Yellow Mama Archives

Michael S. Stewart
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sweetsolitude.jpg
Art by Kevin Duncan © 2014

Sweet Solitude

 

By

 

Michael S. Stewart

 

He was alone now; he could feel it. The ambient environment had become suspended. It was not something he could see; it was something he felt. There was no sound, no car or truck engine running, no dog barking, no bird's chirping, nothing. Complete silence. It was deafening.  This is wonderful, he thought.  Throwing his arms wide and palms up he threw his head back and shouted, “Yes! At last! At long last! Oh God, YES!”

Edward Nobel was always a loner. Even as a little boy he much preferred the company of himself to anybody and strived to do just that. He would walk around the neighborhood and daydream, sometimes looking straight up into the sky at clouds as he walked. One day he was so preoccupied with looking up at the clouds he had not noticed that he wandered dangerously into the middle of the street when an annoying honk jolted him out of his daydream. He sheepishly looked at the driver at the truck three feet behind him and waved, moving off the road only to watch the driver shaking his head as he roared past.

In his teens it was apparent that he was not going to be killing the ladies with his looks, so he dove deeper into his hobby, which was daydreaming. Occasionally it was broken by reading a book or watching a movie, but he would always find his way back to his favorite hobby and devote a few hours a day to it if not more.  The best thing about daydreaming is you do it alone, and that is what Edward liked best, was to be alone.

In his early adulthood, he chose a profession that would allow him to work alone, mostly. He was a lab technician, and he tested blood samples for various different diseases or tested organ tissue for a myriad of different reasons. He liked his work; he enjoyed it because it gave him ample time to sit in his lab and ponder.

When another technician entered his workspace, it was like another person had invaded his home and urinated on his bedding. That is how it felt to Edward and so he worked better alone and resented having to share his space with anybody, even if it happen to be a fairly pretty female technician. Edward enjoyed female company but only occasionally, and only on his choosing the time and the place. He found that women wanted more than he was willing or capable of offering in the way of personal interaction. So he chose to date women that weren’t necessarily looking for a relationship.

He looked up and down the street and reveled in the solitude. Nobody was around.

Not a creature is stirring, not even a mouse. I am going to LOVE THIS!!

Edward smiled and wondered how he got here, to this place, wherever this was.

It doesn’t matter. He thought. I am alone! Blessed solitude! Peaceful solitude! Me time!

                                                ****

He walked down the empty street and then looked up at the sky while he kept walking just like he did when he was a little boy. He realized this was his old neighborhood that he grew up in, same houses, same yards, same empty lots with overgrown bushes and trees. He looked around the neighborhood again and then up at the sky and kept walking, he knew every inch of this road; he grew up on it. He remembered the diversity of the Queen Ann neighborhood of Seattle where he spent his childhood. Back then this section of the city was bustling with noise and activity.  Now it was close to total silence except for the sound of his footsteps on the ground. He looked up at the sky again and this time he noticed that the clouds weren’t moving, at first glance he had thought it was a still day and in a few hours he’d see a different sky when he looked up, but it was exactly the same sky a few hours ago.

How could that be!? Am I suspended in time? I’ve heard of stuff like this, a different dimension, or universe?

He walked around his old neighborhood until he’d seen everything that he remembered and then he walked around some more and saw things that he didn’t remember. He walked into houses and upstairs and into the bedrooms and even into closets and attics. He walked around all the shops and went into all the offices in the back of the shops and down the alleyways. He looked everywhere and recognized this must be the same neighborhood that he grew up in, down to the minutest detail.

What is that noise? It sounds like a power source. Maybe over those foothills in the next valley.

He became aware of a low hum, barely audible but constantly there. It had been with him since he got here only he did not hear it or even realize it was there until now.

How long have I been here, it feels like a long time, maybe 3 or 4 days;  maybe a week at most?

                                                ****

He was at a lake now from his childhood. His father used to bring him to this place from his earliest memories until his early teens when he decided it was even better to be alone in his room, rather than have to spend two or three hours in a boat hooking worms with his father.

I’d give anything to have one of those hours back with him, talking about baseball, the weather, listen to him gripe about local politicians, heck I would love to just stand at the waters edge and say nothing at all if I knew he were here; even thirty minutes, heck five minutes!!

He examined all parts of the lake just as he did when he was a boy and on some of those occasions his cousin Tommy would come along with them. Tommy didn’t like Edward that much, but that was okay with Edward. Tommy was athletic and loved to play sports.  When he asked Edward to play ball with him, he always made excuses not to go so he could be alone. So the lake was almost the only time they ever got together, aside from the occasional family picnic or holiday. They would walk along a path that went almost all the way around the lake, stopping at the dam on one end of the lake. A bridge made of rope and wood walking planks crossed the river on the other end. He went to each outlet and stared at the water and then up at the unmoving sky above him. It was hard to tell how long he’d been there at the lake after a while, a month, maybe two. The sky never changed; it had the same cloud formation as when he first arrived in this world.

He sat at the wooden picnic benches in the trees a couple of hundred feet away from the lake shore and thought about his circumstance.

 

How long have I been here? A couple of months ago I walked around and explored every inch of the shore. The clouds are not moving and there’s no night time, just daylight, there’s not even any wind. Everything is perfectly still unless I move it and then when I turn around and observe it again it’s back in its original place.

I haven’t eaten anything since I’ve been here or gone to the bathroom.

A shiver ran through him even though he didn’t feel cold. This shiver was a shiver of anxiety and dark feelings running through him when one comes to a cathartic realization of their own situation, and it’s not a good one. In other words, it was one hundred times worse than an ‘oh shit’ moment.

I must be dead!! It’s the only explanation! I can only see things from my past; memories of my childhood and as a young man! I’m not hungry! I don’t go to the bathroom! I don’t sleep! The sky never changes, but why doesn’t the sky change? I thought heaven would have clouds that move at least, and a night and day? I guess I was wrong about that, unless this is not heaven, or wherever the dead go for eternity.

An even darker, sinking feeling washed over him then, splashing his body with enough anxiety to bring an elephant to its knees.         

So is this hell? Jaysus! What did I ever do wrong? So this is my fate, forever?

Despair and depression began to seep into him.

Okay! Okay, let’s just calm down. I cannot even remember how I got here!  He paused a long while staring out through the tree limbs out onto the still lake, and eventually had an idea.  So far I’ve been able to go to places in this world just by thinking about them. So what if I go back to where I used to live. The last place I remember. He closed his eyes, and he remembered the apartment and the street where he used to live. He thought of his job as a lab tech and his office building and the lab itself. He thought of the Chinese food restaurant in the strip-mall on the way home where he used to grab some dinner.       

 

                                                ****

It has been years now since he has been back in the neighborhood where he used to live. He didn’t sleep in this place either, even though he felt more lethargic and weaker than he ever did. He could not remember the last time he slept. Was it years ago now? The low hum that he’d noticed years ago was now a buzz. The buzzing sound was constant; always there, inside his head, with every thought, every movement.  He desperately wanted to take a nice long nap, but every time he tried, he lay still, unable to sink into that blessed state of sleep. He became tired of looking around and seeing the same things. He became weary of walking everywhere and tired of looking at items in store windows and inside shops. He desperately wanted to see somebody, anybody. He liked to find a standee in a theater or video rental store and pretend it was a real person and would have a one-sided conversation. He longed to hear animal noises, like birds or dogs barking; he was beginning to forget what they sounded like.  He’d give his soul to hear an engine roaring down the street and the occasional boom box thumping from some punk’s low-rider, but mostly he was tired. Tired of being alone and tired of the silence and tired of that blasted humming sound! Tired! Tired! Tired!

 “YES, I GUESS I’M SAYING I’M LONELY AND I’D LIKE A LITTLE CONVERSATION!!!” he shouted as loud as he could, piercing the dead silence.

“ANYBODY!??” he paused a few seconds, “YEAH! THAT’S WHAT I THOUGHT!! THANK YOU VERY F***ING MUCH!!!”

God, WHERE AM I? Why have you forsaken me? I wasn’t that bad was I? Or was I? What did I do to deserve this, God? Can you answer me? Can anyone answer me? I was a good boy, I ate all my peas and carrots, never hurt no one, uh ugh!! No sir! Not little Edward, not me, no sir!! My mama used to say that ‘God is in the stillness’, well where is he? WHERE ARE YOU!??? I’d give my soul for one f**’ing conversation! Just one word spoken from another human being! One glance! One smile! Someone to flip me the bird! Punch me in the face!!

He lifted his face to the unmoving sky and yelled with all his might, “AAAAAHHHH!!!!”

 

 

 

                                      EPILOGUE

Dr. Tushar  Samaik, and Head  Physician Frank Williams, spoke quietly inside the patient’s room. 

“How long has he been here Sams?” asked Dr. Williams.

“He arrived here yesterday already in a deep comatose state. His boat capsized when he was out fishing on a lake, and he was pulled to shore by two guys fishing close by. His brain activity was almost flat-line when he came in, but now there’s nothing except for a few jumps in the hippocampus area.  I have him on oxygen and we’ve been keeping his fluids up.”

The low hum from the equipment that surrounded the patient became loud.

“I’ll get that breathing machine checked; it just started making that noise.”  Said Dr. Samaik, a little embarrassed.

“Good, make sure you do, with all the cutbacks we can’t afford a new one,” said Dr. Williams, he paused, and then followed with, “and apparently we are going to need it a long time. This guy’s only living relative, a cousin named Tom Nobel, gave us the green light to run some of the experimental drugs. So as long as we have a live test subject with a dead brain to run our tests on we’ll get our grant from the Government, which means more money in our pockets and we can keep this place running.”

“Gotcha Chief, I’ll call a tech today.”

“Good, we need to keep Mr. Noble alive a good long time; well, you know what I mean, we need to keep his ‘body’ alive.”

Both Doctors smiled and almost chuckled before Dr. Williams turned and left the room.






captainjack.jpg
Art by Steve Cartwright © 2016

Captain Jack

Michael S. Stewart

 

 

I couldn’t remember being arrested.  I vaguely recall my feet being kicked. They didn’t feel like my own. And the first thing I saw were rays of light streaming in through bars above me. I blinked and felt a sense of peace suffuse my body.  I stretched. My dream, still with me. It was an old one. Same dream I always had about being a boy in Australia, sitting by still water, watching moonlight glint off the surface.

 And always, in the dream, there was a dark element lurking just beneath, unseen, like a crocodile licking their chops in want of a fat morsel on shore. But I didn’t care, I felt like I was floating on a handful of painkillers and every ache in my body had vanished.

“---mira bella durmiente.” I heard a voice and remembered. I was in Mexico. And I remembered why. The next part was a whirl in my memory, but I will tell it as best I can.

A bucket of sewage was thrown on me. I jerked up, instantly, and any feelings of tranquility I had, were gone. I wiped the back of my hand across my face, wary of the voices and laughing, blinking hard and trying to focus. The pungent aroma of urine and feces hit my nostrils. My gorge rose and I barely made the bucket in the corner after lunging on all fours, wretching horribly.

I missed, mostly, and stayed hunched over, dry-heaving what was left of the chicken fajitas, Spanish rice and Corona we had the night before. Good thing the bucket had been recently emptied, as I was trying my best to fill it up when I heard voices in the shadows.

“---chico blanco se ve como una mierda, eh Manning?” I heard a grating voice, full of malicious intent, while the echo of my own wretch filled my ears. I knew enough Spanish to know they were concerned about my welfare. Or not.

Sí, jefe, muy enferma,” the second voice, nasal-pitched, came from a smaller man a second before he kicked me in the stomach like he was delivering a winning field goal through the uprights. A blast of pain hit me on the end of his boot while I left the ground, my wind knocked out, sending me crashing into the bars on the far side of the cell.

Le di al camarero un poco de dinero para deslizarse que un mickey,” said the grating voice. “ Uh, disculpe, Lo siento--- I am sorry, you are feeling so--- ugly, my friend. But you did have good dreams, hey, chico?” He laughed.

 I couldn’t breathe, I was going to pass out, panic struck as I opened my mouth to suck air, but nothing came. Pressure was building in my head and chest.

 entonces tenemos que la policia  te va a recoger por intoxicacion publica, in case you wonder where you are,” he confessed, laughing from the shadows.

Gasping against pain, I forced a crack in my lids and saw feet moving towards me, I was snatched up, arms held tight while I tried in vain to suck air into my lungs. I pushed back with my legs until we stopped, up against the bars. I passed out briefly.

He must have loosened his grip when I became dead weight, because my lungs expanded, supplying much-needed oxygen to my body. The cell whirled. And I saw steps coming out of the shadows, cowboy boots with a paisley design. His fists clenched.

“Yo, Australia!” I heard behind me. A baritone voice in pidgin English I’d grown to love, filled me with relief.

The cowboy in front of me continued. I could see it coming. The step, the windup, the coupe de grace. I was still being held from behind and craned my neck to the side to avoid the blow.  An explosion of pain hit my head and ear. But the brunt of it was absorbed by my captor behind me. His arms went slack, and I wrenched free, falling to the floor. I later found out, Henry; the baritone voice behind me, had reached through the bars with his huge hands and choked him out, so when his hombre delivered the death blow, he was nice and steady to receive it.

I reached for my knife strapped to my beltline. Not there. They took it. Boots stepped towards me, hands outstretched. I swept my leg swinging my hips with all my strength. He went flying, and his back hit the concrete with a thud. I heard more laughing. It was guards outside the cell just beyond reach of the bars.

When boots went down by no means was he out. Surprised, wild-eyed, his glare cut at me through his long black hair. He became a blur of button-down long sleeve cowboy shirt, brown pants and silver belt buckle scrambling to get up. I knew I had one shot at this. I drew the same leg back again, and as he leaned forward on all fours to get up, I threw a jab with my heel catching his jaw. He was out before his body hit the floor. He spun, fell back like a sack of potatoes, ass in the air.

I heard a few expletives in Spanish I couldn’t decipher, then silence. I kept my eye on boots to make sure he was out.

“He got something on you, bro? He know you?” Henry leaned his face against the bars, still holding on to the smaller man, unconscious, then let him slump to the floor.

“Where are we, Henry?” I stood, still sucking wind, wiping my face on the front of my shirt.

“Jail, chief!” he laughed, a hardy, big laugh of a man without a care in the world. I always envied Henry and Sam, his brother, their sense of mirth in the darkest of times, as if ingrained to float above the agitating fray of life with the gaiety of children at play.

Adivina qué, muchacho blanco, usted y su amigo grande tonta acaba de publicar su propio fianza!” an older-looking gentleman was saying, he had a thick mustache, black eyes and the gait of a tired jailer. His eyes told me he’d just as soon shoot me as let me go free. He rattled a bunch of keys on a metal ring until he found the right one. “Too bad your cell mates couldn’t finish what they start--- they gave me forty bucks to get in your cell, Gringo.“ He looked at them disgusted and spat at boots who was closest to the bars. “But, you deserve your freedom, I think,” he said without looking at me, “I think I let them sleep here, until they give me more dinero, hey?” he smiled.

He swung the door open, and without looking at me, motioned with his head. I needed no further coaxing. He opened Henry’s cell next. I saw four men sprawled on the floor like a bomb hit, in various form of unconsciousness, a few teeth and blood spatter. And Henry, with a grin like a twelve-year-old schoolboy just walking out of the Playboy Mansion.

We left in a hurry. Our eyes blinded by light as we left the shady recesses from within. My head throbbed, and I knew vaguely what boots had told me in the cell; something about slipping us a mickey at the cantina. But it was hard to remember anything with my head throbbing.

The cement walkway gave way to cobbles and stucco white buildings, arches leading into cactus gardens, dirt roads, wire and wood pens containing chickens and small goats. A green Jeep Grand Cherokee passed us kicking up dust, a sidewalk vendor selling shaved ice with sugary blue and orange colors in a cone kept a wary eye on us while we walked towards the marina.  The Jeep Grand Cherokee made a U-turn.

                   

                                                  ****

Before this tale goes further, I should introduce myself. My name is Daniel Delgado, my father, from Spain, met my mother from the U.S., in a traveling circus that hit every port and town Down-Under. They were part of a high-flying act; which might explain my inane ambition for adventure. My friends, the Tongans, Henry, and Sam, are two brothers I met at age thirteen when I followed my Dad to New Zealand to open a grocery store near the sea port of Timaru.

 On my way to school, the second day, I was taken by surprise when a group of cavorting bullies decided to trip me, rip open my lunch bag, contents flying, and began to use me as a punching bag while encircling me like a pack of wolves. Instead of becoming frightened of getting my ass kicked, like most kids my age, cowering and slinking away with my tail between my legs, I got pissed. I don’t know why I was so angry, possibly because I had enough of life’s knocks and bumps by then to last me a good long time, and possibly because these assholes standing around me were just one more pothole in the road that was unnecessary. And bumps in the road that are unnecessary really light my fuse. So I picked out a taller red-headed kid with yellow eyes and freckles and swung hard, hitting him square on the mouth. His head snapped back, and a string of blood flew, hitting a kid behind him. They pounced on me, and I was on the ground in a heartbeat trying to protect myself the best I could. Kicks and punches rained down on me so fast I panicked, thinking about how my dad would find me, beaten, bloodied and bruised, limp, in a puddle of my own bodily fluid.

I kicked out, knocking a boys’ feet out from under him. I reached out and grabbed another leg, swinging up, using his leg as leverage to deliver a good kick to someone’s head.

I got picked up, punches pummeled my head and body. I swung at everybody and everything. I felt my body being moved, tumbling along with a wave of arms, legs, fists and feet, like rolling down a hill inside a ball of body parts. Finally, I made it to my feet again and the entire group of goons, including the red-haired kid holding his mouth, were sprinting down the dirt road, away from me.  My crimson rage was roaring, I wanted more, I wanted to beat them all into the ground with my fists until there was nothing but blood and dust. I watched them running, the cowards, my blood boiling. I yelled after them, my hands in the air like King Kong, “AAAAAHH! You bloody bastards!”

I had subsequently found out, while I was down taking a beating, my Tongan neighbors had seen me being surrounded, and when the shit hit the fan, to my great surprise and everlasting gratitude, they jumped in to save me, probably from ending up in a hospital, fubar as we use to say.

 “You crazy, Australia,” I heard a chuckle behind me. I whirled, and my eyes fell on my Tongan neighbors, I’d seen them out in their father’s fishing boat, helping roll the nets, stow their equipment below deck, fastening lines. I looked at my liberators, inquisitively. Dark-skinned and big for their age. As big as any grown man, but not quite as big as the behemoths they would become. Their hair, wild, black and curly, with amusement crossing their faces, their heads shaking in disbelief, “You crazy, brah.”

“Thank you,” I managed to say, spitting blood from my cut mouth, the anger in me gave way to a curious, amiable feeling towards these two. Looking back now I can even say I felt relief, and hope like a castaway adrift on a raft hearing a foghorn come through the mist.

Henry and his brother Sam introduced themselves, and we became good friends.  The next ten years were spent, mostly out of school, boating around the Islands of New Zealand, Northern coast of Australia, and some of Malaysia.  We all knew how to work a fishing boat, every aspect of it, but when it came down to fixing the diesel engine, or rigging something from scrap metal, a piece of plastic and a few car batteries to keep us going, I was the guy who figured it out. So they began calling me Captain.  The ‘Jack’ part came later when we were making more money on some fishing runs than they’d ever seen in their lives. ‘That’s a lot ‘o’ Jack, Captain,' I remember Sam saying when we got paid for bringing back a stolen yacht to their owners in Malaysia.  And so I earned my moniker. We had guessed where the pirates might be headed, and we just happened to be right, dumb luck, that one. They docked the yacht in plain sight, and we waited for the crew to head into town.

I don’t expect them to call me Captain, but I don’t correct them either. It works well this way. How does the saying go? Every man rises to the level of his own incompetence. I’m no better than my Tongan friends, I just haven’t found my level of incompetence yet. And I say that with the utmost humility, and reserved fascination at how easy certain disciplines seemed to come to me. Albeit most of academia could have been my oyster, it’s not my thing, never was, from the earliest onset I’ve taken a more exasperating road, preferring the one less traveled rather than the traditional you might say.  I yearn for the seas, adventures in every port, buried treasure if you will, you get the picture. And have had plenty of scandalous liaisons; one with a French Ambassador’s’ daughter, another with twin sisters I met in Astoria, Ore.

Excuse me for rambling, suffice it to say, my Tongan brothers and I have found ourselves, an accumulation of all life’s’ crazy moments, here, just south of the U.S. border with Mexico, scrambling for our lives to make it out of town via the inlet waterways.

                                                  ****

                                       

Anyway, when the Grand Cherokee made its U-turn, I tapped Henry on the shoulder, and we bolted. My throat was dry and full of dust as we ran through the back alleys, skirting trash cans, hopping chicken-wire fences, ducking under clotheslines. A large canal appeared in front of us, we headed for it. Hopefully, it’d lead us to the Marina. The Grand Cherokee, in a cloud of dust, slid around the corner after us. I knew that couldn’t be good, shaded windows glinting in the sunlight, I glanced over my shoulder only long enough to see a shiny black object appear out the passenger window, before tumbling over a wooden crate. Henry picked me up on the go, and bullets hit a wall behind us. Chunks of stucco flew.   

We ran to the other side of the road, trying to duck, making a small target, we flew into the water under a walking bridge made of rock. We heard the brakes screech, backup, and wasted no time diving into the water, murky as it was, eyes closed, holding our breath downstream.

I came up for air and tasted water full of brine, swiveled my head back to the stone bridge where the Jeep was parked. Two men stood peering over the top searching the water for movement. I saw them pointing and leveling their weapons towards us. “Down!” I shouted to Henry, but he needed no more appeal from me, his head submerged before the word left my lips. I kept my mouth shut and eyes closed, but could hear the periodic splice of water as some of the bullets tore through, pulling a stream of bubbles with them.

I kicked Henry, accidently, until I had to come up for air. I breached the surface and found ourselves a few feet away from the docks mooring safely in the marina. I pulled myself up on the floating walkway and gave Henry a hand. I spared a New York second to look up the canal, and the Jeep was gone.

Henry and I ran sopping wet down the gangway towards the end of the docks looking desperately for the seiner. It was no longer at the end of the pier. Movement from the corner of my eyes told me there were others on the docks, working their boats, walking on the beach. A small Ketch was taxiing out, another coming in, but no seiner. I hadn’t expected to see it. We left Sam behind with the cargo, and he knew better than to stay if we didn’t make it back by nine the night before. But we sure could have used him now.

“She’s out of port, Capt’n!” Henry shouted, not slowing our pace down the wood planks to the end of the pier. A disturbance not going unnoticed by the fishermen stowing their gear and the onlookers on the beach. “Keep moving, Henry!” I shouted, and just as I got the words out a bullet whizzed by; others splintered the wood planks in front of us. Behind us, the Jeep had parked by the gates and the two gunmen were on foot moving fast down cement steps to the docks. I heard screaming, and people got real low in their boats.

The end of the pier, fifty feet ahead seemed like the end, and panic struck me like an electric shock just as the bow of our seiner, the Kelsey Nichole, came around the breakwater offshore. That beautiful white, blue, and rust colored chum bucket, powered by two diesel engines, looked like a slow-moving float sent from heaven.

Henry and I never slowed, we hit the water on a dive, swimming as far under the surface as possible. We surfaced just to gulp air and kept swimming for what seemed like an eternity until I saw Sam, on a surface breach. He threw an orange buoy over the starboard side attached to a line.

          Sam slowed to three knots, and when Henry and I finally reached the line and took hold, he shifted gears to full throttle. We looked back, holding tight to the buoy, splashing through the sea of Cortez, picking up speed to nine knots. The two men watched us from the end of the pier as they disappeared from our eyesight when rounding the breakwater heading north and further out to sea.

                                                            ****

          We pulled in to the private cove of Mr. Carmine just north of San Diego, a few other multi-million dollar homes lined the cliffs, but it was clear to his neighbors who owned the beach rights. He was waiting for us at the end of his pier. The seiner was too big to pull in close without running aground so we dropped anchor a few hundred feet out.

          He and two of his men dressed more for a trip to the bank than a visit to my floating bucket of bolts, came closer. They wore sunglasses and scowls that bespoke of breaking up their beloved monotonous routine and brought their skiffs to the port side, we threw them a rope ladder to board.

We had dinner ready, steaks; BBQ’d rare. Henry was working the makeshift grill the good part the afternoon, starting three hours out, chucking in briquettes and mesquite periodically to make it white hot. Mr. Carmine liked his steaks crispy on the outside and so rare on the inside it practically moo’d when you cut into it. Sam was busy cooking spaghetti and throwing together a salad in the galley, another favorite. I had a foldout table set up on deck with a white table-cloth, some flowers we picked up on the way set in the middle of four place settings. It was clear skies, a beautiful afternoon and the water was calm.

We three; Sam, Henry and myself waited for Mr. Carmine, (“call me Frank”), to sit before we took our own seats and his men slowly began to pace the deck.

 

                                                  ****

Mr. Carmine, Frank, fixed me with translucent green eyes. His raven-dark hair combed back with something slick that made it look greasy.

“Did you receive the cargo, and bring it safely across the border?” He spoke with a smooth, educated voice, chewing his meat and tossing it back with red wine he brought with him for the occasion.

“Yes, it’s below deck, in the hold.”

“Any slowdowns? Were you stopped and searched by the coast guard?”

“Just an overnight stay in jail. And it wouldn’t have mattered if we were stopped by the coast guard, we have a false bottom in the hold full of squid floating in inky water, they would never have guessed anything unusual.” He smiled at me like the Cheshire cat, his white capped teeth looked abnormal. A smile I’m sure that lingered as a last thought for many people.

“I’d like to see, if you don’t mind,” he threw down his napkin.

I had Henry dump everything from the hold with the false bottom just for this. I got up and pulled open the trap door and stepped down the ladder, the smell of the fish hold was overwhelming. Frank waited above peering down at me through the opening. I reached down and opened the second trap door, the rusty metal creaked when I opened it.

“Beautiful,” he grinned, even wider, if it was possible, “you’re a goddamn genius, Jack, I could make a fortune off you if you weren’t so goddamn insolent ---who’s idea was the false bottom?”

“Mine,” I said, unimpressed with his insulting compliment. “Henry welded it on the way down, and Sam kept ‘em fed and comfortable through a secret panel leading in from the galley on the way back.”

A few coughs echoed up from below, the light, which they’d barely seen for forty-eight hours, only when Sam slid them food through the fake panel in the galley, must have seemed bright streaming in through the hatch above them. A few shaded their eyes, palms up, as they looked at us.

“Six thousand ahead is what we ended up with,” my voice echoed in the chamber as I spoke to him, leaning over. “Had a nasty scrape with one of the coyote’s in town, who figured we were stealing his business---” I turned down to look at peering eyes, “One more hour, y yo te llevaré a la orilla” I held up a finger to signal one more. We needed to conclude our business with Frank before we could ferry them to shore.

“Yeah, yeah, that’s good, Jack, ---christ!, you are one resourceful guy,” he smiled and laughed as I climbed out and shut the lid to the hold. I put the hundred-eighty grand on the table, in a gym bag, on the table next to him. “You’re smart, Jack--- a hard worker, but I’ll never see what my Louisa saw in you.”

I felt the pang of her memory hit me hard and what came out was a reflex to his words, “maybe it was a life away from you.” His cold eyes fixed on me, he squinted, and I had a sense of what his antagonists might have seen before they disappeared forever. It was sobering. And I waited for him to speak again.

“Sit down,” he motioned to my chair. I sat, he followed. Henry and Sam hadn’t spoken a word, they knew better. He took two bundles of bills out of the bag, twenty grand, and shoved them towards me.

“Listen to me, Jack, and listen good. I’m going to say this once. I don’t know why my granddaughter wanted me to have you do this as a task, because I asked her a while ago, what would be a good mission to send your Daddy on next—,” he took another long sip of his wine, “and lo and behold, she came up with this!” —he laughed, and threw up his hands— “A run south of the border to pick up as many illegals as possible and bring em’ back to the states,”—shaking his head in disbelief— “maybe for a better life, who knows, but it’s what they want, and it’s what she wanted, for some bullshit humanitarian reasons, I don’t know, I don’t try to figure out kids nowadays,” he leaned in. “So, despite her bleeding-heart liberal motivations, I had to agree with her, it would be a good test of your resourcefulness— I agreed.” He picked up his oversized wine glass and looked me over. We began to sway from the wake of a passing boat, the gulls cawed, hovering off the stern. “If you ever hope to see your daughter again, if you hope to spend a little time with her next summer, maybe, just maybe this Christmas if you’re lucky, lose the attitude, and do as you’re told.” He took a gulp and put the glass down. Waves lapped against the side of the boat.

“Can I see her?” I said, swallowing my pride and my intense hatred for this man. He pulled out his wallet and fished out a school-sized picture and slid it to me. My heart sank and broke at the same time.  I looked at her thirteen-year-old face, halfway between a cherub and a beautiful woman, like her mother, Louisa, had been.

I felt a comfortable breeze.

“I want you to go North—,”  he leaned in, folding his hands, elbows on the table, satisfied from the meal and the control he exerted over me. Seagulls hovered and dipped close while one of his men threw pieces of bread overboard, watching them dive and fight over the scraps.

“For what?”

“There’s a mining operation up there, Gold,” he said,a big one— a ‘bonanza’ as they say.” He took out a toothpick from a small metal case he produced from his breast pocket. “Just south of Nome, it’s a big operation. I want you to disrupt it somehow —slow down their processing a bit, just enough to make ‘em miss a payment or two so I can relieve them of their struggle for financial freedom.”

Obviously, Frank was behind footing the finances for this poor sap who was sitting on a Gold Mine, literally, and by missing a payment, he would be able to swoop in and assume ownership if not operations. And as he kept his eyes on me, reading me, he sensed my thoughts.

“Now I don’t want to operate the god damn thing, mind you, but if he misses just one payment, it’ll give me a lot more leverage towards a bigger percentage of ownership.”

“I see,” I said, looking at Karysa’s, picture. “Then, can I see her? For a few weeks, this Christmas?”

“Oh, well —of course!” He threw up his hands as if it were a given. He didn’t even have to think about it. But I knew his mind was subject to change on a whim. Hadn’t he sat quietly smiling at the wedding he gave Louisa and me by the cliffs of his mansion and hadn’t he smiled like a proud grandpa when he heard Louisa was pregnant with Karysa? But how cold and hard he turned in a blink when Louisa died of complications in childbirth. How his heart turned black at the site of me.

My last summer being a full-time dad was when she was six. She had spent most of her time, up until then, hopping between my Aunt’s house in Astoria and his mansion in Southern California, when he decided it was best if she stayed there, permanently. This, he told me over an espresso at a coffee shop he had arranged to meet me at. He had (“dui”) shots, holding up his fingers in a peace sign to the waiter, a half grin crept over him that told me he was anything but joking. Sure, I protested, I put up a fight, I got up from the table and swore while his henchmen gently put their hands on my shoulders and sat me back down. What could I do? Throw a punch at him? A fat lot of good that would do, his men would have killed me.  Fight him in court? Another dead end, since he golfed with half the judges in the county and had half the politicians in Southern Cal in his back pocket. I was, as we put it distinctly in the fishing business, fucked.

He had me.

Karysa was already starting her school year at his place. A private school. She had tutors for school work and a piano teacher that gave her lessons every Tuesday. She had a horse in a million-dollar stable and a stable man to take care of it all. She had a driver-bodyguard. She had the best of everything, things I could never give her. What could I give her? I’m a fisherman. But my heart ached for her, and when he did let me see her, we spent the most wonderful times together, fishing and exploring the coast all the way up through the straits to Alaska.

At one point, he decided that Frank Jr. his son, Louisa’s younger brother, needed to get away for a while. The perfect hideaway? A deckhand on my boat. I’m not sure why he had done that at the time, I thought it was to keep an eye on me. But what reason would he have to do that? I had nothing of his, he had everything of mine. Maybe it was to get a handle on my loyalties, my emotions and see what kind of guy I was.

Frank Jr. confided in me one rainy afternoon in the cabin. He said he really didn’t want to get involved with his father’s business; something his father wished Frank Jr. to take over for him someday. ‘But first I need a little adventure,’ he said, and then it’s off to one of the Ivy League schools back East. Frank graduated some years back and was working with his father; also back East. He wrote me an email, and told me he wanted to get back on the water someday, do something simple, ‘give it all up,' he said. I wrote him back and told him he’s always welcome on my boat, his adventure awaits, as long as he realizes I’m captain. I put a smiley face after this last.

“Hey!” Frank snapped his fingers and waved his hand in front of my face, “you still with me?”

“Yes —sir,” I looked up.

“I’ll send you the address of the place when you’re on your way,” he got up and wiped his mouth with a napkin, climbed down the rope ladder and as he and his men were pulling away in the boats he yelled up, “and on your successful return, let’s talk about a few weeks with Karysa, this summer.”

There it was, ‘let’s talk about a few weeks…,’ Nothing carved in stone, a malleable nothing, an air sandwich, thank you very much, that tastes great. Another goddamn errand by his puppet before even talking about seeing my daughter.

He left me with the picture. And I took it below and taped it to the cracked mirror in my quarters. I ran my fingers over it, while Sam and Henry ferried the cargo to shore and gave them each a small ‘welcome to the U.S.’ package consisting of a small velvet bag with a compass, a map, a fake ID and a basic ‘Spanish to English’ translation book.

          I traced her long brunette hair with my fingertip. It resembled her mothers. I remembered Frank commenting after she was born, “thank the good Lord she didn’t come out with some half-mutt Jew-fro, like you, huh Jack?” My hair had always been curly, like my mothers. He laughed jabbing me with his elbow.  No, I suppose she was spared my feral mop. I’m not sure there was any resemblance to me at all, she was a carbon copy of her mother Louisa. Beautiful cheeks with rosy apples, pouty lips, dainty nose, without the slightest knowledge of how beautiful she really is. The kind of kid you knew was going to be a knock-out as soon as puberty had left the station, and the kind of kid a father would worry about, always. Never one to play with dolls; more of a tom-boy.

“Daddy?”

I spun.

I looked at my daughter standing in the doorway dripping from head to toe. She wore white shorts and a pink Roxy surf-shirt, her fashion at the moment between her and friends.

Karysa!” I snatched her up at once and held her, kissing her wet hair, her body trembled in the folds of my arms. “What are you doing here? Did you swim out here?”

“Yes, from the end of the pier as soon as Papa’s men tied off their boats, I wanted to see you, Daddy,” —she was crying,— “are you happy? Are you happy to see me? Please say you are— I’ve thought about this for so long.”

“Yes! Oh my God! Yes! But, you know what’ll happen if Frank, catches you here?! God, it’s good to see you, baby—“ I drew back and took her in, already up to my mid-chest, she had grown five inches since the last time I saw her.

“I couldn’t help it, Daddy,” she buried her head in my chest, “I had to see you, I wasn’t going to wait any longer. I want to go to Alaska with you, or wherever you go.”

I said nothing, just held her. I knew the consequences of my actions, I knew the risks and took total responsibility for what happened next. How could I not? I was her father, I could have said no, I could have reasoned with her and convinced her I would be back again, but just like a hundred times before, it would have faltered and sounded weak, and that’s the last thing I wanted to do right then. What kind of shit would she think me to be? She was the only thing in my life worth dying for, and I wasn’t going to disappoint her again by saying ‘not now, maybe later,' just because her asshole of a grandfather had me dancing by strings. A string of crimes I had committed for him, a string of love and commitment to my daughter, so I said nothing, just hugged her and dried her off.

We sat in the wheel-house and waited for Sam and Henry to return while we got caught up and talked about her friends in school.

They were just as excited to see their god-child as she was to see her uncles. My last thought before pulling up anchor and leaving the cove was, this is probably a big mistake, but it’s one I had to make, for her sake and my own, no matter what the cost.



Michael Stewart works as a Designer/Architect for AT&T in the Puget Sound area north of Seattle. Although he considers his real job, a daydreamer, as most writers do.

He spent four years in the Marine Corps and held various different jobs, including shoveling manure, working in an Animal Clinic, swamping in cherry orchards, driving a cab, digging ditches with a hand shovel, and presently, but not last, an engineer at a telecom company near Seattle.

These are a few ways he's made a paycheck, but his passion is with writing.

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