An Embarrassment of Mangoes

An Embarrassment of Mangoes by Ann Vanderhoof Read Free Book Online Page A

Book: An Embarrassment of Mangoes by Ann Vanderhoof Read Free Book Online
Authors: Ann Vanderhoof
Tags: Fiction
a few seconds in midair, opened in a perfect circle, before they settle gracefully into the water.
    This isn’t idle admiration. The men in the boats are shrimping, and buried in the locker under the foot of our berth is a brand-new, still-in-the-package cast net, presented to Steve what seems a lifetime ago in Toronto, as a going-away gift from friends. He’s been dying to try it.
    Unfortunately, he’s not exactly sure
how
. The printed directions that come packaged with it are bewilderingly complex, and the helpful hints are not at all helpful when you’re living on a boat. (“An excellent way to practice, without getting wet, is to throw the net in your backyard . . . You can practice from ground level or you can use a pickup tailgate . . . An old tire makes an excellent target for improving your aim. Remember, practice makes perfect.”) One can only pick up so much by snooping through binoculars.
    Our planned stopping point today is Five Fathom Creek, near McClellanville, South Carolina, which turns out to have a lot less water than its name implies. As we inch in on a rising tide—
note to self: Check tide tables before setting departure time
—a commercial shrimping boat is coming out the creek, its nets dangling from outriggers like huge bat wings. Looking east, shoulder-high marsh grass extends to the horizon, unbroken by even a single tree; from water level, the creeks that cut through it are invisible. When another big shrimper glides by in the distance, it looks like a combine adrift on a sea of wheat. If I didn’t know better, I’d swear we were anchoring in the middle of the prairie.
    But Steve’s not interested in anchorage aesthetics. He’s spotted one of those flat-bottomed skiffs just ahead. Faster than you can say jambalaya, he’s got
Receta
’s hook down and has dug out his net to see if he can get a lesson. “Fishermen don’t always like it when you horn in on their territory,” I warn when he climbs into
Snack
, as we’d named our 91⁄2-foot inflatable dinghy.
    But Orland T. Cooper was a high school teacher, and he’s delighted to take a student under his very southern wing. His two Coke coolers are almost full of shrimp, and he was about to call it a day anyway. “When the tide’s up,” he explains, “the shrimp retreat into the marshes where their food is. You don’t get many then.”
    Orland has anchored his boat—an aging cabin cruiser—and rigged his well-worn skiff so it can be pulled back and forth by a rope strung between the poles he’s staked on the edge of the marsh. Late sixtyish, wiry, with the sun-baked look of someone who’s spent a lifetime outdoors, Orland tells Steve the stakes mark where he’s put hockey pucks of fish-meal bait. “You need a license to bait,” he says. “I got mine after I stopped teaching, when the integration came along.” Steve never does find out what, exactly, Orland taught, but almost certainly it wasn’t multiculturalism or race relations. Steve’s net was made in China, and Orland inspects it approvingly. “Nobody can outfish a Chinaman,” he says.
    A good net thrown well settles into the water wide open, Orland explains, thus enveloping as many shrimp as possible. When you tug the net closed, the inch-long lead weights that line the circumference are drawn together and keep the shrimp from escaping. What Steve couldn’t see through the binocs is that shrimpers use more than their hands to throw the net: They also use their teeth. (“This product contains lead, a chemical known to cause cancer,” the instructions with Steve’s net warn. “Do not place the product in your mouth.”)
    “Put the loop of the line over your left wrist”—so you don’t lose the net when you throw it—“and then drape the net over your left hand.” Orland demonstrates. “Then reach down and grab part of the bottom edge—not a lead weight—in your teeth, and grasp farther along the bottom with your right hand.” The actual toss is

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