The Street Fisher

The street fisher came to the roads each morning in the early hours, when the dark streets rippled with stillness and the air tasted sweet as motor oil, and he cast his line.

He was clad in a yellow coat and a matching hat that flopped above his wiry brows, which pressed taut in concentration. A large, white beard hid most of the lower half of his face. He had caught the coat and hat years ago and wondered, at first, to whom they belonged. But he couldn’t find a home for them, and eventually realized they were intended for him. Nothing else had been intended for him since. But nothing else was supposed to be intended for him, so this did not upset him.

The rod unreeled, buzzing in his palm, and he watched the hook as it blinked in the light of the waxing moon and then fell, with a plink, into the freeway. He watched the line as it sank, disappearing below the asphalt, dark and thick as honey. And then he waited. It wasn’t long before he felt a familiar pull, and the thin tip of the rod bounced and then rebounded, jittering with excitement. He gave the rod a tug, smiling when it resisted, and then began reeling.

The line came in quick and light. Other fishermen would be disappointed by a small catch, but the street fisher wasn’t. He reeled, and the hook broke the surface of the pavement. An item fell from the hook. It was round and small, about the size of a quarter, and he had a sneaking suspicion that it would have glittered a great deal if the sun were high and not still hidden below the horizon. It bounced onto the road and then spun around on itself, clinking against the pavement before settling into stillness and silence. The street fisher lowered his rod and went to inspect his catch.

It was an engagement ring, slim and silver with a diamond settled in the center. He picked it up and turned it over. It glimmered, mirror-like despite the darkness, and the street fisher wondered, as he always did, how it ended up here.

When he caught an item, he assumed it came from one of two possibilities. The object may have been thrown away willingly; flung from the open window of a car racing down the freeway. These items wanted to be left behind. They wanted to be forgotten.

But maybe this ring had been wrapped around a woman’s finger. Maybe she had been sitting in the driver’s seat and rolled down the window to rest her arm on the ledge. Maybe she wanted to feel the rush of warm summer air in her face as she drove, turning the radio up loud enough to share her music with the other drivers. Maybe the ring slid off her hand as it rested outside the car, and she didn’t even realize it was missing until she arrived at her destination and noticed her naked finger. Maybe she cried.

Or maybe she threw it. Maybe she was running away, driving away, and ripped it from her hand and launched it as far as she possibly could.

The street fisher looked at the ring, turned it over in his palm, then placed it into his coat pocket. He glanced up to the sky. It was still quite dark, but the edges of morning were beginning to peak over the eastbound lane, and a songbird flew overhead, silhouetted. He had time to cast again, but only once more.

He flung the line into the street, and it caught almost immediately. He tugged at the rod, and it tugged back. He began to reel.

A small hand emerged, grasped around the line, and then an arm followed. The street fisher kept reeling. A head appeared, small and round, and a body followed, wrapped in a fuzzy lavender blanket.

The street fisher had caught a child.

He walked towards her. She was an infant, really, and her cheeks were stained with tears, her nose red, her eyes puffy. She blinked and looked up at him. Her lips warped into a gummy smile. He reached down and hoisted her onto his chest. She wrapped her small arms around his neck and lowered her forehead against his shoulder. The street fisher felt her small breaths puff against his shoulder as she relaxed against him, and when he looked down, her eyes were closed, lashes pressed against soft cheeks.

The street fisher noticed his shadow on the road and looked up to see the sun lifting itself fully above the eastbound lane. He was finished here.

The park was a good place to start looking, the street fisher decided. He found a footpath made of pressed-down dirt weaving into a small woods and followed it. He held the child tight to his chest, her cheek resting upon his shoulder. She snored lightly near his ear, and he treaded softly so as not to wake her. The footpath was dotted with benches, and up ahead sat a young man. His hair was jet black and cleanly swept away from his forehead, and he wore a light blue button-down shirt with dark slacks. His right knee bounced as he spoke into a mobile phone.

“I think I’m going to ask her to marry me,” The man on the bench said, then paused to listen to the other line. “I don’t even know where to start looking, though. And I know she probably won’t care about it being crazy expensive, or having the biggest diamond, but still.” The man took a breath and released it slow, his knee still bouncing.

The street fisher walked closer. In his pocket, the ring sat warm and heavy. He could feel it pulling, almost magnetically, toward the man on the bench.

“I don’t even know when I’ll ask her,” the man continued. “I wish I could just do it today. If I had the ring, I would.”

“Excuse me,” the street fisher said. He shifted the child to free a hand, then pulled the ring from his pocket. “I just found this on the ground. It doesn’t happen to belong to you, does it?” The man looked up at him, then at the sleeping child, then down towards the ring.

“No, no—it’s not mine.” He tilted his head to secure the phone under his neck, then gestured further down the path towards a children’s park, where a crowd of young women gossiped as their small children clamored around a playset. “Maybe it belongs to one of them?”

The street fisher smiled. “Well, I’m sure whoever lost it will come back looking. Would you be able to hold onto it until then? I’m in a bit of a rush and can’t stay to wait.”

The man chewed at his lower lip. “Okay,” he said. “I suppose.”

“Thank you.” The street fisher handed over the ring. It slid out of his own wrinkled fingers and into the man’s open palm, where it settled, happily. “I wouldn’t want something as lovely as this to end up in the wrong hands.”

The man turned the ring over in his fingers. “No problem,” he said. “Have a good day.” The street fisher nodded cordially and continued strolling down the path. He shifted the child back to both arms. She was still sleeping, and a rivulet of drool fell onto his shoulder.

“Sorry about that,” the man said, resuming his phone call. “You’ll never guess what just happened. Hold on—I think I see her coming, I have to go.”

The street fisher smiled. He loved his job. He glanced down at the sleeping child, and then up towards the playset, with the loud children and the gossiping mothers. If a child belonged anywhere, it should be with other children, he reasoned, and wandered towards the children and mothers, waiting for the familiar tug of belonging.

He stayed in the park for the rest of the day. He watched the women gossiping and the children playing, but mostly he watched the child in his arms. She slept, only stirring occasionally to babble nonsense and tug on his beard. Eventually, a cool chill overtook the air, and the mothers and children waved goodbye to each other and disappeared.

So, the street fisher went home, and he brought the child with him. He sat down at his kitchen table. It was small and round, crafted from old, dark wood, and he traced the divots in the wood grain with his free hand. The child stirred in his arms, then gazed up at him, blinking sleep out of her eyes. She looked around at her new surroundings. His kitchen was dark and quiet, illuminated only by a single lamp hanging above their heads, but it was cozy.

Grinning, she babbled, excited to tell him something. Her voice was bright and cheerful, and although the sun outside was dimming, the child’s delighted rambling lit up the room around him.

She babbled, and the street fisher wondered about her. He wondered about where she came from, about how she ended up being found by him. He told himself that she must have been lost accidentally. He refused to believe otherwise. But if she were lost accidentally, wouldn’t he have found her home by now? He pushed the thought from his mind and looked down at her.

The child, still murmuring, reached her small arms upwards. She clasped them around his neck and pulled herself closer, burrowing into his chest. How could she not belong anywhere, the street fisher wondered? He’d heard stories of babies being horrible, screeching things, but this child wasn’t like that. She was calm and sweet. He knew she just wanted to belong somewhere. But he didn’t know where babies belonged.

He dealt in lost objects, in items that wanted to be delivered to someone who needed them. But he didn’t know who needed a child. Normally his objects knew where they belonged. He looked down towards the child, and she clung herself tightly around him.

The street fisher cast his rod and let it sink. It was dark, the sun was deep below the horizon, and he stood at the edge of the freeway. Next to him was a small figure, watching with wide eyes. He passed the rod to her, and she grasped it with only a little difficulty. She looked towards him and smiled. At some point all of her teeth had grown in, and her grin was less gummy now, but it still pressed deep into her rosy cheeks. The line from the rod went taut, and the girl gasped in excitement and looked up at him, expectantly.

Together, the street fisher and the girl reeled in the line and went to work, finding places for things to belong.

Sydney D’Orso lives in New England and goes to school in Cincinnati. When she’s not reading or writing speculative fiction, you can find her doing ballet. And when she’s not reading, writing, or dancing, then she’s probably trying to stop her cats from stealing whatever she’s eating. Sydney can be found on Twitter @syddorso.

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