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
"What you want me to do?" Jimmy asked Joe.
"You take her out, okay?"
"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
"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.
"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
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
"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
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
"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
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
"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
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
"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
"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.