“Fisher folk?” Jackie
Russell cries in wide-eyed astonishment. “Well Christ may kill
me. What kind of idiots have you got running that paper? He
must be an idiot.”
“He’s not an idiot. It wasn’t him.
We aren’t going to do that. I just told you like a joke. We know. It
was a new publisher, she…”
“Pretty stupid joke. You’d get
some laughs all right. It would be some woman. Probably thinks it’s
good and funny, someone breaking their back and she’s out telling jokes
about fishers, folks, folk-fishers. Whatever the hell it is.
Yeah. Real funny. I bet a lot of these watermen would like to be in on
that joke. Just another goddamn woman laughing when a man gets it in
the nuts, just a stupid…”
“OK. OK, she wasn’t clued to the
machismo of the watermen. She meant well. She just probably doesn’t
“Meant well? Right. I’m sure
she does. And who’s paying her meal ticket, huh?’
“Look, it was just, well, extreme,
but she is trying. Like, myself, I mean, it is right, I never read the
sports page, never even looked at it, until I saw a picture of a women…”
“That’s enough,” he roared. The TV
table toppled to the floor, the dinner dish crashed to the floor and
broke in half. He’d wiped it clean already. With white bread.
“I’ve heard enough of that crap. It’s just a bunch of crap. You think
I’m keeping you from fulfilling yourself is just a bunch of
crap.” He’s on his feet now and kicks one of the two glasses that
were also on the TV table out of his way. One was a fresh drink, mostly
drunk. The other clotted with a drink from another time.
“Leave it,” he commanded
walking through the living room into the kitchen. “Don’t think I expect
you to pick up after me. I can take care of my own goddamn self and
don’t want to hear about how women don’t have a chance and can’t do
because of men. That all the problems in the world are because of
men. I worked goddamn hard for everything I’ve ever had and
still payin’ for it. I’m paying for it all a goddamn second time. Leave
it. Let’s go. We’re done here.”
God, I think, did I look like I was
going to pick it up? Was I? I’m not very clear here about
what is going on. Fine with me to get out of here. I stand up very
carefully, not to knock over my own TV table. Oddly it doesn’t occur to
me that he is angry with me. I don’t feel threatened. I feel grateful
to be spared a brave culinary attempt at the vinegar drowned plate of
salted fish, which stunk, and greens, which looked regurgitated, that
he’d served me in front of a ghosted news broadcast that was making me
seasick on the television. Just to stand my ground I took a sip of iced
tea and followed him out the trailer door.
“You drive,” he ordered, walking to
“Good plan,” I said, and not content
with the final word added, “So,” and paused until I’d backed out of the
drive and put the bug into gear to head up the island road. “I can tell
my editor there are no women working on the water.’
“Right. No women.”
“None,” I confirm.
“None,” he confirms. We drive the
five miles off the island in silence, pull into Swann’s parking lot and
I follow a pace behind. I feel somehow rectified.
We were early for the band so sat at
the bar and, since we’d left dinner behind, ordered a pizza. “I’ll only
get onions if you eat onions too,” he said.
“I love onions.”
“Get us a pizza over here,” he told
the bartender. “And a couple gin-bucks.
“Uh, lemme look at his first,” I
tell her. “What’s a gin-buck?” I ask.
“Gin,” he says.
“Uh, can I have a scotch and water,”
I say after sniffing his pinkish drink that smelled like perfume and
“Now, Ethel used to go crabbing with
Skinny,” he said after his third gin-buck. “But it wasn’t her boat. You
understand?” he glanced at me. “She would bait the trotline while
Skinny sat under the tree and drank a six pack of beer. ‘Ethel,’ he’d
call out, ‘you ain’t got that line ready to go yet, Ethel?’
” Jackie Russell gave a loud snort and threw his arm
around the back of a man sitting on the other side of him and who had
been turned from him since we’d sat down.
“Ain’t that right, Sonny,” he said
to the man who suddenly came alive, as if Jackie Russell had only just
arrived and he’d only been waiting for that one moment and that one
friend to clasp him on the back.
“Hey, Jackie,” he clasped his hand
and smiled a grin only half full of teeth. “Well goddamn, Jackie
Russell. Who you talkin’ about?”
“Skinny,” Jackie roared with
laughter, throwing his head back and giving such a high-pitch gasping
peal of laughter it hurt to keep yourself from laughing along. “Old
Skinny Goddard. Skinny and Ethel. You remember, down at the end of the
island. Skinny would have Ethel out there baiting his trotline. Skinny
up there under the tree. ‘Hey Ethel, ain’t you got that line tied yet?’
” Gasping now for breath between his laughter he was off the bar stool
drawing a couple more men into the story. “Now Skinny would lay
it out,” he said, casting a quick and suddenly stern look toward me,
“but Ethel, she would fish that line, dip them crabs out and put ‘em in
the baskets and she’d haul them baskets out of the boat for him too,
when he got ‘em back to the dock. Skinny would tie that ole boat of his
up and go sit under the tree and drink his beer until Ethel got them
baskets packed and ready to go.”
Jackie snorted and laughed some more
and clapped a lot more men on their backs and pretty soon the whole
length of the bar was lookin’ at him, sending a couple more gin-bucks
down the bar to him and the band started tunin’ up and the dancing
“I’ll never forget Skinny taking
that orbit motor right into her kitchen table,” he says as the band
pulls the attention from him and he sidles up to me, his arm just
barely brushing against mine, the hairs along our arms just almost
mingling. “He took the whole damn thing apart on the kitchen table to
work on it, and Ethel there, makin’ dinner, finally just servin’ that
dinner along side Skinny’s orbit motor. Come on now, let’s cha-cha-cha.”
And he took my arm just exactly as
they’d tried to teach the 8th grade boys to do a million years before
and guided me onto the dance floor. And he carefully placed the back of
his hand, not his palm, on the small of my back and took my hand and
led me in perfect dance-school etiquette. He cooed the wrong words to
some tune other than what was playing in my other ear. I learned years
later he sang in the ear of every woman he danced with, but learned
that first night that he danced with every woman in the place he
thought had been without a turn on the floor. It warmed my heart. It
Months later, same place, same date,
I’d turned to Mary Lynn and showed off how well I’d come to know him.
“He drinks those gin bucks when he feels mean.” She was one of two
women in Piney Point who would speak to me. The other was his cousin.
All of the others thought he should date someone local.
She burst right out laughing.
“Oh, oh, oh, honey child,” she turned and said to Jackie Russell as she
reached up, caressed and gently pinched his cheek. “She’s got the line
on you buddy boy.”
And Jackie Russell grinned that grin
because he knew that was a lie. And I grinned that grin right back,
because I didn’t. I didn’t know for a very long time. But I thought I
knew from the very start. I thought I knew the whole story right then
and there. I thought I knew so much that on the Monday morning after
Mary Z scared me to death that Jackie Russell would never ask me out
again I marched directly into the glass room and reported to the
editor. “Nope,” I said. “For sure, no women.”