Healing through story

Month: February 2023

shortfiction24 – no more regrets

Finn’s day turns around when he meets a deep sea fisherman on Artie’s bait barge.

Today’s story is an homage to Steinbeck and Hemingway, characters very loosely based on characters from the two American authors: Steinbeck’s Doc and Hemingway’s Santiago.

Enjoy the story!

No More Regrets

Bob Gillen

Finn eased his nineteen foot Boston Whaler against the side of Artie’s bait barge. He tied off bow and stern, hoisted a battered cooler onto the deck.

“Whadya got for me today, Finn?” Artie called out.


“Your timing is perfect. I got a couple guys looking for them.”

Finn lifted a basket to the deck. “Mussels too.”

“Always in demand.”

Artie carried the cooler and basket into the shack that sat in the center of the barge. Outside, next to the door, stood a rusted Coca-Cola ice chest. Artie pointed to it. “Grab a beer, Finn. On me.”

Finn pulled a can of Miller Lite from the Coke cooler.

“How’s business, Artie?”

“Can’t complain. Been out here for twelve years now, and every year gets a little better. The season is already slowing down for winter, though.”

Finn sat on a bench and sipped his beer. He watched the boats come and go along the channel near the barge. Artie had moored his barge near the outlet of the bay, where bay meets ocean. Lots of traffic. He had a large sign on the barge: Artie’s Bait. Snacks. No Gas.

Finn turned when he heard a quiet rumble from the other side of the barge. A Bertram42 fishing boat pulled alongside the barge. One man behind the wheel. Finn got up and wrapped the man’s lines around cleats.

“Thanks.” A man, looking to be about seventy, khaki shorts, white tee stepped onto the barge. Artie came over while Finn went back to sitting on the bench. 

“I got your squid, Skip.”


“I’ll transfer them to your boat. Grab a beer and join Finn for a minute.”

Skip pulled a can of Coke from the cooler. He sat next to Finn. 

“I’m Skip.”


Skip hoisted his Coke. “Need my wits. Beer can wait for the trip home.”

“Where you headed? That’s a beautiful boat you got there.”

“Brought her up from North Carolina twenty years ago. Six hundred horses under the deck. Her name is Marlina. My wife was Lina. My passion is marlin fishing.”

“Any luck with the fishing?”

Skip shook his head. “Not lately. Haven’t caught anything worth talking about all summer. This will be my last run before I haul her out for the winter.”

“Going out alone?”

“No choice. My usual buddies are all busy.”

Artie stepped over. “I got them in your cooler.”

“Gotcha. Thanks Artie.”

A small skiff pulled up to the barge. The front of the boat was loaded with seaweed-covered crab traps. A boy held the boat while a girl hopped out. “We need a bucket of fish parts for our crab traps.”

Artie handed her a bucket, she paid, and they left.

“You a fisherman?” Skip asked.

“I am, but exactly the opposite of what you do. I collect marine specimens from tidal pools. Sell them to universities, mostly in the Midwest.”

“They got no ocean there, huh.”


“Hey, here’s a thought.” Skip said. “How about coming out with me?”


“Why not. I’ll be two nights at the most. I got her stocked with food and snacks. You can see the other side of marine life. Large scale. I’m going for swordfish.”

“That’s tempting, Skip. But no. I’ve got orders I need to fill right away. And low tide will hit in a couple of hours.”

“Low tide comes twice a day, every day. Just sayin’.”

“Gotta keep the clients happy.”

Skip pointed his Coke can at Finn. “I’d offer a raincheck, but not sure I can deliver on that.”

“There’s always next year.”

Skip said nothing.

They sat in silence for a few minutes.

Skip cleared his throat. “I got surgery waiting for me. First week in October.”

“Anything major?”

Skip pointed to his stomach. “A tumor in my gut. Size of a tennis ball. My doc says it’s benign. They won’t know for sure till they remove it.”

“Yeah, that’s major.” Finn sipped his beer.

“They tell me up to five hours on the table, then a week in the hospital…and a few months recovering at home.”

“No heavy lifting, right?”

“You got it.”

Artie stepped over.

“Skip, I don’t like you going out alone.”

“No worries, Artie. I’ll keep within five miles.”

“That’s five miles too far for you.”

Another small boat pulled up to the barge. Artie stepped over to help them.

Skip took a swig of his Coke, retched, ran to the edge of the barge. He heaved into the water.

When he came back to the bench, wiping his mouth and chin, Finn said in almost a whisper, “The tumor is malignant, isn’t it.”

Skip said nothing.

“I’ve seen it before,” Finn said. “A neighbor…it didn’t go well.”

Skip stared out across the bay. “Today is my last run. Period. Even if they get it all, I won’t be able to do any heavy lifting…including fishing for the big ones.”

“That’s gotta hurt.”

“You have no idea.”

The two sat in silence for a time.

“You sure you don’t want to go out with me.”

Finn shook his head. “Orders.”

“Can’t that university in Nebraska wait one more day for their starfish?”

Finn shook his head. “And I don’t have a change of clothes with me.”

“Who needs clean clothes? We’re fishing.”

Finn shook his head.

“You know,” Skip said. “I used to have a long bucket list. Just one item now. Take Marlina out one last time. Bring in a big fish.”

“I never had a bucket list,” Finn said. “Always took it one day at a time.”

“No dreams? No goals?”

Finn hesitated. “I have a short list of regrets. Things I wish I had seen or done.”

“Like what?”

Finn drained his beer, crushed the can in his fist. “I met a French girl once, back in 2012. We were at a TED talk. Kinda hit it off. She invited me to spend a week in Paris with her.”

“That sounds seriously cool.”

“Yeah. It started out that way. My last night in Paris, I planned to spend it with her. But she wanted to go out to a jazz club with friends. I got pissy, begged off, stayed home. She went out anyway.”

“A party girl.”

“Doesn’t matter. I don’t regret not seeing her after that. But I do regret missing the jam session They went to that night  at Le Duc des Lombards cafe when they recorded ‘The A, B, C and D of Boogie Woogie.’ Charlie Watts from the Stones, he was the drummer.”

“Don’t know that album.”

“I play it every time I have my head up my ass. Sets me straight.”

The conversation trailed off.

Skip got up. “My fish is waiting.”

He climbed aboard and started the engine. 

Finn got up too. His eyes raked stem to stern over the Bertram. He walked into the shack.

A moment later he came out, took another beer from the cooler. He hopped into the Bertram. “I’m going with you.”

Skip grinned. “No regrets?”

Finn untied the lines and pushed off from the barge. “Artie will watch my boat. The Midwest can wait on its starfish. There’s a swordfish out there to scratch off your bucket list. And my regrets list.”


shortfiction24 – a soldier’s wife

Agnes Morissey comes home to an empty house, with her husband away at basic training. No amount of prayer and pleading had kept him out of the draft.

She has held back some of her letters. He has enough to deal with without her passing on her own frustration.

A Soldier’s Wife

Bob Gillen

The midday Spring sun failed to light the dim interior of the old Manhattan church. A half dozen women were scattered about in the pews, all in deeply private prayer. All begged for the same thing: bring my husband, my son, my brother home safely from the war.

At the front of the church a wide rack of lit prayer candles cast a glow on the face of one woman kneeling in the first row. Dressed in black, with a black scarf pinned to the top of her head, Agnes Morrisey cast her eyes up on the statue of Mary looming over the candle rack. Her fingers moved silently over the beads on her rosary. Our Father. Hail Mary. Hail Mary.

A woman with a long scarf draped over her head stepped up to light a prayer candle. She nodded to Agnes. Peggy Gaffney. Her husband Vic had been discharged a week ago, in the hospital with a wound that paralyzed his left side.

Agnes finished her prayer, sat back in the pew. Opening her purse quietly, she removed an envelope thick with note papers. A large X slashed the address. These were letters she could never send Patrick. He had enough to deal with. 

She selected the top letter, read it to herself.

Dear sweetheart,

Easter is almost over and I’m so glad! Everybody kept telling me how much they missed you today, but nobody missed you as much as I do. It’s so lonely here with you gone, coming home to an empty house. Willie drove me home from mother’s house, so I didn’t have to take the trolley.

Our son Christopher has no patience and gets angry easily. The other day he slapped me in the face. I slapped him back but not in the face, of course.

Agnes paused, listened. So quiet you could almost hear the hot wax melting down the lit candles.

These letters reeked of disappointment, sadness. Even failure. Patrick could never see them. It would make his situation even harder to endure. Agnes worked hard, usually got  exactly what she wanted. Letters to the local Selective Service members. Calls to their homes in the evenings. Manhattan’s west side  was run by ward captains. She knew theirs well enough to feel confident asking for a postponement or even reversal of Patrick’s selection. Nothing worked.

She looked at another letter. 

Everyone I meet from the neighborhood says, What a shame a nice quiet fellow like you couldn’t be allowed to stay home with his family. I agree, of course, but all I can do is nod and smile.

I am trying to toilet train Christopher. I sat him on the toidy three times this morning. I tried for twenty minutes again right after lunch, but no luck. I took him off and he ran inside without any pants on, and hid behind the bed. I went to get clean pants for him and when I came back, he had left his calling cards from the bed to the bathroom, to say nothing of his legs and shoes and stockings. Was I mad!

In another letter:

Patrick’s a great guy, everyone says. Do anything for anyone. But there is no fight in you, is there. Willie thinks you should be okay, with your occupation as purchasing agent. Maybe be based here in the States somewhere.

Has basic training toughened you in any way? You’ll probably come home and be taking over. 

No, I can’t tell him that.

A woman slipped into the pew next to Agnes. She slid the letters onto the pew out of sight.

“Betty,” she whispered. “I haven’t seen you in ages.”

“Hi Agnes. I heard Patrick was called up. How is he doing?”

“He seems to be all right. Still in basic training. I hear from him almost every day.”

“Good. And how is little Christopher? He must be almost two by now.”

“Eighteen months…And how is Joe?”

Betty turned away.

Agnes gripped Betty’s hand.

“He was killed overseas last September. In Italy.”

Agnes felt redness creep up her face. “Oh no. I’m so sorry. I didn’t know.”

“I’ve been staying downtown with my mother. I’m all right. We didn’t have any children. That makes it easier to start fresh.”

“Oh Betty.”

“I better be going. My mom is outside.”

Betty left Agnes alone again in the pew.

How did I not know Joe died?

Later as Agnes climbed the stoop to her building, anxious to see Christopher, a voice called to her. She turned to see a man in a Western Union uniform. “I have a telegram. Do you live in apartment 201?”

Agnes froze, gripped the rail with both hands. She slipped down to sit on the steps. Not now. He hasn’t even finished basic training. She reached for the telegram, tore it open. Tears poured down her face. 

The Western Union man touched his cap. “Ma’am.” He walked away.

Agnes’s tears dripped on the edge of the telegram, fell down on her skirt.

Tears of joy.


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