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January 13th, 2019
Lucilius was looking out at a cascade of stars fading in a thin dark blue over the horizon as he stood at the helm of a fishing trawler. They had been steaming northeast for a day and would go another day before arriving at the fishing grounds where they would drop nets. The sea was calm and Lucilius coveted the cool quiet time.
The captain of the ship climbed up into the wheelhouse from below and handed Lucilius a fresh cup of coffee.
“Thanks,” Lucilius said.
“How goes?” the captain asked.
“Steady as,” Lucilius replied. “Beauty of a night.”
They stood in silence, watching the horizon warm, the faint light slowly spreading out across the water, stretching towards the ship.
The captain started up. “So yesterday, when we were pullin’ out I realized I left all the booze for this trip on the dock. Just totally forgot.” The captain laughed some, checking Lucilius’ reaction. He smiled but with a curious look.
“Oh, I always keep extra in my cabin, as a sort of back up. But shit, good thing none of the boys saw, cause that was a few hundred bucks, might as well just been poured down the drain.” He laughed, somewhat absurdly at his own mistake and Lucilius humored him by laughing along. “Eh, whaddya do? A little nick to the bottom line, it happens.”
Ernie, another fisherman came up and took over the helm from Lucilius and Lucilius stayed just long enough to see the sun split water and sky before going down below to get some sleep.
Several days later they were in the thick of routine, hauling nets, gutting and icing fish and working round the clock. Most all the crew was nursing a short reprieve in the galley, smoking cigarettes while huddled round mugs of coffee when the intercom blared into high volume.
The captain yelled through the intercom, making the speaker nearly short, twisting his curses as the crew went wide eyed at the captain’s anger.
Some gear had been left out of place on deck, one of the nets not completely rolled, some bycatch left in a trough.
All the crew looked around at each other, quickly realizing that the only one still asleep, Ernie, was the one who’d been on deck last with the job of cleaning up.
The captain kept going on, cursing them all out, and Lucilius could see his shipmates growing nervous and angry. Surely Ernie was awake by now, listening to the tirade of passive aggression the captain was shouting throughout the ship.
“Amazing,” the captain shouted. “I’m so proud of all of you.” Then the intercom clicked and it was silent save for the low drone of the huge caterpillar engine. A minute later Ernie came into the Galley and Lucilius watched as none of the shipmates even looked at the man, let alone acknowledge his presence. Lucilius watched Ernie fumble with a pack of cigarettes, give up and then head up a ladder to the wheelhouse to confront the captain. They could all dimly hear Ernie apologizing, trying to explain, but it seemed to land on deaf ears. During the next shift, the men left Ernie out of their talk, and Lucilius alone took up position next to Ernie, separating catch.
“Must of gotten a shit call from his old lady,” Lucilius said. Ernie smiled weakly.
“I was exhausted,” Ernie said. “Couldn’t sleep through those rollers the other night, and by the end of that shift, I could barely keep my eyes open.”
“It happens,” Lucilius said. Ernie smirked and through the shift Lucilius kept up the conversation, giving his friend some little comfort. And when their shift came to an end Ernie went down to the Galley and Lucilius decided to take his cigarette up in the wheelhouse with the captain. The two stood quietly as Lucilius clicked a lighter to life and made the cigarette end glow with a quick toke. The ship rocked and Lucilius glanced at the captain. The man’s face was set and unamused.
“Unbelievable,” the captain said slowly.
Lucilius raised an eyebrow. “What, Ernie’s messup?”
“Yea, just unbelievable. Just sloppy, so sloppy.”
“He was tired,” Lucilius defended.
“I don’t care. He left the deck a mess. It’s unacceptable.”
The two stood in silence for a moment. Lucilius dragged the cigarette, looked off at the southern horizon.
“How is it that you can make the honest mistake of leaving all the booze for the trip back at port, dock the pay for the catch to cover it, and you and I just laugh about it, but when it comes to Ernie being tired and leaving a few things out of place, you ream the whole crew out and make Ernie feel like some kind of leper when all he did was forget a few minor things, none of which lost us any money.” Lucilius glanced at the captain’s face. The man had a harder expression set now.
“Yea ok,” the captain said. And after a moment he asked. “Mind taking the helm, I’m gonna go apologize to Ernie.”
Lucilius took a long drag, looking at the captain, leaving him to hold the helm.
“You called out the guy in public, in front of his shipmates, but you’re gonna apologize in private?”
The captain stared a moment. Then left the helm, leaving Lucilius to take the wheel.
A week later when they were back in port Lucilius and Ernie left the ship for good.
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