The following is the first chapter of Sucked Dry: The Struggle is Reel by Charlie Levine.

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Miles and Miles

You ungrateful son of a bitch! I have been nothing but a dedicated, indentured servant, safely taking you through miles and miles of sun-drenched waterfront existence and you, you wanton show no thanks and no gratitude.

Every day you slip me under your sole, step into my comfort zone, use me and abuse me.

I can feel it when you pivot on your balls, pushing all of your weight into the soft beds that I’ve provided. I can feel you grinding sea salt and sand deep within me. I can feel those trickles of pee that bounce off your knee and dribble down on top of me.

Some days I hate you. Parker, can you hear me? I hate you!

My worst day started off as one of my best. We stood together on the bow of a Costa Rican skiff, fishing the rocks off the tip of the Osa Peninsula. You threw that fly like a savant, casting the flashy bucktail into the rocky surf.

You stood on me and I supported you through every back cast, every double haul and every perfect presentation of the fly that sliced through the heaving surf. I never let go of my grip on the pitching fiberglass deck, even when the bow sunk and crashed into the swells. I helped you. I held you in place, Parker! You didn’t fall, you kept casting and it paid off, dear brother. It paid off!

Finally, the erect dorsal comb of a roosterfish pierced the green water as the head of a fifty-pound marauder pushed up a wake behind the fly. I bet you didn’t even think of me as you stripped that line faster, faster.

Did you once remember me as you put all of your weight behind that strip set? I bet you would have if you had fallen. I would’ve taken the fall. You are a true sonofabitch!

What if I had given up and let you slide off that boat? But no, never! I stuck to that fiberglass casting deck like a hammered nail throughout the entire battle. I couldn’t let you down. I am here to keep you on your toes, so to speak.

You ran around the deck of that little boat, retrieving line, swinging the rod tip in all directions to keep tight to that gorgeous animal. It was an honor to serve you in that regard my dear sir. I too felt the triumph as you brought the game fish beside the boat. I felt your pulse race as the fish’s striped flanks flashed brightly through the clear, green water. I was part of that battle.

But that night, Parker… What you did to me… What I saw.

The sticky floors of those cantinas. The gurry of the fish slime you left on me. The bathroom with the grayish, ankle-deep mystery liquid that you tiptoed through. And now, now that we’re out in public and amid all of these pedestrians, I feel ugly and barbaric. I’m stained. Wrought with memories of remarkable fish fights and long, bar-strewn nights. At least you showered. I stink Parker! I stink like a dried pogie in the sun. I’m a warrior, a victor, yet I smell like a piece of dung stick to a cow’s tail. How could you treat me so unfairly?

——

 

The stewardess tapped me on the shoulder, interrupting the music I had blaring in my headphones.

“Sir, I’m going to have to ask you to remove your sandals,” she said.

“I’m sorry… What?”

She pointed to my feet, then moved her hand up to her nose and squeezed her nostrils.

“There have been complaints from the other passengers,” she said.

I looked around and noticed that everyone sitting near me had managed to shift themselves to the furthest corners of their seat. Each person was trying to flee but was trapped by the confines of their narrow, imitation leather chair.

I looked up at the stewardess. Sorry, flight attendant.

“They’re not that bad,” I said, removing my left flip-flop. The sandal made a squelching noise as I pulled it from my skin. It sounded like a bare, hot-and-sticky human thigh freeing itself from a vinyl, cooler-top cushion.

Once removed, I noticed the tan lines on the top of my foot. I had a bright white, upside-down V-shaped mark, and a little black gunk in the notch between my big toe and second toe.

The people around me watched in terror as I held the loose flop in my hand. I bet I could’ve hijacked the plane with nothing more than my sandal. People wanted to run, but they were trapped. Nowhere to go. Nowhere to hide.

One old lady reached up, trying desperately to crank the circular air vent above her to the most free-flowing position it offered. She longed to breathe in that good, good recirculated air.

I slowly moved the flip flop to my nose. The stewardess leaned back against the seat behind her trying to get away from it. I took a sniff, my nostrils just inches from the black, tar-like sole of the sandal. Fear and dread wooshed through the fuselage.

“They’re not that bad,” I said.

She made a face of pure disgust — her freckled nose crinkled like a piece of beef jerky, her lips pierced tightly, the edges turning white from the pressure. Her eyes got tight, no larger than a pair of dimes as she tried to burn a hole through my skull with her hateful stare and incinerate me, right there in 23C.

She stormed away and returned in a flash wearing rubber gloves and holding a Ziploc freezer bag.

“Surrender the shoes!” she demanded.

“Having me sit here barefoot is not going to help the situation,” I said. “Seriously, is this how you treat someone who’s incontinent and just shit their pants? You embarass them in front of the rest of the passengers. What kind of an airline is this? Maybe I have a foot disorder!”

I couldn’t get the last line out without cracking a smile.

She held the bag open.

“I will get you some footwear,” she said.

“Okay, fine,” I said. “And a drink, please. Captain Morgan and Coke.”

“Deal,” she said.

I acquiesced, handing over my old, trusty pair of stinky sandals. As I gave her the rank shoes, I thought of all the fish I had caught in them. The miles of beaches we’d walked. The rum bars we’d scampered through. Then, the gorgonzola smell wafted up and struck me hard. I cleared my throat.

It’s just as well, I thought.

She zipped the sandals tightly in the plastic bag and pinched it with two fingers as if the thin layer of clear plastic was the only protection from an infectious disease that might overtake her.

She came back with a pair of slippers from first class. White, terrycloth and pretty comfy.

I leaned over and made eye contact with the old bag breathing through her hands next to me.

“How do they look?” I asked.

My name is Parker McPhee. I love to fish. These are my stories.

———-

In the book, Sucked Dry: The Struggle is Reel, Parker embarks on fishing adventures across the globe. He battles toe-to-toe with an 800-pound swordfish in New Zealand. He smuggles living contraband into the Dominican Republic. He casts flies to triple-digit tarpon. As he tries to catch elusive fish and bed gorgeous women, he also comes to terms with who he is and where he comes from. It’s an entertaining ride that will leave you wanting more.

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