We three sisters sit in the sand. Frigates and gulls hop in the wet tide line. Their tracks disappear and reform with the waves. They stick their heads beneath the surface and pop back up as if they’re spring loaded.

Earlier in the day we watched the birds too. A group of fisherman pulled the day’s catch onto shore. They stood in two lines perpendicular to the waves, each holding a side of the net. Together 50 men heaved hundreds of pounds of fish onto the Montanita, Ecuador, beach. Rhythmically like the waves they leaned forward and pulled back. One man directed. Uno dos tres pull uno dos tres pull. We watched in awe as a bundle of leaping silver encased in mesh dragged onto the beach. Hundreds of birds circled the net and tried to steal dinner.

We bought a fish. We brought it home. It sat next to me in the backseat of the car. I tried not to look at it. It flopped and thrashed. Its gills opened violently but no water would come. Its eye round and terrified as an owl’s. After a while the thrashing stopped.

He wore a crisp white apron and no shoes. When you squinted he looked like a canyon wren – no hair, a dark brown head, and a white round middle. The fish’s spine pressed into his palm. He held it firmly with his left hand and in two swift swipes cut off its fins. He placed it onto the wooden cutting board and evenly scraped the knife across its body. After each swipe he wiped the scales onto his apron. He rubbed his eye with his shoulder and kept his bloody fishy hands away from the white. Delicately, he sliced from the belly up to the gills. With his fingers he pulled out its guts. He turned to me grinning with a raised eyebrow and no front teeth. The stomach winged through the air and hit me, a big lima bean shaped stain on my chest. Tears rolled down my sisters’ faces. They gasped for air. Our toothless friend laughed bent over and slapped his knees. He snipped the gills and pulled them out.

ADVERTISEMENT

This was our first time away just the three of us. A decade older than, they had seemed to me like two more parents. Put your seatbelt on, take off your shoes, loosen up, be more fun, is that really a good idea? You’ve got it so easy, we broke mom and dad in for you, I wasn’t allowed to do that when I was your age. Blahblahblah.

Jen bought Lizzy beer. I stuck dandelions into mud pies. They painted their faces for football tailgates. A clown painted my face for Mayfair. Together they packed up the car for college while I sat in a puddle in protest in the driveway. Can I come? I pressed my ear to the door to listen to plans for the Phish concert.

Can I come?

No. Sorry, buddy.

ADVERTISEMENT

But with passing years came a shrinking gap. Maturity and experience leveled. We pruned away the parenting and let the friendship grow.

Into town we walk. Three-meter tall concrete surrounds most homes on our left. The walls keep out the waves and the crooks. Through breaks in the barriers, we see glimpses of Montanita life. Like when you thumb a flip book slowly. The images switch disconnectedly every few seconds. First a garden – the frail and browning vines curl around the cast iron gate. Fallen petals lie under a rose bush. We see a barbeque next. Prawns fill a glazed clay bowl and the smell of fried plantains drifts through the opening. A small boy points his chubby finger at us.

Trizillas?

Nope. We’re not triplets. But it’s starting to feel like it.

Photo by Lizzy Sall

Declination is other places, other spaces, and the things that happen there.

Kathryn Montana Sall is a freelance writer, artist, and educator living in Lander, Wyoming. kathrynmontana.com