The Trip of Fools
"Throw 'em over," hollered the captain for the fourth time that day. I was wet and tired, but then all of us were. Only a week into the trip and I was wishing for home. It wasn't because we weren't catching fish either. We were on 'em pretty good. Nice big blackies too. But I couldn't shake that feeling of foreboding I'd had in my gut since we threw the lines and left the dock at Triangle. I don't think I'm a superstitious kind of guy. I whistle on deck and it hasn't affected the weather at all, and some of my best trips have begun on a Friday, just like this one. Nope, I decided, it couldn't be some old fisherman's silly superstition that was gnawing at my gut. But what could it be? My ol' lady is always talking about "woman's intuition" and premonitions and such. I wondered if there was a "man's intuition" too.
"What are you guys doin' back there, takin' a nap?" The captain's voice woke me out of my daydream with a start. "Get those clips on!" he shouted. "Easy for you to say," I grumbled under my breath. As the last clips went on I busied myself getting the hauling station ready. Finally, it was time for a much needed break. We were going to let the line soak for a while, so I slipped out of my boots and slickers and went below to stretch out on my rack. I fell into a deep sleep the minute my head hit the pillow.
I don't know how long I had been asleep when I was awakened by the sound of laughter. Such as odd sound for a fishing boat so late at night. And I could swear I heard a woman's voice. As my eyes adjusted to the darkness of the crew's quarters I could see the other's asleep in their racks. Curious, and having to take a whiz anyway, I climbed the steps to the wheelhouse. I couldn't believe what I saw before me. Where could all these people have come from? What were they doing on this boat? I was frozen mid-step, not sure if I should go forward or back down the steps. "Ow," I said, as I pinched myself. Well, so much for that theory, I thought. This can't be real I told myself. The urge to go had passed, so I crawled back into my rack and pulled the covers up over my head. "This is just a dream," I kept telling myself as I lay shaking under the blanket. Just a dream, just a dream, just a dream ...
I must have dozed off again, for when I awoke, the rest of the crew was already on deck. I hurried into my boots and slickers, grabbed a mug of coffee, and joined the others. "Hey, sleepy head," Wally chided. "Finally decided to join us, huh?" I figured it would be better not to share last nights happening just yet. I knew I'd take some major ribbing if I did. Besides, it was just a dream.
We picked up the line we had left in the water the night before, and set about on what had become our daily routine. We were still working the same area we had been in for the past week, and the number of fish seemed to have dwindled. The captain must have read my mind, because he announced at supper that night that we would be making a run in the morning, on the hunt for a better spot. I felt relieved, but I wasn't quite sure why.
It seemed like hours before I finally started to drift off into a fitfull sleep. Just as I was going under, I heard the laughter. This can't be happening again! Now, I was scared. I slowly got out of my rack and crept to the steps. I climbed them one at a time, hoping with each step that the laughter would stop and there would be nothing there when I reached the top step. It was not to be. The scene before me was just as it had been the night before. There were ten or twelve people milling around in the wheelhouse, and more outside on the back deck. They were dressed in party clothes, the men in jackets and the women in fancy dresses and heels. Soft music was coming from somewhere and a few of them were dancing. Open bottles of champagne and trays of appetizers were everywhere. No one seemed to notice me standing there in my skivvies.
Too many people for such a small boat, was all I could think about. I heard my name and looked around to see who had called me. I didn't know any of these people. Why would someone be calling me? My eyes drifted slowly over the crowd, and then I saw her. From across the deck, my wife was looking right at me, smiling and laughing. "Kath," I practically screamed. "What are you doing here?" I started to make my was toward her through the crowd, but just as I reached her, she disappeared! Shaken, I began to look around for her. I
made my way around the deck, frantically calling her name, but I couldn't find her.
"Lose somebody?" The voice was familiar, and as I turned around I knew who it belonged to even before I saw him. "Dano," I whispered. "Hey, buddy," he said, "how ya been?" I was speechless. He put his arm around my shoulder and started leading me to what looked like his front porch. "Come sit awhile," he said. "I've got something I want to show you." He stopped walking and stuck his hand in his pocket. When he took it out and opened it there was the biggest shark tooth I had ever seen sitting in the palm of his hand. It was polished and wrapped in a web of thin gold braid. "I got this on a swordfishin' trip I made with Wally," he said. There was a sadness to his voice and on his face. "I wanted to pass it on." He slipped it into the pocket of my T-shirt. I just stood there and looked at him, still unable to speak.
We started walking again, and my legs felt like rubber. Just as we were about to step onto his porch I felt a hard tug on my shoulder. "Time to get back to bed now," Wally said sternly. He yanked my arm, and I followed in his direction, through the wheelhouse and down the steps to the crew's quarters. He helped me into my rack and covered me with the blanket. "Now, you stay put," Wally barked. "Not a problem," I thought, since my body was totally exhausted.
I woke the next morning feeling like I had been beaten with a stick. Everything ached, especially my head. I groaned as I climbed the steps to the wheelhouse. Everyone was sitting at the table looking at me. Wally was the first to speak. "What the hell happened last night?" he asked. I got some aspirin and a cup of water and sat down next to him. "I'm not sure," was all I could say. Wally chuckled and said, "Well, I'll tell you somethin'. When I came out to take a leak you were about to walk off the side of the boat, ya dumbass. I grabbed yer butt just in time and put ya back to bed, and all the while you was mutterin' somethin' 'bout Dano. Hell, he's been dead a couple of years now, ain't he?" "Anyways, Cap'n says we're goin' in. We've all had enough of fishin' for one trip, and the weather's supposed to be turnin' bad. You go on below and get some rest." "The Kid here will take your watch."
I went below and climbed into my rack and wept quietly. When we got to the dock, Kath was waiting for me. "The captain radioed ahead," she said, a worried look on her face. "You okay"? she asked hesitantly. "Yeah, I think so. Just let me hug you," I said softly. I squeezed her hard, and then held her gently. She started rubbing her hand on my chest, but she stopped when she got to the pocket. "What's this?" she asked, as she reached her hand into the pocket. She pulled something out, and when she opened her hand I couldn't believe what I was looking at. There was the shark's tooth, polished to a shine and wrapped in thin gold braid.
I have no explanation for who those people were. Maybe their cruise ship sank in that area and they just hadn't figured that out yet.
I haven't been fishing since.
(This story is dedicated to my sweetlove, Steve, and based on a dream he told me once. He always had the best dreams!)
Take care! K