Miss Fish Refuses To Evacuate
…..Miss Fish sits on the roof. She is seventy-five-years old and hanging onto
shingles. The water is now above her windows. It is hot, and the sun
threatens to shine. She wears a red bandana as a kerchief. It flaps in the stiff
afternoon breeze. Her black boots are muddy. She cut her leg and tore her
favorite jeans climbing through the bedroom window and up the old trellis.
She dropped her canteen of water. It took too long to get up here. Now all
she wants is to be left alone.
…..She didn’t ask anybody to rescue her. She won’t go. It’s her house. Her
land. If she ends up drowning in flood waters, well then. That’s her business.
At least she’ll die with North Carolina salt water up her nose.
…..After the last hurricane, she never saw Almeeta again. Almeeta is her best
friend. Now she’s gone. Almeeta’s kids talked her into moving to Chapel Hill
with them. Just for a little while until we can clean up, they said. Ha! They
sold so fast it made everybody’s head spin. Now Almeeta’s laying in a nursing
home, dying with the hard hands of strangers flipping her over twice a day.
…..Miss Fish is right where she intends to draw her last thin, blue breath. She
was born with a silver bucket in her hand and has worked at McCumber’s
Shrimp House since she was old enough to carry it. This creaky yellow house
next door to McCumber’s is her home. She grew up here. She falls asleep
every night watching the lights of shrimp boats slide across her bedroom
walls. She loves the deep gurgle of engines, the shush of shovels in the ice
room. She loves the way the fishermen cuss. She loves the smell of marsh
mud, the mockingbirds in the trees. Every cypress root and thick patch of
moss on this beautiful black ground sings her name.
…..McCumber’s is on the verge of closing down, but Miss Fish refuses to
move. When the developers came in and made their big offer, she wouldn’t
sell. And now, she won’t move off this roof until the waters go down. Then
she will clean it all up, stick by stick.
…..Miss Fish hears a helicopter again and looks up. It’s the people from the
six o’clock ActionNews! team. They will show her on the television tonight.
She gives them the finger. She might be an old woman, but she knows what
the finger means.
…..Let people call her a fool. What people say never worried Miss Fish. She
gave birth to Cully back when having a baby out of wedlock was unheard of.
She refused to quietly leave town. She refused to give him up for adoption.
Miss Fish held her head high. She marched to the front row of Oak Shore
Baptist Church every Sunday with no husband and little Cully boy in her
arms. She made them love Cully. And they did. All the men in the
community became his daddy. He had cousins galore. They patted his curly,
black head and swung him high in the air. They built him a flat bottom skiff.
He spent his childhood in that boat with crab pots and nets. He was a fine,
…..Cully paid them all back by moving upstate. Mr. Big Shot computer
programmer. He lives in a fancy mansion in some subdivision that smells like
lettuce. He just turned forty, and he looks like an old man. Always talking
about how stressed out he is. His prissy little wife acts like she smells dog
crap when they visit once a year. And the kids! Two sad, fat boys who don’t
even act like boys at all. They sit on the couch all day staring at gadgets in
their hands. Whoever heard of an eight-year-old with a cell phone? Kids
should be out in boats or playing in the woods.
…..She wonders what happened, where she went wrong. Miss Fish was the
first and only woman in the county to become a captain. She knows
currents, wind, and tide like the back of her two big hands. She ought to
be taking those kids out on the water and showing them a thing or two. If she
hadn’t let Cully sell the boat, she would be on it right now.
…..Miss Fish was so proud of Cully when he went to college. He was the first
one in the family to go. Then he came back and announced that he didn’t
want to be a fisherman. Well, that’s his choice. But he could have at least
helped her on some of the campaigns. For years now, she has fought on
behalf of the small commercial fisherman. She has protested, written letters,
joined groups, gone to meetings. She even goes to the capitol to speak for
them. “You just can’t fight it, Mama,” Cully says. “There are too many
government regulations. The price of fuel is too high. Too many of the
waters are closed. Real estate is the only way to make any money around
here anymore. You could sell this place, get a nice condo in town, and never
have to worry about finances for the rest of your life.”
…..A condo! They may as well put her in jail. She won’t do it, not even
for Cully. Miss Fish hears an engine in the distance. It might be the Coast
Guard. They’ll climb on the roof and carry her off. The muscles in the backs
of her legs are knotting up in cramps. She scoots her backside a little to see if
she can move. That doesn’t work too well, so she lays down on her stomach
and slides toward the chimney. Shingles come loose under her as she
moves. She pants. The skin on her arms is on fire.
…..She makes it to the chimney and catches her breath. The sun has come
out now in full force. It is so hot. She wishes she had her canteen. Her
tongue has never felt so dry. She wonders how much time has passed. It may
have only been minutes, but it feels like hours. Mosquitos swirl around her
eyes. Her leg below the knee is bleeding. She takes off her bandana and ties
it tight around her leg.
…..It used to be that the wishes of elders were respected. When Cap’n Orrie
wanted to die on his boat, people let him. Nobody rushed him to the hospital
to be hooked up with tubes and machines. His time came, and he left the way
he wanted to go. Rocking gently in his boat on a soft pile of old nets.
…..Miss Fish sits up and leans against the chimney. She’ll rest for a minute
and get over this dizzy spell. If she can get a good toe hold on the chimney,
she’ll climb inside. They’ll never reach her in there. If they try, she’ll jab
their hands with her little pocket knife.
…..The helicopter circles above her head again. How they would love to see
an old fool drown! She sees the boat coming closer. Heat shimmers on the
roof. She feels like she might throw up. She looks down at her backyard.
Clothes are hanging in the tree limbs. The red and blue patchwork quilt
Grandma made looks like a jellyfish flapping in the water. Little white squares
float all over the yard. She hopes it’s not the box of pictures she tried to
shove up in the rafters. She sees a patch of green cloth float by. Maybe that’s
Cully’s boyscout uniform.
…..Her little Cully. He was such a sweet boy. He used to peek around the
corner of her bedroom to see if she was awake every morning. Then he’d grin
with those two front teeth missing. He couldn’t wait to get to the fish house.
When he grew up, he couldn’t wait to get away.
…..It is so hot. So hot. Little white spots dance in front of her eyes. The
water has leveled off now. If they would just leave her alone, she could make
it. The men on the boat are coming too fast. She can see them now. Their
faces are young and round. She hears the beeping of crazy computers inside
their boat. A boy talks on a radio and looks bored. Miss Fish gets on her
knees and puts her arms around the chimney. She hangs onto the chimney.
She stands up.
…..She never said Cully had to be a fisherman. Even after he came back from
college, she didn’t pressure him to go out on the boat with her. He sat in the
back room for days at a time. He liked to build computers. He could take an
engine apart and put it back together when he was in the tenth grade. It
seemed logical that he’d want to work with some kind of machine. She
cooked his supper every night and left it covered on a little table by his
closed door. She tried to leave him alone.
…..But Cully could have helped his people with the computers. He could
have spread the word. All she wanted him to do was help her make a flyer.
She made flyers with an old typewriter. His machines could make fancy
colored letters and spit out twenty of them at a time. “This dump is not worth
saving!” he screamed. He crumpled up her handmade flyer and moved out
…..Miss Fish feels faint. Her legs buckle. She tries to hold onto the chimney,
but her hands slip. She falls on her side and begins rolling. Sky, roof, sky,
roof. It feels like she is rolling into space. Any second now, she will feel the
drop. The warm water will clap around her body.
…..She stops rolling. She is on her stomach again, still on the roof. Her body
is perpendicular to the gutter. Her face hangs over the edge. Miss Fish
stretches her arms sideways and feels shingles. She digs her fingers
underneath the shingles as hard as she can. She should have kept going. If
she rocks her body back and forth, she can roll into the water. It will only
hurt for a little while.
…..Miss Fish pants. The sun slaps like a demon against her body. A wild
horse floats by, struggling to swim. It is a pretty one, dark brown with a
blond mane. It holds its head above the water as far as it can. Its eyes are
rolled back and white. Slowly, the head goes under. It comes up again. Then
it goes down. The eyes disappear.
…..There’s a pile of muddy nets wrapped around the trunk of the live oak
tree. The net is full of trash and beer cans. There’s the gold lace tablecloth
Almeeta gave her. There’s a crab pot buoy. She sees more things from her
house float by. But she can’t imagine what they are anymore. Colors appear
beneath the surface and turn into a thick, gray line. Everything looks the
…..The men climb up on the roof. In no time, she hears boots thudding
toward her. Hard hands grab Miss Fish around the waist. They flip her over
on her back. They cut her shirt and favorite jeans from her body. The hands
wrap her in a scratchy, wet sheet. Quickly, they carry her down. She refuses