Authors: Graham Salisbury
Table of Contents
In honor of great teachers everywhere
Especially those in my life:
The Still Small Voice in my heart
James Monroe Taylor
Marion Grace Biscay
“Mikey!” Bill shouted.
Mikey spun around.
The marlin was charging.
Coming straight at the Crystal-C, but this time underwater. Mikey could see the point where the line met the ocean, racing in toward the boat.
Cal reeled, trying to capture the slack.
“Go-go-go!” Bill screamed at Mikey, his eyes wild.
Mikey rammed the throttle forward.
The boat lurched. The hull shuddered and groaned.
Mikey looked back. The line raced toward the stern, closer. Sickening fear swelled in his chest.
THE ISLAND SLEPT.
Goats, pigs, dogs, chickens, mongooses.
Even the roaches and lizards.
Everything and everyone except Mikey Donovan, who was antsy as a rat to get up and get on down to the boat. He was thirteen years old and the youngest full-time deckhand ever to fish the deep waters of Hawaii’s Kona coast. But Bill believed he could do the job. Mikey’d been working for three weeks now. And he couldn’t get enough of it.
He lay with his eyes open.
His sheet was a twisted mass around his feet. The air inside his room was stuffy and humid, even in the high country where they lived. Nothing moved but a single tendril of sweat, creeping from his hairline to his ear.
He swiped it away with the palm of his hand.
This is crazy, he thought.
He picked up his clock.
Just get up. Bill would thump on his door to wake him soon, anyway. He rubbed his eyes and stood and peered out the window. The moon was bright white and low in the sky. A silver sheen illuminated the black sea beneath it.
In the bathroom he turned on the light and stood squinting at himself in the filmy, toothpaste-speckled mirror. Yeah, he thought, studying his practiced squint and darkening skin. Finally starting to look like a fisherman.
Mikey jumped at the sound. Bill, waking him.
He brushed his teeth quickly and ran a wet comb through his hair, then dressed in a pair of khaki shorts and a T-shirt that read CRYSTAL-C in a blue arc across the front, with a picture of a leaping marlin under it and DEEP-SEA CHARTER FISHING under that. And below, in smaller print, BILL MONKS, SKIPPER.
Mikey turned off the light and went out to the kitchen. The light was on, but no one was there.
He peeked out the screen door. Bill was over in the carport pouring oil into the outboard engine. Mikey eased the door back quietly.
He got a glass of orange juice and a bowl of Shredded Wheat and sat at the kitchen table, wondering where his mom was. She was almost always awake by now.
The screen door squeaked open.
Mikey glanced up.
“Morning,” Bill said. He closed the door gently so it wouldn’t slap shut. “Sleep well?”
Bill nodded and went over and got the coffeemaker going, then poured himself a glass of juice and sat across from Mikey. He broke three Shredded Wheat biscuits into a bowl. Before Bill, Mikey’d eaten nothing but sugary cereal. His mom didn’t like it, but she’d never said no. Bill wouldn’t touch the stuff. Rot your teeth, he said. Weaken your body. So Mikey stopped eating it.
They ate in silence, both studying separate spots on the tabletop.
“Where’s Mom?” Mikey said.
Bill gulped his orange juice, his Adam’s apple bobbing. He set the glass on the table. “Billy-Jay had a bad night. She was up with him.”
“Is he all right?”
Bill hesitated. Mikey could tell he was concerned. “I think so. Your mom’s taking him to the doctor today, just to be safe.”
Bill got up and took his bowl and glass to the sink. He rinsed them and wiped his hands on his shorts. “Want to peek in on him?”
Mikey pushed his chair back and followed Bill through the dark house. Billy-Jay was Mikey’s three-year-old brother. Half brother, really, but Mikey didn’t like to think of him that way.
The bedroom door was ajar. Bill put a finger to his lips and eased it open.
Billy-Jay really was a miracle, Mikey thought. You’d have to be if you were only three pounds when you were born. He could fit into Mikey’s hand like a mango—if Billy-Jay had been strong enough to be held, anyway. At first he lived in a warm, clear plastic box, wired up with needles stuck into veins the size of a hair. Bill about wore himself out, sitting there for hours and hours in the hospital next to that box. Mikey could still remember him leaning forward with his elbows on his knees and his fingers laced together, worry lines carved deep into his forehead. Mikey’d seen those lines a lot in the past three years.
Moonlight brushed the walls of Billy-Jay’s room. He slept with his blue blanket crumpled in his arms. It looked gray in the dim light. He’s all Bill, Mikey thought. They looked so much alike it was weird.
Billy-Jay twitched once, but didn’t wake. His breathing sounded a little raspy, but not too bad.
Bill tapped Mikey’s shoulder and they left.
Back in the kitchen, Bill filled his dented silver Thermos with coffee for the boat and took it to the jeep.
Mikey followed him out, matching Bill’s stride.
The air was crisp and smelled of mint, which grew wild along the edges of the yard. The sharp call of a distant rooster sliced the dark, jungled landscape.
Mikey glanced at the sky behind the mountain. Black turning purple. This was a time of day he liked, this dark stillness before dawn, when it was peaceful.
But Billy-Jay was still on his mind.
His breathing had been raspy when he was born. And he’d coughed a lot. Mom said he’d be fine, in time. But now he needed a lot of care. Mom had to quit her job. And though Bill could hardly work the boat alone, he finally had to let Frenchy, his deckhand, go because their health insurance didn’t cover all the medical bills. That was what Mom said.
It was Mikey’s idea to help on the boat. He’d been working up to it, anyway, learning things here and there from Bill, especially on the days Bill had no charter. “I’m thirteen now,” Mikey said after Bill lost Frenchy. “I’m big enough and I already know the boat. And you don’t have to pay me. I’ll do it for tips. I can do the work, you know I can.”
Bill said, “Think so?”
“Yes sir, I do.”
Bill thought a moment, rubbing a hand over his mouth. Then he grinned and ruffled Mikey’s hair. “Maybe you can, big guy, maybe you can. But it’s hard work, you know. It’s not just a boat ride.”
“Yes sir, I know that.”
“All right, then. Let’s give it a shot.”
Today was day fourteen.
Mikey blinked and turned when Bill moved an oil drum in the carport, making a harsh scraping sound. Bill unclamped the 10-horse outboard engine from the sawhorse he kept it on and took it and set it on the rear seat of the jeep. An old army jeep, no roof.
Mikey went over to the freezer in the carport and took out a rectangular five-gallon bucket of water frozen to ice. He turned the bucket over and let the ice fall to the concrete floor. Down at the boat he’d chop it up with an ice pick and spread the chips around in the drink cooler.
He took the empty bucket to a spigot and filled it with water and put it back in the freezer. Get it set and ready for the next day.
He wrapped the ice in an old burlap sack to slow the melting, then took it to the jeep.
“Get the beer and soda, too, would you, Mikey. And the water.”
Mikey got the water, two six-packs of local Hawaiian beer, and two packs of root beer and Diamond Head strawberry soda from the cases Bill stored in a shed out behind the carport.
He remembered the lunches his mother had made for them the night before and went in to get them.
When he came back out, Bill was poking around in the dimly lit carport, picking through his lures, his tools, choosing what to take.
Mikey carried the lunches to the jeep, walking in the same slow way as Bill always did. It was hard not to mimic Bill. He’d been doing it for almost five years.
Mikey got in the jeep and waited for Bill as doves and mynah birds streaked across the darkness, flitting from tree to tree. A chaos of chattering, the way birds wake in the islands.
Bill slipped two looped wire leaders into the back pockets of his shorts and headed to the jeep. He slid behind the wheel and winked.
He looked up at the trees, then clapped his hands once, loudly.
Instantly, the mass of chattering birds quieted. After a few seconds they started up again.
Bill turned the key and let the engine warm up.
BILL KNOBBED ON THE HEADLIGHTS and drove up the steep driveway to the road. The engine growled, drowning out the birds. Gravel crunched and popped under the tires.
The headlights bounced in the bushes and trees that reached out over the bumpy old road that snaked down through the jungle to the harbor. It was barely wide enough for two cars to pass.
Bill drove slowly, taking his time, taking his time.
Down to the sea.
Down to the boat.
Mikey peeked over at him sitting so calmly behind the wheel, steering with one hand as if nothing at all were on his mind. His face was young and smooth, but the worry lines crossing his forehead made him look older. He’s thinking about Billy-Jay.
Bill wore no hat, his dark hair combed straight back and his lean, suntanned muscles popping out of the sleeves of his T-shirt like molded clay. At twenty-seven, Bill wasn’t really old enough to be Mikey’s stepfather.
But that had never mattered.
Bill was the best.
Unlike his real dad.
Real dad. Right. He wasn’t a dad at all. He ran away sometime before Mikey was born, deserted him and his mom. Mikey guessed he just didn’t want a son. Why else would you run?
Mikey put his hand out into the wind as they drove. The coolness felt good, and so did the warm metal floorboards under his bare feet.
Bill said nothing, so Mikey said nothing. It felt right; two men, going to work.
Back on Maui, before Bill, lots of guys had come around their sagging old green house on Ohelopapa Street. They’d wanted to see his mom, of course. Who didn’t? She was beautiful—a dark-skinned Filipino–French Polynesian, and Mikey couldn’t remember a time when some guy or another wasn’t following her around. She was always kind to everyone, which, Mikey thought, wasn’t always such a good idea. Some guys had a hard time taking a hint when things weren’t working out.
But most of the time he and his mom had been happy, just the two of them in that old house.
Mikey smiled, remembering. He missed that place, hidden deep in a yard surrounded by a dense hibiscus hedge.
His old room was all wood—scuffed-up floors, scratched walls—single tongue-and-groove boards that only went up partway, then opened to the rafters and the underside of a corrugated iron roof. Mikey missed that roof almost more than he missed his best friend, Elroy. It didn’t leak and it made great music in a rainstorm.
But he didn’t miss his mom’s old boyfriends. They were kind of weird. And they didn’t really like it that his mom had a kid.
Just like his father.
Mikey tried to put him out of his mind. Why should he care anyway? Why should he even think about him?
Bill once said, “Try to forgive him, Mikey. Do that for yourself. He did the best he could.”
“In fact,” Bill added, “why don’t you write him a letter? You never know, you might get something back.”
Yeah, a big fat nothing.
His mom told him that his dad lived in Germany now, and that he’d come from a three-generation South Carolina military family. “He loved the army so much,” she said. “But he was afraid of his father, and of
a father. He wasn’t a coward, though, Mikey. You’ve got to believe that. He was in Special Forces, you know. The best of the best.”
Mikey remembered staring at her and feeling nothing. “He ran away,” was all he said, and Mom bit her lip.
“He was scared, honey. Just scared. He loves you. I
he does. Don’t ever doubt that.”
She was making that up so he wouldn’t feel bad. Because if you really loved someone you wouldn’t run away from them. For any reason. You would stay with them no matter what. Even if it was only a phone call once in a while. Something.
Write him a letter? Forgive him? Never.
Mikey was trying, though. Sort of.
But only because Bill said to.
Because he didn’t really hate his father. He’d never even seen him.
was a word he hadn’t used once in his life. Not once.