The Diedra Lee

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Thrillers  |  House: Booksie Classic

A man who once sailed on a warship gets invited to sail on a fishing boat.

 The Diedra Lee

There are times when the only thing that will calm my soul is a quiet visit on a lazy Sunday to where the fishing fleet is moored.  On the wharf, seagulls soared overhead as the water gently slapped against the hulls.  Mooring lines creaked under stress and a myriad of vessels slowly listed a few degrees to port then to starboard, each vessel independent of the others' choice of direction.

At the end of the wharf is where I saw him.  He was sitting on an old wooden crate on the deck just outside the wheelhouse, leaning forward with his elbows on his knees.  The sun was behind him as he carefully, methodically mended a net.  His skipper's hat was cocked to one side and back on his head so it almost touched the collar of his faded blue denim shirt, which appeared to have been carelessly tucked into his equally faded jeans. The cuffs of his shirt were rolled just above the elbows exposing sinewy arms and bushy hair.  Rubber boots that ended just below his knees were the only item of clothing that appeared new. His unkempt, silver hair seemed to spray from  underneath his cap.  His white, full beard made his face seem larger than it actually was.

As I watched, his leathery hands skillfully repaired tears in a fishing net with the care a mother would give her child. I stood silently on the pier not wanting to invade his peace. Without looking up he asked, "You a tourist?"  His voice was deep and gravelly.

"No, sir," I replied with respect.  "I miss the sea."

"She does that to ya. Once she's in your blood she never lets go," he said.

He stopped his work, lowered his hands still holding the net, turned his head to face me and asked, "You wanna go sailin'?"  Thick salt-and-pepper eyebrows sheltered deep eye sockets encasing steel blue eyes.  From the corners of his eyes deep wrinkles like valleys spread out like a fan. His complexion was grey, almost pasty. There seemed to be no color in his face, but that might be attributed to the salt, the air, or merely his age.

"You mean--your boat?  Take her out to sea?" I asked. I could hardly believe what he was asking.

"Won't be leavin' till the morrow.  Be gone a fortnight.  I could use another hand if ya wanna go."  His face frowned, exposing even more wrinkles.  "But you gonna have to work, boy. This ain't no pleasure boat."

A breeze blew across the beam and his hair waved in the wind.  The air current picked up his scent and carried it in my direction.  It was obvious his only cologne was fish.  His ears were nearly hidden beneath his hair, and he cocked his head to his right, as if he could hear better with his left ear.

"Aye, aye, sir," I replied with a wide grin.  "You've got yourself a crew member!"  The only thing that changed in his face was an equally wide grin and a softening of the wrinkles in his forehead.  He lowered his head and continued with his mending. 

"Be on board in the mornin' at four.  We head out at six.  You ain't here, I ain't waitin' for ya," he said.  "Me and Diedre Lee don't want nobody on board, though, 'till the mornin'."

“I’ll be here, Cap’n,” I told him. I looked at the starboard bow. Diedre Lee was the name of his vessel.  I spent only a few more minutes watching the Diedre Lee and her skipper.  I felt to stay longer would be an intrusion.

As I walked away, I heard him singing a seafaring tune about a bottle of rum.

The next morning I arrived at 3:00 a.m., and life was everywhere.  I shouldered my seabag stuffed with only essential clothing and toiletries.  The excitement of going to sea on a fishing boat instead of a warship made my feet dance on the pier.  I don’t think my feet touched it once.

The darkness was pushed away by yellow fluorescent lighting along the wharf.  I made my way past other boats whose crews were busy getting ready for their adventures.  As I approached the pier where I had found the Diedre Lee, I thought for a moment I had passed her by.  I squinted first in one direction then in the other.  She was not with the other boats.  I began to run back in the opposite direction thinking the skipper had moved his boat after I left yesterday.  I must have been a sight to see, running along the wharf with a heavy seabag bouncing on my shoulder.  At the opposite end of the fleet, my heart sank.  The Diedre Lee was not in port.  Disheartened, I walked

to the nearest boat and hailed a crew member.

"Ahoy, there!" I hollered.  A seaman stopped what he was doing and looked in my direction.  "Have you seen the Diedre Lee?" I asked him.

"The who?" he asked.  I repeated the name, and he shook his head.  "Never heard of her," he said.

"Have any boats left for sea this morning?" I asked.

"No, mate.  No one leaves before six.  The tide ain't right 'till then," he answered.  I thanked him and turned to find a cafe.

The Pirate's Booty was dimly lit and dingy.  There were maybe ten tables and all but one was busy.  I made my way through the customers toward the last available table, all the while trying to look like an old salt and not like a landlubber.  I was already embarrassed about being abandoned.  I pulled out a chair and sat my seabag on it.  Then I sat down on the opposite chair.  In a few moments, a waitress sat a mug of coffee in front of me.

"You look like you lost your best friend or missed your boat, honey," she said with a grin.  She was chewing gum, and I could see her tongue tossing it around.

"Yeah," I said looking into the coffee.  I lifted the steaming mug to my lips, blew across the hot fluid and took a sip.  "I was supposed to sail with the Diedre Lee."

Her mouth fell half open and her gum fell to the floor. She made no attempt to save it.  The table to my right fell silent and, like the ripples in water, the silence slowly spread across the room.  I saw every pair of eyes staring at me.

The silence was finally broken by a scruffy-looking cook.  From behind the counter, he said, "The Diedre Lee hasn't been seen or heard from in over twenty years."  No one moved.

"But that's impossible," I replied.  "I just spoke to her skipper yesterday.  I was supposed to sail with him this morning."

"Sonny," he said, "were you drinkin' yesterday?"

"Look, I was not drinking and I know what I saw."  The frustration was evident in my voice and I was growing increasingly uncomfortable at being the center of attention.

The cook came from behind the counter, placed my seabag on the floor and sat down in the chair.  He crossed his arms in front of him on the table and leaned forward.  "The Diedre Lee was owned by ole Jack.  He fell on hard times and couldn't make the loan payments.  The bank was gonna take 'er back.  Ole Jack loved that boat o' his.  He had no family and he would have withered away on dry land.  So, one mornin' he sailed out with the fleet on the high tide--all by himself.  He ain't been seen or heard from since."

I could feel the hairs on the back of my neck tingle.  From the table next to me, a man in a tattered peacoat spoke up.  "Manny," he said to the cook, "that happened twenty years ago yesterday."

"I believe it did, Gil," the cook replied.

I looked again at my coffee and the dirty cup.  "Well, perhaps I should be going," I said and then looked up at the waitress who had finally closed her mouth.  The color seemed to be returning to her face.  I stood up, reached into my pocket and pulled out a crumpled dollar bill and tossed it onto the table.  The cook also stood up and handed me my seabag.  I shouldered it and headed toward the door.  Every eye in the cafe was still focused on me.  Even as I walked out the door, the silence continued.

In the Eastern horizon, the dawn was painting the sky with colors only God could imagine.  I wandered back to the pier where I saw the Diedre Lee and ole Jack.  I noticed a dark object on a cleat where the Diedre Lee had been moored.  At first, I thought it might have been some debris, litter, or an old rag.  Its odd shaped aroused my curiosity, and I decided to investigate.  There on the cleat was an old skipper's cap.  I picked it up and looked for some indication of the owner's identity.  On the sweat band inside was a name, smeared, but readable. It was only a first name.  Jack.

Submitted: August 19, 2013

© Copyright 2022 ThomasC. All rights reserved.

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