Hook line with finger. Flip bail. Loosen finger. Watch the sinker plop into the water and feel it reach the bottom. I am told that we are anchored over a lump of no more than eight feet deep [I had been hoping for fathoms]. Beyond our lump, it could be up to twenty.
In front of me is the open mouth of the Chesapeake. The one that eventually reaches the Atlantic. Now I understand why he always says “across the black water.” It is hard to believe that somewhere halfway between our worlds, in the middle of an ocean, his black water and my Mediterranean are one and the same.
To my north-by-northeast, there is the coal mill. North-by-northwest, the steel mill and shipyard that once employed 30,000 people, I am told. As all industrial complexes, it might as well be covered with gauze: rust, fade, wear and tear have wrapped it in pastel. A single navy ship is dry-docked and fettered for breaking, as lonely as a solitary lion in a zoo.
The speed metal that we are listening to seems to have stolen the heaviness from the Key Bridge, leaving it to loom lightly above us like a delicate tapestry. Airplanes growl above us in the same single precise corridor, their wings blinking in that solipsistic steadiness that serves as its own beacon in the midst of a chaotic universe.
Directly behind my back is a skyline that I am not looking at, but am aware of its every breath, moan and cry, every window, streetlight and lamp glowing against the background of sheer darkness. The harbor, the park, and the avenues he has told me of; people that have been his confidants and those who betrayed him; arenas where he earned his rank and his scars. The city that was his playground and his boot camp before he was mine.
When I pick up the sinker which I have just reeled in from the bottom of the Bay, it is warm. The breeze is chilly and giving me goosebumps, but I leave my sweater in the backpack and take the elements in. I do not cast, but simply let the line drop.
I catch the first fish of the night and he catches the trophy fish. That’s about right because we are winners like that. A photograph is taken of me holding my catch, and it looks decent-sized in my tiny hands. The offended perch is trying its best to prick up its dorsal fin and maim me, but the goofy smile on my face could care less. In the background of the picture, as I will find out later, he glows with pride of his fisherwoman lady, brighter than the apricot sun setting behind his shoulder. He counts my fish without my knowledge, and will later inform me that I caught seventeen. That makes me happy because I like prime numbers.
He asks me repeatedly if I am having a good time, lovingly concerned because I am wearing what appears to be a poker face. What he doesn’t know is that I am setting my coordinates and taking it all in. Our friend on the boat refers to the lump as one of her happy places, and I can see why, even if it means something different to me. I might as well have discovered the new bellybutton of the world, you see, for we are anchored at a spot below an infinite Kantian sky, where the ocean was so anxious to shake hands with the river that it bored its way as far into land as it would go. We are floating at the spot where air corridors and man-made bridges intersect with the migration paths of monarch butterflies and grey-winged herons.
I take it all in and understand that this place, where nature meets engineering, where swamps border heavy industry, where fishing with friends offsets the roaring city in the background – this place is everything he stands for. It is also everything that I stand for, for I am the daughter of an engineer and a hopeless romantic. That is what the poker face thinks of as she casts her cosmic vectors instead of her line. I wait for him to lift his eyes from the peeler he has been butchering into bait and look at me. I mouth ‘I love you’ and see him for who he is.