Nothing ever works out how you plan. That’s an old trick that ticks and trickles relevance to the point we hate it deep down for proving true. Because that chaos is an integral part of being we also harbor elaborate dreams and plan lofty ends for ourselves, acting them out even while knowing they will not come to pass. The boy blew all the money he’d saved with the girl from the party. They went out for a month, and when the money ran dry, well. A month, that’s how long it took for him to reverse the previous year.
Now, as he neared the docks huddling into his coat against the sea wind, he felt not so much wiser for all the ills that’d befallen him, just older. That’s what scared him most; not his death, but that time would move too fast for him to be able to stay afloat. The wind felt good though, cutting, reassuring the here and now. He felt that way about cold places, rather than warm. In the heat it’s hard to move around. In the cold it’s motivation to move fast, and you get more done, albeit with all your muscles clenched against that icy hand and tearing wind.
He saw his uncle right away, leaning against the sea rail, with one brogan propped into the low wrung, talking to a short man in a hard hat. His uncle waved him down with their whistle, and when he shook his hand and embraced him, he thought about him working in the cold for years and years; how it sculpted him rough so that he wouldn’t have to feel all the things the boy felt daily, things that made him want to die. Maybe not, for he’d seen his uncle worrying those craggy hands before, late at night when he’d sit at the kitchen table long after we’d finished eating. He’d have his glass of beer or something stronger, and he’d just sit there. Sometimes the boy would sneak into the hallway from his room. Stepping carefully lest he disrupt whatever inward journey his uncle had embarked upon, he’d watch through the doorframe as the big man rubbed those tellurian hands together, the sound they made was soft and hard at the same time.
“Uh oh, so you’re back finally? What, you forgot about the place? You’re going to ask for a hand out I bet.” His uncle smiled at the fisherman he was talking to, and the man patted him on the back and turned off back towards the market stalls that were beginning to empty, the merchants packing the unsold into icy crates, or filleting them and tossing the guts out past the break wall to the hoard of waiting pelicans and frigate birds that frequented the docks, so much so that they died during the off-season when the boats left for more remunerative waters. The water here at the back of the market was filthy, oily, and bacteria laden with treponema oozing from used condoms as they mingled with the cast-off viscera from processing the day’s catches.
“Nah uncle, I came down to work.”
“Work? Hah! You’re about nine hours too late for that? Don’t you remember we open pretty early around here?”
“I know uncle, but I figured maybe cleaning up or something. Its that, I’m real light and you know I can’t be around in the house all day, especially when mom comes home.”
“Yeah, I know.”
“So, I came down figuring I could do something to help.”
“Right, right. Well, I’ll let you in on a big secret around here. No one makes any money. What do you think about that?”
“You’re shitting me. Look, I can just hang out, whatever. I don’t want to strain anything.”
“Strain? I’m not doling perfidies. The union head is making some kind of scandal to dredge up political support because they’re going to be choosing a new head soon and he wants a quarrel so people will remember him as something of a warrior when he’s really just a pissed on drunk who fucks over anyone who comes by his way stupid enough to let him. You understand?”
“So he’s been hiking up all the prices and the vendors cant match up because if they mark everything way up people wont buy.”
“But they have to understand don’t they?”
“They don’t. They want the same prices they can get in the north beach market, that’s private mind you, and if they cant get it here they’ll go there or wait out until the coming weeks and no one here is in any kind of position to withstand that. People have families. People have to eat.”
“Sure. But why is he doing it? Why cant the vendors lean on him or something to bring prices back down?”
“That’s not how it works. Unfortunately, this guy has some small kind of power and he’s just throwing it around for his own personal. He’s shitting on people he thinks he can shit on and get away clean. He’ll see though. He holds no boon. What he doesn’t know is that we’re all connected and the people who’ll keep him in the head are aligned with us. He’s a dumb shit for figuring he could fuck us over and keep face with the union. Most of the vendors are from fishing families and they get earfuls everyday from them. They wont let it slide. Not now, with Christmas coming and everyone hard up for money.”
“Damn. I never figured there was so much drama going on around here.”
“Look. There’s always politics everywhere, all the time. Don’t let anyone tell you different. Every situation, every moment of life is filled with some bullshit that’s the result of someone throwing their weight around instead of working to help people, they’re helping themselves.”
“Damn right I’m right on. Now listen. Go over past the stalls and get Mario out of whatever drunken reverie he’ll be in and tell him to set you up power washing out those coolers back there. Wake his ass up and don’t be shy with the kicks if ye’ has to because he’s been drinking that rat killer since paid off this morning. Get him to hook up the compressor, or, well shit you know how to do it right?”
“Yeah, sure. You’ve done it all before. Anyways, just get it all hooked up and grit wash all those coolers until they don’t stink none more. When you’re done there come find me in the office and we’ll see about maybe getting you something else because that washing wont take you more than an hour.”
“I bet it does.”
He brought out the long hosing and attached all the couplings from the washer to the small compressor and its dedicated three-liter gas generator. It turned over on the third tug of the ripcord and emitted a smoke puff as it chugged to life with all of its two-point-eight horses. He hadn’t even bothered to wake the Mario who was leaned way back against the shed door frame in a rotted out Concordia chair with no seat skin. The half empty bottle of aguardiente lay under his knobby knees in a stance of protection. Who’d want to steal that shit, the boy thought, unless it was to thin paint or maybe degrease an engine block. For levity he fetched a kick into Mario’s sweetbreads as he passed with the coiled length of ribbed piping swathed around his shoulder. “Motherfucker,” He enunciated through the contracting meat of his midsection. He glared up with rheumy eyes at nothing and nobody, muttering curses to the boy’s back and settling back onto the chair after checking the bottle and taking a nip.
The boy found the coolers already upended against the cracked concrete of the processing floor, reeking and stained off-blood hue from numberless carcasses draining their life out into the spider webbed plasticized interiors. He gauged up the nozzle and aimed it at the first of the three hulking iceboxes and let loose a stream of scalding water and grit from the hose that bucked gently as it came forth spraying true smacking against the aging innards. He zoned out to the rhythm of the spray, remembering when he’d first started coming down here to hang with his uncle. One time, a small and ancient fisherman called the macaque brought in a twenty kilo sturgeon from somewhere off the three islands. He sat their proud, counting his money and taking a coin or two from passing tourists who posed by the upended leviathan while their kin snapped shots of them japing next to the chthonian hulk bled out gray and bony-plated in the waning afternoon glow. That’s what the boy paused on most in his remembrances, how the Sun’s stations created light plays on the ocean’s surface, rays striating through the air or suffusing into it, creating a different rhythm to the heart and breathing of the young boy as he’d sit and watch the phasing of light like something alive and precious he could hold onto even as it changed in its dynamo splendor, now sparks skittering through the eyelids squinted, now glowing on the faces of children lead by the hands down the pier by their parents to disappear in the too-bright glow of our most precious star purpling to dusk.
By the time he finished the difference between his sweat and the splash back grit water vanished and a high whine of blood careened around between his ears like carom balls finding no purchase or nesting pocket. He thought of his blood like a mist, or molecules all racing and bashing into each other while his breath labored in the hot stink air of the cooler room. He swung the jointed arm of the power washer across the dulled white of the cooler boxes one last time and hit the shut off valve with his foot. The machine honked a forlorn adieu and the hum of the generator filtered back to overtake the soundscape.
The boy’s uncle came by to check on him just as he was coiling the hose around his shoulder and elbow, crisscrossing to keep it from tangling. “You ready to do some real work now?”
“Boy, I’m about to show you why I prefer it behind the desk nowadays.” He led him out and around back of the cooler room, skirting behind the wall on a slim lip of concrete that dropped straight off into the water sucking faintly at the embankment, wearing an oily sheen broken by flotsam and inorganic garbage accumulated into a slurry. He paused before they came to the clearing past the cooler shed, looking back at the boy, grinning. “I always wondered where the word offal came from, and why didn’t they just call it awful.” He could smell it then, beyond the pale, the reek with no worldly comparison that only comes off of days old fish guts. Two barrels stood side-by-side like apish twins oozing from their underneaths, steaming with the redolence of sea death and Lazarusian spoilages. “Them there’re your charges for the rest of the afternoon. An atunero derelict them here during the night and no one’d touch ‘em for what they’re holding. The winch is over there by the fry basin and you’ll have to chain ‘em up by hand or weld something to ‘em to chain ‘em because they weigh a good quarter ton each. All I want is for them to be pushed over that away over the break and the barrels hauled back up and sprayed out. God damn boys just left ‘em here, but anyways, welcome to the wharf.” The boy stared up at his uncle for just a moment, registering in his eyes no mirth or mock. His uncle shrugged slightly and turned. “I’ll be in the office when you’re all done, and you can shower in there too. I have some clothes since I believe yours’ll be in dire straights when you’re done.”
After his uncle had moved off, the boy forwent anything to do with the arc welder, moving straight over to the rusted winch to maneuver it into place. He got the chain end hooked up to the stout arm and swung it over to the far side of the barrels out towards the water. He turned to the offending twins and lugged up the heavy pry bar, clanging it on the side of one barrel. He wedged it up under the lid and jumped up, pressing down on the other end with his hands against his solar plexus. As soon as the lid slid off a sepulchral flume engulfed the boy and set him to gagging, crossing his arms back over his middle and staggering slightly to one side. “God damn,” he muttered to himself, cursing his uncle under his breath and looking sidelong down the pier as if he would make to run off. At the second barrel with the pry bar, this time with his old shirt wrapped around his nose and mouth, he jostled the lid off with one motion and stepped back. The putrid contents of both barrels had a black and oily cap of fluid broken periodically by a random fish part sticking up through the semi-reflective film. He cursed his life and set about fitting the long, heavy chain round the circumference of both cylinders. Once he’d worked them something secure near the bottom of the containers, he moved back to the winch and commenced to see about dragging them towards the break wall. They wouldn’t drag and began tipping as soon as he put the pressure on them. Damn, he though, oh well. He put on the force directly and the barrels tottered over in slow motion, spilling little first then all at once in a torrent as they capsized to boom against the concrete abutment. The slurry splashed out in a flood to the water below, instantly mixing in through the surface and under, creating a foul cloud of fluid mixture that rushed visually downward in dark clouds of filth. Looking back he saw his uncle’s face in the office window, smiling at him and the noise and the mess created at his bidding. Crazy bastard, the boy concluded, gets exactly what he wants even though its crazier than shit. He swung the winch back, threw two cinderblocks into the mouths of the barrels so they wouldn’t roll around, and made off again for the cooler shed to fetch the power washer once again. The sun was cresting lower as he sprayed out the barrels, and the mist from the sluicing water created rainbows in the quavering air.
Tags: fiction, Short Story, the breadman, Zev Gottdiener