Crabbers

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Status: In Progress  |  Genre: Thrillers  |  House: New Writers wanting Reviews


An insecure teenager invites a girl out fishing on his father's boat, and makes some costly mistakes along the way.

Submitted: July 16, 2018

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Submitted: July 16, 2018

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 “Need help, bro?”

Bailey fumbled with the key to the boat’s gas cap. He didn’t need help. It only took one of the dock boys to run the line from the pump to the boat. He wished they would hurry up and run his father’s credit card so he could take off. All three of them sat on the dock and rested their dirty feet on his boat. Two of them were shirtless, and all three brown and ripped from a summer of marina work. Bailey worried they were ogling his date.

None of them mentioned oil. Bailey didn’t think of it until after they untied and started out into the bay. He turned to watch the marina recede from view, a brown blur framed between the symmetrical wake of the outboard engine. His father always stressed mixing a quart of oil into the gas tank with a fill up. But, he stressed a lot of things, and many of them turned out not to matter much.

“Ok up there?” Bailey asked his date, but she didn’t hear him, or at least didn’t turn around.

He wished she’d join him behind the steering wheel. She sat only inches away, but on the other side of the thick plastic windshield, staring into the water ahead. Wisps of blonde hair, escaped from her ponytail, whipped against her face. With the boat moving this fast, she might as well have been in another zip code. Bailey put a fingertip up to the windshield, and traced the outline of the bikini under her white t-shirt in the film of accumulated salt.

He wanted her to come back and watch him drive the boat, through a series of buoys and navigational markers. If she asked, he could explain how they guided the boat along the channel out in the ocean, avoiding the shoals. He could explain the purpose of each lever and gauge on the steering console.

At school, when he invited her fishing, he didn’t say anything about a boat, or that it would be only the two of them. He hated that they’d passed all the luxury yachts on their way to the dock slip. Maybe, he worried, she'd thought he owned one of the sixty-foot Bertrams, with a cabin and a wet bar, instead of his dad’s open fisherman.

It wasn’t a bad boat, he reassured himself. He knew kids whose parents owned yachts and most didn’t allow them to take them out on their own. Most employed licensed captains and mechanics. His father said a man should never own something he couldn’t fix himself.

They sped by the Cape Florida lighthouse, leaving the bay and marina behind. When he spied the familiar tower at Fowey Rocks, he steered them left, pointing the bow of the boat north into the Gulf Stream. The water changed from murky green into a cobalt blue. It grew choppier, too, and he watched her grow clamped and defensive in the seat in front of him, white knuckling the handrails.

He pulled back on the throttle, and lurched forward in her seat.

“Sorry,” he said, cutting the engine. It was their first interaction since he’d helped her climb aboard at the marina.

“This water is amazing,” she said. “So blue it looks fake – like a painting.”

He tried to remember what his father taught him the Gulf Stream – it was the depth, or the temperature, or something about the algae that colored it.

 

“Sailors used to navigate by the color of the water,” he made up. “This blue water runs north to south.”

“Rough, though,” she said, bracing against the console.

He opened the cooler, and pointed out the cans of beer between the bagged ice and bait.

“Fishermen’s secret,” he said, mimicking his older brother. “A few brews and you’ll never get seasick.”

“Maybe later.”

He popped the latch on the storage bin that ran the length of the boat floor, and pulled out two black rods. Forgetting to first open the bail on the reel, he wound a length of fishing line around his hand and puller hard. It caught, and he winced as it cut hard into his palm.

“Can I help?” she asked.

“You ever rig a ballyhoo?” he asked.

“What’s that?”

He drew one of the frozen baitfish from the cooler, and poked her in the stomach with it.

“Hey!” she said, stumbling backwards.

“I’ll take that as a no,” he said, opening the tackle box.

She scrunched her nose as he slid a long silver hook into the fish, starting beneath the gills, and exiting out of its belly. With a length of rigging wire from the tackle box, he pierced through the fish’s eye socket, and tied a knot around its beak. He wiped a bloody hand against the boat’s white deck.

 “It’s weird, right?” she asked. “Starting with fish?”

 “Huh?”

 “I mean, why go fishing if we already have fish? It’s like if I wanted to bake a cake and the very first ingredient was muffins.”

 “You can’t eat ballyhoo,” he said.

 “Oh.”

“I mean, some people eat them.”

He repeated the steps with a second ballyhoo, and attached the rigged baitfish to the fishing rods, which he placed in the trolling holsters. Returning to the console, he popped out the throttle into neutral and turned the key. The engine grumbled, clicked, and fell silent.

“Everything ok?” she asked.

He remembered the oil. Fuck. He tried two more times, and the engine only clicked and exhaled some blue smoke. On the third try, the engine again grumbled, then clicked, and then right as he felt certain doom, roared back into life. He made a mental note not to shut it off again until they were safely back at the marina.

For a while, they trolled the Gulf Stream, the slow moving boat more skiing the hilly waves than cutting through them. He watched the lines for tautness, planning to let her haul in anything they hooked. He imagined one of those moments, like on tv, standing behind her with his arms over hers, bracing her. He’d guide her hands as they finessed the fish: pulling back on the rod to create slack, then leaning into it as she reeled, fast but not hard, so the line didn’t snap.

Instead, he drank beer, and she grew more seasick.

“It really does help,” he said, offering her his can.

“Smells like fish,” she said, taking a tiny sip.

“From sharing the cooler with the bait,” he said. “It’s a delicacy – like a Bloody Mary with Clamato.”

It was something else his brother said, but he knew it sounded stupid. Nobody drank Bloody Marys in high school. He opened another beer and remembered what his brother told him about drinking with girls. He'd said to pretend you’re drinking a lot but actually take it slow, so they get tipsy and you don’t. Nothing was going to plan.

“Let’s reel these lines in and go somewhere we can swim,” he said. “In the bay, where the water is calm.”

This time, she did stand behind the windshield with him as he drove the boat.

“Wanna drive?” he asked.

“I’ve never have before.”

“You drive a car, right?” he asked. Between the wind and the engine, which seemed to be getting louder, he had to yell awkwardly to be heard.

“Sort of,” she said. “I’ve got a permit.”

He stepped back from the console. She jumped over, a bit panicked, and grabbed the wheel.

“Relax,” he said. “It’s easier than a car – there’s more space for mistakes out here.”

The water calmed some as they approached the bay. When the Fowey Rocks tower came into view, he told her to turn right, and watch for the lighthouse.

“There coming right for us!” she said, pointing towards a yacht approaching them from behind. “What do I do?”

“Nothing,” he yelled. “You’re fine.”

“But it’s coming right for us!”

“It’s fine,” he screamed. “It always looks they’re coming for you, but really there’s plenty of space.”

A couple minutes later, the yacht overtook them, with several hundred feet of water between them. The lighthouse came into view, and they passed a few boats headed out of the bay, but she seemed more confident in her driving, and didn’t mention them. About a half-mile from the lighthouse, the engine revved unexpectedly. Its roar progressed into a piercing hiss, and then died. He stumbled onto her from behind as the boat lurched to a slowdown.

“What happened?” she asked, sliding out from between him and the console.

“Don’t worry, it’s not your fault!” He yelled, even though it was quieter now. He knew as soon as the words left his mouth how ridiculous they sounded.

“Did something break?” she asked.

“Look don’t worry.”

“It sounded bad – will the engine start to get us home?”

“If it won’t - I can fix it,” he said. “Why don’t we go for a swim?”

“Here?”

“Here’s fine,” he said, heaving the anchor overboard. As it sank, the rope whizzed through his hands, probably thirty or forty feet. He worried he’d run out of line before the anchor found the sea floor. Finally, it stopped, and he let it drag against the bottom for a bit before tying off the last few feet of rope. The boat rocked and strained against the mild current, but seemed to stay in place.

“I have to ask something, but don’t make fun of me,” she said.

“Go ahead.”

She looked at him and paused before asking, though more annoyed than embarrassed.

“There sharks out here?”

“You’ll be fine,” he said.

He walked back to the console, and toggled the ignition a couple times. Click. Click. Nothing. Through the windshield, he watched as she took off her shorts and t-shirt, laying them folded on top of the seat. He marveled at the idea of bikinis. No different than bras and panties, he thought, and yet here they were. He wondered again if she’d known it would just be the two of them, when she got dressed that morning.

“You coming?” she asked, perched to on the boat’s railing.

“Of course,” he said. He wanted to wait until the last possible moment to take his shirt off, when she was already in the water. He wasn’t fat, just soft in places, and pale – not hard and tanned like the boys that worked on the dock. She was perfect.

She went over the rail with a quick shriek and a splash.

“Want a beer?” he asked.

“I guess so,” she said.

He pulled the two cans of beer farthest from the bait, and sent one her way with an underhanded toss. He popped his open, and took a long swig. He was in trouble. What had his dad always said would happen if you didn’t add oil? Frozen pistons? It sounded bad. Or maybe it was ok –something frozen could thaw. He pulled hard from his beer, and felt a bit better. He drained it, and grabbed another before jumping in.

The water felt warm against his body, contrasted against the cold beer. It was a lot of effort to tread water with just one free hand. They finished their beers and tossed the empties back towards the boat. Hers bounced off against the rail and floated away.

“Let it go,” he said.

They faced each other, only their heads above the water. He wondered if this was the time to kiss her. It felt like the perfect moment, bobbing together out here, no one else within sight. She was so pretty, and now they were finally alone, free from the stress and distraction of everyone else. It had taken every ounce of his courage to ask her out.

“You sure there aren’t any sharks out here?” she asked.

“No sharks.”

“What about other varieties of, um, menacing fish?”

He ducked underwater, flipped, and dove down. The water chilled and the pressure hissed in his ear, the sound of oblivion. On his way back up, he opened his eyes and found her, pulling her under with him by the waist.

“Hey!” she shrieked when they both came up.

“Just messing,” he said.

“I’m getting back in the boat.”

He swam behind her, and hung onto the lowest rung of the ladder as she climbed aboard, dripping water onto his face. Back on the boat, he found the towels, and wrapped one around her. It was another one the tv moments he’d fantasized about - a second chance for that kiss.

“Who is that?” she asked, slipping out from under his hands. An inflatable raft approached them from the within the bay.

“It’s the dock boys,” he said, squinting to make out the three of them aboard the marina’s service dinghy. He pulled the towel over his own shoulders, and took a fresh beer from the cooler.

“You two alright?” one of the dock boys asked, cutting the motor on the dinghy.

“We stopped to swim,” Bailey answered him.

“Here?” the dock boy asked.

“Here,” she answered.

“Damn,” one of the boys spotted his beer. “Y’all got brews?”

“We do,” she said. “But they taste like fish.”

“Like what?”

“Fish,” she said. “It’s a delicacy.”

“Damn bro,” the second dock boy said. “Skunk ass brew – you sure you’re ok?”

“We’re fine,” Bailey answered. “Thank you.”

The dock boys ripped the pullcord and restarted the dinghy motor, speeding back towards the marina. He offered her another beer, and she accepted, but held it unopened. She’d put her clothes back on over her wet bathing suit, the outline of her bikini soaking through her t-shirt.

He drank another beer and toggled the ignition, playing with the engine choke and throttle, trying to produce anything but an empty click.

“Do you know what you’re doing?” she asked.

He didn’t.

“Hey, don’t you have one of those trucker radios in here?” she asked.

They didn’t. His father said distress radios were for people who didn’t know how to fend for themselves.

He removed the cover from the outboard, exposing a nest of wires and switches. His father kept a manual in the console, but it was beyond his comprehension. One at a time, he pulled levers and toggled switches, trying the ignition after each. A knotty panic developed in his stomach, tighter very time she asked what he was doing.

“Why didn’t you tell the guys from the marina what was wrong?” she asked.

“Because I can fix it,” he said.

The sun began to set, layers of burnt pink and orange stacking up against the horizon. He watched her watch it, her arms folded tight against her chest. No boats had passed within a few hundred feet of them since the dock boys. The manual grew more confusing in the fading daylight.

A boat appeared in the distance, headed towards them on its way back into the bay. It was an old fishing boat, one of those creaky forty-some footers with crab traps piled on the deck. A ref-raft, his father called them, after the Cuban or Dominican fishermen who manned them. When she saw the boat she climbed onto the railing, shouting and waving frantically. He felt annoyed that she hadn’t asked him.

“Careful,” he said.

“We’re stuck,” she said, the word landing with a thud.

The boat slowed as it approached, and when it got close enough a man jumped aboard their boat holding a rope and bumper. He tied the boats together, and two other men jumped from the fishing boat onto theirs.

“You stuck?” the first one asked. He wore an unbuttoned Hawaiian shirt, and his gut protruded over denim shorts. He looked heavy, but hard. Patches of stubble covered his face, with markings under his eyes, drab green against his brown skin. Either a scar, Bailey thought, or maybe a gang tattoo. The other two were skinny, and wore wife-beaters.

“We’re fine,” Bailey said.

“No, we’re stuck,” she said.

“Why you lying to us, partner?” he asked Bailey.

The man grazed his hand over the exposed outboard engine, and approached the console, giving the ignition a couple fruitless turns.

“Dead,” he said.

“We’re fine,” Bailey repeated.

The man ignored him, and picked up a beer can off the console. He took a swig, and chucked the rest overboard.

“We’ll tow you,” he said.

He ordered the other two men around in Spanish, and they set up a towline. Rifling through the console, the man picked up Bailey’s wallet from inside the glove box, and pulled out the cash.

“Money for the gas to tow you,” he said to Bailey. “So you don’t feel like a bitch.”

He kept looking through the wallet, and held up the two condoms he found.

“Damn bro!” he said, laughing. “You’re straight evil – what were you gonna do, take her out here, get her faded, and then fuck her?”

Que sucio!” One of the other men yelled. “Dirtbag!”

He tossed the condoms into the ocean, and looked at her.

“Don’t worry, girlie, we don’t need these.”

She shivered, and stared in the direction of the now illuminated lighthouse.

“You cold?” the man asked.

“I’m fine,” she said.

One of the skinny men, who’d helped himself to a beer, held it over her head and poured a stream of it onto her shoulders.

Bailey started to take his shirt off, to offer it to her, but the same man walked over and poured the rest of the beer onto him.

“Hey – what’s the story, guys,” he said.

“Here,” the first man said, removing his Hawaiian shirt and handing it to her.

“I’m fine,” she said, holding it in front of her.

“It don’t stink,” he said. “Put it on.”

One of the skinny guys jumped back into the fishing boat. They began the slow tow back into the bay. Bailey tried to look at her, to reassure her it would be ok, but she stood with her arms crossed and stared at the lighthouse. Eventually, they neared the marina, but the fishing boat kept moving straight, instead of turning in.

“Why aren’t we going to the marina?” she asked. “It’s right there.”

“I got this,” Bailey said to her.

“Look,” he said, turning towards the man, “If you want more money, my dad can take care of it, but you need to take us back right now.”

Calmate” the man said. “Calm down, I’m the daddy out here. We got to get paid for our haul first, then we take you back.”

“We crabbers,” one of the skinny men said, laughing through rotted teeth.

Bailey stared at her, and back at the marina. She’d put the Hawaiian shirt on, either because she was cold, or she was scared. He remembered asking her on the date. They had math together, and he’d always liked her. She wasn’t a brain or anything, but she wasn’t one of these girls who pretended not to care. He saw something moving in the distance, a dark figure, and mistook it at first for a shark or dolphin. When his eyes adjusted, he made out the dock boys in their dinghy, out for one last round through the bay.

He walked to the back of the boat.

“Hey, chill out,” the skinny guy said.

“No,” he said, and balanced himself on the boat rail. He waved his arms, and screamed, crying, begging for them to see them, letting loose everything he’d tried to keep together.

“Help” he screamed. “I’m fucked up, I mean, I fucked up! I need help!”

 


© Copyright 2020 ME Pesant. All rights reserved.

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