“Nothing,” he said aloud. “I went out too far.”
When he sailed into the little harbour the lights of the Terrace were out and he knew everyone was in bed. The breeze had risen steadily and was blowing strongly now. It was quiet in the harbour though and he sailed up onto the little patch of shingle below the rocks. There was no one to help him so he pulled the boat up as far as he could. Then he stepped out and made her fast to a rock.
He unstepped the mast and furled the sail and tied it. Then he shouldered the mast and started to climb. It was then he knew the depth of his tiredness. He stopped for a moment and looked back and saw in the reflection from the street light the great tail of the fish standing up well behind the skiff’s stern. He saw the white naked line of his backbone and the dark mass of the head with the projecting bill and all the nakedness between.
He started to climb again and at the top he fell and lay for some time with the mast across his shoulder. He tried to get up. But it was too difficult and he sat there with the mast on his shoulder and looked at the road. A cat passed on the far side going about its business and the old man watched it. Then he just watched the road.
Finally he put the mast down and stood up. He picked the mast up and put it on his shoulder and started up the road. He had to sit down five times before he reached his shack.
Inside the shack he leaned the mast against the wall. In the dark he found a water bottle and took a drink. Then he lay down on the bed. He pulled the blanket over his shoulders and then over his back and legs and he slept face down on the newspapers with his arms out straight and the palms of his hands up.
He was asleep when the boy looked in the door in the morning. It was blowing so hard that the drifting-boats would not be going out and the boy had slept late and then come to the old man’s shack as he had come each morning. The boy saw that the old man was breathing and then he saw the old man’s hands and he started to cry. He went out very quietly to go to bring some coffee and all the way down the road he was crying.
Many fishermen were around the skiff looking at what was lashed beside it and one was in the water, his trousers rolled up, measuring the skeleton with a length of line.
The boy did not go down. He had been there before and one of the fishermen was looking after the skiff for him.
“How is he?” one of the fishermen shouted.
“Sleeping,” the boy called. He did not care that they saw him crying. “Let no one disturb him.”
“He was eighteen feet from nose to tail,” the fisherman who was measuring him called.
“I believe it,” the boy said.
He went into the Terrace and asked for a can of coffee.
“Hot and with plenty of milk and sugar in it.”
“No. Afterwards I will see what he can eat.”
“What a fish it was,” the proprietor said. “There has never been such a fish. Those were two fine fish you took yesterday too.”
“Damn my fish,” the boy said and he started to cry again.
“Do you want a drink of any kind?” the proprietor asked.
“No,” the boy said. “Tell them not to bother Santiago. I’ll be back.”
“Tell him how sorry I am.”
“Thanks,” the boy said.
The boy carried the hot can of coffee up to the old man’s shack and sat by him until he woke. Once it looked as though he were waking. But he had gone back into heavy sleep and the boy had gone across the road to borrow some wood to heat the coffee.
Finally the old man woke.
“Don’t sit up,” the boy said. “Drink this.” He poured some of the coffee in a glass.