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the laughing fisherman

Our third night in Kauai, we go to the southwest shore of the island to watch the sunset. We find a cove where families sit on blankets and dogs chase driftwood and a sense of calm prevails. We watch the day saturate with pink and orange and the tide recede. The moored boats lilt and bob. My new husband smiles and closes his eyes to feel the last of the sun on his face.

We walk around the cove and discover a slab of black volcanic rock teeming with crabs, mussels and plankton. Where the ocean meets the rock, the island, the earth, there is a family fishing. The father and the older son crouch to harvest bait but the other boy, the boy that is Graham’s age, maybe not even ten years old, has a fishing pole and is casting.

The sun drops to just about horizon level. It is a tangerine; it is a bowl firing in a kiln. It is God’s blushing cheek and the burning heart of this day. I feel like the orange ball teases us honeymooners, catch me if you can. This moment of your life will never come again Then, I hear the boy.

Ticklish laughter bubbles out of him, now in yelps, now in waves and now he is hysterical with glee. His fishing pole that is twice as tall as him bends into a lowercase “n”, the line hooked to something unknown, surprising, mysterious and strong.

The big brother lumbers over to minimize the boy’s fuss, but the boy’s laughter crescendos and out of the gentle sea rips a fish – a serious, sizable fish – flailing and flying above the boys’ heads.

I imagine an accidental “holy shit” of amazement slips out of the big brother’s mouth. As the brother works to secure the fish and remove the hook, the embers of the boy’s delight ignite another giggle in him. He is lit by the radiant tangerine behind him, dropping and dropping, a half-mast flag for the newly dead fish.

I’m electrified by all of this. The boy, his catch, his father’s concentrated foraging, the salt in my ears, my husband next to me, the laughter, the death of the sun, the death of the fish, the life of the boy, the marriage's life to come, the life and death of this day.

With luck, the sun keeps rising and setting. And nothing is certain except that the boy will grow and that experience will encumber him with dread about how to live and where to go and who to be.

It’s an odd feeling: dread. The augmented worry; the weight and irreversibility of decision or action or the dreaded fates; the word that is one letter removed from dead.

Listening to the little boy catch his fish, off the southwest shore of Poi’Pu beach in my first week married to a new life, I see the death of one life exhilarate another. I see the sun languish to leave the sky. I see the sacred wheel, dreading to exit a moment when the whole picture emerges with such quickening turns of little boy laughter.

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