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Home Sweet Home - A Short Story
By J.C. Delfino III
He was a little man in a little boat in the middle of a very large Pacific Ocean. He also was happier than he had been in a long time. Not because he had a bad life or a troublesome home either. He was happy because he was in love. In love with the waves that rocked the boat, in love with the large sea bass he was attempting to lift, each trapped on the thick coiled rope that would ensure they would stay close to the boat, when he finally threw them back into the water after attaching the newest catch to the collection.
He was in love with the smell, the salty, moist air that one could only find at home, on the sea. He loved his little boat, viewed by most as too small for the sea, little more than a rowboat actually. He loved the weathered wood, each crack, each knothole, each splinter.
But most of all he loved his fishing pole. The long bamboo pole, bamboo was the best he would always claim. He loved the fishing reel, its brand-name scraped off with the sharp point of a knife, leaving canyons gouged into the metal side, which he had bought in port during one of his stops in Korea. Soldiers had been able to buy anything on the docks, close to the water, close to home.
The love was obvious when he picked it up. He held it like a newborn child, firm but soft, never forceful, but never faltering. It was safe in his hands. It was an extension of his hands, its fluid motions dancelike as he shifted back and snapped forward, the bait gone then a small ring forming where it had connected with the water growing ever larger as it moved away.
He sat on the wooden panel that formed a seat and grabbed a canteen that lay on the bottom of the boat. He pulled it up and unscrewed the lid, the lid like the canteen itself was attached to the boat by a thin rope. He had learned the trick a long time ago while doing basic training for the Navy. Tie everything to the boat, then if need be you can throw it overboard but loose nothing. Everything except the pole was tied to the boat, he wanted to tie the pole down too, but he needed the freedom of movement, battles could not be won without movement.
Watching the sunlight reflecting off the constantly moving sheet of water that faded into the distance in every direction his mind floated back to a day he had once been stationed on the U.S.S. Magpie. He had been involved in a game of dice with a good friend Robbie when the ship had stuck a mine and began to sink. Robbie had gone back to his quarters for some personal belongings and the friends never saw each other again. He remembered being lowered in a lifeboat not much larger than the boat he sat in now with five of his brothers. Another lifeboat began to fill with another six soldiers. The sailors hurried off the boat, and quickly made was for deep water, not wanting to be close to the North Korean coast or near the Magpie when she finally went under that day, sucked in by the vacuum formed by the sinking ship. Luckily their sister ship the Merganser was close by and the twelve sailors were quickly pulled from the water. Robbie Langwell and twenty one of their brothers never emerged from the Magpie; they instead went home with it.
He learned one of life’s most valuable lessons that day, be prepared, be prepared for anything. So even on a one day fishing trip he had enough food and water for days, all safely tied to the boat.
A splash behind him caught his ear and he quickly turned just in time to see the dolphin jumping out of the water just a few yards from where he sat. Dolphins were clever happy fellows, always playful but sneaky. He had only seen dolphins once before, sitting at the bow of the Magpie watching the waves crack and break as the boat cut thought the water like a spoon though thick cream. He and Robbie had laughed at the silly creatures with their quick jumps and rolls as they raced the ship, it was a wonder to behold.
He turned then and picked up his pole, not wanting to possibly entangle the dolphin in the line and chance injuring the creature or worse yet lose the pole. He quickly reeled in the line and set the pole down beside him. He glanced up when he heard another splash a few feet away on the other side of the boat, and just as he figured he was soon welcomed by another of the playful animals. A moment later another animal appeared and the three began to folic joyfully around his boat. He picked up some of the cut carp he was using for bait and threw it into the water in front of the closest dolphin, the others came closer all hoping to receive a free meal.
He never saw the dorsal fin of the shark as it sped into the circling dolphins. It is not uncommon for a shark to attack a dolphin but today it’s pray were the trapped sea bass. It grabbed the helpless fish and swam under the boat, pulling the rope tight behind it.
Although he never saw the shark, he knew instantly what it was, he grabbed a knife and reached for the rope, starting to saw though it as it pulled hard against the wooden side of the boat.
He heard the wood creek and watched as the top of the boat sank closer to the water. The other end of the boat started to lift up out of the water and he crawled over to that end of the boat in attempt to keep the boat flat.
The boat leveled out for a moment and he thought he might just be in the clear but then without warning the little boat rolled onto its side tossing the little man into the water. Years of training took over at that moment, he opened his eyes looking for the bubbles that were coming from the air trapped in his clothes, and with a single swift kick he followed them to the surface.
Luck was with him and he surfaced close to the boat. He moved slowly, drawing himself close to the boat, finding a rope hanging under the boat and wrapping it slowly around his forearm. He then froze. It would be futile if the shark was hungry, it would find him, but it was an old sailors belief that if you held perfectly still, and you were not bleeding the shark would probably leave you alone and swim off.
So he waited, sweating even though the water chilled him, hoping for a chance to climb upon the boat, he could survive for days on the boat, if the shark didn’t find him.
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