For Jim Groves, Islander & Fisherman
“There’ll be no fishing tomorrow.”
You ever have one of those days when Fate grabs you by the ankles and whacks you against a barbed wire fence?
Well, that’s the sorta year I’d been having.
Nothing had gone right. From the gummed-up sewage pipe to the ex-pir-ation of Mrs. Lemster’s cat, I’d been strung out on a run of bad luck. It had gotten to the point where I was writing Fs at the top of my tests to save my teachers the trouble.
The only thing getting me through the long winter was the fact that—come June first—Da and I would be out on the Bay fishing for stripers.
Well, I’d made it to the last day of May. And it looked like Fate was getting ready for another whack.
“Outboard’s squirrelly. Gonna have T-Bone overhaul it next week.”
That’s my Da talking. I’ve always called him “Da”. I asked him last month why it wasn’t “Dad” and he told me Mom stole the last “d” when she took off cross-country. Along with his drill bits.
But he’s lying about that, because Da has always been Da. And Mom left just after Christmas.
That’s my Granddad talking. Since you haven’t met him, I should warn you that Granddad is pretty fierce. He’s got ten tons of muscle and a great big scar on his chin from a battle with a Grizzly Bear in Montana. Says Grandma went to her grave wearing the prettiest fur coat in the county.
“Nah. Got a rush job with that lady who lives up Wilmington Street.”
“The crazy rich one?”
“Yeah. She wants her front redone.”
“On the house or her face?”
That’s my Da’s laugh. He laughs like a car alarm. Kinda high pitched and wheezy. It used to drive Mom nuts.
“When are you gonna break it to Jim?”
That’s me. Some people call me Slim or Lucky or Stupid Effing Kid, but most of the time it’s Jim. When I’m in real trouble, Granddad calls me James Cornelius Tucker. He calls me that a lot.
“In the morning. Let him dream.”
See, the thing about adults is, they’ve got no sense. They think letting you dream about something you’ve been longing for, and praying for, and wishing for with every drop of blood in your body—and then telling you that it ain’t gonna happen—is kind.
That’s like painting a man’s toenails before you chop off his feet.
And to put the varnish on the toenail polish, we were talking about fishing. Now, I understand that fishing is a pe-cu-liar passion. A lot of folks don’t enjoy spending their hours chasing after a shadow. After all, you have as much chance of sinking a hook in your thumb or scorching the skin off your nose as you do catching a striper.
But that’s the nature of the sport. As Mom used to say about love, it’s a mixed-up, maddening, make your heart do backflips while your stomach’s hurling kinda thing. You can’t explain it. You can’t argue with it. You dream. You love. You fish.
“Any word from Lily?”
I almost tore my spine from its socket I sat up in bed so fast. I get a lot of mileage out of kitchen talks and open windows, but this was the first time in months I’d heard Da mention that name.
Because Lily is my Mom.
“She’s not coming back.”
And there it was. The final grain of dust on the coffin. The cat, the sewage pipe, the stripers, and Mom. The world was headed to heck in a horse cart and I was the one being dragged behind the wheels.
No wonder Da was avoiding a boat trip with some cooked-up story about a faulty engine. He was too scared to tell me that my whole life was over.
I guess most boys of ten would take this as a cue to scream and shout and make a circus of themselves. Not me.
I was plotting my revenge.
It was a pretty simple equation. If all my relations were insisting on lying like dirty carpets, then I had every right to do the same. If Da wanted to avoid talking to me, then I’d make it easier than ever. Let him sit on his duff and laugh his stupid, wheezy laugh. I had a date with destiny.
I lay back on my pillow and pondered my course of action. And the more I thought about it, the more things became clear.
Yep, there was nothing for it.
I’d have to steal the boat.
Now before you go making a judgment, remember that it was my Da’s boat to begin with. So you gotta ask yourself whether taking a boat that’s gonna be yours at some point in the future is really stealing.
Yep, there was nothing for it.
I’d have to borrow the boat.
Though sleep comes pretty easy to Tuckers when they’ve made up their minds, it took me a lot longer than usual to drop off. I can’t remember pre-cise-ly what I was thinking about. Maybe it was stripers. Maybe it was the color of the dress Mom was wearing at Thanksgiving. It didn’t matter a whole lot.
Sure, it was torture to watch the earth creak round on its axis. Sure, I was fixing to be bone-weary when I hit the streets at dawn. But I had something that Da and Granddad would never have.
I had an alarm clock.