The Pulpo Hunter

by Steve Force

Carola awoke just as dawn was breaking. She could hear Cesar, her husband, on the other side of the curtain that separated the sleeping area from the rest of their one room home. He was moving about in the cooking area. She could smell the strong dark coffee he made each morning and she knew he was fixing her something to eat. Carola had a little less than an hour before she had to be at the beach. She shimmied to the edge of the old bed and pulled the cover aside. Then she swung her feet out and sat up. She waited a moment; with almost 70 years of wear on her legs the first few moments of every day were filled with stiffness and aching. She moved her feet back and forth on the cold cement floor feeling for her sandals. Finally she stood and pushed the curtain aside.

“Buenos dias, Mi Amada,” Cesar said.

“Buenos dias, Amor.”

Now that Carola was up, Cesar switched on the little light over the stove and blew out the candle he had been using so he would not wake her. Carola sat at the old wooden table and Cesar brought her a cup of hot black coffee – she never tired of his coffee, and she never tired of his way of caring for her. A few moments later he placed a plate of tostados con queso in front of her – smashed plantains mixed with cheese and heated in their little propane oven. He shuffled to the table with his own plate and cup of coffee. He kissed her on the forehead and sat down across from her.

“The weather is good, Mi Amada. There is no wind.”

“Bueno,” she said. “Gracias por desayuna (breakfast).”

They finished their food in silence. Cesar got up and took their plates to the sink. He returned with the coffee pot and refilled their cups.

“Teresa will be bringing me laundry this afternoon.”

“Esta bien, Mi Amada. I will put the clothes line up while you are gone,” he said.

“Your coffee was delicious, as always,” Carola said. She got up and returned to the sleeping area where she changed into the clothes and shoes she wore at the beach. While she changed, Cesar retrieved the three hooked metal rods with the wooden handles. He had sharpened the hooked ends during the night. He put them on the table and then put a small net and a plastic bag with them. In a few minutes Carola emerged from the sleeping area. She picked up the things Cesar left on the table and headed toward the door. Cesar followed her.

When she stopped to take her hat from the hook on the wall, Cesar said, “Good hunting.” She turned and gave him a kiss.

“Gracias, Amor,” she said. “You stay out of trouble.”

He laughed and pretended to waive dismissively.

She still had not gotten used to Cesar not coming with her. For so many years they went together to the beach to hunt octopus; it was what they did. But his eyesight was failing and his legs were getting weaker. One morning, as they were leaving together, he stopped at the door. He turned to her and said, “Mi Amada, I can’t go.” And that was it, nothing more was said. He knew his legs had become too weak and shaky for slippery rock and his eyes could not see the cracks and depressions that could stumble him. She was saddened at the time, but she was also relieved – relieved that she would not have to try to stop this proud man from doing what he’d done for so long.

She walked down the packed dirt road to the beach. Dolores had come out of her house a few moments after Carola passed by and followed her. Maria was already at the beach when Carola arrived. So, there would be at least three of them hunting this morning. Well, there were enough crevices for all to search, if not enough octopus. The low tide exposed a mile long stretch of flat, layered, relatively smooth rock. The best time to hunt octopus was when the tide was two thirds to three quarters of the way out. They would still be hiding in ambush in crevices and little pools, waiting for small fish and crustaceans. Once the tide was fully out, the crevices and pools would drain, the rock would begin to dry, and the octopus would retreat into the sea. At each likely spot Carola would work the hooked rod into the crevice or little cave, twisting it, jiggling it back and forth, until she could get it in no further, or until she felt the soft resistance of an octopus’ body. When she felt an octopus, she would pull and push the rod in short jerks to sink the hook into the cephalapod’s body. Sometimes the octopus made it easy – he wrapped his tentacles around the invading rod.

In the third crevice she probed Carola felt an octopus. She twisted and pulled on the rod and began the slow extraction of her catch. Even a small octopus was difficult to retrieve. Its sucker-covered tentacles gripped every bump, crack, and “handhold” in the rock with surprising strength.

“Salga, salga, chiquito malo (Come out, come out, bad boy),” she said to the octopus. When she finally got him out she deftly pinned him with another rod, lest he get off the hook and slither away in the blink of an eye. This was a nice octopus, at least half a pound. She pierced him through with another rod, where he hung still writhing as Carola moved on, looking for the next spot to test. As Carola walked the rock, looking down intently, she paid no notice to the new Ecuador passing by her – middle class joggers and power walkers, foreign tourists looking for shells, and the residents of the new high rise condominiums springing up along the cliffs overlooking the beach. By noon, some of them might be eating the octopus she and the other pulpo hunters were catching this morning.

When the tide had retreated far enough to make further hunting futile, Carola had already caught three more octopus, each slightly smaller than the first one. She would keep one of the small ones for herself and Cesar to eat tonight. She left the beach and walked toward the center of town.  Her first stop would be El Cameron Bailando (The Dancing Shrimp), one of dozens of cevicherias that served fresh ceviche and other seafood dishes to an ever-expanding lunchtime clientele. She was lucky, the cook who met her at the back of the little restaurant offered her five dollars for the large octopus and the two small ones. She gladly accepted, pocketed the money, and began the long walk home along the hot, noisy, dusty streets. It was a good day – she had sold three octopus, had one for her and Cesar, and Teresa was bringing her three big bags of laundry to wash and fold – a chance to earn another five dollars.

Category: Fiction, SNHU Creative Writing, SNHU online creative writing