We tie him down. Blue’s sobering a little now but he’s not sober enough to fight back and he hangs over the side like a dead dog….”
by brian doyle
One time in 1944 we were on our gunboats and discovered our compasses didn’t work. Compasses then were built so the needle floated on a little sea of alcohol. Blue had opened each one and drank the juice and put them back together dry.
Get Blue over here, says the lieutenant.
Blue gets hustled over. He’s drunk.
Bristol, says the lieutenant. You drank the juice from the compasses.
Yes, sir, says Blue.
Putting the regiment in danger.
That’s a crime, Bristol.
There’s no sound except the lap lap lap of the little waves against the boats.
I should shoot you in the head, Bristol, says the lieutenant.
Blue smiles, a little confused and a lot drunk.
Tie him to the gunwale, head down, says the lieutenant.
Sir? says Mahon.
He can drink all he wants that way, says the lieutenant.
We tie him down. Blue’s sobering a little now but he’s not sober enough to fight back and he hangs over the side like a dead dog.
Hey, you guys, says Blue faintly.
Back to base, says the lieutenant.
He’ll drown, says Mahon quietly.
That’s the idea, Mahon.
That’s murder, sir, says Mahon.
If you stop you go to jail, says the lieutenant to me.
Back to base, he says.
We take off. Blue was yelling but the little waves were gagging him. I could hear the lap lap lap from where I sat and the sound he made when he tried to catch his breath between the waves.
After a minute I reached down quick and loosened the knot and Blue fell in. His feet banged the gunwale. We were near an island and the water was maybe twenty feet deep. I took off fast. Maybe he made it.
(illustration: john richen)
“Blue” originally appeared in The MAMMOTH Book of Miniscule Fiction and is used by permission of the author.
Brian Doyle is the author of six books, most recently THE WET ENGINE, about hearts and all. It’s not bad. Among his awards and such are (a) a woman married him, (b) the Coherent Mercy granted them three children, and (c) he was named to the 1983 all-star team in the Newton Massachusetts Men’s League, which was a really tough league, you drove to the hole in that league you lost fingers, one time a guy drove the lane and got hit so hard his arm came off, but he was lefty anyway and hit both free throws. Supposedly he then left his arm in a toll booth basket on the Mass Pike but that might be apocryphal. More from Brian Doyle can be found in the Vault of Smoke. (bio/2003)
Brian Doyle was the author of many books, including the sea novel The Plover, which has, no kidding, music printed in it, not to mention Mink River, Martin Marten, The Wet Engine, and more than we can recall. He won the 2017 John Burroughs Medal for distinguished nature writing for Martin Marten, which was plenty cool and much deserved. Brian passed away peacefully at his Lake Oswego home on May 27, 2017.
More, much more, from Brian Doyle can be found in the Vault of Smoke.