The Fisherman
Norman Szabo

Morris and Ida lived some ways out of town, in a tiny boat on the Cooper River. With her sparkling eyes and perpetually cheerful smile, Ida was a doll, and Morris counted himself a lucky man: Ida had been his sweetheart since he was ten. They were both now getting on in years, but it was a good life. Morris was a fisherman.

One wet spring day, Morris hauled the boat out of the water, over the embankment and into a partly flooded field of young corn. Just as he was changing his shirt, a lady with a dog came walking along the levee. The dog bounded forward. Morris pulled his shirt over his head and cowered. He could feel the dog's cold nose on his back.

The lady hurried over, flustered, full of apologies. "I'm Helen," she introduced herself. "This land belongs -- belonged -- to my husband. You must be Morris?" Morris acknowledged that he was. "And this must be your boat? My husband said that you're a fisherman." The dog sniffed around the boat, tail wagging. "What kind of fish do you catch?"

Morris kept his eyes on the dog, which was as black as the lady's dress. "Flounder."

"Oh! I didn't know there were any flounder in this part of the river."

"One or two, if you know where to look," said crafty Morris, who knew the river to be teeming with them. He would catch them by hand in the shallows, one after another, an endless series; of books he knew nothing, but he was a dab hand at floundering.

"I hadn't realized," said Helen, quietly.

It started raining. Morris and Helen squeezed into the tiny boat and sat together listening to the raindrops pattering on the aluminum roof.

When the rain stopped, Helen invited Morris to come home with her, to her husband's wake. One of the mourners was upset when he saw Morris: "Helen, he's crazy; he shouldn't be here; he doesn't understand a thing. You know he catches minnows out of the river and brings them round to your kitchen? Your cook gives him scraps of food in exchange."

Morris ate his fill and filled his pockets with sandwiches. He shook hands with everyone and politely said goodbye.

Helen told the plantation hands to let Morris and his boat and his doll continue undisturbed in the north-west corner of the 30-acre field. With the cook's help, she made sure that he always had enough blankets and food.

And sometimes she would fill a thermos with tea and visit Morris in his tiny boat. And he would make her welcome.

First published: May 2001