It was a stormy, dreary day out on the water. The clouds hung low and oppressive and the wind gusted back and forth capriciously, lifting spray into our faces. I was wet, even under my oil-slicker, but Frank seemed even worse off. He was shivering even as he helped haul up nets full of fish. He should get inside, I thought, but in a moment forgot the thought. You don’t go inside during a catch like this. You just don’t. Not after waiting on the boat for hours, days, in this case we’d feared it was going to be weeks, between catches. As I worked I returned to a line of thought that frequently occupied me on the boat. Namely, I didn’t understand why Frank stayed in this line of work; he was terrible at it. Not only did he lack the stamina, he was far too clumsy. He was always dropping fish, slipping on them, or barking his shins on coolers. Once he’d even fallen off the damned boat! On top of that, he was always getting sick from working out in the cold; he didn’t have the constitution for it. It always confused me. He could surely find an easier job in town; I knew he and his wife weren’t short on money. Maybe he just really loved fish? I chuckled to myself as I worked. That actually seemed like the most reasonable explanation. Some folks there’s no figuring out, and Frank was one of them.
We toiled all afternoon and into the evening, until under the dense layer of cloud it was almost too dark to see, then we hauled up the nets for the last time and the skipper pointed her towards the bay. He steered us into the dock with the big light affixed to the prow, George aiming the light in response to the skipper’s shouted instructions. Frank smiled. He had warmed back up, and was glad to be back ashore, even if we had another hour or more ahead of us unloading the fish.
"Well, let’s get to it. I’m ready to go home" said someone, probably the skipper who owned the boat and thus the whole operation. Soon we were lifting tanks and coolers of fish out of the boat with the crane, dropping them carefully onto pallet-jacks we then used to shuttle them into the warehouse. In the warehouse we grabbed fish by handfuls sometimes using plastic shovels as well, and lined coolers with them, one after the other, until finally our tanks were all empty and back on the boat.
"Well I’m beat. I tell you what, when I get home I might not even shower! Might just hop straight into bed," said Frank as we stripped out of our fishing clothes in the locker room. We both laughed, imagining him reeking of fish and sea-scum, climbing into bed next to Penelope.
"Think the Mrs. would mind? Just tell her you’re dog-tired."
"Oh, she won’t mind, she likes the smell of fish. Loves it in fact. Why the heck else would she have married me?" I guffawed. I was a little in awe of Penelope, perhaps a bit envious of Frank as well. For these parts she counted as an elegant, sophisticated woman with her long black hair and her reserved manner. The few times I’d gone to their house for dinner she had intimidated me. So the thought of her loving Frank for the perennial fish-smell that none of us could escape, the stench that drove all other women away, was downright hilarious.
In the parking-lot we said good-night and I hopped in my car and started driving home, my mind a blank. I had to focus to stay awake after that long day of fishing. I’d been driving about fifteen minutes though when I realized something. I had forgotten my damned house-keys in my locker. I kept my house-keys separate from my car keys because one time my cousin said having all that weight was bad for the ignition. Thanks a lot, Sam; almost home with no house-keys. I cursed my forgetfulness and popped a U back toward the docks. When I pulled back into the parking lot I was surprised to see that Frank’s car was still here. And there was another one parked beside it, a red minivan none of the fisherman would be caught dead in. Hmm, wonder what Frank’s still doing here? I got out of the car and walked to the door. Maybe he’d forgotten something too. Wouldn’t be the first time. Actually now that I think of it, half the nights we went out for beers after quitting fishing early, he forgot something and had to swing back here to grab it. As I walked towards the side door I realized my extreme luck. I had been more of a fool than my tired fishing-brain had comprehended: Not only had I left my car-keys, I’d also left my set of keys to the warehouse inside. Luckily Frank was still here and could let me in. I walked up to the side door, preparing to knock, but realized it was slightly ajar. The lights were off, but I knew the layout so well I began to walk across the wide room with a hand on the wall towards the locker-room on the far side, where Frank must be. About halfway across the room, I realized I was hearing noises. I opened my eyes wide to maximize my night-vision and peered out towards the center of the room where the noise seemed to have come from. The noise repeated itself, a sort of squishing sound. I could almost make out the shape of some animal. Had it snuck in through the open door? Was it going to town on fish it had somehow got out of one of the coolers? I took another step, slowly, silently, to where the light switch was. I was going to surprise the animal, get a good look at it. I waited, breathed in, and then snapped on the light. There was the humming sound that precedes fluorescents and then they flashed on. I shouted. It was Frank. Frank and his wife. The elegant Penelope. One of the coolers next to them was open. They were on top of a mountain of fish strewn about the floor. Frank, on top of his wife, on top of a mountain of yellow-snapper. They were frozen, their flushed faces craned to look at me. Suddenly I remembered Frank’s joke from earlier:
"Oh, she won’t mind, she likes the smell of fish. Loves it in fact."
They had been fucking on a pile of fish. I stood as frozen as them, my gaze locked with theirs. Then I laughed. I cackled. I couldn’t stop, I could hardly breath. What else could I do? Anyways, Frank didn’t come back to work the next day. Can’t say I blame him.