The Female: Oh my darling!
The Male: Oh my sweet!
F: I’m so happy to see you!
M: Even if it’s only FaceTime, at least…
F: Yes, at least we can look into each other’s eye.
M: And then each other’s other eye.
F: It’s probably for the best that our eyes are on opposite sides of our heads….
M: Yes. I’m sure I couldn’t contain myself, looking straight ahead and taking in your beauty with both eyes at once.
F: Oh, you always say the sweetest things.
M: My love for you compels me to pour out my heart.
F: Oh, how I wish your love for me could compel you to pour out something else. Something more than words, and little air bubbles.
M: Well, I would if I could, you know. If I were there, with you, gill to gill, I certainly would give you something more … lasting.
F: Darling! Are you grinning?
M: I fear so.
F: How can you even make your mouth do that? I’ve only ever seen you make the O shape!
M: Love drives one to extremes, I guess!
F: Oh, how I long for you!
M: And I you!
F: If only we weren’t separated by this awful barrier!
M: Horrid barricade!
F: Wretched wall!
M: Damn this dam!
F: Oh my love, don’t speak in such curses, lest we fall under a curse ourselves.
M: What more of a curse could we suffer, than this damnable Ipswich Mills Dam! This massive blockade, repulsing me and my family, not only today, but for generations! Since 1637!
F: Well, to be precise, the current version of the dam wasn’t built till 1908.
M: What is that to me! It’s a dam, and I say, damn it!
F: No! Don’t speak this way! If I only had ears, I would cover my ears with my hands, if I only had hands!
M: How can you be so conservative? Our lives are passing before our very eye! We herrings only live 15 years. How many chances will we have to…?
F: Don’t say it! Don’t say it!
M: Spawn! There, I said it!
F: I told you not to say it!
M: How many chances will we have to make little herrings?
F: You’ll never have a chance with me if you keep talking dirty!
M: I’m sorry! I’m sorry! I guess this dam is making me crazy.
F: My darling, won’t you please try the fish ladder?
M: The fish ladder. Again with the fish ladder.
F: That’s what it’s there for! It’s to get little boy fishies together with little girl fishies.
M: Oh please, don’t talk cutesy. This is not Finding Nemo.
F: Just give it a try. Jump up there. See how it goes.
M: You would really have me trust that? Something devised by the government?
F: You would rather miss out on … you know … with me?
M: The fish ladder is not an option.
F: Why not?
M: Look. My mother laid 20,000 eggs. Only 130 of my siblings survived. We considered ourselves lucky. Hardy stock. But then came time to spawn — er, sorry: “procreate.”
We swam up the Ipswich River. We got to the dam. We found the fish ladder.
My brother Artie was always a hot shot. He jumped up there. I saw him flopping around. He jumped again. And again. I hope he made it. I never saw him again.
My brother Chuckie went next. He got up a few steps, then flopped out. He was so exhausted, the current carried him back toward Little Neck, like a Fish Filet waiting to happen.
Nicky and I looked at each other. He just shook his head and swam away.
I was rattled, I confess. I pulled off to one side, tucked myself in under a corner of the Ebsco parking lot, and tried to get myself together. I caught Zumi’s WIFI and went online — and that’s the day I found you. The day I lost my brothers.
Yes, I could have tried the fish ladder, but only 3% make it. We’re lucky we’re herring, at 3%. My friend Miltie was a smelt. No smelt has ever made the fish ladder. We tried to talk sense into him, but it was no use; he was in love with a cute little Mallotus villosus from Danvers and nobody could convince him otherwise.
Miltie tried for three weeks straight to get up that fish ladder. It was painful to witness. By the end, I think he was actually crying, although it’s hard to tell when a fish is crying, because there’s already so much water around.
But it wasn’t his fault. Smelt are weak swimmers. They’re not built to climb fish ladders. They’re built to get scooped into a net, kippered, and — well, I won’t get into the details.
What I’m saying is, I’m not coming up that fish ladder for you like some herring Romeo. Until they take this dam down, we’re doomed.
Can you understand? Can you forgive me?
F: Gotta go. There’s a barbecue here — they’re grilling copepods, pteropods, planktonic crustaceans, and some awesome larvae. Check ya next week?
Doug Brendel lives on dry ground in an old house on outer Linebrook Road in Ipswich, Massachusetts. Check out his many exploits by visiting DougBrendel.com.