It’s four thirty but the sun still stings – it must be forty and it’s so humid you could drown. We drag our feet on the burning pavement and try to shelter under the trees but they aren’t old enough to give shade; eventually we stop zigzagging and just walk in a straight line. The cicadas and the aircons blast their siesta muzak. A dog crosses the road and a car rushes past. The river is finally there, past the waterfront avenue.
Out of habit we take the footbridge that lands on the pier. The pavement is tiled in mock-Copacabana style and the design, with its slopes and missing tiles, intensifies the brain fry. We pause for a bit in the middle, spit at the empty road below and watch the old power station in the distance. When we get to the other side we jump the railings and climb down to the beach.
The river is low this summer but there’s not much of a beach anyway – just a couple of metres of sand, some rocks, and plenty of junk. Opposite there’s the yacht club’s marina. There are people moving about on the boats, doing their boat people thing, perhaps getting ready to head out to the delta to catch the dusk, to get some fresh air, open a bottle of sparkling wine, have a great time, get eaten alive by mosquitos. We didn’t come to see the boat people, if there’s anything we came to see, so we keep walking following the pier and we get to the part that opens to the river. We spot Dario fishing in the distance, where the pier ends like a stump.
He’s wearing his usual sleeveless vest, football shorts, flip flops and cap; he’s drinking Tetra Pak wine, holding a fishing line with his left band. Lucio whistles and Dario turns around – he seems happy to see us. When we reach him he rests the wine on the sand and we shake hands. Then Lucio and I sit in the shade under the pier. My right hand now stinks of fish.
I never understood fishing; I don’t even like fish. The kind of thing they catch round here tastes like mud and petrol and fat. I think Lucio doesn’t care about fishing either; I’ve never heard him mention fishing; I don’t think he owns a fishing rod. But we need to kill time somehow and the air feels better here – the air can be felt. Dario, on the other hand, can’t get enough fishing. Ever since he got fired from his job at the garage you can pretty much guarantee he’ll be here or at his girlfriend’s. Since they broke up a month or so ago he might even sleep here.
Almost as if he were reading my mind, ‘Look,’ he says. He lifts his t-shirt and shows us what looks like bites on his left flank. ‘What happened?’ asks Lucio.
‘I went to get my bike from Rosa’s and she released the dog on me,’ he says. ‘Shit,’ says Lucio.
‘And look,’ he says and lifts the right leg of his shorts – another bite.
‘Christ…What dog does she have?’ I ask.
‘A German shepherd. But it was Rosa who bit me here!’
‘Nah…’ Lucio says.
‘Yes, man, she fucking bit me!’ he says and Lucio and I start to laugh. At this exact moment, Dario’s left arm jolts forward. He pulls from the line and ‘fucking hell,’ he says, drops the wine on the sand, grabs a piece of wood from the floor, and rolls the line around it; like this he starts to pull again. ‘It’ll break it,’ he says, ‘the fucker will break the line.’
‘That must be huge!’ says Lucio, now actually interested in fishing; he gets up and walks to the shore.
Dario pulls, releases, pulls again, releases again, pulls again- the routine goes on for a minute or so. The line looks like it’ll break but it doesn’t and soon we can see the back of a turtle glimmering under the water. When the shape is about a metre and a half from the shore Dario passes the line to Lucio, tells him to pull from the wood and not the line or he’ll lose a finger, and heads to my right, to get a big slab of concrete that’s fallen off the pier. He struggles to lift it but then somehow manages to do it, runs back to the water and throws it where the turtle’s head would be. Suddenly the line becomes limp. Dario gets the line from Lucio’s hand and pulls the turtle to the shore – the water turns red around it but the river carries the blood away.
‘Son of a bitch,’ says Dario, ‘it almost fucked the line.’ The turtle wiggles its head in circles, like one of those dummies taxi drivers keep at the back of the cab. Lucio counts his fingers to make sure they’re all there. Dario gets a hammer from his fishing bag, bends on his knees, and smashes it on the turtle’s head several times, until it stops moving. All stillness except for a bubble of blood forming in the right nostril – in and out, until it bursts. ‘Piece of shit, almost cut the line,’ says Dario while he removes the hook from the turtle’s mouth, ‘I’ll use it as bait. Help me crack it open,’ he says to Lucio, ‘let’s crack this shit open.’
‘Do you really need to do that?’ I ask.
Dario thinks for a couple of seconds, holding my stare in silence. ‘You’re right. I don’t,’ he says, turns around, and pushes the turtle with his right foot back into the water. The turtle sinks slowly until it disappears. Lucio comes back to sit in the shade. We stay five or ten more minutes, without saying a word, watching Dario pierce the hook through chunks of meat with his back to us. Then he tosses the line in the river but before he catches anything else we’re gone – we’re gone forever from the pier.
Winner of The London Magazine Short Story Prize 2021.
Fernando Sdrigotti was born in Rosario (Argentina) in 1977. His fiction and critical writing has appeared widely online and in print, and has been translated into French, Italian, Turkish, Norwegian, Arabic, Bosnian and Spanish. He is the author of several books, including Shitstorm (Open Pen, 2018), Grey Tropic (Dostoyevsky Wannabe, 2019) and Jolts (Influx Press, 2020). His story ‘Pier’ won The London Magazine Short Story Prize 2021. He lives in London.
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