Helicopters fly over Portland Harbor. It’s late. A warm summer night in July; and full of flies. The bugs attack the day’s catch and are swatted away by swollen hands. Two weathered Americans carry a body wrapped in blue tarp from cold storage.
The first mate trips on his boots, slips his grip, and drops the torso.
“Careful, Josh! Christ,” hisses the captain.
“That’s my bad,” says Josh, wiping his hands on a pair of overalls.
“Bend with your knees, not your back,” says the captain.
Josh nods, mindful of his form, and drops into a squat.
They count three seconds in silence then haul the corpse up again and carry it to the stern.
It reminds Josh of deadlifting at the gym. “What d’you think this one did?” he says.
“Same thing they all do,” says the captain. “Piss off the Company.”
They chuck the body into the sea, and in the same motion, the captain falls against the gunwale, out of breath. He stares at the black water until his first mate comes over and puts an enormous black hand on his shoulder.
“Come on, Pat,” he says. “Let’s get a beer.”
Pat looks across the river. Skyscrapers line the water like channel markers. Luxury apartments with infinity pools, and the rooms on the bottom have windows into the sea. Fish float by at breakfast.
Behind all the pomp and glamor, the fine dining—beneath the casinos and nightclubs, the smooth pavement and European cars—lives the uneven cobblestones of the Old Port. The same streets Pat and his buddies bar-crawled through on his 40th birthday, when bars were bars and not pubs; the same city where he got his first job as a deckhand on a rickety old trawler out of Portland Harbor, when seafaring people never worried about corporate vessels run by AI overfishing their spots, before the East India Company planted their flag, and claimed Maine as a colony. Pat’s life was fishing, and he wouldn’t let a ship captained by a computer take his job. Not when he still had gas in the tank.
He took a deep breath, heard the tide hit the shore, and dreamed of younger days. When he was strong. When he was free. When a seafaring man could make a real living off the sea. When he didn’t have to dump bodies in the water for extra money.
“Pat?” says Josh.
“Yeah, Josh,” says Pat. “Let’s get a beer.”
A fisherman is never too old to adapt.
Austin Treat‘s short fiction appears in Dark Yonder, Flash Fiction Magazine, Storm Cellar, and UCLA’s Westwind magazine, among many others. Deadlifting (2024) is a scene from his unpublished novella, What Fell From the Pagoda Tree. To read more of his stories, please visit austintreat.com. He lives and teaches English in southern Maine.