The Blue Run II
The Second Installment of a Short Story
As Ira watched the dynamic of his family–their struggles as Henry Hopkin became less able to work outside in the fields or to ready the boats for fishing, the desire to leave school grew inside of him. Ira knew he could make things better if he could only work full time with his father. Often he wanted to blurt out,–Oh, how much better things could be if I left school and could help the family. Ira thought this often. But he never said anything aloud. Scenarios danced in his head as he yearned to contribute to the family well-being. Then he would be free on the ocean to catch mullet and blues or to gig flounder and gather shellfish in the sound. It made a lot more sense than sitting at a desk in a stuffy school house.
Then his father would not feel so burdened by not being able to provide for his family as he once had. And though the elder Hopkin had never mentioned this–never spoken those words–Ira knew that it must have been the way his father felt. He read it in his eyes, in his slouched appearance. As the weeks went by, his father's pain was undeniable. It was evident that Henry was getting worse.
The hurt in his father’s eyes was palpable. They had always communicated silently–the wonder of being on the sea, the appreciation for the yield, being part of it all. What could be more grand? But now what emanated from the older man’s eyes was the loss of those things. And Ira noticed as they rocked in the boat among the swells, the frequency of his father’s gazing toward the horizon. The acknowledgment of his father’s diminishing abilities ached Ira’s being. One night as he watched his father move the bits of food around on his dinner plate, Ira blurted out, “I am not going to finish school and I do not want to go to college.” More words fell non- stop from his mouth. “I hate school, it’s boring. I’ve learned all I need to learn. Please let me quit and help out more.” Both Henry and Mae shook their heads. It was an impossible suggestion. “You must finish school,” they said in unison.
But each day Ira proclaimed his desire. Each day he added reasons and more reasons. He listed names of people he knew who were successful without a diploma and added,“I can’t stand the teacher, I’m not learning anything, the kids are so childish,” as another cause to quit. The list of grievances grew as the days multiplied. Finally after enough weeks of complaining, his parents reluctantly consented to his dropping out.
Dreams of a college educated boy in the family flitted away like wispy clouds on a hot summer evening.
His mother cried. His father, worn and debilitated by effects of the disease that had slowly been ravaging his body, was not as hard to convince. He flashed a perceptive look, and then bowed his head.
Henry had been depending more and more on the boy for the last several months yet, hoping his increasing infirmities would not deter his son from bettering himself. But in the end, it seemed they had after all.
Henry Hopkin doubted he was much longer for this world and he knew the family needed food on the table and money to live. He knew that more than likely he would be selling at least five of the seven acres of land his family lived on to pay the bills that had been accruing. And seeing how Ira loved the sea so much, he figured that was where the boy would chose his livelihood. The land could be sold, the ocean never would be.
Already he was talking with a few of the local folk about the purchase of his land. He knew there would be a buyer.
Having not told even his wife about the impending sales, Henry concentrated on teaching his young son the surreptitious behaviors of sea life, the tricks of the trade, things he was sure he’d already instilled in the boy– but things he felt determined to reinforce. It brought him both joy and sorrow as he observed how much a part of it all his son already was.
He saw it in the sweat of Ira’s brow and the deep breaths his son took on humid days after a heavy rain, breathing in the salt and expanse before him, in the exhaustion the two experienced after hauling in a catch, wet with the sea, sweat and heavy salt air.
Nearly a year had passed and Henry was no longer able to join his son in oyster gathering. The previous four months of the shellfish season, he had found himself growing weaker and weaker and now the season was nearing a close. He had hoped he would be able to at least make it until April when the blue fish ran. They filled the water, roiling with their angry activity as they chased smaller fish. He had always loved going out in the dory with his son and either trolling or using the net to catch the blues. His favorite was trolling, the yield was perhaps not as robust as with a net, but so much more exciting.
The thrill of the fight, Henry always loved a good fight and was never one to give up easily. Blue fish always gave a good fight.
Resting in the overstuffed lounger, Henry pictured tying the lures with mono-filament, attaching a header with a flat silver spoon, then setting the poles in their slots. Those on the transom he let out about seventy-five feet. The angled poles at either side of the boat, he let out about one hundred feet.
As he thought, his eyes gathered in deep wrinkles at the corners, the corners of his lips curled upward. He felt the rock and sway of the little nineteen foot dory beneath his feet; his mind wandered. It was a sunny day with a mild cooling breeze.
His mind wandered once again, and then there was his daughter’s graduation. Olivia was the first of the Hopkin family to graduate from high school and the first to attend college.
Henry’s heart swelled with pride as he closed his eyes and felt the breeze off the sea sweep through his thick graying hair. A smile settled on his lips as his last breath escaped them.
“The blue run in the spring and fall.” Ira stepped down into the dory from the narrow wooden dock, then smiled up to his sister, Gale.
“But why? How do they run?” A puzzled looked crossed her brow.
“They swim, okay? They swim, we call it run.” Ira scrunched his nose and jerked gently on one of his sister's braids.
“Where are they swimming?” she asked.
“This time of year, in the fall, they are heading back to Florida. Back where it is warm.”
“Oh.” The little girl bit her bottom lip, narrowed her eyes and spoke. “I want to go too.” She twisted her brown pigtail and picked at the rubber band at the end of the strand.
“To Florida?” Ira teased.
“No, with you.”
“Ha, the fish would pull you in–they’re near about as big as you.”
Squinting her eyes against the morning sun, Gale pursed her lips. “Daddy takes me with him sometimes.”
Cocking his head to the side, Ira studied his sister’s face. The innocence there was overwhelming. Her innocence and curiosity had always tugged at his heart strings.
“Daddy used to take you,” he corrected. “And Daddy’s not here now. Besides, I’m going out in the ocean. Daddy only took you in the sound, never the ocean.”
Gale’s eyes dropped to search her feet. “He’s in heaven.” The girl caught her brother’s eyes and drew her lips into a line, “Daddy would take me with him. I’m older now. I’m in school now. If Daddy was here now, I know he’d take me—s’not fair."
“S’not?” her brother snickered and winked, "snot?” He mimicked her again then wiped a make believe bugger from his nose.
“Ewww!” Gale curled her lips, then giggled loudly.
There was no doubt that his little sister had her father’s smile. Ira lingered a bit as he watched her laugh.
“I’ll bring you back a big ol’ blue.” He called loudly.
“Well, hop to it, then.” Gale placed her hands on her hips, the smile and laughter having disappeared.
She sure does look like Dad. Ira caught
himself staring at her again.
“Brother?” the little girl questioned.
Ira shook his head and laughed. “Go on back to the house now. I know Momma’s wondering where you’re at.”
Gale turned around and around, twirling her homemade dress. “Bring me back a seashell–a big one!” She ran toward the tire swing near her home.
Turning his attention toward the sound, Ira pulled sharply on the pull start cord and moved the tiller of the outboard to propel him toward the open water.
The laughter left his eyes immediately as he faced the breeze blowing in from the north. He could feel the familiar emptiness. It had been with him since his father’s passing.
He'd missed the spring run so this would be the first time he’d ever been fishing for blues without his father. He knew he would miss the man even more as he went through the inlet into the Atlantic.
If Henry had been with him, they would have thrown the net–used that to catch the blues. Two men were needed for the net. He glanced at the long poles lying on the deck. A gull passed overhead. Squawking loudly, it circled again.
Was that the old man telling him to ready the rods, to set the lures–or was it just another noisy bird flapping its wings in the wind?
Before, when he and his father had trolled, they had split the poles, each
working two. It was fun, especially when they were trolling right through the middle of a school. Wham, wham, wham, wham. One after the other struck the lines. Then, whir, whir of the reels as they wound the mono back onto it. Sometimes he could feel the heat from the reel as it wound so tightly and fast.
A smile curled his lips for a second as he turned the boat into the choppy inlet.
Today was not too bad. Motoring through the inlet rolled the boat around a bit, but that was normal. There was always a bit of tease to the inlet.
Reaching beyond the last wave, Ira looked to the right, starboard, where Henry had always perched along the gunwale. He gulped emptiness as he moved out beyond the breakers. There were no swells on the horizon, it would be a calm day.
What did he expect today? He’d brought six crates for fish. He hoped to fill them all.
Most of the catch would be salted down and taken to market. He’d keep a few for dinner, though he’d never really liked eating blues. To Ira they were too bloody a fish, too strong. He preferred mullet, grouper or snapper.
He shrugged his shoulders, “Maybe I’ll get lucky today and catch a couple of those.”
As the dory glided past Lea Island, Ira waved to the few fisherman on the shore casting their lines. They waved back as he passed. Turning the tiller, Ira headed south and farther out.
He figured a half mile would do just fine and he slowly guided the craft through the still water. Barely a ripple stood on the glass like surface; it twinkled various hues of gray and silver, green and blue. Turning the motor off, he heard the slapping of the water against the hull.
In a moment it would stop as the wake from the dory settled into the vast expanse. Gazing at the poles once again, Ira stared for a moment before realizing the time had slipped by with nothing to show for it.
“Hop to it, boy,” he said aloud, recalling his sister’s words from earlier. Those were the words his father had used on occasion when he had found him daydreaming. The image of Gale’s face and the hands on hips stance she had posed earlier, came to mind again.
He had throttled down to a slow one or two knots and baited the poles, set them in the holders and watched as he let the lines out. He followed their lines as they cut into the water. Stepping back to study them, watching the thin trace of line through the still ocean waters, he positioned himself in front of the outboard and adjusted the throttle to increase the speed a few knots more.
The boat cut a gentle path through the water, allowing the lines to follow behind. Ira leaned back against the gunwale and relaxed into looking at the colors and swaths of clouds above him. The placid slap, slap of the ocean lulled him into a drowsy consciousness.
“Boy!” It was his father’s voice.
Ira lifted his face to meet the man’s eyes. Their steely gaze focused on one pole. It
bent as the line whirred. Ira jumped to his feet and pulled the pole from the holder. Quickly he wound in the line. Just then two more of the poles bowed. And just as the fourth pole arched, Ira reached to push the throttle down, slowing the boat.
He reeled in the lines as quickly as he could, released the hooks from each
fish’s mouth and reset the lines.
Pushing the throttle back to a slow troll he perched himself once more against the gunwale, but this time he sat alert–prepared now for more strikes– more blues.
And they came, one right after the other. Sometimes all at once. There was no stopping for respite, just continuous unhooking, re-baiting, and the thunk, thunk of slamming the poles back into their holders.
Between breaths, it seemed, he threw fish into the crate boxes. He searched for a rhythm to move through the work but was unused to working alone and many fish fell to the deck. He was aware that many of the catch had been lost, simply because he could not get to a pole in time. Oh, how he wished his father was there to help.
Before, with his father, he’d always had time to think about things. To work into a rhythm with his father–reel, unhook, throw, re-bait. Reel, unhook, throw, re-bait. There was time then. There were two then.
Now he had no time for rhythm–or time to build one–and certainly very little time to avoid the sharp teeth of the blues. They were notorious for gouging fingers and wrists.
In the midst of all the rushing, while setting a line, he did notice blood running down his arm toward the elbow. But there was no time for tending to that the line needed set, the spoon pulled from the fish’s mouth. And it would be repeated again and again.
Oh how he wished he had someone to help him, someone who knew how to work a net. He ached for his father.
Then it was still again, all at once. No strikes, no hurrying to toss fish into boxes. He took this time to move the crates around and pick up fish still flopping in the bottom of the boat. He breathed a sigh as he tossed the last one in a box. The sea was still calm. Usually
after noon, a breeze would kick up and there would be a little more swell to the water, but not today. Ira drew his lips in tight and searched the horizon, letting his eyes wander to the land only a few hundred yards away.
Part of Issue 20: