A chapter from

A Novel
by Peter Anastas



For nearly ten years Jimmy Skag had been living at the homeless shelter. He wasn't destitute, and he really shouldn't have been homeless because he made good money when he was fishing. But Jimmy'd burned his bridges. Decades of doping had gotten him evicted so many times there wasn't a landlord in town would touch his case. Consequently, the neighbors got used to seeing his scruffy, yellow El Dorado on Main Street in front of the shelter. They'd given up complaining that he ought to be barred because he was gainfully employed. Although some still wondered why he couldn't afford sixty bucks a week for a room over Schooner's when it was apparent he was keeping that shit-can in gas.

But it wasn't that simple, as his high school classmate Tony Russo could tell you. Jimmy'd had the Virus for a long time. Now he was dying from it. Even the new protease inhibitors didn't make a dent in his condition. It was just a matter of time, his doctors said. Tony had prevailed upon Jill, the shelter director, to give Jimmy another chance, even though he'd been caught shooting up in the bathroom after everyone else had passed out from the booze or pills they managed to smuggle in.

Jimmy knew the cops felt better if they could keep an eye on him. And Tony, who'd finally convinced Jimmy to apply for Social Security Disability payments, had begged him to sign up for elderly housing even though Jimmy was only in his fifties.

"You can get in on a handicap," Tony had urged him. But the Housing Authority evoked his criminal record to keep him out, even though Jimmy hadn't had a conviction in years. Tony appealed the denial, persuading Legal Services to defend Jimmy. They were still waiting for a hearing date.

But these days Jimmy felt like shit. He was tall and lanky and he'd been strong all his life. Now he moved around in a sweat-stained T-shirt and blue jeans that were bagged out in the ass. Bent over, he shuffled up and down Main Street, coughing and hacking like a tubercular patient. While every other junkie in town was shitting the bed, Jimmy had kept himself going on a bill-a-day habit, which he dealt to pay for. That was when he was mobile. Most cops between Gloucester and Lynn were familiar with the yellow Caddie, although there were some in Lawrence or Lowell, who flagged him down just to bust his balls. Jimmy was cool, though. He'd pull over, get out of the car deferentially, and lean face forward over the hood while they patted him down. Then they'd kick back, all of them, and shoot the shit. Jimmy wasn't above informing on some of his buddies, especially those connections who copped him shit that had been adulterated.

So he survived. He dealt and fished his way through two marriages, a house mortgage, and a bunch of kids. One son was dead from an overdose, another doing time for armed robbery. At least his daughters were straight. They were both married — Jimmy was four times a grandfather — and they'd taken him in from time to time.

But now it was a different story. Jimmy could barely get out of bed when the shelter staff called reveille each morning at six-thirty. And after a cup of coffee and a bowl of corn flakes, he could just about maneuver the first Camel of the day between his lips. He'd usually recruit someone else to drive his car, and they'd have a second breakfast at Dunkin' Donuts before they headed down to St. Peter's Park to catch the day's action.

Jimmy's real name was Mulcahey, James Ignatius Mulcahey. They'd called him Big Jim when he played backfield for Gloucester High. He could run like the wind and his passing had been legendary, though like many a schoolboy athlete, his life seemed to go downhill once he'd hung up his helmet and taken his last shower. As soon as he graduated Jimmy went fishing. He'd knocked up his girlfriend Karen. After a shotgun wedding there was little to do but follow his father and his grandfather on the sea. Those were the days of long trips with a lot of boozing before and after. By the time Jimmy got home to Karen, most of his share had been guzzled down at the Busy Bee or lost in all-night card games at the Elks Club. And what was there to come home to but crying babies and a wife who started complaining the minute she spotted his hungover mug at the door?

Forget getting laid, forget anything that might have brought you close once. Karen turned into a replica of her own mother. Fatter by the day, the two of them pissed their lives away gossiping on the telephone even though they practically lived next door to each other. Or the fucking bitch came over. She showed up whenever she felt like it, complaining about her old man, Karen's father, who spent his time ashore swapping war stories at the American Legion bar. When they weren't at Jimmy's house they were drinking coffee and complaining at Karen's grandmother's, dishes piled up in the sink, kids screaming to be changed or fed. That's when Jimmy realized it was a hell of a lot better to be at sea.

Fishing was only one kind of escape. The other consisted of booze or drugs. Jimmy's father was a boozer, so was Karen's. In fact, most of the men who fished out of Gloucester drank at one time or another. Booze seemed to be in everybody's blood in this shitass town. It was drugs that came later. Listen to some people, they'd tell you it was the foreign boats brought heroin into port. The big German freighters that unloaded at Vincent's Cove, starting in the Sixties.

But Jimmy knew better. Smack came in from Boston. That's where Jimmy had his first fix. When the boat he fished on used to take out at Commercial Wharf, the crew went down to a place on Columbus Avenue to drink and get laid. There were these black girls. Dance your ass off. Take you home and fuck you to death.

Jimmy made friends with one named Melanie. She was nineteen, two kids. Every time he was in port he gave Melanie a jingle and she'd be waiting for him. He'd pick up some steaks at Faneuil Hall, couple of bottles of Canadian rye, and head over for a night of balling. While Melanie got the kids into bed, or palmed them off on one of the neighbors in the project where she lived, Jimmy would make the drinks and broil the steaks. Sometimes they'd go out dancing at the Hi Hat, where the music was wild.

Jimmy and Melanie really hit it off. Jimmy even got tight with the regulars at the club. Offering him a toke right at the bar, they told Jimmy that he boogied like a brother. But after a few times together, Jimmy noticed something strange about Melanie. From the way her speech was slurred you'd think she was smoking too much weed. Even when she wasn't high she'd have trouble spitting the words out, or she'd start motor-mouthing. Then she'd fade wherever she was sitting. Sometimes she'd just crash.

One night after they'd made love, Melanie took an extra long time in the can. After she finally came to bed she seemed beyond tired. When Jimmy questioned her the next morning she looked at him slyly. And then she offered to let him try something she said was better than rye, better than anything they could smoke or sniff. Melanie had Jimmy sit at the kitchen table. She tied his upper arm with a garter. Producing a teaspoon, she put some white powder in the bowl and added a little water. She heated the spoon over the gas flame until the power dissolved. Then she took an eyedropper with a hypodermic needle attached to it. Drawing the liquid up from the spoon with the bulb of the eyedropper, she came over to Jimmy.

"Just close your eyes, honey," she said, as she fingered the vein that bulged out in the crook of Jimmy's arm. Once she found it, all Jimmy felt was a tiny pinch as the needle entered. Then he saw a white flash across his eyeballs and something raced in his blood making him bob his head up and down as though he was listening to that hard bop they played at the Hi Hat, only there was no music, just some inner pulsation. After that he felt a sense of power and well-being as if nobody could reach him. And that was followed by an uncanny ability to concentrate for hours on the empty spoon Melanie had laid down on the table, the pores in the dark honey of her face, that crazy hair on the top of his hands.

Hours later, although it seemed like days, Jimmy came around. Melanie was there smiling at him.

"You feel like you died and gone to heaven?"

"I been someplace," Jimmy said groggily. "Someplace I liked."

Jimmy chipped for a couple of years. He never shot up at sea, only after a trip. And then the addiction set in. Anybody ask him why he had to have it, he'd just grin and say, "'Cause nothing makes me feel better." He couldn't be without heroin. He'd rather get high than go fishing. In order to maintain his habit he started to deal. That's when his friends started calling him Jimmy Skag. The minute he fell behind in his house payments, Karen's family turned against him. His father died and he begged every penny he could from his mother. Once he even stole her TV, selling it on the street because he was so desperate for a fix. Only his sister Agnes stood by him. Then she moved to Florida with her family. Still, she'd ask him down from time to time.

The years went by. Pretty soon no one would give Jimmy a site, even though they knew he stayed straight at sea. Captain's license or not, it was a sorry sight to see him on those gray afternoons drinking at the Old Timers' Tavern or the House of Mitch, reminiscing about the catches they once made on Georges or the Grand Banks before the government imposed those bullshit quotas, eventually closing some of the richest grounds to fishing.

Jimmy did some time, nothing serious, possession with intent to distribute. He never burned anybody. But he appeared sadder after he got out. And when his second wife Marilyn caught him in the sack with her best friend Lois, she threw him out for good. For a while he crashed on friends' couches. Once they caught him high or shooting up, he was out. When it got too cold to sleep in the car he'd head for the shelter.

At first it was a novelty, sleeping at a homeless shelter. The place was clean and it catered mostly to natives. If you got there by five o'clock, you could pick your own bunk. The food was good and you got to take a shower and wash your clothes. There was cable TV. They even let you smoke in the community room. It was like the Fishermen's Institute used to be in the old days when Jimmy would visit his uncle Everett who had a room there. After Urban Renewal came in, they tore the Institute down, evicting the few remaining mariners. Jimmy remembered the fight some people put up to save the old red brick building on Duncan Street; but like with most things that once mattered, people soon forgot it had ever existed. They forgot about the old seamen, too.

So Jimmy was now relegated to the shelter. And he was too sick to work. Jill pushed him to apply for General Relief while he was waiting for his disability award. Every morning he said he'd go down to the Welfare, which was just across the street from St. Peter's Park. But something would come up. There'd be some potent shit hit town. Or he'd drop by an old doper's pad, dozing the day away in front of the TV.

One night, while Jimmy was nodding over his plate at the dinner table, he got a call.

"Jimmy, youze okay?"

"Hangin' in," Jimmy said, recognizing the gravelly voice of his old skipper Captain Joe.

"Look, I got bad bronchitis. If I don't take the boat out by tomorrow I lose my days at sea. Then I hear they gonna close the grounds on us."

Jimmy usually fished with Joe. When they needed another crewman it was Jimmy's job to find someone.

"What you want me to do?" Jimmy asked Joe.

"You take her out, okay?"


"Yeah, you."

"Shit Joe, I'm sick, too," Jimmy shouted over the sound the TV.

"No, you can do it. You and two crew. She's all fuel up, ready to go. I stow some food in the galley."

"Joe, I can't!" Jimmy pleaded.

"Sure you can. Just think of your share if you have a good trip. There's cod, I hear. Don't pay no attention to those fa'ngulos at the National Marine. You go where we always go, you gonna get some nice groundfish for sure."

Then Joe hung up.

Jill, who had overheard the conversation, turned to Jimmy.

"Are you going to do it?"

Jimmy stuck another Camel between his lips, turning to the guy next to him for a light.

"Who'm I gonna get to go out with me?"

"Just look around you," Jill said.

"Gimme a break!"

"Chill out and listen." Jill pointed across the common room. Standing at the sink was a younger man with a pained expression on his bearded face.

"Not Shitter?"

"Why not?"

"Because he's worse off than me," Jimmy replied.

Shitter was the name they'd given this kid who had encopresis, a bowel disorder with alternating symptoms of constipation and incontinence. His father had the same problem. The two of them spent their lives shitting or worrying they were going to start shitting involuntarily. The doctors said it was probably genetic. Often just hearing that another person needed to shit or had diarrhea would cause both father and son to start shitting precipitously.

Shitter's father took Paregoric to control his bowels, becoming so addicted that he walked around in a daze for most of his life. As soon as he tried to break the dependency, he'd start shitting again. This made it hard for him to work steadily. And since he fished, no one would give him a site because they never knew if he'd start shitting just as they were hauling in the catch. The smell of his impacted feces was so bad it drove even the most hardened fishermen ashore.

Shitter had started with Kaopectate, working his way up to Imodium and Lomotil, and he'd learned to eat a lot of cheese to stay bound up. But once he discovered that heroin would constipate him, he started mainlining. It worked. But, like his father, he had to stay high to keep from shitting.

"Oh my fucking Jesus!" Jimmy gestured in Shitter's direction.

"He's a good fisherman," Jill said.

"Hey, I thought you'd be the first to tell me I was too sick to go out."

"Have you ever thought of taking one last trip?"

"I already took it." Jimmy laughed.

"Suit yourself," Jill said.

At two the next morning Jill woke Jimmy out of a sound sleep. She drove him and Shitter down to where the Lisa B. was tied. With them was Frankie Cucuzzo, who also happened to walk into the shelter the night before. Frankie had a panic disorder and he suffered from OCD. But when he took his meds he was a hard worker, although he could get compulsive about certain details, like how many steps it took to get in and out of the bathroom. Sometimes when he'd lost count he'd have to return and start over again, often re-washing his hands, or pissing one last time. The other guests would complain that between Frankie and Shitter, they could never get into the head when they needed to.

The story went that as a toddler Frankie's mother used to tie him in the back yard with a length of rope, just like a dog. That way she knew where he was and she didn't have to worry about him running away. But one day she apparently forgot he was out there. A ferocious storm came up with thunder and lightning. Poor little Frankie freaked out on his rope. Yelling and screaming for his mother, he stood in the middle of the yard while the rain soaked him to the bone. Terrified by the thunder, he crawled around looking for cover. When his mother, who spent most of her time on her knees saying the Rosary, couldn't locate Frankie in the house she called the neighbors who notified the police. As soon as the cops arrived, they found Frankie curled up under some bushes, shaking like a frozen animal. For weeks he didn't speak, and when he finally seemed to recover he would never let his mother out of his sight.

Captain Joe kept the Lisa B. tied up at the Marine Railways wharf on Rocky Neck. Built in Thomaston, Maine in 1949, she was an old side-trawler with a 165 horsepower engine, one of the last in the onshore fleet. Jimmy had taken her wheel many a time while Joe cooked or helped haul in the trawl, but he'd never skippered her. Still, he felt confident as Frankie cast off at 3 a.m. and they headed the Lisa B. out into the harbor to ice up at the Fort before starting for the fishing grounds.

The sky was clear and starry and the sea was calm. Just the same, Jimmy had the radio tuned into the weather channel. He decided to steer southeast for Stellwagen, or the Middle Bank, as the fishermen called it. It lay twelve miles off Gloucester, just about an hour and a half away at ten knots. Jimmy and Captain Joe had fished these small but once rich banks for years. Jimmy knew the best places by heart. Years before when he'd fished offshore, Jimmy began to learn about certain pet spots the skippers had, locations where their luck had been good or where they'd come to expect fish because the feeding conditions were exceptional. As a breeding area for sand eels, which the cod gorged themselves on, Stellwagen was no exception.

Jimmy approached the northeast corner of the bank. Although there was a slight roll to the sea it was otherwise calm. He shouted to Shitter and Frankie to get ready to set out the trawl. Throttling the engine, he gave the signal to begin lowering the big net assembly over the gunwales. First came the "codend" or bottom of the baglike trawl and finally the heavy mouth, which they managed to lower with the help of an overhead tackle, or jilson, and the winch. Once it touched the bottom of the sea, the mouth was held open while the trawl itself was steadied by a set of iron sheathed "doors," which were dr agged along the bottom by towing cables attached to a set of metal straps. Jimmy circled the vessel as the tide carried the net away from the boat before Frankie released the winch brakes. As the towing cable was paid out the doors would spread, dropping the net to the bottom. A tow of two or three hours would cover nearly nine miles of ocean bottom. Then the crew would usually haul back. Two or three sets, depending upon the catch and the weather, would make a trip, especially if they took in a near maximum catch of 10,000 pounds for each set.

From his post at the wheel in the pilothouse, Jimmy kept an eye on everything. Frankie and Shitter were doing what was expected of them. It was a little after six a.m. and they had the trawl under control. Jimmy held the Lisa B. to a towing speed of three knots. The sun had come up, flooding the ocean with light. Jimmy caught sight of a couple of other Gloucester vessels in the distance, but he decided not to contact them by radio. It was best to fish before the whale watchers, the chartered fishing boats and "booze cruises" began their tours, disrupting the peace and quiet of the ocean.

Shitter stood watch over the trawl, while Frankie paced the deck, stopping occasionally to scratch his neck. It was late September but the sun came up hot, climbing into a mackerel sky. Keeping an eye on the clouds, Jimmy listened to the maritime weather report, which was repeated every ten or fifteen minutes. At this time of year he knew that squalls were possible, even though the worst of the hurricane season was over. If it rained they usually continued fishing, especially if the hauls were adequate. It was better to tough it out once you were on the sea rather than to head for shore losing time and money. But a high wind was something else.

Once the engine began to labor, Jimmy figured it was about time to haul back. He'd had the trawls out for over two hours.

"Let's bring her back," he shouted to the two men, as he slowed the vessel down.

It was warm on the water, almost hot. Jimmy stripped off his flannel shirt, standing at the wheel in just a T-shirt. Shitter and Frankie had their rubber overalls on, with knee-high boots. As the boat rolled with the swelling sea and the heft of the trawl on the way up, they steadied themselves simply by shifting their weight from one side of their bodies to another. Watching them, Jimmy admired their sealegs. Looking at these two deficienti, who would think that they had fished for most of their lives in that condition?

"Oh, wow! It's a big bag!"

Shitter hollered back to Jimmy as the winch ground and the trawl swung aboard, the dripping net swollen with fish.

"Jesus Christ!" Frankie shouted.

Jimmy came out on deck to help them.

"It's close to ten thousand pounds," he said, as the large cod spilled out.

"Who said this stock's depleted!" Frankie was jubilant.

"Only the government," Jimmy said, as they started to ice down the big fish.

Back in the pilothouse, Jimmy prepared for another set. He had that feeling that often came to him when a trip was going well, a feeling of being in control, even though more than thirty years on the sea had taught him you were never in control, just lucky. Yet for all that, this was the only time he could feel in charge without shooting up. It had been a matter of pride never to get high at sea, even under the most perilous conditions. The pressure of it kept him focused as though he was high.

Once they'd made the second set, Jimmy noticed a greater turbulence to the sea. It was clouding over, too, and he turned the radio up louder so he could hear the report over the steady thrumming of the engine.

The National Weather Service's announcer never betrayed emotion, even though he was reporting sudden squalls or outbreaks of rain in the Gulf of Maine. But Jimmy figured they'd be safe, at least for the second set. Experienced seamen as they were, he noticed Shitter and Frankie casting a glance at the ominous sky from time to time. Still, neither showed anxiety. They just kept their eyes on the towing cable as the engine began to labor, signaling to all of them that they had another full net.

"Let's haul!" Jimmy shouted as the wind bore down on them more strongly, bringing with it some big flying drops of rain.

Once they had the brimming net aboard Jimmy knew that it was time to head home. Back at the wheel, he brought the boat around carefully as Frankie and Shitter tended to the catch. Again he marveled at their calmness, even in the face of the rising wind and rain. But they stood fast, shoveling the cod into the hold and layering the big fish with ice before they hosed the deck down.

Two hours at most, Jimmy figured, and he would have them safely ashore. He wondered if, as captain, he should tell them that he hoped to outrun the storm. But he decided he'd only add to the pressure they must already feel. Better to keep them busy.

As they cruised shoreward, Jimmy reflected on the fact that Shitter hadn't seemed to make one move toward the head. And Frankie, while pacing a lot and sometimes rubbing his hands together, appeared just as calm as when they'd cast off. As for himself, Jimmy felt straighter than he'd felt since the year he'd spent in the slammer. Enforced sobriety hadn't been all that bad, he reflected. Neither had the big house. But Jimmy could always take care of himself. Except for the Virus. Whoever thought they were all sitting on a time bomb?

An hour off Eastern Point the rain hit, coupled with a blustery wind. Their work done, Shitter and Frankie stowed the net and secured the hatch covers. Then they joined Jimmy in the pilothouse.

"There's pizza from Valentino's in the cooler," Jimmy shouted above the sound of the wind and the steady electronic voice of the weather report. "Just throw it in the microwave. Or you can make some ham sandwiches if you want."

With the rain pelting the windshield of the pilothouse, Jimmy kept the Lisa B. on course. Even though it was early afternoon, the sky was dark. Huddling together in the comfort of the pilothouse, the three men munched on pepperoni pizza, washing it down with instant coffee that Shitter had quickly boiled the water for.

"This ain't that bad," Frankie said, tapping his fingers rhythmically on the compass glass.

"Hey, I been out in a lot worse," said Shitter.

"You guys did good," Jimmy said. "Made two sets, eighteen thousand minimum. At a buck a pound, add it up."

"There's our three shares," Frankie said, "and Captain Joe's. Then there's one for the boat."

"Hey, Jimmy, you can go see your sister in Daytona," Shitter said. "Spend the winter where it's warm."

"Wouldn't I like that!"

Reflecting on the rare occasions he'd flown south to be with Agnes and her family, Jimmy wondered if he had the strength to do it again.

He could hardly make out the Manchester shoreline through the rain. To starboard he caught Eastern Point Light as they slipped into the outer harbor.

"We're gonna make it!" Frankie shouted.

"Bet your sweet ass," said Shitter.

To leeward Jimmy made out the lights of a couple day boats. Each gave the other a blast of the horn. And Jimmy chimed in. Pretty soon they were back and forth on the radio as Jimmy rounded Ten Pound Island.

"How youze did?" It was Johnny Girolamo on the Katherine G.

"Made two sets. 'Bout eighteen, maybe close to twenty." Jimmy replied.

"Who said there ain't cod?"

That was Joey C. from the Joey C.

"The same merdosi who told everybody there was enough herring for the next hundred years!" Johnny laughed.

"Fa'in cullo tutti!" Joey said. "We're just doing what we gotta do before they close down the whole shootin' match."

As he listened to the banter over the radio, conversations he'd either monitored or took part in all his working life, Jimmy felt a great sadness coming over him. He knew he would never make another fishing trip. His days as captain or crew were over, and his whole life on the water flashed in front of his eyes.

"Jimmy, you're okay. You're A-okay." Shitter was clapping him on the back while Jimmy steered the boat past the Paint Factory, heading her toward the State Fish Pier where they'd be taking out within minutes.

Frankie was jumping up and down.

"We made it! For sweet Jesus sake we made it!"

Jimmy saw himself as a teen-ager on his first offshore trip with the Favaloros. Somewhere there was a picture of him taken aboard the Carole and Gary a few years later, in a fleece-lined winter jacket, his hair in a Beatles cut. She was big, 425 horsepower, a wooden hull, built in 1945 in Boothbay Harbor. The Curcuru brothers had her. Then they sold her in New Bedford, where she was converted into a scalloper. That was twenty years ago. Who knew what her fate had been?

The boats and their crews passed in front of Jimmy's glazed eyes: Cape May, Santa Lucia, Santa Maria. Jimmy had always favored the Italian boats. Even if he was an Irishman, they always said he was a Guinea at heart. He even looked like one! Who knows, maybe somewhere in his family, deep in his blood, there had been a Sicilian. He'd fished on the St. Rosalie, out of Rockland and Gloucester. Then there was the St. Jude, the Serafina N., Joseph and Lucia, Our Lady of Fatima, Last Chance. Name the boats, Jimmy had fished on them all. And most of them were gone now. Sold, sunk, or retrofitted for lobster dragging on the ocean floor, once the quotas limiting each boat's catch had been imposed, along with the seasonal closures of fishing grounds. Or just lost, like the men themselves.

You didn't know if they were dead or not. You'd miss them. Someone would claim they'd gone looking for a site in Portland or New Bedford. Maybe you'd run into them drinking at the Old Timers' Tavern. Quietly they'd left fishing. They were silk screening T-shirts in the industrial park, or they'd taken early retirement, eking out an existence in rooming houses or at the "Y" on veteran's benefits or Social. But they were gone from fishing. They never showed their faces again on the waterfront, never even joined the other fishermen lounging on the wooden benches behind St. Peter's Club. It was as if they were dead to the sea, having turned their backs on it, or more rightly, having been driven from the calling their fathers had taken up from their own fathers and grandfathers.

As he brought the Lisa B. alongside the Fish Pier he wondered where it would all end. But he didn't have time to follow the thought through. As soon as Frankie had jumped on the dock to tie up and start taking out, Captain Joe came aboard. And Jimmy looked up to see Jill, smiling down at him, Shitter and Frankie.

"Oh, you done good!" Captain Joe said, shaking Jimmy's hand. "I tol' you you'd be okay."

Once Shitter and Frankie started celebrating their success, deckhands from the other boats shouted back. Jamming their fists into the air, they gave Jimmy and his crew the high sign.

"Fuck the government!" someone yelled. "The fishermen know the sea!"

Back at the shelter Jill had prepared a turkey dinner. Showered and wearing clean clothes, Jimmy, Shitter and Frankie sat grinning while the other guests sang their praises. Outside, a northeaster raged. Rain beat against the windows and the wind shook the converted 19th century house, rattling the doors as though someone was desperately trying to get in.

Jill poured everyone a glass of non-alcoholic champagne.

"Here's to our guys!" she said, raising her cup. "Home safe with a big trip!"

"Hear! Hear!" the homeless men and women shouted, as they all tipped their glasses back.

Jimmy was the last to go to bed that night. Usually he couldn't keep his eyes open. But after they'd shut the TV off and everyone else had turned in, he and Jill sat up talking over coffee.

"I don't feel a bit tired," he said. "Must be all that adrenaline." "Can you believe Frankie? He was like a rock the whole trip!"

Jill shook her head in sympathy and amazement.

"And Shitter never once used the head!"

"They knew you and Captain Joe were counting on them," Jill said. "And they didn't want to let you down."

"Well, they didn't. That's for sure."

Jimmy lit up again.

"I think I'm going to Daytona for the winter."

"Your sister will be glad to see you," Jill said.

"I may not be back."

"We'll miss you."

Jimmy looked hard at Jill.

"I don't want to die in Gloucester."

Jimmy's eyes wandered around the room he'd talked, eaten and smoked in for the past ten years. Over in the corner was the VCR that had to be chained to the wall so no one would steal it. The battered coffee urn sat on the counter next to the stove, twenty clean mugs lined up for breakfast the next morning. He gazed, as if for the first time, at the oil paintings on the walls, pictures of the waterfront as it had once looked, jammed with fishing vessels, salt cod drying on wooden stages. A vagrant artist, once a fisherman, had done the paintings, leaving them to the shelter after he died. Like with Jimmy, the shelter had become his final refuge.

"I do and I don't," he said.

"I know what you mean." Jill reached across the table for Jimmy's rough hand. And Jimmy gripped hers tightly in return.

"I think I'm goin' right away. Can you get me a plane ticket? I'll have the cash when we settle tomorrow."

"No problem," Jill said.

As Jimmy lay in his bunk listening to the heavy breathing of the other homeless men around him, he wondered how he'd gotten himself and the others out to sea and how he'd managed to keep them there while they fished. It seemed as though another person had achieved it, bringing Frankie and Shitter safely to port before the big storm hit. But Jimmy knew it had been him. And he was happy he'd been able to do it.

He was ready to die now, whenever death would come. But he didn't want to die in a shelter or in the hospital. He wanted to die at home, even if he didn't have a real one anymore. His sister would give him a home, and a bed to die in. She was the only family he had left and he looked forward to the rest Agnes had been promising him.

As he lay quietly, waiting for sleep to overtake him, Jimmy understood that some things were finished. He wouldn't fish again and he was finally through with heroin. In that luminous moment on the rolling sea, while he watched the two men working their hearts out, for him and for themselves, he realized how much he'd lost, literally thrown away, for the illusory power that skag had held out to him. Who knows what he might have achieved without it, what kind of captain he might have become?

There would be time to think about all that. But now the job was to get himself onto that plane for Daytona. He could count on Jill to buy him a one-way ticket. And he knew she'd offer to drive him to Logan airport. But he needed all the strength and willpower he could muster to get aboard, to deliver himself to his sister. Once he was in Agnes' hands, he could let down a little. Once he was home, things would be different.

Still, it had been wonderful at sea, even for just a day! It had been heaven. But Jimmy had been too busy paying attention to the weather and the boat to even think about the pleasure he'd always taken from being on the water. Maybe he could now. Maybe if he got himself to Daytona everything else would follow.

Return to Peter Anastas Survey
Return to Light and Dust

Copyright 2004; 250 pp.
Glad Day Books, Thetford, VT
Photographs by Ernest Morin