Saturday, March 15, 2008

A Belly Full of Mullet, A Heart Full of Sunset

After we got to the island this afternoon and hauled all the bins and the cooler inside, I put everything away. The food in the refrigerator and pantry, the clothes in the closet and drawers.
When the empty bins had been stacked on the back porch, I started a pot of mustard and collard greens that I’d brought from the garden at home.
While I was doing this, the man and the daughter were at work on the rickety stairs. They took scrap lumber and measured and cut and nailed until the most dangerous steps were replaced with sturdy, tidy boards.
I read some from a New Yorker magazine and then, as they sawed and nailed, I drowsed on the couch. It was an amazingly beautiful afternoon, the sky clear of any clouds, as blue as a cornflower, the water smooth and pewter behind the house.
Finally, the steps project finished, the man prepared to leave. I made him a sandwich and then we all piled into the Jeep and made our way back to the boat dock.
The man wanted desperately to net a few mullet before he left- a trip to the island without catching a fish of any kind? Impossible. Ridiculous. And so he threw the cast net a few times off the dock and got one mullet. One beautiful, silver mullet which he cleaned on a board with a knife he had on the boat. A group of spring-break college students showed up and started cast netting too. They immediately gathered four fine, fat fish and we traded them one of those for several pinfish that that man pulled out of the bay that they could use for bait as they were fishing for something larger and more familiar to them than simple mullet.
We sadly kissed Daddy/Husband good-bye, he cast off and took off for Lanark to go on home.
We brought the mullet home and I covered it in a shallow pan with evaporated milk and set it in the refrigerator. We went down to the bay where the light, as always right before sunset, was of that variety that glows and covers everything from the pine trees to the water to the sand with an almost celestial meaning.
We sat for perhaps forty-five minutes, watching the sky turn from demurest pastel baby blues and pinks to what can only be called psychedelic. It was that sort of gaudy golden, orange-red light, streaking the sky and the dramatic clouds and the water, too, so other-worldly that if you painted it quite faithfully, no one would buy because of the joyful garishness of it, and would be relegated to the walls of a motel with the name of Howard Hohnson or Holiday Grinn or Stay-A-While or something like that. It looked like something from an illustrated book of the Rapture and it was all ours. The osprey took off from his nest for one last fishing trip, his mate calling encouragement as he swooped and whistled his way across his part of the bay. Finally, when the tiniest sliver of a silver moon hung like a smile above us we came back into the house and I fried the mullet, heated the greens, made a pot of cheese grits and a small pan of cornbread.
That mullet- two hours out of the water, soaked in milk and fried in flour and corn meal and salt- was the tenderest, whitest, sweetest meat you will ever want to eat. We ate it with Crystal hot sauce and fresh lime squeezed over and scraped the backbone with our teeth to get every bit of Gulf water goodness.
My only regret at this moment is that the man wasn’t here to enjoy it with us. I have to say that in the great lottery of love, I got lucky. How many men can buy the beach house, fix the steps, catch and clean the fish and then have the great and gracious grace to do all of this and then go home without having a bite so that he can go to work tomorrow morning?
Not too many I’m thinking.
And I’m mighty glad he’s mine.

Sunday, March 9, 2008
Dog Island, Florida

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