n. A small fishing boat equipped with several 1,000-watt light bulbs hung from aluminum shades to attract squid to commercial fishing grounds.
Jesse isn’t really a pirate, but the Coast Guard thinks so when he calls to say he found a body. It doesn’t matter that she’s still alive, so cold she stopped shivering, blue fat of her naked body waxy and blooming red patches where his hands grabbed and hauled her from the water. He stands over her with a filet knife, slowly honing the blade as he waits for Search and Rescue. The glassy eyes of a dead tuna stare up from the galley counter. At dusk, Jesse flicks on the squid lights. When the uniforms arrive, they question Jesse, but never tell him who she is. Taking her away, the Lifeboat’s white wake is brilliant in the night. Days later, Jesse reads the story of an obese woman slipping out of bed at Johnson Memorial. She shed a hospital issued flannel gown and left nothing more, not even a whisper of footprints on the white tile floor. Jesse lights up a mass of squid and imagines her bare bottom shining under the moon as she waltzed herself into the slate-gray ocean and floated away. He knows how she must have longed for the cradling dark. He watches ruddy bodies pulse in the artificial bright, the net dropping around them like a curtain.
Shuttles flick through diamond-shaped windows.
Just fingers flash, bending the twine in stair steps up and down cut edges.
Their pockets full of hooks and flagging tape, men mend the net.
Jim recalls branding cattle as a kid in North Dakota, winter cold just lifted,
calves struggling in mud before the prairie bloomed, withered in summer heat.
Playing cowboy now, he says he shot coyotes and Indians off his dad’s land.
Face deadly straight, you only know he’s lying when his fingers stutter,
stick, the tiny knot coming up slack. Just one unraveled compromises the delicate
lift and pull of meshes under stress. I’ve seen whole seams split from end to end.
He knows love knots pull tighter under pressure, stronger than the lines used to tie them.
He starts talking about his grandmother with Alzheimer’s. Each winter she thinks
every day for a week is Christmas. Last year she fell in two feet of snow.
Feeding the horses, hay in her hands, the wind at ten below, she lay crying
until Jim’s grandfather found her. She didn’t recognize him,
but knew love when it grabbed her, pushing back the terror.
Jim joins two lines with overhand knots, sliding them one on top of the other,
pulling for tension. Sometimes the line snaps in his swollen fingers. His hands ache.
He cracks his knuckles, asks the boys if they’re ready for a beer, remembering his first.
At fifteen he drank Rainier, bittersweet scent biting his nose while he sipped,
making him crave pancakes all night. He didn’t know why until he remembered hunting
trips when he was five and six, Brown Betty, the old flat top stove at his uncle’s cabin.
Uncle Joe would tinker the diesel flame into smothering heat, sizzle of bacon
while Jim’s dad poured Hamm’s in the pancake batter, saying, Our little secret.
Holding a burnt handled spatula, he’d flip white beer cakes mid-air.
Outside the web locker, Jim’s crew chuckles, calls it a day, each popping a beer tab.
At home their fingers twitch all night, tie imaginary hitches, sheet bends,
loop knots, a bowline on a bight. Jim dreams of the whole net flexing,
all the pearl-sized knots shrunk and snug, rippling in the current.