Register Tuesday | September 18 | 2018

A Day on the Sea

Third-place finalist in Maisonneuve’s "Are we having fun yet?" literary contest

We were supposed to be sailing with the breeze cool, the sun warm and the water calm. Fish were supposed to be biting and tugging on our lines and, by noon, as we ate our sandwiches, we were supposed to be sore and tired and heaving with delightful adventure. Our captain was supposed to be sober and lively and worth the three hundred dollars we paid him. He was supposed to be like the captain on Gilligan's Island, a round, jovial man that could have been not unlike Santa. He wasn't supposed to be yelling in drunken stammers at my children as they teased the minnows. "Leave the bloody fish alone, you little brats," he mumbled under his breath.

He had said to call him Captain Fin, and that's all he had said until he yelled at the kids. He smelled of cheap rum and dried fish innards. His beard was sloppy and his long hair fell in greasy strands over his grimy face. He didn't sit poised at the helm of a mighty vessel. Instead, he lay on the deck of a rusted boat with an empty, label-free bottle of some foul-smelling liquor-resting. My kids had grown tired of poking him with a broken fishing pole, and they were now looking at the seagulls feed on something just beneath the water.

My wife was in the cabin or in the bathroom, ravaged by sea sickness. I stood against the railing, holding a pole and watching the line bob on the choppy water. The seagulls were feasting as the kids threw minnows at them. I coughed and rolled my eyes in the thick heat. Nausea swelled then settled, as it had all morning.

I secured the pole and jabbed Captain Fin with my sandalled toe. He peered at me with one open eye and snarled. His gold tooth glittered in the intense sunlight. He made an odd sound, gurgled something in his throat and sat up, draining the last of his rum.

"Why are the fish not biting?"

He rubbed his head, trying to remember where he was. "What?"

"Why are the fish not biting?" I asked again.

"Maybe because you're too loud. Your kids are throwing my bait in the water and your wife is spewing her guts out down below. There's not a fish for a hundred miles."

He made a motion to roll over and I stopped him.

"There are a dozen boats around here fishing the same waters. Take us to the fish."

He rubbed his eyes and spat something crude from his mouth. My daughter made an "ew" sound and my son laughed and started spitting in imitation.

"You want fish?"

I nodded.

He rose painfully to his feet, grimaced and limped to the minnow bucket. He bent down and took a floundering silver fish out and ate it raw. My jaw dropped in horror and my son dove for the bucket, his arm reaching for the minnows. I quickly pulled him away.

My daughter shook her head at Captain Fin. "Didn't your mommy ever teach you manners?"

Captain Fin smiled. "My mommy was a drunken prostitute, and we lived in a number of Mexican bars when I was your age."

She stared crying and edged toward the cabin. I was grappling with my son who was trying to sweep minnows into his mouth and spilling them onto the deck. Captain Fin stood over the two of us, burped and went back to his nap on the deck. I picked up my son and shook him until a minnow finally escaped from his lips. I held him and stared at his freckled face.

"How do they taste?"

"They taste like worms," he said delightedly.

"Please take us back to shore, Fin," I said miserably.

"Captain Fin," he corrected with a groan.

He tried to get to his feet but slipped and fell back to his knees; he then drunkenly climbed the ladder to the bridge. Soon, the boat was limping along the ocean roof, nearly dying as it crawled to the docks. Water seeped onto the deck from somewhere as we rolled in to shore. Fin stared at the hole, shrugged and applied some duct tape to the bubbling crack.

My wife and I dragged the kids and the cooler off the boat. I said goodbye to my pamphlet vacation as another family boarded. I had dreamed of blue skies, rugged fish and a powerful ship. As we stumbled off the deck, I wondered why I had to get a drunken, burned out pirate and a piece of rusted, floating tin.