Remembering the really big one that got away

Published 7:18 pm Wednesday, September 24, 2008

One might expect a marker, or at least a bit of ribbon, to mark the spot where events took an ominous turn and calamity crept forth like a bandit in the darkness. To locals not there on the pier that evening in Bay St. Louis, Mississippi, my name on such a memorial would be meaningless. Perhaps though, such a commemorative display would serve as a sign to others who might dare to drink of the foolishness in my cup that night.

She was beautiful and our steps echoed as we walked hand-in-hand along the sun-bleached boards of the pier. A train carefully working its way across the bay on its trestle and, on the highway, a few scattered automobiles traveling too far away to be heard, all lent magic to an already mystical evening. My honey and I walked along the pier beneath a blanket of sky adorned with a million stars strewn haphazardly across the blackness. Of those treasures we saw little, for we watched each other. As it turned out though, I should have been watching my step.

Sturdy must have been the order of the day when the pier was constructed. Spanning hundreds of feet, the heavy wooden boards provided an aerial platform twenty or so feet above the water. Railing and lighting contributed to a sense of safety and well-being to those enjoying the charms offered by the pier. But appearances sometimes can be deceiving. Peril lingers unseen, ever ready to spring upon the unwary.

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One might call it a stumble, a misstep, or even a headlong dive, but however stated, the result was the same. My darling and I had ventured down a small set of steps to a tiny platform a bit nearer to the surface of the dark brine. While there, it seems that one of my feet, a reliable limb normally content to work perfectly well with its mate, decided to become entangled. I heard the huge splash even before thoughts registered the concept of my falling. My noggin entered the water first, followed quickly by the rest of me. Having neglected learning to swim, I went down into the wet blackness where the unexpected rush of bubbly racket inside my ears mingled with cold water assaulting my nose. Each sensation only heightened my terror. I thrashed about, searching in vain for the bottom, hoping to find something against which to push, some way to propel myself to what I hoped would be the surface. But, to my dismay, I found no bottom. In fact, in those first moments, I could not even be sure which way was up. Fortunately though, it seems that my always-full supply of hot air, that windy attribute I display often as I go about tooting my own little horn, propelled me right to the surface.

I soon learned there at the water’s surface that the rush of incoming tide tends to generate small waves that will slap one’s face with humiliating regularity if left there. The abrasive effect of that experience is amplified if one happens to be bobbing about in salty water while hugging a barnacle-encrusted pier support.

Meanwhile, after the spell of the evening and who knew what else was broken, my beloved, having watched the whole spectacle unfold, summoned help. Rescue eventually came in the form of two firemen carrying a long ladder with which to span the considerable distance between the water’s surface and the safety of the pier.

My unplanned visit with the bay’s fish was finally over and after stock was taken, the only casualties appeared to be my eyeglasses and my dignity—both of which were eventually restored, one more readily than the other.

After Sweetie and I left that night, the fish celebrated a return of peace to their little corner of the bay. From the slightest to the biggest, they all gathered, rejoicing beneath the waves at pier’s end, where some of them spoke of the really big one that got away. Later that night, somewhere near the bottom, one of the largest fish suddenly began to see things in a whole new way. He should swim with care though, my fishy friend, the one wearing my glasses upon his scaly nose. Yes, peril lingers unseen, ever ready to snare the clumsy one who forgets to watch his step.