The fishing boat is bleached from the sun, battered from the sea. I rub my calloused fingers along the rim where the green paint is flaking. The broken cabin door, unlatched, swings on its hinges. The floorboards are warped, the nets need mending. Crusted with barnacles, the hull begs a good scraping, and a brown tarp that covers the deck is mottled from the sun. The rigging is in disarray, the ropes are frayed. Tethered to the pier, the boat shifts in the wind like an animal restrained; it drifts away, only to be tugged and jerked back again.
A white seagull grips the masthead with its yellow feet, looking windward to the sky, gray-tipped feathers closed against its white belly. Ever vigilant, it raises its wings, poised to fly, then folds them in again. The boat bobs up and down and I lurch from side to side, but in spite of the gusty wind the seagull refuses to budge. I can see myself up there, clinging, as I have always done, sometimes not knowing why or for no other reason than it seems vital to keep that connection, to never let go.
I’ve put a for sale sign on the boat. It has no purpose now; you’re gone and it’s only a reminder of a life lived. As I’m cleaning the deck, I reach down to pick up some rotted netting. I extract a couple of dead fish caught in the mesh, then see a turtle, bigger than my hand, trapped there as well. Feet splayed, mouth open––it’s gagging on a plastic bag. They say turtles make that mistake all too often and are dying in droves, thinking they are feasting on jelly fish. I free the turtle and toss it in the ocean, then set about to clean the mildew. The seagull looks down at me accusingly and jerks its head, intent on where I have thrown the turtle.
There’s a man looking at the boat right now. He comes over to ask the price, how old it is, says it looks like it needs some repairing, and watches me warily, to see what I’ll say. I want to tell him that really, the boat is precious, maybe not as practical as the more modern ones that have fancy antennae and built-in vinyl cabinets, but good enough for a catch of fish, enough to make a living, anyway. It’s not mine, I want to tell him, like I’d need to confer with my husband first or something, but that would mean explaining too many things. I give the man a price and watch his face carefully, to see if I can read his thoughts. I’ll think about it, he says casually, then goes on his way. I’m not sure I want to sell it anyway.
I hoist some old lobster traps into the stern, then have a mad idea to untie the ropes and start the motor, take a little night ride. The sky is a soft teal, with streaks of pink turning to gray. I lay my tired body down; the boat creaks, rocking me gently. I yearn to be pampered for a while, take my leave slowly of this old boat, so worn and neglected, as am I. The wind dies down and I am prey to my memories; the time you held me in your arms and I smelled your briny skin upon this wooden deck. But love needs to be fed too.
The man has returned to make an offer. He tells me he’s a marine biologist doing a study of endangered species in the Mediterranean Sea, trying to determine why the shoals are so depleted, why Posidonia sea grass, vital to the ecosystem, is disappearing. The sea urchins are scarcer, from too much dredging and polluted water. I think about the turtle choking. This boat is perfect, he says. He’s part of an enterprise based in Madrid that collects plastic garbage from the ocean to recycle into clothes and accessories. I look at him skeptically. Clothes? I ask. The man tells me about recycling polyester fibers, and how they are looking for creative solutions, how we must save our planet’s resources before it’s too late. I shrug. Some things never come back. That’s a sad fact, says the man. But we’re looking for renewal, he continues, and if we take the right measures, things will regenerate.
We shake hands on it. His grip is firm, and I notice the sandy hair on his muscular forearms. I meet his gaze, blue eyes mirrored by the sea. He wants to give it a trial run. He pats the boat like an old dog, secures the rigging, then standing at the helm, calls to a young woman waiting on the pier with long blond hair, in shorts and a pink midriff. She unties the boat and helps him to shove off. They are both smiling; I see how happy they are, thinking I’m a fool. The seagull looks on with an approving eye, lifts its wings as the ocean swells and flies seaward without another glance back.
Born in Minnesota, Anne McMillan is a writer, opera singer, mountain hiker, nature lover and proud Olympic mom living in Spain. She recently completed her first novel, The Heart of the Aria and has published in the Madrid Writers’ Club Anthology, Litro Online and Sixfold. She received second prize for her story ‘Garajonay’ in Sixfold in 2017.