I barely slept at all the first night because I was too nervous about starting work the next day and anxious about my new surroundings. When Marco and Captain fell asleep, I slipped outside and stood on the deck. In the darkness I watched the still water, not looking for anything but wondering if there were any wildlife to see. If you stare long enough at the water, your eyes play tricks on you and make shapes out of the moonlight on the waves. You could go crazy staring at the water long enough, hoping to find something in it.
I puked my guts out the first week, caused by a combination of the boat beating against the waves, that roller coaster drop where the boat dips down and my stomach moves in the opposite direction, and the fish—their god forsaken smell, their wriggling bodies, their death.
By week two, I had managed to keep my insides on the inside, but I had lost weight from the previous week of puking, plus the labor that lasted from sun up until sun down, and the fucking awful food Captain had for us to eat on the boat. I couldn’t look at myself in the mirror anymore because I hated seeing my sunken cheeks and sunburned nose; I also avoided the mirror because I couldn’t avoid looking at Marylou if I looked in it, and I hated seeing her judging me for looking at her in her private moment.
“I knew you’d get the seasickness under control eventually,” Marco said to me one day as we hauled in a load of sockeye salmon. “It takes time, but you’re tougher than you think.”
“Yeah, when I started out in the Navy all those years ago, I puked everything out but my balls,” Captain added. “You’re doing a lot better, Kevin. I was worried about you the first week because you look like one of those kids who never goes outside, spends too much time on the Internet. You’ve proved me wrong.”
This approval meant a lot to me, like it was the closest I would get to earning my dad’s approval. I hadn’t figured out what my dad told Captain his reason was for shipping me up here. Chances were he was too embarrassed to tell Captain. Whatever my dad thought he knew about me, it didn’t inspire proud parent sharing with his vet buddies.
“I think I’ll become a vegetarian as soon as I return home,” I half joked with Captain and Marco.
Truth was, I was ready for a lot of changes. I looked forward to Seattle—for its liberalism, art scene, and neighborhoods like Capitol Hill, places that would welcome me in more than my dad ever did. I would have looked forward to the seafood too, if I hadn’t seen the dozens of salmon caught in the net, flapping as they suffocated, the lucky ones killed by the tightening net before it was pulled back on the boat.
When I cut my hand on the net yesterday, Marco helped me bandage it. I watched his hand move over mine. My hands were blisters and the raw skin leftover from blisters that had already popped.
“Marylou’s a nurse,” he said as he cleaned my hand. “She’s great at what she does. She does so much during these summers when I’m up here. She works during the day at the hospital while her mom watches our son, then she takes care of him at night. She puts up with a lot of my shit.”
Marco talked. I watched his lips move—full, chapped from the rough sea air. He held my bleeding hand between both of his as he talked and wrapped. He was a decade older but looked young for his age—brown skin, shaved head, a mouth that smiled when it talked.
I felt myself growing hard from his touch. I wasn’t used to being touched by anyone in the way I’d wanted. I had one girlfriend my junior year—Julie, an artist like me. We went to homecoming and prom, and she cried on the car ride home after prom. She knew before I did.
“Did you ever get that Marylou to put on a sexy nurse’s costume? I bet she’d look fine in one of those. Is she into the kinky stuff?” Captain asked Marco.
Marco dropped my hand and I took a seat, the moment over.
“She likes it a little rough, but she isn’t too adventurous. I had a girl once though who loved to dress up as a schoolgirl and strip for me first. She was one of those dirty Catholic girls who went to a private school.”
We were cleaning up for the day. Captain traded the net for a cup of coffee with a shot of whiskey.
“Yeah, my second wife, she had a thing for doing it in places where we could get caught—the car, bathrooms at restaurants. One time she begged me to fuck her at the zoo, in front of the otters for Christ’s sake. She was a crazy bitch, that one. Better than my first wife, though, who lay there like a dead fish like she thought her job was done if she just showed up.” Captain took a long drink and looked at me. My turn. “How about you, kid? You get a lot of fine young pussy down in Washington?”
“Not much. I had a girlfriend last year, but it didn’t work out,” I answered, hoping that would be it.
Captain leaned toward me and held his flask out to me. “No worries, kid. There’s time yet for you, late bloomer. I bet you’ll barely have time to study at college, you’ll be buried knee deep in pussy.”
I accepted the flask and took a long swallow to avoid responding. I looked at Marco who was nodding and smoking. He looked out at the water. The whiskey felt warm in my chest, comforting.