sea legs

Griff unties the rope belt, a present from Dar, now three months dead, strings a buoy with it and takes it below, hangs it from a bunk and commences punching the color off of it…”

 

by laine perry

 

…and they are four-footers, stabbing northward toward a little village in old Alaska frankly peppered with moles and various scars, the occasional blemish, a week’s worth of fine strawberry blonde stubble. Her shins prove the truth of her story. She’s come in from Harkness, Texas, a town about a morning’s worth of driving from Abilene. She’s hardly nubile. Let’s call her sea worthy, stalwart like a good ship dog. Able and willing to pitch even as the vessel pitches on the waves. Ali Griff, the little blonde numbering one among a crew of eleven, the others hirsute, short of vocabulary, wanting in all ways eccentric. Griff’s what she commands them to call her but in the wee hours it does not go much like that. Clutching the rough wool to her unformed breasts, she’s made to lean forward over her bent knees. Made to whimper. Just one of the men calls her Griff during these couplings—in fact sees nothing wrong with doing so—sees nothing that needs to be interrupted, reformed, or patched up right as the morning gutting begins.

In the night it is likely that the name Ali will be grunted several times in an exhausted, almost defeated finale to a show we do not have to imagine.

Fish. Always been fish. A life of it. No muskie. Mackerel and salmon when things got to be better with Dar. Dar being the only man worth knowing even now, a hundred forty-two days gone. Still she scents the ratty knit cap he wore—the moist set of the cloth still in the grip of his skull—his cashew shaped ears and the rest of him long cooled now, cooling to a freeze somewhere in the mountains, in the bear range just like he’d wanted to be done. And Griff had done it, made sure it had gone that way for Darren despite the knocks she’d had to take, the family, his kin, the bovine sister with mud colored stringy hair and a sour smell about her wanting Dar’s sweaters, his waders, and gloves, but Griff hung on to the cap Dar had always had on him. It was the way she’d known it was him climbing the dock out of the morning thickness, him with the twinkle and irascible grin though he was steady too, and strong the way he’d come on to Griff, “We are ours,” he had told her quietly and that was all he had needed to say to her. Ali, girl of twenty, kitten really with dreams still unhatched and plans unformed, a downy softness on her like a young fern still furled in full sun.

Putting in to Port Townsend, Griff scratches the Cap’s beard—an impressive growth. Nothing like the silky fine feathers rustling up Griff’s shins. “Devil’s Tale’s got the best crab hash Griff. Eat it while you can, nothin’ left to pick up, have to make do with the lard and Wisconsin whitefish for the way back.” Griffin blinks the silly starlight out of her way, scuttling a cough. Sun not yet up. Town’s quiet, the water sculled deeply. 

There on the dock among the splatter and muck the weathered buoys hanging on with little determination, just habit to catch up the fall. Griff unties the rope belt, a present from Dar, now three months dead, strings a buoy with it and takes it below, hangs it from a bunk and commences punching the color off of it, flecks of paint flying through the grey shaft of morning light breaking like melody over her ship now empty. The tune Dar sung to her nightly, a song about bluebirds twirling her ear, the sound of the prophet he was. Every limb on fire itches ground two surfaces deep. The bugs the size of garden snails. Calomine, or Borax, or the Sea—something to win her body back, some privacy to be fought over and reclaimed.

At work when the men slept the dishes, aluminum pots, crusted roots, barnacled shells, the knives still bloodied and the glass jugs still tearing with beer. She’s a lovely girl when she walks port side, a girl a man might give a look to. In the back of the theater Griff crouches and bleeds. The crying gone double now since coming on the forth month. They’re pulling enough weight to make them rich once they haul back. Just that Dar’s gone, absent for good this time. She smooths rough concrete with a weathered paw remembering the fractured vertebrae and skinned shoulder blades trying to rise.

Originally published:
Issue Thirty-Eight
August 2005

 

(photos/art: john richen)


Laine Perry grew up on the road with her mom, making music and telling stories. Many more of these stories from Laine can be found in the Vault of Smoke.

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