Chill was just drifting out to sea when Gaff arrived at the beach. May. School was still in session and the sun wasn’t quite hot enough to draw the hordes that crowded the sand during the summer. This was the weekend and there would be those visitors who wanted to get a jump on the fun, usually pushed by the kids. A smile. He missed those days with his children.
He unloaded chair, cooler, fishing rods. He pounded the flag into the sand beside his chair, awaking the thwap, thwap rhythm of its flapping. Sounds of people drifted his way. Up and down the beach he saw groups coming over walkways.
Cut bait. Family from the blue house was erecting a shade tent, laughing as they worked. Bait hooks. Little girl to his left squealed at the cold water and then splashed in giggling. Cast lines. Harsh yelling from somewhere behind. Greet Mother Water. Disturbance got closer. He sighed. Gaff shook his head because the harsh commands and screamed threats sounded familiar. What about his peace? The old fisherman turned to see the Clamorous Clan. He shrugged, watching.
Same ritual. Thrust and parry. Mother controlled; sons manipulated. Too bad. He hadn’t seen them in months, but they were still stuck, stuck in the unhealthy patterns. He turned to tend his lines, hoping for the big one. Maybe this time.
Her voice arrived before she did. “Hello, fisherman. You still here?”
He turned to see the mother of the Clamorous Clan marching down the beach in his direction. Gaff watched her as he waited, hands on hips. He shook his head at the frown dimming her light.
She shouted. “What are you so angry about? How could you be so pissed off this early in the morning?” She looked around his spot. “Looks like you just got here. Somebody made you mad already?”
He could see her misinterpretations, quick to anger. “Just got here.”
She looked at the giggling children in the surf just past him. “Those kids bothering you? You get so angry about kids playing in the waves, you ought to m
ove down the beach.”
He watched, more misinterpretations. There was movement behind her.
George Cauley was coming their way along the water line. He was limping pretty bad this morning and the scowl on his face told Gaff how much he hurt.
The CC mother was fussing about people in the house next door to their rental. Clothes always on the line and that blocked her view. On and on about how much laundry the woman did and it was always in the yard between her and the water. No consideration for other people. Why didn’t she use the dryer instead of line-drying clothes? They came for the water and that included the view from the house.
Gaff stuck his hand out toward her. “Name’s Gaff. I like to know people’s names.”
She stopped mid-sentence. “Oh, I’m Ivy.” Her hand was limp. The touch was quick. He wondered what she was afraid of catching from the sign of friendship.
Just about then George got up next to them. “Mornin.’ Catch much?” His voice was gruff, gruffer than usual.
Gaff shook his head. “Nope. Early yet.”
George looked at Ivy and nodded a greeting. “I’ve seen you round.”
She glared at him. “We’re renting the Bell place. Got here yesterday.”
George frowned. “You’re the ones yelling all the time. I live next door and since you moved in there’s been no peace.”
Ivy’s feathers were so ruffled that she puffed up twice her normal size.
Gaff introduced them, hoping for a distraction. “Ivy this is George. George, Ivy.”
George was looking a little like a pufferfish himself. The color creeping into his face would make any beet proud. Gaff wondered if he would blow a gasket right here on the beach. Maybe a waterspout!!
Ivy went on with her previous thoughts. “You should keep your damned laundry in your house.”
This was overlaid by George’s shot. “Stay home to fight. People come here to rest and have a good time. Can’t even take a nap with you there. Go back home to yell and scream. Bet you can’t keep neighbors by tying them to the post.”
Gaff looked from one to the other and didn’t see any end of it without inserting himself into the fray. Hmmm. Behind George, Ivy’s husband buried his nose further in a book. The family behind him was watching, even the children stopped splashing to gawk. All up and down the beach, people were alarmed by the building fury. Ivy and George were oblivious to their audience.
Suddenly, a shrill female voice cut the antagonists apart. “George, you didn’t take your pain medicine. How come you left the house without it? I brought the car to take you back.”
George looked from Gaff to Ivy and pivoted suddenly to lumber off. His coloring didn’t much change, but the cause did. He was embarrassed by the abrupt interruption of hostilities, especially by something that implied weakness on his part.
Ivy’s feathers were smoothing slowly. “Bastard. What the hell…”
Gaff said quickly, “George’s got cancer. Treatment’s expensive so they couldn’t afford to replace their dryer when it broke.”
Ivy still blasted toxic fumes from her nostrils, like a dragon. “He’s a pushy bastard, if you ask me. Attacking me and me a renter, bringing money into this community.”
Gaff shook his head as he watched his friend stomp toward the walkway. “Wasn’t like that before he got sick, lashes out more. Gotta be tough to know you’re dying. Both physical pain and emotional.”
Ivy snorted, very unladylike. “He’s a damned bully if you ask me.”
Gaff turned to look her in the face, his own anger causing the blood to thump in his ears. “What pain causes you to lash out?” Oops, where is that censor?
Ivy froze, stopped breathing, too. “Me? I didn’t lash out. He started it. I was defending myself.”
Gaff looked up at the tip of his rod, settling his feelings. “And him? Does he have a right to peace?”
Harpoons were set to fly from Ivy’s eyes. Stay out of the way, Gaff, old boy. She was ready to go full out on him.
Another deep breath to calm. “How’d you feel when he told you to stop yelling?”
The question didn’t diffuse her emotion. “When he told me… Why I got mad. What right does he have to order me around?”
“You ever hear what they say in that house next door?”
Her eyes squinched together, thinking. Shook her head. “No, can’t say I have.”
He cocked his head as he looked at her. “And yet George said he hears you…” He watched her shrug and could see that she didn’t care. He looked to Mother Water for help and his eyes settled on footprints on the sand. He pointed to them. “What if I told you to walk down the beach following those footprints?”
Ivy barked, “Go to hell. I can walk where I want. This beach doesn’t belong to you.”
Gaff nodded and looked to the water for more words. “You want to follow your own path. What if I told you to walk that way to avoid being stung by jellyfish left by the waves?”
She nodded. The expression on her face spoke of confusion. “I’d go around.”
He checked the tip of his rod to see if he had a fish and saw it jiggle tentatively… maybe. “What if I asked you to walk around a sand castle my children were building?”
She kicked at the gull that got too close. A nod of agreement. A shrug.
Quickly, he asked, “What if I told you to keep the clothes off the line in your yard?”
She answered so quickly that she couldn’t possibly have thought about it. “You’re a damned selfish bully and I’d tell you to go to hell.”
Gaff nodded. “And yet that’s what you said to him.”
To her credit she did pause a beat. “But the clothes block my view from the kitchen.”
Gaff leaned down to pick up a shell. He shook his head, sad. “You got what you wanted… a fight.” His voice was low. “I don’t think you wanted to solve the problem. You just love to fight.” He moved onto the wet sand and threw the shell out into the waves.
She followed him into the wet. “I want him to take the clothes down.”
He turned to look her in the eyes. “Looks like you just want to order him to take the clothes down. You feel righteous because he fought back. If you really wanted the clothes down, you’d have negotiated, compromised. No, I’ll bet winning is what makes you feel good inside. That requires ordering people around. You bully people to feel strong, but you end up being more afraid.”
She turned on her heel and stormed down the beach. Would she think about it?
Gaff watched her storm cloud move away… talked to himself now. “George lashed out because he’s in physical pain and he’s afraid he’s going to die. What kind of pain, fear, makes you lash out? I just wonder? There is only love or fear.