The water shimmers in the sun like a translucent aggie you traded handfuls of marbles for as a kid.
Thousands of shiners school up around the old dock. From above, they look like brown swirling clouds forming moving variations of the French curves you once marveled over in mechanical drawing classes. Every few seconds, they startle you as one or two spin sidewise, their sides flashing silver in the sun, reinforcing the aptness of their name.
Sometimes, the doughnut holes in the middle of their swirls are filled with billowing opaque jellyfish, their long, delicate tentacles curving beneath them on the slow-moving tide.
There was a time when you'd dash off for a hand seine to sweep up a bucketful for bait. Or when you were a boy, my son's age, you'd trap a mess of them and peddle them to a bait shop for spending money. Now, you simply watch their intricate patterns, bemused in the midday sun.
You don't fish at all much anymore. Haven't seen the big blues churn the water around the dock yet this year as they do occasionally in the summer.
Just the other day you saw something that looked big break the water 20 yards away and you ambled to the house and back with a rod. All you caught(was a small spot, which you looked at for a while, then threw back and put the rod away.
Time was you would have used it whole or cut it up for luring bigger fish, but somehow it didn't seem right.
Ambivalence spawns in August on the bay.
You've even come to appreciate the diaphanous jellyfish as they drift by beneath the dock, remembering with only minor chagrin that you bought the old bayfront house with the thought that on summer mornings you'd run along the dock, dive in and rejoice in an invigorating swim, building a hearty appetite for breakfast.
Reality is a cup of coffee carried out to the dock's end in a slow shuffle with the morning paper.
The paper gets only cursory glances since peripheral vision is constantly distracted--by a colorful sail; a large crab sunbathing atop the water; Tilghman and Parker's islands beckoning on a clear day's horizon; a freighter heading south in the channel to who knows, or cares, where; the splash of shiners escaping a real or imagined larger fish beneath them; a whining outboard pulling a skier; a warping dock plank among the many others you planned to replace this year but now hope will last another season; a teen-ager strolling along the bulkhead in a bikini; the squawking of a nearby duck whose nest is being scouted by a gray-and-white cat--all of which sights are more intriguing than the economy or the latest political crisis.
Once, you would have hurled a rock or plinked at the cat with a BB gun, despite the fact that the duck was stupid enough to lay its eggs in a low spot in the neighbor's canvas boat cover.
You wonder what happens when it rains--as it has not in weeks. Do the eggs wash over, smashing on the deck? If hatched, do the ducklings drown?
Now you decide to let nature take its course. Who would protect the nest in the wild? Besides, the cat happens to be yours, or least your wife's, and it's a damned lazy duck who nests in such a place, anyway.
Even the recollection that your wife would never know fails to motivate you. She's away at the cape, tending to sickness and other family problems. But then she always seems to be at the cape in August for whatever reason.
Which reminds you of recent articles in The Washington Post and Washingtonian magazines about all the Washington "notables" who buzz off to the cape, Nantucket or Martha's Vineyard for the summer. What is it they do there that can't be done here on the dock?
There was that picture of Art Buchwald, who seemed to be falling down in a boat and enjoying the hell out of it. And all those media and government types posing in their designer togs. You've got to go to Martha's Vineyard for that?
I rarely get in my boat at all anymore, least of all to enjoy falling down. Most of the winter was spent building an elaborate ramp over the seawall for launching the little catamaran. It's been used twice this year . . . by my 12-year-old.
The motorboat normally gets wet only when Tommy or friends with kids come down and ask to go water skiing.
Tommy's a boy in his early 20s who grew up spending summers here in Southern Maryland and has just started his own business.
He works and plays hard, always has to be doing something and is quite generous in giving me a hand on projects when he drops by every couple of weeks for a weekend.
He reminds me of me at that age, except that he drinks beer instead of liquor and doesn't chase girls or play cards. He is totally faithful to his longtime girlfriend, who most people feel is not quite right for him.
He's also great with my son, takes him fishing, teaches him things I have forgotten.
Actually, he's good with most people. He sits on the dock drinking beer with my father-in-law until dawn when they're both down.
God knows what they talk about all night. They're so different. Jack, the old man, is irascible, does things only one way--his--and is a tyrant with kids, although they seem to love him, too. I guess it's hard for a kid to find someone with a straight answer anymore and the grief the old man gives is at least honest, and consistent.
Perhaps Tommy reminds me of the way I wanted to be and Jack the way I hope to become.
But that's too much summer thinking.
The hammock is more like it. Squinting in the sun, I can see it hanging there under the trees back of the bulkhead. My wife gave it to me for Father's Day, a real Pawley's Island rope hammock like I always wanted.
But it's there in the shade, a whole dock's length away. The sun is the place to be, with a light breeze rising, as August hunkers down on the bay.