“What do you have to eat?” the boy asked.
“A pot of yellow rice with fish. Do you want some?”
“No. I will eat at home. Do you want me to make the fire?”
“No. I will make it later on. Or I may eat the rice cold.”
“May I take the cast net?”
There was no cast net and the boy remembered when they had sold it. But they went through this fiction every day. There was no pot of yellow rice and fish and the boy knew this too.
“Eighty-five is a lucky number,” the old man said. “How would you like to see me bring one in that dressed out over a thousand pounds?”
“I’ll get the cast net and go for sardines. Will you sit in the sun in the doorway?”
“Yes. I have yesterday’s paper and I will read the baseball.”
The boy did not know whether yesterday’s paper was a fiction too. But the old man brought it out from under the bed.
“Perico gave it to me at the bodega,” he explained.
“I’ll be back when I have the sardines. I’ll keep yours and mine together on ice and we can share them in the morning. When I come back you can tell me about the baseball.”
“The Yankees cannot lose.”
“But I fear the Indians of Cleveland.”
“Have faith in the Yankees my son. Think of the great DiMaggio.”
“I fear both the Tigers of Detroit and the Indians of Cleveland.”
“Be careful or you will fear even the Reds of Cincinnati and the White Sox of Chicago.”
“You study it and tell me when I come back.”
“Do you think we should buy a terminal of the lottery with an eighty-five? Tomorrow is the eighty-fifth day.”
“We can do that,” the boy said. “But what about the eighty-seven of your great record?”
“It could not happen twice. Do you think you can find an eighty-five?”
“I can order one.
“One sheet. That’s two dollars and a half. Who can we borrow that from?”
“That’s easy. I can always borrow two dollars and a half.”
“I think perhaps I can too. But I try not to borrow. First you borrow. Then you beg.”
“Keep warm old man,” the boy said. “Remember we are in September.”
“The month when the great fish come,” the old man said. “Anyone can be a fisherman in May.”
“I go now for the sardines,” the boy said.
When the boy came back the old man was asleep in the chair and the sun was down. The boy took the old army blanket off the bed and spread it over the back of the chair and over the old man’s shoulders. They were strange shoulders, still powerful although very old, and the neck was still strong too and the creases did not show so much when the old man was asleep and his head fallen forward. His shirt had been patched so many times that it was like the sail and the patches were faded to many different shades by the sun. The old man’s head was very old though and with his eyes closed there was no life in his face. The newspaper lay across his knees and the weight of his arm held it there in the evening breeze. He was barefooted.
The boy left him there and when he came back the old man was still asleep.
“Wake up old man,” the boy said and put his hand on one of the old man’s knees.
The old man opened his eyes and for a moment he was coming back from a long way away. Then he smiled.
“What have you got?” he asked.
“Supper,” said the boy. “We’re going to have supper.”
“I’m not very hungry.”
“Come on and eat. You can’t fish and not eat.”
“I have,” the old man said getting up and taking the newspaper and folding it. Then he started to fold the blanket.
“Keep the blanket around you,” the boy said. “You’ll not fish without eating while I’m alive.”
“Then live a long time and take care of yourself,” the old man said. “What are we eating?”
“Black beans and rice, fried bananas, and some stew.”