"You want me to take over, Morgan?" Andy asked her.
She told him no, she wanted to see this to the end.
Her hands were numb. Her back muscles in spasm. She struggled to breathe. The fish was down there cruising east, towing them toward the horizon. She held on because that's what you did in this family. She held on because to give up would change things. She would lose something she couldn't name. Some part of her identity. Who she was, who she wanted to be. It was what her father would do, and what Andy would do. So she hung on. She pumped and cranked on the downstroke. She fought that goddamn fish.
Then it was two hours. A little after ten in the morning. She'd refilled the reel more than halfway. Bringing the fish up, winning the battle. She lifted the rod, then lowered it and pumped the reel. Lifted it, lowered it and pumped. The world was now a narrow slit through which she saw only a few square feet of water where the line disappeared. Her tongue was swollen. Her hands were knotted with pain, arm muscles quivering, but she cranked the reel.
It was almost noon when she felt the slack. A belly in the line. No pressure when she reeled. She realized what was happening and was about to call out to the others when the marlin rocketed the last few yards to the surface.
In a great geyser it exploded, silver and blue, its entire electric length, shimmering like polished chrome and the bluest blue, a scream erupting on the boat, from her mother, from the entire Braswell clan, a chilling collective roar, as the marlin launched itself high into the air and hung in all its colossal radiance, a terrible angel against the clouds and sun and sky, like some divine appearance, the embodiment of all fish, of all life in the sea, a giant long-billed, scythe-tailed deity, a monster, dreadful and magnificent. Broken loose from gravity, hanging there for longer than was possible.
Finally it dropped, splashing on its side, sending a cone of water as high as the flybridge.
Morgan reeled and reeled, cranking as fast as her muscles allowed.
It was the largest fish she'd ever seen. Larger than the blue marlin on the wall of her father's study. His was eight hundred pounds, caught in the Virgin Islands when he was twenty-eight. The fish that had started his obsession. But this one was half again as large. A giant. Bigger than anything in the magazines, anything on the endless videos A.J.'s friends brought back from the Great Barrier Reef or Kona. This was the mothership.
Her father was silent. Everyone was silent. Johnny turned to look at his older brother, and whatever he saw on Andy's face made Johnny's mouth go slack. This was not just a big fish. This was the fish that lurked in their dreams.
"Jesus," Andy said quietly. "Jesus."
He came behind her and once again he massaged her shoulders while she cranked the last few yards of line and saw the wire leader emerge from the sea.
"It's given up," her dad said. "You beat it. It's given up, Morgan."
But she didn't think so. Until just before the leap, the marlin's power seemed undiminished. The fish was still green. Still strong and alive. Unfazed by the fight. But the leader was only a few feet away, the fish lying slack a few feet below the surface. So maybe she was wrong. Maybe it had caved in after just one spectacular jump.
Andy let go of her shoulders, turned, and flung open a drawer in the supply case and grabbed a stainless steel cylinder a little larger than a cigar. It was one of Andy's inventions. A float on one end, a stubby aerial on the other. It was designed to be hooked beneath the marlin's second dorsal fin with a small surgical steel anchor, and was programmed to come alive for one week each year. On the appointed date, the electronic sending unit would begin to transmit all the information its microprocessor had collected that year, a day-by-day report on GPS locations, depth, water temperature, speed, distance traveled. By activating it only during that one-week window, Morgan estimated the unit would last for eight to ten years. Sometime during the crucial week when the transmitter came live, they had to get lucky and the marlin had to break the surface, either to sun itself or to attack schools of baitfish. Just a few seconds was all. When the antennae broke through, data would stream up to a satellite and a few seconds later the blue ping would pulse on the Braswells' receiving unit. The ping would mark the fish's present location and would continue to ping until the fish was submerged again or the week was over and the unit shut off.
Copyright 2002 by James W. Hall. All rights reserved. Reprinted by permission of the publisher, St Martins Press.
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
- PW Starred Review
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