I’d forgotten about mosquitos after eight months of wool socks and cold fingers. I swat one off my thigh and look at its remains on the palm of my hand, like an aerial shot of a Cessna wrecked in a field. I hope the smeared blood was my own. It’s after last light, and the ocean’s spectrum of blues and greens has desaturated to a sameness of dark matte navy. Shored up from the open ocean swells by a reef across its mouth, the bay stirs around and over itself, the edges rolling softly against cold hard sand. Coconut palms lean together in a dense grove above and around us, and their fronds tipping in the fading wind. I stand by myself in the sand, away from the dim solar light and smoldering citronella of the cabana. There’s a swell in the conversation, a rise timed with the crest of story we all know, the crash of laughter, the hiss of a cracked beer bottle and the clink of the top against cement floor. I can’t hear the story, but I can guess at it based on who’s telling it and its flow. I’ve like a one in five chance anyway. I hold up a clear glass bottle of beer and look at the rising moon through it, the perspiration on the neck distorts the crescent, rippling and twisting it. I’ll walk back that way soon, to open another and tell a story of my own. For now I’m concentrating on the one out here on the edge of the sand. Deeply familiar with the world and their place in it, the ocean and the palm grove gesture back and forth in effortless understanding, a couple old timers at the bar. I catch the last steps of a dance story about infiniteness and blended edges where the eternal and ephemeral overlap to form the basis of the living world. I can feel the significance of the movements and the weight they carry, but there is only the feeling without words. A calm, easing doom, like standing with your toes against the end of everything and realizing it’s not the ending but rather the uncertainty that you were scared of. The feeling is accessible, but the knowing is somewhere down beneath my own consciousness and I can’t quite get to it. Plus now I have to piss. We have our own anyway, stories woven with words, though they’re much less complex, just stick figures and glyphs scrawled across the cave walls of memory. But that’s not nothing, even on our worst days. I shuffle my feet in the sand back up the beach, making it squeal under my heels.
We talk about last time, again. It’s the natural merging of cerveza, tequila, and circumstance. All of us know the story, but like the First Thanksgiving, it’s told again. After so many retellings, I’m not sure which story is more inaccurate. Did they really have pumpkin pie, was Travis actually on the beach chair when he hooked the permit, I don’t know. He definitely hooked and landed a permit in one way or another, which was really only noteworthy within our small group because until he tailed it, the idea of permit was entirely theoretical. The encounters we’d had prior to that had been no more productive than if we’d set out to get Santa to autograph a hat I used to have that said “Merry Drunk, I’m Christmas” on it. I’d have to find the hat first. Then Santa. Maybe one cold December night he’d blow by us in his sleigh, somebody would say “Did you see that? I think that was fucking Santa.”
No luck. Then he’d caught one, which he claimed included a pretty standard cast, a fish that eagerly ate a fly, and then some length of time spent pulling against one another. After that, there it was, an odd silver-white pie plate of a fish firmly in hand, those long black fins and all. Definitely a permit. Personally, I found the whole thing annoying. How could something be so terrifically difficult and easy at the same time. I guessed that it must feel odd, to hold one. Were they as much like a mirage then? No, he said. They’re just a fish then. I was disappointed again by that, and so chose not to believe him, deciding I would find out for myself and tell a better story.
In defense of his own story, Travis went and quadrupled down with a snook, a tarpon, and a bonefish. On foot, unguided, within a hundred yard radius. Fucking Travis. Maybe I could improve on the permit part, I figured. I’m sure he was just too star-struck to process the moment, like waiting in line for Santa then climbing up on his knee and bursting into tears. *Note – that’s two different Santa references in one permit story. If you had ever thought about it you would have said it couldn’t be done. Or like, shouldn't.
So we were there again, in the place where all good things in saltwater fly fishing merge into one, and my self-doubt ran through it. I didn’t say so at the time because it felt ungrateful to worry out loud about anything while on vacation with a sniff of good anejo tequila in a clean glass and an ocean breeze - but it felt suspiciously like a trap. I was worried. Worried that we had too many of the right flies, were too familiar with what we needed to do, and much too comfortable and calmly prepared. Great things never seems to happen when you’re ready for it, in life and especially in fly fishing. Good things, maybe. And maybe if you made a habit of preparedness (I do not) you might be able to stack a bunch of good things up, glue ‘em together and make something great. But I’d guess odds are you’re going to end up with a sticky, flimsy piece of crap and a ruined coffee table. If good's one coconut in the sand, and great's two in a tree, I'm standing there all day, throwing that shit up into the tree. Because I didn't think to bring a ladder. Or more likely, Bear forgot his and then broke mine. Adversity didn't seem to be producing itself organically, so I considered sabotage. Maybe someone could forget a rod, a passport might get lost. Bag with the fly box containing the only half dozen flies the fish wanted to eat could accidentally get lost. The gears were too well oiled, cleanly timed, I was desperately searching for a wrench to chuck deep into the works. I wanted to watch it disappear end over end into the machine, hear it clank and bang about until it brought the whole thing to a hard stop. Then through persistence and good humor we would ultimately achieve success. Uphill was the only route I was familiar with.
Never needed the wrench.