(Photo is from 1947 of the family beach cottage at Barnegat Light, Long Beach Island, NJ, owned by my mother's great-aunt and great-uncle. Many happy summer memories linger there, though the cottage was long ago knocked down and a huge new house built on its lot.)
Yesterday afternoon, tired of the predictable protein of chicken or beef, plus the occasional piece of flash-frozen salmon, I craved fresh fish. Perhaps these waning summer-like days remind me of childhood fish fries in the old family beach cottage on Long Beach Island, NJ. I know we can’t go home again, but . . .
There’s a fresh seafood market not too far from here, so mask and gel in hand, I went. The piece of flounder I bought was huge, much thicker than what I used to find in the supermarket, either frozen or fresh from the seafood counter, and bigger than what I remembered from childhood. It took a long time to cook after I coated it in non-gluten flour and bread crumbs.
If we slow down enough, sometimes we really see. As I stood over the pan, tending my fish to make sure it was done through, I saw this sizzling pink and white flounder whose flesh would soon feed mine.
When a flounder is young, its body looks a lot like other fish: an upright body and an eye on each side, and it swims near the surface of the sea. However, as a flounder grows older, its body changes. It begins to lean to one side, the eye on that side begins to migrate to what eventually becomes the top side of the fish, and the underside of the flounder loses its color. It changes to swimming flat on the ocean floor, and both eyes are on the top of its body.
What is flounder watching for with its two
eyes as it lies on the seabed? Food? Predators?
What are we watching for as we flounder
week after week, some of us trapped under
fear or hopelessness? Sometimes I’ve leaned
into grief, been flattened by depression.
Today I almost wish I were a flounder, safe
in the sea unless eaten or caught. I’d drift to
the rhythm of predictable tides, possibly not
knowing that I am fish, not knowing I am
finite, mortal. Last night I ate my filet coated
with flavored flour, crunchy breadcrumbs.
Savoring its fresh-caught taste, I found myself
a child again at the long table in our family
beach cottage, my father heaping platters with
fresh fish and corn, coleslaw, Jersey tomatoes,
and cornbread. We ate to the sough of the surf
and the night sea breeze salting the air.
Tonight I will repeat that meal. The leftover
flounder is warming in the oven, the corn
reheating in a big pot. When we feel ourselves
floundering, perhaps we can find comfort in
remembering good times, knowing we ride
these waves together, regardless of the tide.
© 2020 Penny Harter