TOPIC OF THIS CONTEST WAS:
Growing up on a fishing boat docked in this small northwest coastal town brought stares from townspeople and jeers from classmates. She desperately wanted to escape but, with competitors driving down charter prices, she knew her dad would never be able to afford a replacement. As she sliced open the belly of yet another Salmon, her eyes widened and she dropped her knife…
(Entries must touch on the topic in some way to qualify.)
Maribel felt the pain searing through her body, radiating from her stomach, and surging through her legs. It made it impossible to stand. She bent at the waist, holding her stomach and wincing as her knees buckled beneath her.
The knife had dropped with a clang that had sent the nearby seabirds into frightened flight. They had been gathering as they always did this time of day, attracted by the smells of the fish, and hopeful that a morsel would be tossed in their direction. Every now and then Maribel had accommodated them with a scrap.
So much of their world of fishing affected the town – the markets waiting for the fresh catch, the local restaurants revising their chalkboards to reflect the special of the day. Bar owners also depended on the ups and downs of the fishing life to provide them with a steady stream of customers – more beer was needed when the nets were not as full.
It was a life that should have provided her a sense of community, but it only made Maribel feel isolated. When her classmates were out driving around town with their newly-earned licenses, she was here, always here, bent over a pile of fish, smelling like one of them. The Medeiros family did not belong.
Maribel reached for the top of the counter trying to pull herself up, letting out a weak cry and wondering if Mrs. McCaffrey was still close enough to hear her. She had come by earlier to say hello and had brought Maribel a sandwich. A long life of living as a fisherman’s wife had given Mrs. McCaffrey a lined face,, and an understanding of the hard work and loneliness that went with it. Maribel had accepted the sandwich gratefully, and Mrs. McCaffrey was barely gone when Maribel had opened the wrapper to take a bite. She could not remember when she had eaten last.
In any event, it was apparent Mrs. McCaffrey had not heard her muffled groan. Crouching now, unable to stand, Maribel should have felt fear, but instead she began to curse it all – the life, the work. Most of all she cursed the guilt she always felt when her father looked at her, his face full of love and gratitude that his “little girl” was his partner.
Why did Mom have to die? She was the one Maribel’s father had needed. Mom had been his anchor, in every sense of the word. She accompanied Maribel’s father when the boat went out, and helped drop the anchor when he’d found the right place to cast the net. Evenings she transformed the boat into a home, with warmth and food and her loving touch. But she had collapsed and died suddenly, and left Maribel and her father to fend for themselves. The boat ceased being a home and became a prison for Maribel. She missed her mother so.
The pain flushed through Maribel like a wave hitting the deck. Her throat began to tighten as she looked out onto the dock. It was moving in and out of focus and the sunlight was too bright for her eyes. Suddenly she felt like she had been tossed overboard, bobbing about in the waves. Where was she now? She couldn’t tell anymore. There was no land and no water, no boat or fish. The sound of the birds was silenced. Maribel closed her eyes.
Ena McCaffrey straightened the sign that hung down in front of their boat as she walked past. The sign read, “Fishing Charters – Go with the Best”. She and her husband had worked hard to establish their business, very hard. It was that damn Portuguese family that had always stood in their way. Not only that, Ena knew that her husband had admired the Portuguese’s wife – what was her name – with her flowing black hair and sparkling smile. But Ena had gotten rid of her. She had to admit that it had pained her a little seeing how the husband had struggled on his own after that, until his daughter got old enough to help that is. That girl always whined about the work she had to do though, so spoiled. Well now she wouldn’t have to work anymore, that was sure. The Portuguese was a kind man. But his family was competition, and eliminating them was what a good wife of a fisherman did.
The sandwich had worked – egg salad, her specialty. It was funny how no one had suspected. She guessed that no one cared about the fishermen and their families. All that mattered was that the fish would keep coming in.
“Mrs. McCaffrey?” She turned and saw the Portuguese man. He looked shaken. “I have to take my daughter to the hospital. It appears she has appendicitis.”
Puzzled, she mustered up a voice. “Oh?”
“Yes. Would you be able to keep an eye on things for a couple of hours until I return?”
She felt dizzy and could only nod weakly.
“Oh and Maribel says thanks for the sandwich, but she is allergic to eggs. Hope you don’t mind but I gave it to the cop on the dock – figured the poor guy could use a little snack, must have been up all night. Seems they are trying to solve a murder. Can you imagine that, a murder in this little town?”