Round 10 Challenge – Kill off one of your characters (Word limit – 1200 words)
Read OLAF 9 here (see “Similar Posts” at the bottom of this post for any earlier entries)
The gillnetter Jealous Tides was the only vessel they’d seen all morning. Ron had brought Annikki and Ransu out thirty miles offshore to The Fingers on the northern edge of Jeffrey’s Ledge. He’d intended to stay in coastal waters but Annikki pleaded he take them out. The spiked coffees he’d been drinking made it easier to sway him.
Alka Seltzer hadn’t done the job that morning. The Robert Benchley quote “The only cure for a real hangover is death” spoke from the fridge door magnet like a grim prophesy. He’d never been one for hair of the dog and he never drank before fishing but he hadn’t been in his right mind recently. So he jacked up his coffee with Kahlua and Baileys. It eased the headache. A few more cups and he almost felt himself again.
It was flat calm with steel blue skies. The Fingers was a classic spot for tuna, a place where you could run into big fish. But there hadn’t been much going on out there recently. It would likely amount to a day of glorified whale watching.
At 24, Annikki was almost a decade older than Ransu. She mothered her brother over everything from sunscreen to seasickness. Ron had expected Ransu to be the one enthusiastic about fishing and Annikki the one lukewarm but it was the opposite. Ransu was as morose as she was upbeat. In baggy jeans and a hoodie, he spent most of the day slouching on deck while Annikki and Ron sat in the tuna tower.
“Don’t mind him,” Annikki told Ron, looking back at Ransu, who was sitting on an overturned bucket near the stern looking out at sea. “He’s just shy.”
Ransu wasn’t sulking out of shyness. The previous night he overheard Annikki speaking with Olga in low tones about Ron. It was then he realized his mother had feelings for another man besides his father. In that instant Ron had transformed to him from a friendly fisherman to a threat to his parents’ marriage.
Annikki, on the other hand, wanted nothing more than her mother and Ron to reunite. She’d felt this way even before meeting Ron. She resented her stepfather, whom she saw as frigid and undeserving of her mother. Olga first told Annikki about Ron last year, about how she’d been unable to bury that part of her past. It was Annikki who’d suggested the trip to Hagan’s Harbor. She even tried scheming a way for Pellervo to stay behind but her mother wouldn’t hear of it. Olga was convinced the trip would serve to put old demons to pasture. Annikki had other plans. She was sure her mother’s future happiness lay with Ron.
By noon it had climbed to eighty degrees. In the distance a whale spouted, its vapor hanging in the air. Annikki removed her sweater and tied it around her waist. She wore a short tank top. She and Ron worked their way through a thermos of coffee and kahlua, buzzed and laughing, as Ron told her about tuna fishing, or if you were down on your luck, tuna wishing.
He told her how he and his deckhand spent a good part of their summers in the tuna tower, the days long and hot with the summer sun high in the sky. From the tower’s height they would scan the ocean for signs that tuna might be nearby: schools of mackerel or a fishy smell or circling birds or larger sea life like whales or porpoises, for where there is life there is more life. If it was morning they might sight the splashes of feeding tuna or in the afternoon see their long wakes running into the breeze. They could go for days without sighting tuna and Ron’s feet would be sore from standing and his eyes tired from searching. But then they would have the tuna running before them and Ron would climb out to the tuna stand, which projected twenty-two feet out from the bow. Soon he would be perched in the basket, guiding the deckhand with quick gestures – to the left, cut right, faster, slower – the tuna still running before them. Then all the long days of fruitless searching were worthwhile, worth every empty-handed evening, and he forgot the fatigue of his feet and his eyes and there was nothing but the chase.
In his mind he saw the tuna running before them. The harpoon raised, poised, hurled. For a moment hanging there in mid-air before the hit. A flurry onboard. Hoisting up that beautiful creature. Making the bleeding cuts behind the pectoral fin. The gas hissing out of the puncture. Sawing off the head. The insides spilling out. The blood dyeing the boat’s wake. Scraping out the cavity. Packing the fish into the ice hold. Slicing open the stomach, long as a woman’s thigh, out of nothing but curiosity to see the herring and squid and whatever else once served as the tuna’s fare. Washing the death from the deck. And then, in the nights, waking to climb up and urinate under the stars with the sea splashing glitter and climbing down below again to fall asleep to the sounds of whales swimming under the hull.
“Show me what it’s like,” Annikki said, snapping him from his reverie.
“To hold the harpoon. On the tuna stand.”
Ron paused. “Ransu,” he yelled, motioning him up. “I need you to take the helm.” Ransu climbed sullenly up the ladder. “Just hold her steady,” Ron said, giving him the wheel. He pointed to the shocker, the button that triggers the current that runs through the throwing line and harpoon that electrocutes the fish. “Just whatever the hell you do, don’t push this button.”
Anniki and Ransu were arguing in Finnish so Ron climbed down the ladder. A few minutes later Annikki descended. With her arms overhead the bottom of her tank top came up high on her lower back. Her jeans were ripped in several places below the seat, exposing the pale skin of her upper hamstrings. She looked down and he turned aside, pretending to be busy at the side rail.
They went to the bow. “Careful. Hold on with both hands,” he told her as she walked out along the tuna stand over the water. The harpoon lay perched crosswise over the basket. He followed close behind her. Once she climbed into the basket, he freed the harpoon and brought it around so the dart pointed forward with the bow. He reached around her with one arm and showed her where to grasp the rod.
He leaned in, his chin just above her shoulder. The mix of coffee and alcohol, of salty ocean breeze and faint perfume, made for a heady combination. Standing in the basket with his arms around Annikki and the ocean sprawling before them, he was happier than he’d been in years. It wasn’t to last for long. Within the hour one of them would be dead.