropes.
The smooth ribbons of water run from the hull, bending the light in elegant patterns. Irresistibly, I lean over and trawl my hand through it, cooling the sand grated skin.
The boat is clean but soon blood and scales cover the deck. It would be dangerous for if it wasn’t that it’s coated in gritted non-slip paint. Phthalo blue, I would call it. It just came in that colour; fishermen don’t hum and haw and say I’ll take it in phthalo blue.
A flutter reveals a bite, a throbbing pulse indicates the size of the catch, and the fish ascend in a silvery flash as the reel clicks. Conditions are cramped and landing the fish means being careful I don’t hook him. On the deck mackerel flop and gasp in a tangle of line. Hold them under the gills, if you’re not forceful enough they’ll flop around, tangle the line, he says.
He has a loud voice, but on the boat he is quiet, reticent, and so am I. I’ve never spent so many silent hours in company. The brief words spoken drift along the surface, with no acoustic echo, no timbre, they disappear quickly. Seagulls worry us for fish guts, their screeches pealing off across the vast sea. A seal silently eyes us from 25 metres, then from 20, then 15, and keeps that radius. He doesn’t like the seal; the seal steals the fish. He stands up and whips his hand from his waist, pointing to the horizon. But seals don’t follow hand gestures. He shouts at it, Gaaat outta heeur, and the sound is explosive.
I try to twist off the lid of the flask but it’s slippery, with the blood on my hands. I don’t feel guilty, it’s the fish blood. He unclips his braces and pulls down his oilskin, then his jeans. Takes himself out. Pees over the side. It makes a thunderous waterfall noise and goes on for ages.
When the creels are full, I lift the anchor. The engine sputters, gives out. We have to row home. It takes a long time and the light falls slowly. Ashore, it’s me that pulls the ropes, and pulls, and pulls until the stern drifts almost out of sight.
She is white-faced at the window, and it is full dark. Too late, she knows. By the time time we clean the fish, strip off, and come indoors, she has managed to hide her relief, and pours out mugs of thick tea. It is borderline stewed and sets my mouth in a line. Nowadays sometimes I make it like that on purpose, even though I still don’t like it.
And that was the last time I can remember going fishing with him. Yesterday, he phoned and said that he was selling the boat. Later, after I put the phone down, I realised, too late, what he would not admit: he could no longer pull the ropes on his own.