CHAPTER NINETEEN

To tell you true, I was feeling awful low at that moment. I figured I was either gonna die of hunger or ram into Iceland, whichever came first.

All my plans for Mom had been smashed with the first big wave. It’s like the storm had suddenly stripped the sicky love stuff from my eyes.

I could see that even if I did get her back to Fisher River, she and Da would find something stupid to argue about. That’s what they always did. They argued.

So why was I so gung-ho to get them started again? Did I really want to spend another ten years of my life watching my parents smear lipstick on their unhappiness? Why on earth would you make life harder than it is?

Even worse, I was beginning to understand what I’d done to my Da this morning. I’d acted like Mom. I’d left him without a word or a note and hied off to God knows where.

He probably thought I was running away. He probably thought I didn’t love him anymore. Along with falling cranes and dodgy scaffolding, that’s the kind of thing that can break a man.

Moments like this, when you realize you’re a dolt and your family has no future, can be pretty hard on the system. Cold and tired, I curled up in a ball at the bottom of the Rita Anne. The rain was still hammering down. Iceland felt like a long way away.

As I sat there scrunching my fists and biting my lip, I wondered what the Icelanders would say when I arrived. I mean, can you imagine this starving kid rocking up in an extra-large oilskin? They’d probably think I dropped in from another planet.

Of course, I might be dead by the time I reached them. Then they wouldn’t have a clue who I was. They’d all be standing around talking in some language that sounded like turtle about what to do with me.

Maybe they’d cut me up and use me as bait. Might as well make the most of it.

Or maybe they’d throw me in a hot spring. I had to admit, that would be a pretty cool way to get buried.

Or maybe they’d just stick me in a cemetery. I guess there must be some people in Iceland that go to church. They’d probably place me in a coffin and put me in an unmarked grave, like they do with unknown soldiers.

I closed my eyes and tried to imagine how my funeral would go. Everyone would be in black. There would be a minister and a priest and maybe a rabbi. Someone would say something in turtle language that explained how brave and strong this alien fisherman must have been. Then they’d start ringing the bell.

I could almost hear it.

Dong, bong, dong, bong.

Wham!

The skiff smacked head on into an object.

At first, I thought it was an iceberg.

Only it wasn’t.

It was the Whitlock Bay bell.

Every bay in New England has a bell buoy. It’s a channel marker and a warning signal and a really good excuse to make noise. This one was red. Da always says “red right return” when he passes it—it’s a way of remembering to keep red markers to the right as you head into the channel.

My brain was working overtime. Judging by the sky, it was probably way past seven. That meant that high tide had come and gone and the current was running strong toward the sea. The waves that had pushed us into shore were now pushing us back out.

I had just enough time to realize I’d better grab on for dear life before the Rita Anne bumped past the bell.

But I tell you something, it’s pretty hard to hang onto a boat with your knees. I had my hands round a cleat on the buoy and my knees around the seat at the stern. It was still blowing and raining like sin and the painter was a good eight feet from my hands.

If I let go of the bell to get the line, I risked being dragged out to my doom. If I let go of the boat to get on the bell, I was leaving the Rita Anne to the sea. No fooling, it was the hardest decision I’ve ever made.

I let go of the boat.

And the Rita Anne slipped by me into the dark.

That was the first boat I’d ever known. The first boat I’d ever driven. Every piece of gear that I owned was in her. My rod, my reel, the tackle box with Granddad’s name on it—gone.

By this time, I was crying so much I couldn’t tell the difference between my tears and the rain. I sat there, clinging to the frame of that slippery, swaying, incredibly LOUD bell, and bawled my eyes out.

I’d started the day with such high ex-pec-tations. But instead of finding a fish, I’d gone and managed to make a mutt’s breakfast out of everything. I’d lost the anchor and the Rita Anne and anything that was left of the Tucker pride. This disaster wasn’t Da’s or Granddad’s fault. It was mine.

Yep, up and all, there didn’t seem to be a lot worth living for.

Especially since I was going deaf. I mean, that bell was louder than an air raid siren and I was sitting right next to it.

DONG! BONG! DONG! BONG!

Every note was ping-ponging around my brain. With my left hand shaking, I loosed hold of the frame and felt around in Granddad’s pockets. Hopefully there was some lint I could stuff in my ears.

No luck with the lint.

But I did find a piece of gum.

From the feel of it, I guessed it was around ten years old. It tasted like wallpaper paste and chewed like cud, but I chomped down on it like it was filet of sole. Then I rammed one half into my right ear and one half into my left.

Suddenly, everything got nice and muffled. It was a lot like being underwater. All that donging and bonging was coming from far, far away.

Better yet, the wind and rain were easing off. I may have been as cold as a frozen banana, but at least I wasn’t being rinsed in a gusher. Now I could get down to the business of dying in peace.

It was while I was thinking about how Da and Granddad would feel when they finally found my popsicle, that I first saw the light.

Wow.

So maybe there was a Heaven after all.

 

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Fisher Jim: Chapter Nineteen