This is another story I wrote during my attempted Bradbury year (one short story a week). It corresponds to today's Gospel reading in John 21.
Week 18: Easter Tide
An old man, a beggar, squatted on the rocky beach, shoving a stick in the pebbles. John watched him from a few yards away. He had seen this man for a few days, lingering at the beach, watching the water and pushing rocks around on shore. His clothes were tattered and he smelled awful--like rotting fish and sweat.
The old man looked up with a smile that was both warm and missing several teeth. John smiled back. He thought about the power of a smile shared between strangers. He walked back to the small house where his friends were gathered. They had just finished eating grilled fish, the house specialty.
“It’s almost dark,” one said.
Another let out a big sigh. “What should we do now?”
“I’m going fishing,” Peter said. He moved to go, looking out the doorway that John had just come through.
“We’ll go with you,” John said.
The six restless friends went out to the boat and shoved off in the dark. There was not much wind that night. They didn’t talk a lot; they were all talked out. So much had happened in the past several days, but they were taking it all in. Soaking in the reality that death had been defeated.
The night on the water was strangely restful. They didn’t catch anything, but not because they weren’t trying. They sat and waited, but no fish came to them.
That night was a bust in terms of business, but they didn’t seem to mind. It was a new feeling--to be restless and peaceful at the same time.
When dawn broke, John spied the old man on the beach, already up and poking around.
“What do you think he’s looking for?” John asked Thomas. Thomas turned his gaze to the shore.
“Maybe he’s just enjoying the morning,” Thomas suggested. “It is quite a nice morning.”
They had been so busy when Jesus had been with them, roaming the Judean countryside and learning from him. Seeing him heal. Being sent out to heal and preach repentance and the coming kingdom. It was a nice morning. It was nice, after all they’d been through, just to sit on the waves and be rocked by their mother, the sea.
The boat drew closer to the shore, beckoned by a rather unexpectedly large wave.
The old man stood up as straight as he could, it seemed. He motioned to them, getting the attention of John and Thomas.
He cupped his hands around his mouth and shouted--”Children, have you caught anything to eat?”
The two men cupped their own hands around their mouths and shouted back. “No, father! Not yet!”
The boat drifted further away from the shore, and the old man stooped back down to write in the pebbles. John kept watching him, thinking there was just something so familiar about this old man. He couldn’t put his finger on it.
Another wave brought them closer to the shore. By this time, the old man had started a fire on the beach. He stood up and shouted at them again.
“Have you tried the right side?”
Peter rolled his eyes a little. Of course, they had tried the right side. But he would do it again.
“Other side, fellas,” he instructed. And his eyes widened. The net filled almost instantly.
John hadn’t been watching the net fill, because he was still gazing at the smoke rising from the old man’s fire on the beach.
Drawing on the beach, John thought. Something clicked.
He shot his eyes over to Peter, who was already looking back at the shore even though he was straining underneath the weight of the haul. The net slipped.
Andrew caught it before any fish escaped. The net didn’t break, which was remarkable in itself.
John locked eyes with Peter--”It’s him--the old man--it’s the Lord!”
Peter jerked his head around to look at the old man on the beach, stopping and drawing in the sand.
Tears filled his eyes and he struggled to get his shirt over his head and onto his wet body. He dove in and swam like mad for the shore. He didn’t know how long the Lord would stay this time and he would not miss a minute willingly.
The rocks hurt his feet as he scrambled up on shore toward the little fire. He didn’t care.
John and Andrew and the rest brought the boat to shore and disembarked. The smell coming from the fire was of fish and fresh bread and charcoal. John noticed that the rotting fish smell of the old man’s clothes was less noticeable when they were near the flame. And in the cold morning air, he got as close to the old man and the fire as he could.
“Bring some of the fish you caught,” said the old man.
Peter ran over to the boat and hauled over the net--the whole net. They counted the fish together. It was obvious the old man knew his fish. 153 big ones. The first three were thrown on the fire to cook. The old man checked that they were done.
“Come and have breakfast,” the husky voice said to them. John looked into the old man’s eyes and they shared another smile.
And he took the bread, blessed it, broke it, and gave it to them. He did the same with the fish. And they all had more than enough, body and soul. They talked on the beach until the tide had come up to the edge of the fire. It tickled their toes, and then it came so far up the beach that the fire was washed out, the flame burning on in their hearts.