The world had changed around him, yet in some ways Jeremy Craven had achieved the life he’d always wanted. If during the time of what might have been his comfortable early retirement he did not have everything he wanted it was in some measure because he’d never recognized how much having what he wanted depended on a changing world.
At high tide Jeremy could from his second-story deck strike a tennis ball with a baseball bat and drive it into the bay. This was satisfying because for many years the bay had been a glorious but remote sight from his deck. It was a poor satisfaction, though.
He thought occasionally about things he missed from the old days. One afternoon as he watched the glitter of sunlight on the bay from his deck he suddenly felt that the absence of fishing from his life had left a hole.
He’d done a lot of fishing growing up in a mid-sized California coastal town. Or city. Because he’d never grasped the town/city distinction, for a long time he found “mid-sized” to be a useful adjective. Maybe it made sense to say the community he’d lived in almost his whole life had once been a city but was now a town, or the remnant of a town. Except that, unlike “mid-sized,” “community” had seemed to Jeremy an expression of dubious utility. On the other hand, he now thought, if those feel-good ideas about “community” had influenced behavior as much as they had speech, perhaps the world would have changed in different ways.
Jeremy’s childhood fishing companion had not been the person you’d expect.
“The worst day fishing is better than the best day working?” his father would say, alluding to the old bumper sticker. “I love my job, but I don’t understand why you park yourselves on that fish-smelling pier in the fog. And how often do you catch anything?”
There were only so many fish in the sea, and Jeremy and his mother faced stiff competition.
“We’re going to bring home dinner,” his mother would insist. “Have the coleslaw ready.”
“And hamburger from the supermarket,” his father would reply.
The pier was freezing, but Jeremy and his mother were tantalized rather than frustrated by catching nothing while the Mexicans and Filipinos filled their buckets with fresh catches. Observing their success was part of the pleasure, as was learning a few words of Spanish or Tagalog. After a couple of hours his mother would say “Eggs-and-bacon time.” They would eat on the pier, from their window table looking at the bay and, some mornings, watching the fog lift. It was the best way in the world to begin a Saturday.
Later, the fishing scene changed: driving up to the Russian River, beer, weed, girls, spending the night, hangovers. Some of the people he fished with on the river were better at it than his mother. Nevertheless, the “peripherals,” so to speak, continued to be more central to the experience than the fishing itself.
Jeremy had outgrown the Russian River scene as he started to think about his future. Real estate would be crucial to his success, however well he did with the law degree that he intended to earn. As the city of his youth exhibited signs of downsizing into a town, he did the research. Real estate several blocks from the bay, an excruciating distance on summer days when tourists mobbed the streets, was going to get closer. He knew this was important and he wasn’t going to leave anything to chance. There was such a thing as a science of investing even if it wasn’t a hard science.
“But there’s other science you’re ignoring,” his father would say. “The world will be different when you’re our age and you don’t act like it.”
“I’m capitalizing on the inevitable, Dad. Going to slap a second-story deck on that place way inland I just bought, and keep buying places like that, and when I’m your age I won’t have to work.”
“Your father loves his work,” his mother said.
“Methinks the lady doth protest too much,” thought Jeremy, thinking also “the gentleman too,” but he said “You love your work whereas I love warm weather, so I’ve never been crazy about the wind and fog here.”
“You didn’t complain when I took you fishing,” his mother said.
“My point,” Jeremy said as he hugged her, “is that one of those places way inland that I buy will be just for me, and I can sit out on that second-story deck with my SPF-100 and my Giants cap.”
“Baseball in San Francisco,” his father snorted. “Soon be a thing of the past. Enjoy the Giants before they move to Minneapolis.”
“Minneapolis has a team.”
“It’ll be big enough for two by then, with everybody moving north and away from the coasts. Something we could stop if we weren’t so spineless.”
“Anyway,” Jeremy said to his mother, “I’ll sit on the deck and look at the bay, like we used to do from the pier.”
“By then long gone,” she said.
“Consigned to the ash heap of history,” Jeremy replied, hugging her again and softly tapping first her forehead and then his own, “but alive forever in here.”
“Like the crab and lobster species whose long nightmare will have ended,” his father said. “They’ll have gone, as Christians say, ‘to a better place.’”
His father was funny that way, Jeremy thought: pleased to eat anything that had been killed “humanely” and not boiled alive.
“You can always catch jellyfish,” his father added. “Ocean’s calcium carbonate dissolves, the jellyfish will do fine.”
As Jeremy did very well with the law degree he had earned, conversation with his parents became more rancorous.
“Business interests, you call them,” his father would say. “Or economic interests when you’re looking for broader support. I’m not saying that’s illegitimate. But business and economics will just go away if this trend isn’t reversed.”
“You’re a hired gun and a good one,” his mother would say. “But there are people who’ll pay you to argue for the other side.”
“The whole point is that it’s an argument and there are two sides,” Jeremy would say. “And we have scientists on our side too.”
“Stubborn goddamn bastard,” his father would say. “Ever going to admit you’re wrong?”
At that point his mother would intervene to stop the change in her husband’s color and the rise of his blood pressure.
“How are the Giants doing?” she would say. “Are they going to be in the World Series?”
She’d always been oblivious to sports. She would ask that question even in November or December.
From his second-story deck striking a tennis ball with a baseball bat and driving it into the bay was now a poor satisfaction not because the fish were gone but because the things that had come with catching—or not catching—fish were gone. Like the friends from his Russian River days. Like his former wives, with both of whom he’d remained on friendly terms. For all of them, “sunny California” had become a derisive expression. They now spoke rapturously of life in Minneapolis and Milwaukee and in smaller up-and-comers like Fargo and Missoula.
Friends, and his mother. She had, coincidentally, followed to Minneapolis the team whose ballgames Jeremy had attended in San Francisco with his late father.
“You can go to their games again if you move here,” she often pointed out. “And you could move anytime. February is lovely.”
His mother knew he didn’t like to hear that February was beautiful in Minneapolis.
“We don’t have to make it about what caused this,” she would say. “I don’t care if you want to keep saying it wasn’t human beings.”
She was his mother, so he listened when she extended an olive branch.
“I only care about you,” she would continue. “Do you want to be like those Greenland Vikings who died out because they wouldn’t eat fish?”
Jeremy thought that perhaps the time had finally come to give up on California and move to Minneapolis on the day that he noticed from his second-story deck a new breed of intruder that he had read about online. Implausible stories about treasures abandoned in formerly wealthy California coastal towns and cities as their residents had fled to Minneapolis and Milwaukee and Fargo and Missoula were circulating on the Internet. From his second-story deck it was clear to Jeremy that his own once-wealthy sad remnant of a town had that morning suddenly been visited by bandits with appetites for unearned wealth whetted by these implausible tales. For as far as Jeremy could see in any direction his own house was the only one whose appearance suggested the presence of treasure. He therefore knew that the intruders would soon pay him a visit.
Jeremy’s interest in firearms had never rivaled his interest in fishing. In fact he’d never had the slightest interest in firearms. But certain parties allied with the business and economic interests in whose service he’d harnessed his considerable legal talents had given their staunch support to defense of the Second Amendment to the Constitution of the United States. What with one thing leading to another, Jeremy had for many years been in possession of a fully loaded semiautomatic rifle that he’d never fired. When he noticed the intruders notice his house he thought Well there’s a first time for everything.
He met the intruders on his doorstep. Or, rather, he stood on his doorstep with his assault weapon pointed at them as they first advanced toward the house through his front yard but then, recognizing the danger, stopped dead in their tracks.
“Take another step and I’ll shoot,” he said.
The intruders exchanged glances among themselves. One of them, who hadn’t been in front, came forward. He stood next to the one who gave the appearance of being the leader. The one who’d come forward looked at the apparent leader and took a step forward.
“Well?” he said.
“One more step,” Jeremy said.
The one who now stood closest to Jeremy took another step forward. He looked back at the one who’d given the appearance of being the leader. He took another step.
“I’ll shoot,” Jeremy said.
“No,” said the man who now stood so close that Jeremy could tell it had been some time since he’d bathed. “You don’t have it in you.”
The last act of Jeremy Craven’s existence on his imperiled planet was to beg of his assailants a mercy he thought them unlikely to grant and which indeed they withheld.
Don Stoll has a short story forthcoming in COFFIN BELL and his fiction has appeared recently in THE GALWAY REVIEW (tinyurl.com/y6nxt9nv, tinyurl.com/y4vdsqhe), GREEN HILLS LITERARY LANTERN (tinyurl.com/y2lfxysm), HEART OF FLESH (tinyurl.com/th44enr), THE AIRGONAUT (tinyurl.com/y67mzfmv), PUNK NOIR (tinyurl.com/y5o2x5fz, tinyurl.com/uwyz7jb), BRISTOL NOIR (tinyurl.com/uzuzo6o), CLOSE TO THE BONE (tinyurl.com/y38ac6jv), HORLA (tinyurl.com/y3k6eewx), YELLOW MAMA (tinyurl.com/y5yzozel, tinyurl.com/rc658sx), FLASH FICTION MAGAZINE (tinyurl.com/vcmpa3f), SAGE CIGARETTES (tinyurl.com/yyotrtsb), ECLECTICA (tinyurl.com/y73wnmgq), EROTIC REVIEW (tinyurl.com/y8nkc73z, tinyurl.com/y36zcvut), CLITERATURE (tinyurl.com/y5m8arzn), and HORROR SLEAZE TRASH (tinyurl.com/qno5ucu). In 2008, Don and his wife founded their nonprofit (karimufoundation.org) to bring new schools, clean water, and clinics emphasizing women’s and children’s health to three contiguous Tanzanian villages.