Monday, April 3, 2023

The Sea and the Old Men

Ryan and Iain awoke to the smell of decay laced with tangy salt water air. The brothers jointly owned The Hemingway, an eight-five foot fishing yacht, and had yesterday helped haul in a dozen marlin for their wealthy clients just off the Treasure Coast of Florida. Each of the marlins had weighed in excess of two-hundred pounds and although the gigantic fishes hung in the refrigerator larder the scent of bait, blood and marine biomass dominated the olfactory aura of the ship.

The two brothers sat down to a breakfast of bacon and eggs, steak and potatoes, coffee and cream. The clock on the wall framed in a platinum helm's wheel displayed quarter past five, giving the brothers 45 minutes to prep before their clients began wandering in to the dining cabin by ones and twos for their meals and orientation on the fishing day ahead. Both Ryan and Iain stared uncharacteristically at their full plates just set in front of them by Lizzy who was busy prepping breakfast for the ten others apt to show their faces at 6 am.

"I had a dream..." both said in unison as the clock ticked to 5:16. 

"You first," said Ryan. Though he was the older brother he gracefully let Iain take the lead more often than not. Mainly to avoid a back and forth waste of time, Iain usually complied as he did today.

"I was doubly exhausted last night. Quite the haul, eh?"

Ryan nodded. His beard a scraggly experiment compared to his brother's full chin of curly gray.

Iain set his unused knife and fork down and glanced at the ceiling as he began.

"You won't believe it, Bruth. I was on the Hem alone and for some reason I was pushing her to the limit out on the open ocean, a blue day as clear as they make them. No clients, no itinerary, just me roaming free over the open water, playing like I was a kid at the wheel."

"And then the Sun flashed green, like we've seen at sunset, only it was midday.  I was so surprised I cut the Hem's engines and walked out and leaned on the bow rail to have a look. The ocean glistened like deep blue glacier ice everywhere and it was as if I could see down to the deepest depths and the furthest distances. And as much as I was alone, I was in the midst of a universe of life. I mean, I could actually see the trillions upon trillions of living things in the ocean all at the same time. Every fish and every sea mammal, every crab and lobster, every jellyfish and sea urchin were there for my private show. Bruth, I felt like God looking out over creation. No kidding."

Ryan kind of squinted at Iain across the white-clothed breakfast table.

"Yeah, go right ahead and roll your eyes you non-believer. It doesn't matter. I had a glimpse of perfection in that dream. I saw so many marine species, each as plentiful as the stars, and the ocean itself was pristine, no fishing nets, no red tide, no oil slicks, no fishing fleets of any kind. I was the only one there with The Hem. And I sensed the beauty in each individual, each thinking, feeling creature, alive and thriving in its own right. It was an endless waterfall, no an endless, swirling tsunami of life and in that ocean expanse I felt myself truly alive."

Ryan nodded with a thin smile. "Quite the dream. A bounty if there ever was one."

"Indeed," exhaled Iain sagging into the chair from a rod-straight story-teller stance.

The helm clock ticked, counting away seconds without judgement. Ryan ran his hand over the balding pate he never quite had the courage to shave. He then leant over his breakfast plate toward his brother.

"Well, my dream was similar, but, well, very different. I was also on the Hem alone, out in the flats north of Cuba, you know, where we landed that five hundred pounder, half eaten by sharks by the time we hauled it in.  Anyways, a dense mist was everywhere in the dream and in spite of everything I was lost. Yeah, yeah, I know that's the standard fisherman's exhaustion dream, except the feeling was different. I was alone on the ship at the helm and all the nav equipment was working just fine, GPS and radar telling me exactly where I was and yet I knew deep down I was completely lost. The Hem was purring powerfully so I just steered her north through the mist for what seemed like hours when she finally cleared out of it."

"Instead of the deep blue I expected, an immense expanse of gray sludge appeared. My vision was perfect though I guess I never had a dream wearing my glasses. Anyway, that expanse was the darkest gray you could imagine and bobbing in the sea from Hem to horizon was a huge carpet of death. Man, I'm not exaggerating. The whole sea was full of overturned ships: from dinghies to seiners to aircraft carriers. And in between all those hulks every marine creature you could imagine rolled with the their bodies were the ocean. Whales, dolphins, manatees, sea turtles, and sharks all gray and layered with rotting kelp. But the detail that keeps haunting me are the smaller fish. In the swell of all that sea rot and garbage, the smaller fish, uncountable and then some, dead and decomposing like everything else, they kept cascading down the sides of the overturned ships and whales and everything like some immense school of bait fish rolling out of a dumpster. Even though I knew they were dead that continual motion made them seem half-alive, kind of like a zombie flow or something from the pits of hell."

"Anyway, at some point I noticed The Hem's engine had died, and in the quiet I had this deep certainty I would be stuck in the middle of that wrecked ocean for all time. It felt like purgatory. Yeah, yeah, you know, I never bought into the whole religion thing, but still that's what it felt like, an endless purgatory. And for what seemed like an eternity I thought I would never wake from it."

The helm clock ticked on after the at the dream tale ended. Then something clinked on the table and in the salty moment afterwards they both laughed the hearty rumble of brothers at sea. 

"Well, I better get the tackle team assembled," Ryan announced as he rose.

"Yep, I'll give the clients their morning talk." returned Iain as he pulled out his iPad with an opening swipe. "They'll need some expectation leveling after yesterday's big harvest."

Leaving their chairs and untouched breakfasts the two brothers crossed paths and clapped each other on the shoulder as they went opposite ways to execute their morning duties.

The Hemmingway bobbed on its mooring, oblivious to the reality of which it was part.

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