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
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.
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.”
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.”
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.”