The morning light came slow, revealing that the clear weather of the day before had deserted them. The sun was apparent only at the seams of dark clouds, and the low light made the seawater look black. It began to snow, at first sparsely, and Adam watched it swirl over the surface of the ocean. It picked up fast, the snow turning the sky a shaggy moving white. Twenty minutes after they had pulled the last set, there were plunging nickel-sized flakes moving horizontally as much as falling, and visibility shrank to a dozen yards.
Crowded into the warm cabin, Adam and Cole sat at the galley table. The coffee had been on the stove for hours and was thick and ashy tasting, but it was hot so they drank it anyway.
“Don’t get too comfortable,” said Odie, as he put a worn chart on the galley table. “We’ll be at the tender in half an hour, and this promises to be a bit of a goat fuck.” He pointed at a spot on the chart between an island and the peninsula. “The tender is here,” he looked at his watch, “and the tide will be fucking ripping through there. Fifty boats will be nosing up behind the tender, doing near flat out just to stay ahead of the current. If we can find the end of the line in this shit, we’ll tie up to the boat ahead of us, and once somebody else ties up behind us, we can sleep while we wait for our turn.”
“Adam, you’re on the bow. Finish your coffee and then get out there, the tender is right around here.” Odie was squinting as he looked out the windshield through the snow.
Cole and Adam went back out on the deck. The return to being cold was not gradual. The wind rushed over them and found the ends of sleeves and the spaces between collars and skins. In an instant it was as if they had never been inside. Adam picked his way around the cabin to the bow, moving hand over hand along the rail that ran the length of the wheelhouse and shuffling his feet sideways on the narrow catwalk. His heels were out over the black water and his cheek was brushing against the rail. He blinked away the snow. He passed close to the chimney where it came through the top of the cabin and he could feel the warmth radiating from it. Adam thought of the places he had lived that would have benefited from a diesel stove. Maybe he could find one and buy it and put it in a house somewhere. Or a cabin. It would be just the thing for a cabin. He kept moving his feet.
He got around the wheelhouse to the short stretch of deck at the bow. There was no rail and only a few square feet to work with, all of it covered with snow. If he tripped or fell or needed an extra step, the only place to go was out into the snow-filled air and then the dark water. The sea had picked up with the wind so that the bow was moving up and down, but the rhythm wasn’t settled. Adam stepped out towards the bow expecting it to rise up to meet his boot and instead he stepped out into space. The sensation was like missing the last step before a landing, and Adam took another step to recover, and then there was no more boat. He looked down at the water and sat down hard just as the bow plunged again, and he fell through the air with it until it bottomed out and he felt the jar to his tailbone, his boots dangling over the edge. Water came over the bow and was in his face and down the inside of his raingear before he could react. He blinked and felt wet become cold. He pulled his feet up and wrapped his arms around his knees. There was nothing to look at but dark water and swirling snow, but Christ, it was something to see.
Adam looked into the snow for lights, and he thought about where he would put his feet when he had to stand up again. He was aware of the need to be precise, and the need to concentrate. It was a basic tenant of every coaching approach he had ever been subjected to. In high school a coach had once told him that if you were properly “engaged”— “engaged” being a word that particular coach had used a lot— in a game and truly concentrating, ignoring all else, you would not be able to remember your mother’s name if asked. Adam never got close to that. He could never quite clear his mind entirely, and when he reminded himself of the importance of the next play, jogging backwards while the ball came his way, there was always a voice that rose from somewhere, unsummoned, to say that after all it’s only a fucking ball, and that eventually the sun will explode and that the existence of earth and everything that ever took place on it will be uncreated in an incinerating flash of super hot gas, and that the accomplishments of Gandhi and George Washington and Miles Davis won’t really amount to shit as they will be incinerated just like old Laugh-In reruns and the fucking Gutenberg Bible so what possible fucking significance could attach to the next point, even in a semi-final game. This thought process didn’t stop him from being better than average, but it took a small measure of ferocity from his game. On close plays, it amounted to about a step. Maybe a little less.
For a long time Adam concentrated, staring into the snow, but he saw nothing. The Vice was moving through the water at close to her top speed, but the current in the channel was moving so fast that they made slow progress toward the tender. Snow accumulated on Adam’s raingear until the yellow vinyl was completely obscured. His hood was up, and he pulled his head back into it. The periscope view was of dark water and swirling snow. He could hear himself breathe in there, and he was thinking that maybe Odie had made a mistake, that there were no tenders anywhere nearby. The world he was looking at seemed designed to repel human life, and it seemed impossible to him that anyone would be where they were headed. But then he saw lights, and he wondered if he had been falling asleep, and then all at once he could hear shouts and diesel engines and the clang of metal on metal. He kicked the snow off the deck in front of him and it slid overboard in wet sheets. When he got to his knees he pulled his hood down so he could see and he immediately felt snow landing on his face and the back of his neck. Odie eased the throttle back and nosed the Vice up toward the stern lights of another fishing boat. Other lights appeared and Adam could see there was a line of boats stretched out in front of them, bobbing in the gloom, tethered bow to stern like a train of circus elephants. The line disappeared into the swirling snow and the tender was not visible.
The name, “Skagerack,” was painted in black letters across the stern of the boat in front of the Vice. The letters were higher than Adam’s head. It was a new boat, built of aluminum and designed to ride high in the water. A man was standing at the stern of the Skagerack with his arms held out to each side, waiting for a line. The man’s face was thin and his beard was pointy and Adam thought of the Zig-Zag man. Adam secured one end of the bow line to a cleat and coiled the working end it in his right hand. When the distance between the two boats closed enough, Adam stood up, but he kept his knees bent to absorb the up and down motion of the bow. He looked back and saw that Odie was staring at him through the windshield, and he saw that behind them another boat was pulling up and Cole was standing at the stern, ready to catch their line. There was a man covered in snow standing on the bow of that boat too, and behind them a third boat was pulling up, and the noise of others could be heard booming over the water. With his left hand he pulled up on the line that was cleated fast to the deck, pulling himself down onto the deck into a crouch. There was a foot or so of deck in front of him, and the dark water was rushing so that it curled up in a wave as it was split by the bow. Adam concentrated and fixed his eyes on the chest of the Zig-Zag man on the stern of the Skaggerak and with his right arm he threw the coiled line.
Odie shut the engine down before Adam was back in the cabin. It was quiet inside. Cole had stripped to his long underwear and was rubbing bag balm on his hands.
“Well, that’s fishing.” Said Odie. “Cold. Wet. Adult language. So what do you think? You like it?” Adam could hear the gallon of coffee in Odie’s jittery voice.
Adam smiled and reached for a cigarette.
“You’re god damn right you do,” said Odie. “Millions of years of evolution make you love this. Your ancestors were exceptionally good at this kind of thing. If they weren’t, they’d be dead, or at least some other cave man who was better at it would have fucked your ice age grandma and your smiling ass wouldn’t be here. You were literally bred for this. Just like the sea lions and the bears and everything else around here. A hundred years or so in offices and bellying up to the trough at the fucking Applebee’s isn’t going to wipe clean a million years of evolution. This, my friend, is one of the last jobs anywhere in the world where we get to do what we were bred to do. We hunt down wild animals and kill them, and we get paid for it. You do this for a while, even just a year or two, how you going to go back? That other shit, it’s just a substitute for life. You roof houses or sell cars or whatever, I mean, it’s a job, and I respect anybody that works for a living, but it doesn’t even come close. Nobody evolved to sell fucking Toyotas.”
Matt Riordan is a lawyer. He lives and works in New York City.