Thank You Alice

I knew I should have put an extra paddle in this damned boat. When my obituary shows up it will read: “He was never prepared, always forgetful, and probably died just to spite us”

It started on a dreary Sunday morning. I tossed my tackle box and rod into the back of the truck, a case of beer and a few bags of chips on the passenger seat, and my cell phone was sitting on my bed. I was getting a little bit sick of my assistant manager calling me every fifteen minutes to ask if it was ok for someone to eat lunch at their desk. Fuck, can that guy just gimme a break and make a decision on his own for once? I just want one day off, a day of peaceful drunken fishing.  I drove two hours out to the beach. There was a spot only about twenty minutes from my house, but I wanted to feel free and far away from everything today.

To be honest, I do not even like fishing; hell, there is still a price tag on my fishing rod. I will be lucky if I catch a cold out here, let alone an actual real live fish. My brother convinced me this was a good idea. He said it was relaxing to sit out on the water and watch the lure bob around on it. We spent four hours yesterday practicing moving the boat from the trailer, down into the water. It was harder than it looked, I can safely say that much about it. I took a graceful fall backwards into the water as the boat slid off the trailer, nearly throwing out my back while Marv laughed his head off at me. Marv had always been the relaxed one, but then again everything he ever attempted came easy to him, so there was no reason to struggle or complain. Ah! I should not let it get to me though, he has always been good to me. Never made a big deal about it when I needed to borrow money, never complained when I needed to sleep on his couch for a few weeks when my place flooded. Marv was always a good little brother even though I give him a hard time. I hope he knows that, above all else. I hope my brother knows that I love him, that runt.

As I got the boat into the water a young woman approached me with a clipboard, which meant trouble. Clipboards are always trouble. “Howdy sir” she called out in a peppy voice. Who the hell is peppy at 5:30am anyway? ”Ello, can I do anything for you Ms.?” I replied, without doing much to look up from loading my supplies onto the boat. “Well, as I am sure you are aware there is a bit of bad weather headed our way, so we have to restrict all water craft to this inlet only. I also notice you plan to do some fishing. May I see your license sir? Any stamps for the rarer fish?” Oh christ, I thought. I did not realize you needed special permission to fish in the ocean, but I did my best to keep calm. “I happened to forget those at home, is that a big problem? Or am I allowed to head out onto the water anyway?” I tried to keep my tone friendly, but it is hard for me when someone is being so patronizing. Plus, I am old and grumpy these days, I do not have a lot of time for people a third of my age trying to tell me what to do. “Well I am going to have to ask that you either refrain from fishing, or promise to throw anything you catch back into the water unless you want to deal with a mighty hefty fine. Otherwise I can sell you a permit on the spot, but it will cost you about a hundred bucks.”

Two hours later and I am out on the water, my wallet a lot lighter than when I woke up this morning. I may be a bit rough around the edges, but I can not hold too much of a grudge against a woman trying to do her job. I have been working on being nicer to people. Alice (that’s Marv’s wife) has been helping me with that. She is a great wife to Marv, and an even better sister-in-law to me. Hell, she is the closest thing I have to a friend these days. She comes over every Tuesday night for an hour. We have a drink together and chat, sometimes we act out situations to help me practice my social skills and understand both sides of an argument. Alice is a therapist by trade, but really she just loves to help people. I think it is in her bones. Some people just want to help us grumbling jackasses no matter how much we say we do not need it. Sometimes I think that maybe the fact they never had a kid adds onto that. She is a very nurturing person, that energy has to go somewhere I suppose, and I cannot complain when it has helped me so much already. In fact, when my regional manager told me the other day that I would have to lay off five workers, I managed to resist the urge to tell him to go fuck himself. Instead, I convinced him that letting go of hard workers was counter productive, and I promised to find some money in the budget to prune. No reason to fire perfectly good workers; every one of them has a family and I will be damned if I am going to add more people to the unemployment line just to save a few bucks a year.

I have my rod set up on the edge of the boat like Marv taught me to do, fixed into a sort of hook device to keep it fixed in place without me holding it. I pill out my little notebook to try to write some thoughts down, some homework Alice gave me. I have not been keeping up with it like I promised, so I figure I can make up a bunch of stuff and tell her I forgot to show her last time. I do not like letting her down, and this task is supposed to help me keep a clear head, keep me less stressed out all the time. Faster than I can think about is as I dig in my bag to find a pencil, I accidentally knock my oars into the water. I freeze for a moment and just stare at them, thinking the must float because this must happen all the time. Well, it must not. Or there is a graveyard of oars down the bottom of this inlet, because mine sank like a rock. I sit quietly for a moment, watching my two oars float down until I could not see them in the dark murky water anymore. I manged to find my pencil finally, and wrote one simple sentence on the first blank page I opened: “Oars do not float, if I die out here I want that on my tombstone.” Hopefully Alice will find that funny when she gets to read it on Tuesday.

I considered my options carefully over the next hour, while I drank a few beers to ease the tension. The first was to wait around and hope that the coast guard, or whoever, would notice I never came back to my truck and come out looking for me. The second was to try to swim back to shore, but I cannot remember how far out I am for the life of me. It might be a twenty-minute swim or it might be four hours, and I am not in the greatest shape of my life. The first option seems the safest one, so I settle in to wait this out. I crack open another beer and start in on my last bag of potato chips while I watch the fishing line continue to drift around lifelessly. For a moment I forget that I am stuck out here, and actually start to enjoy myself. Of course, this is the precise moment a torrential downpour starts. I suppose that nice woman did warn me about this. It seems she was not just trying to ruin my day, but rather give me some genuine advice. Story of my life so far though, people doing their best to help me out and I shrug it off as if they are out to get me. Marv and Alice both have tried to help me out with that. Learning to trust people more but it is a long road for a sixty year old grump to travel down.

As the rain pours down, and I assume it can not really get any worse than it currently is, it of course does. The wind starts to pick up which means my borrowed little boat becomes a death trap waiting to flip over. We never talked about what to do if that happened, but it seemed so unlikely as we have not had a storm in this area for about two years. The wind gets more intense every moment, and the rain is coming down so fast that my boat actually has a few growing puddles. This could be a real problem if I do not figure out a solution soon, but the boat keeps rocking more violently and I cannot seem to think straight. A large wave hits the boat and knocks me down, and rolling the boat just enough to dump the contents (minus me) into the water. I would like to think it cannot get any worse, but as we both know, that is definitely not true. To prove that, another big gust of wind hits the boat rolling it over completely, sending me sprawling into the freezing water.

As I sit on sit on this upside down boat soaking wet and preparing to meet my maker a little earlier than anticipated, I remember a joke Marv told me the other day and start to laugh so hard I cry. As the tears begin to stream down my face, a light confuses and blinds me from a distance in the rain. “I said are you alright?!” a familiar voice calls out, as the sight of a large boat comes into view. The smiling face of the woman that stole my hundred dollars this morning peered down at me. “Seems to be a bit of bad weather today, Ms., I wonder if you would not mind me hitching a ride back to land with you. As I am late for a dinner with a dear friend and my brother.” “Of course sir, I would be happy to”

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