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Blue Collar

by Kathryn Lord

Orion’s Belt hung low over Hare Cove in the inky pre-dawn sky. A full moon crept above the horizon. The sea was glossy calm. Diesel engines throbbed steadily, yet outside the harbor was ghosty quiet. The lobster boats, blindingly awash in their halogen lights, slip-slid around each other, navigated around moorings, skiffs, and murderous ledges. The foghorn at the Rabbit Island lighthouse, three miles out to sea, rumbled its throaty murmur every fifteen seconds.

Everett Bart’s lobster business clung to the rocky shore just inside of the mouth of the harbor. The flood-lit lobster car, a partially submerged pen, bobbed eerily in the oily black water. Ev was everywhere, pumping fuel into the waiting boats, loading the freshly caught herring from the bait shed. He stacked the empty gray plastic bins that the vessels would fill with flapping, snapping crustaceans. He bantered with the crews, traded comments on the weather, the dock price for bait and bugs, the gut-chilling November cold. Zippy, Ev’s tiny Schnauzer-mix pup, dashed about, yipping, from one side of the float to another, his blue collar and ID tags jingling.

“Hey, Zip,” a sternman yelled and threw the dog a biscuit. Zippy caught it mid-air, growled, and scurried under the ramp to the pier above where he could chew undisturbed.

The captain yelled, “Why doncha get yourself a real dog, Ev? That canine wouldn’t fill a chowder cup.”

Ev laughed and shot him the bird. “My pooch’s cock is bigger than yours, you fucker.”

The captain winked, then waved and spun the wheel of his boat as he pulled away from the dock.

Ev scooped Zippy up and scratched the dog’s neck through his wiry ruff. Pressing forehead to forehead, he whispered, “Never you mind, I know, and so do you. Inside, you’re a Great Dane.”

Zippy licked Ev’s cheek and nipped his ear lobe.

###

Otto Habin and his cousin Silas were late for work. It was quarter past five, oh dark hundred. The sun wouldn’t be up ‘til ten past six, but they were already way late. Not that the lobsters would care, but Everett Bart, the bastard, would. Otto knew Ev wanted them on the dock by 4 am at the latest. They’d missed it enough times and caught his fury. The asshole. He’d shit a goddamn brick.

Otto barreled into the unlocked trailer, tore the covers off the naked Silas, still out cold and snoring like a chain saw, then dumped a bucket of melted ice and last night’s empties on Silas’s head.

He came to swinging. Otto knew what Silas was like when he was hungover or strung out or both. Otto stepped out of the bedroom. He rooted through the pile of dirty clothes on the grubby bathroom floor, found a shirt and pants that were dry, even if they weren’t clean.

“Cover up that ugly ass, and let’s get moving.” Otto threw the clothes at Silas and was starting his truck before Silas caught up.

Otto peeled out of the driveway, the oversized tires spitting gravel. “Fuck, man, wait while I close the door,” yelled Silas, struggling to hold himself in the moving cab and haul up his pants at the same time.

“How many times I got to tell you? You snooze, you lose. Dockhand’s a shit job, but I’d like to keep it, if’n you don’t mind.”

Silas leaned into the back and returned with Otto’s favorite, a ragged Patriots jersey. “I’m cold,” he said when Otto shot him a glare.

“Whatever,” sighed Otto. His fleshy, sun-darkened face jiggled eerie in the greenish glow from the truck’s dash lights. He leaned forward, belly crammed behind the steering wheel, squinted as he neared the bridge to Bart’s Island. Wouldn’t do to hit a deer. The critters can pop out like a ghost on speed. Do a job on a vehicle, even a rugged number like Otto’s Dodge Ram 3500. He’d rather spend his money on fancy gizmos than to fix dents. Maybe a chrome grill guard. Suckers would bounce right off.

###

When they finally staggered down the steep gangway, it was nearly sun-up. Most of the moorings in the harbor were empty, and the last two boats were about ready to leave.

Ev didn’t turn to greet the men. He showed them his back.  Even Silas’s hungover brain could tell that Ev was beyond pissed.  Only Zippy, who never discriminated, hopped and circled, yapping crazily, dog tags jingling.

“Come on, Zip. Let’s leave these worthless bumfucks so’s maybe they can find their dicks.” Ev tramped up the gangway, Zippy trotting behind. “Maybe they’ll fall into the harbor and drown, save us from paying them,” he said, just loud enough so Otto and Silas would hear. When he got to his bait shed up on the dock, he slammed the door as hard as the rickety hinges would allow.

###

Ev crashed around the chaos of the shack, finally punching the buttons on his dusty cd player and turning up the volume as high as it would go.  The lush French horns and strings filled the shack with the opulent overture to Straus’s “Der Rosenkavalier.” Ev couldn’t help but hum along, matching his pace to the music.

Not only did the lateness of the two numb skulls put Ev way behind on his morning bookkeeping and calls to suppliers, but also, the rest of the day was shot to hell. Pitiful though the two were, they were better than nothing. But dock workers were near impossible to find. Otherwise, he’d have canned them both long ago.

Ev was taking Myrna to the opera tonight in Orono. It’d be a first for her. He fairly tingled with excitement, wondered how she’d take to the outlandish spectacle of opera he’d fallen for hard years ago. Myrna was a strapping, truck-driving lesbian, but she’d shown an openness Ev never suspected. Plus, Rosencavalier has a pants role: a mezzo-soprano sings the part of a young man. The curtain rises on two ladies in bed. That should get Myrn’s attention.

But his plans were screwed. He’d hoped to get away early so they could get a nice dinner beforehand. Since the peckerheads were way late, he was now behind, and he couldn’t decide if he could leave the sorry duo to close up.

Zippy scratched and whined at the door. Ev might be an opera nut, but Zippy was not: the high notes hurt his ears. So Ev opened the door, and the pup dashed for the gangway. He’d be back soon enough.

###

The bait shack on the dock above was just out of sight from the lobster car where Otto and Silas worked, but they could still hear the music almost as well as Ev. Zippy skittered on the greasy surface, wet and stinky with a slick of salt, herring bait, and fuel oil. Otto glanced up to be sure that Ev was not looking and that Silas was, then stuck one toe under Zippy and flipped him in a complete somersault. Zippy landed splat on the planks, all fours akimbo. Silas clapped his hands over his mouth, he was snickering so hard. He forgot he’d just been shoveling smelly fish into barrels.

“Shee-it,” said Otto. “Wonder if I could do that again.”

“Let me try,” said Silas, doubled over with laughter. He stumbled over and picked Zippy up, then draped the little dog over his outstretched foot and kicked, but Zippy slid off to one side. He ran under the gangway, wedging himself under the lower end, then peered out at the two men, eyes darting, black and shiny as used motor oil.

“You haven’t got the technique.” Otto knelt, grabbed Zippy by a hind leg, and pulled. Zippy yelped, his front claws scraping parallel lines on the slimy surface. “Here’s what you got to do.” He drop-kicked Zippy like a football to Silas who lunged to catch the dog, but then slipped and in an elaborate, slow-motion cartwheel, fell. Right on top of Zippy.

This time, Otto laughed, grabbed his shaking belly, and pointed at Silas. “You bozo!”

Silas rolled off the dog, poked at the still body, and picked him up. “Fuck, man. He’s not dead, but he’s pretty bad. Look at his back end.” Zippy’s front legs jerked feebly, but his back legs were limp. His back twisted at an unnatural angle.

Otto stared at the dog. “Now you’ve gone and done it. What are we going to do?”

“What’re we going to do? You did it, you asshole. What are you going to do?”

“He’s as good as dead. Back broke for sure.” Otto stepped back as far as he could from Silas and the pup.

Silas picked up the dog and shook him. The back legs flopped. Zippy yelped, then howled. “We got to do something. What we going to do?” Silas followed Otto to the edge of the float, pushed the dog towards Otto with both hands. “He’s hurting, man. What we going to do?”

Otto’s arms hung at his sides. He stared at the little dog who was now trembling and wheezing. “Ain’t but one thing to do,” he said. He reached for the pup, grabbed the head in one hand and the body in another, and gave a quick twist in opposite directions.

Silas dropped the dog onto the float. “Goddamn, now you’ve gone and done it,” he near screamed.

“Shut up, you jerk, shut up!” Otto hissed, then glanced up to the dock above.

“What are we going to do? What? We’re in deep shit for sure. Goddamn, goddamn.” Silas paced in circles around the little dog’s body.

“I’m thinking.” Otto pulled out an empty lobster crate and flipped open the lid. “Put him in.”

“What? No way.” Silas stared at Otto. “I’m not touching that fleabag.”

Otto grabbed Silas by the arm, twisted it hard, and dragged Silas towards the dog. “Pick up the damned dog.”

“Uh uh. No fucking way.” Silas wrenched away, looked at the dog and retched, then vomited, hit his own feet with puke.

Otto scanned the float, then Silas up and down. “Give me my shirt.”

Silas stared at Otto, wiped his mouth on the sleeve, and then pulled it off. Otto threw the Patriots jersey over the dog, then rolled the pile into a tight bundle and stowed it in the crate. He snatched the end of a coil of rope and tied it to the box’s handle, then shoved it into the water where it joined a raft of identical floating crates, all full of lobsters waiting for the truck to the Boston fish market.

Otto tugged the box to the far edge of the float under the gangway and tied it off to a cleat. “Ev’s going off-island later. Once he’s left, we’ll take the crate out in the harbor and sink it.”

Silas stared up the ramp. “Jesus God.”

###

“Hey!” Ev yelled over the railing. He’d changed from his work clothes into clean jeans, a white polo shirt, and a gray corduroy blazer. He’d shaved. He’d combed his hair. “You assholes seen Zippy?”

“Nope,” said Otto as he shoved heavy crates. The fishermen were coming in from the day’s haul, and the loaded boxes were piling up. “Was here a couple of hours ago but ain’t seen him lately.”

Silas skulked to the far side of the float, under the gangway. The crate with Zippy inside was still there, bobbing in the wake of the boats.

“Now, where’s Zip off to? Not like him.” Up on the dock, Ev checked behind the stacked traps and empty bait barrels. Maybe he’d crept in one of the truck cabs or a dingy and gone to sleep.

Ev was late to pick up Myrna. “Look,” he yelled in the direction of the float, “I’ve got to get going. Keep an eye out and put him in the bait shed when he decides to show up.” Ev patted his pockets for the car keys and the tickets. “You know what to do to close up. Extra twenty for you, plus I’ll forget about you being late.”

Otto waved. “We’ll take care of it.”

###

By three, the boats were all in, and the catch tallied and accounted for. The only movement on the float was Otto and Silas, and they weren’t moving fast.

“Okay,” Otto said. “Time to take care of business. Haul Zippy out. I’ll borrow us a skiff.” Otto pulled in one of the tenders, cast off, and stepped in, slipping oars into the locks.

“Otto.” Silas’s voice from under the gangway said serious. “Zippy’s gone.”

“I know he’s dead. I killed him. Get the frigging box over here.”

“No, Otto, it’s gone. I mean it. The crate’s gone.”

“What? Gone? It can’t be gone.”

“I know, but it is.” Silas held up the coil of rope that Otto had used to tie off the crate to the cleat on the dock. “Rope’s here, crate’s not.”

Otto rocked the skiff crazily as he lurched out, tripped and fell to his knees onto the float, then stumbled to behind the gangway where Silas stood with the coil of rope.

Otto groaned. “Maybe the crate has gotten mixed up with all the others. We’ve got to pull them out and check.”

Forty-three crates, each with a hundred pounds of lobster. No Zippy.

###

The tides in Maine are some of the highest in the world. On Bart’s Island, which hung on the edge of Penobscot Bay, the water can rise and fall over eleven vertical feet, twice a day. It rushes in torrents, fills the bays and harbors. Anyone who works the waterfront has to be in tune with the tides. The rise and fall of the water are omnipresent, like the foghorn at Rabbit Island light.

What Otto and Silas did not know was that Zippy, in his gray plastic coffin, floated out of the cove on the ebb tide and was on its way to the middle of the Bay. When the tide turned, Zippy would turn with it.

At eight that evening, the tide came rushing back, up the Penobscot River, almost to Orono and the Collins Center. The lights dimmed in the theater, with Ev and Myrna in the fifth row, center. When the curtain rose on the Marschallin and Octavian rolling around on a sumptuous bed the size of a four-masted schooner, Ev couldn’t take his eyes off Myrna, who couldn’t take her eyes off the two figures reclined on a towering stack of pillows. “Is that two women?” Myrna asked Ev in too a loud a whisper. The man seated in front of them turned and glared, a finger to his lips.

Otto and Silas didn’t know that the District Attorney for Hancock County owned shorefront property on the Bay and that his wife walked the rocky beach nearly every day.

But she knew a lobster crate when she saw one and called her husband to help haul it to shore. They thought they might have hit the seafood jackpot, enough lobsters for one hell of a party.

Kathryn Lord is a Maine native, now living in Tallahassee, Florida. She has been a psychotherapist and a romance coach, a house builder and a fabric artist. Now she writes. Her stories have appeared in Literally Stories and The LegendaryBlue Collar is from her second novel.

Categories

Fiction, The River

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