“Barracuda”

“Goddamn cuda keep cutting our baits in two,” my father said, lighting a Salem with the lit butt of another. The cherry loosened and fell, crumbling into the glassy blue Gulf Stream. “We might as well be fishing with our dicks out.”

He never threw a fish back. Not a one.

The barracuda had been a nuisance all morning, organized like wolves, snagging menhaden from our wake as we trolled for kings. Every now and then, one would get foul hooked and we’d bring it into the boat.

“The young ones run in schools like this,” he said, lifting the barracuda across the transom. “The big boys know better. They hunt alone.”

The fish thrashed as if electricity were passing through it. He removed a fillet knife from a holster he wore on his belt and butchered its belly, carving it open until blood and oil, rotten as hot trash, spilt out. He tossed the silver corpse overboard and drained his Coors Light.

“I’m sending a message,” he said, mopping his bloody hands with a wet rag.

Sunlight burnt the sea’s curve, with nothing but blue in every direction. I followed the natural movement of the water’s surface—logs lapping against the boat, then barreling toward the distant shore. A stray gull cried overhead, circling the boat like a paper airplane.

One of our reels began to spool, the drag singing as the fish ran. The rod stiffened when my father grabbed it to fight the fish. His cigarette dangled from the corner of his mouth as the barracuda jumped, airborne and twisting.

“If you ever want to kill someone,” he grinned, tickling the knife with his free hand. “Take them fishing.”

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About Randy Shelley

Randy Shelley’s work has appeared in American Literary Review, Bellevue Literary Review, and Kestrel. He holds an MFA from Hollins University and lives in the mountains of Southwest Virginia, where he counsels at-risk youth. He is currently at work on a novel.