The Gulf Between Us
by Rick Beck
Distance, Mothers, & Time
Over a year ago my life was sliced and diced. Walking away from Ivan's, I felt sliced and diced all over again. I'd vowed not to make another friend, because of how painful it was to lose one.
My mind couldn't make sense of it. It didn't make sense, except for the guilt involving Boris. What did I do? I tried not to do anything but part of me said everything that I'd get to say. I was guilty while still remaining innocent. My biology betrayed me.
It took a long time to get down that beach. I walked slow and then slower. I finally turned to look behind me, certain Ivan would be there, running after me. The beach was as empty as my insides.
Why did the visit by Boris set him off? One minute they'd been playing and the next minute, it was all out war. How could a boy so completely under control, lose control?
After dallying for five minutes near my house, I realized there was going to be no apology, no reprieve. I spent a minute brushing and wiping the sand off my feet, thinking this was Ivan's last chance to dash up to tell me it was all a misunderstanding.
I'd gone numb at his backdoor. At my backdoor I got mad. Screw Ivan. I was a big boy now. I'd figure out a way to go on. I wasn't quitting because Ivan decided to loose his cool. I'd show him I didn't need him.
Opening the door, I went in, closing it quietly behind me, leaning my weight against the door. Now, I felt like I was going to start crying.
Mama looked back at me. She wasn't sure why I hadn't come crashing into her kitchen to grab the first food I came to.
"My son is home from the sea," Mama said happily, as I turned and tried to smile? Why the long face, dear. You're coming out of those cutoffs, Mr. Olson. Pull up your pants, dear. No one wants to see any more of you than that."
"I'm not in the mood, Mama," I said, sounding as if my life was over.
"Oh, a working man hasn't time to be kidded by his mama? The woman who just happened to give him life."
"My life isn't all that hot right now, Mama. Boris is up there. They're having a battle royal. I was invited to scram before the main event started," I said sadly, barely holding back my sob. "Ivan told me to get out of his house. My best friend told me to go home. I thought I was home."
The magnitude of the events overcame me. I was determined to be Ivan's friend. I wasn't sure I was, or ever could be again. He told me to get out.
"Sounds like brothers I know only too well, Clayton," Mama said, failing to grasp the depth of my depression. "He'll be gone in a few days."
"One can only hope," I said, hoping I would see Boris again.
"You two aren't joined at the hip in spite of what you think. A friendship can't rest on a few words uttered in anger. Taking a day off from Ivan isn't as tragic as it seems right now. You two are always together."
"He snapped at me, Mama. He told me to get out. He hurt me," I said, unable to stop the tears.
Knowing I'd rather eat flies than cry in front of her, Mama came to embrace her youngest son.
"Brothers bring out the worst in each other, dear. John-Henry and Brian go at it all the time, but heaven help he who harms Brian. John-Henry would be the first one there to defend him. Relationships between brothers defies logic. No way for you to know what's going on between Ivan and Boris."
"Why did he take it out on me? I didn't do anything. He had Boris to yell at."
"He's embarrassed. Same as you'd be if your brothers went at it in front of Ivan," Mama said.
"Yeah!" I said as my tears stopped.
"Boris will leave. Things will go back to the way they were," Mama said.
"It doesn't feel like it will, Mama," I said, wiping my eyes. "I want to believe that. I can't right now. I feel too bad to think about it any more."
"That's natural. You don't know their history. You know Ivan's side, but once feelings and emotions are involved, all bets are off. When Ivan is away from Boris, he no doubt misses him. They see each other and old complaints surface."
"Yes, ma'am," I said.
"You need to let it go, Clay. If Ivan came down here and your brothers are having a knock down drag out brawl, you'd tell Ivan to scram. You'd be embarrassed and you know you would."
"No! I wouldn't be mean to him. He was mean to me, Mama," I protested.
"You sleep on that tonight, dear. I'd imagine by tomorrow, by the time you're going out with Mr. Aleksa, the boys will have ironed out their differences. If they haven't, Mr. Aleksa will set them straight."
"I won't go. I know when I'm not wanted," I said.
"I've made the food for this trip. You will go, young man, if only to make sure my hard work isn't wasted. You won't be the one who makes this fishing trip go bad," Mama said.
"I'm not a kid, Mama. I know what I want to do. I'm not going. That's final," I dared to say to my mother.
Then Mama played dirty pool, using logic on me.
"You think about it, Clayton. If you don't go tomorrow, and you let one incident come between you and Ivan, well, I've been rather pleased with how you made such a wonderful friend, after what we went through last year. Ivan and his father have been a good influence on you. You shouldn't let that come to an end.
"Right now it's up to you if the friendship continues. You can't let one stupid incident ruin it. You stay home tomorrow and your friendship won't recover. He's embarrassed by letting you see him at his worst. You're bigger than that, Clayton. Allow him to find a way to make it up to you. My bet he's more upset than you are about this. Swallow your pride and go tomorrow."
"You think so?" I said, listening to this line of thought.
"I think so. You are boys. You're at an age when emotions can get the best of you. It's part of growing up, Clay. Ivan's a wonderful boy and you aren't half bad most of the time. The problem is your mind is saying that you're a man, and your body hasn't quite caught up."
"Like when I shot my mouth off at the dinner table when I knew better?"
"That's one example. Go up there in the morning. Deal with Mr. Aleksa. He's your boss. He values you. He won't put up with shenanigans from his boys. By showing up you are refusing to play a role in their emotional battles. You will be the adult in the room."
"There are no rooms on a boat, Mama," I explained to her.
"And you aren't too old to be spanked," she said.
"That's what you think I should do?"
"That's what I think, Clayton. For once, listen to your mother. I'm not as square as you think I am."
"We usually don't have this much to say to each other, Mama," I said, remembering our quick one sentence communications most days.
"You've usually smarter about the things you do."
"Ivan's pretty cool," I said, knowing it in spite of my anger with him.
"Ivan is the coolest, dude," Mama said in an uncharacteristic hip comment. "You'll never forgive yourself if you let your friendship go. Your feelings are hurt. In time you'll remember that you could have saved your friendship, but you didn't. Friendships like yours are rare. You'll never find a better friend, Clay."
"I'm not very happy with him," I said angrily. "Ivan hurt me, Mama."
"Next time you see signs those two are going to tangle, come home. Let them work it out. Getting in the middle isn't wise."
"I think you have that right. I still feel bad," I said, feeling better.
"I'm glad I didn't rent out your room," Mama said with concern.
"Mama!" I said,
"Pull your pants up, dear. We're going to have to get you new clothes before school starts. You're growing like a weed," Mama said, kissing my cheek before rushing to the stove to stir one of the pots. "There's fruit by the door. Give me a couple of minutes and the barbeque will be ready to put on two hamburger buns. That should hold you until dinner."
"I'm not hungry, Mama," I said, heading for the door to the dinning room.
Mama got there before me, feeling my forehead.
"You feel OK, hon? You feel warm. If you get sick you can't go tomorrow."
"That's not funny, Mama. I'm fine," I said. "I'm not hungry is all. I'm going to get a shower. I think I'll lay down."
"Pull up your pants, dear. Put out that new pair of jeans we got you last fall. I'll have to cut those off for you. Lord knows they're four inches to short for those legs now. I'll bring the waist in a couple of inches. You're so thin."
I stood in the shower for a while. I'd been standing under a hose for the entire summer. It was very very nice.
I felt super clean and I don't remember feeling more tired. I put on a pair of Teddy's boxers and I plopped on my bed. My mind was running in circles and I let it go without getting involved. I fell asleep right away.
I may not have paid any attention to my speeding brain, but it got back at me by thinking up the most confusing dream I'd ever dreamed. It was about Ivan. We were close together, but he couldn't hear me or see me. No matter how hard I tried to tell him I was right there, he kept calling my name.
I couldn't stop crying.
When I woke up, Pop was sitting on the edge of my bed, speaking to me.
"Your mother is worried about you, Clayton. Are you coming down to dinner? We're ready to sit down. John-Henry said he woke you ten minutes ago. I want you to come downstairs for dinner, son."
"Yes, sir," I said, sitting up beside him. "How's work, Pop?"
Getting his attention off my difficulties was often the best way to go.
"Nice. Very nice. I have more responsibility these days, but nothing I can't handle. They treat me nice. Like I'm important to the conservancy. I like it a lot."
"I'm glad, Pop. You're a good man. You deserve to be treated well. No matter what they're paying you, it's a good deal for them, you know."
"Thank you, Clay. What a fine thing to say. You coming down to eat, son?"
"Yeah, give me a minute and I'll find something that still fits. Don't wait. I'll catch up."
My father stopped at the door and took a long look at his youngest son. I pretended I didn't notice.
Mama fussed over me as quick as I arrived in the kitchen, giving me more than I could eat.
"Mr. Aleksa is certain you'll have fun on this trip," Pop said. "The man says you are an important part of his operation, Clay. I'm one proud daddy," Pop said.
I wondered how he'd feel if he knew about the feelings I had running around inside me? The feelings I had for Ivan? As confusing as it felt to me, telling anyone about it was a sure cure for growing up safe. When I thought about what I felt for Ivan, I didn't feel safe.
I wouldn't stop caring about Ivan. I didn't think I could. He hurt me and when things settled down, I'd say that to his face. I wasn't taking that, especially not from the boy I loved. I deserved better and I'd tell him that too.
I was a hit at the dinner table. I was in a funk but my hunger didn't stop. I loved barbeque. Everyone introduced themselves and I did my best not to act amused by my families insanity. Mostly my brothers had no sense anyway. But I couldn't equate them with Ivan and Boris.
John-Henry was as girl crazy as anyone, but he was closing in on twenty. Brian would have been girl crazy if he could figure out what to do about it. Teddy was Teddy. He was too busy to be girl crazy.
It was strange how good I felt about not being close to my brothers. We didn't hate each other but we had nothing in common. I was most like John-Henry, but he was the oldest and we hardly saw each other. He made more of an effort to talk to me, but he couldn't remember being fifteen. I'm not sure he ever knew he was fifteen, because he was the eldest.
Lucy was always happy to see me. Then there were complaints about missing our games.
"He works for Mr. Aleksa," Mama said. "Your big brother is growing up."
"He still could stop by for a game of rummy when he isn't fishing," she said.
I could, but I didn't. I wanted to be with Ivan every minute I could, and now that I couldn't, I still wanted to be with him. I could go up there and confront Ivan now, but I wouldn't. I was obligated to go in the morning because I told Mr. Aleksa I would.
After three barbeque sandwiches, slaw, and a pound of Mama's incredible onion rings, I decided I wasn't that hungry after all. Barbeque stored well and I envisioned sandwiches Brian would bring to Ivan and me. Then again, there might not be an Ivan and me in a couple of days.
Mama got me up at four thirty. She tried to get me to eat but my stomach wasn't up yet. I put on my new cutoffs and grabbed the picnic basket.
It felt like one of Brian's weights was in the bottom of the basket. There were five of us this time. I hoped Boris was hungry. I walked the basket around to put it in the truck before going into the house.
There was a light on inside the truck. Someone had left the door open. I worried the battery might run down. I put the basket in the bed and I was ready to go make sure the door of the truck was closed, when Mr. Aleksa stood up.
"Oh, Clay, I'm glad to see you," he said.
"Yes, sir," I said. "I put Mama's basket in the back."
"Your Mama is a special woman. We catch a fish for her, OK."
"Yes, sir," I said, as he came around the truck and put an arm over my shoulder.
This wasn't his usual demeanor. He'd never been overly friendly.
"Boris told me what happened yesterday. I don't want to loose you, son. You're a born fisherman. I've never seen anyone as curious about the sea as you."
"I'm not going anywhere, unless you tell me to get lost. You're my boss, until you tell me I don't work for you any more." "This is good. We're A-OK then."
"I worry about Ivan. He's a smart boy, Clay, but he is a boy. What is going on between my sons, I don't know, but what I do know is Ivan depends on you. I depend on you. I want you to know that."
"I know it now. Thank you."
"Until you came, after Boris left us, Ivan was lonely boy. They'd been together all their lives, those two. Boris' head is too full of the girls now."
"Ivan mentioned that," I said.
"These two have the temper. This has nothing to do with you. Boys are good for working, but way too ready to fight too."
You're Ivan's only real friend. Besides Boris Ivan doesn't care for most boys."
He said what he had to say. Mr. Aleksa wanted to set things right according to his needs. He wasn't the one who needed to set things right.
"Come on in, we'll get a cup of coffee," Mr. Aleksa said. "The boys should be up. We leave in a few minutes."
"I've been looking forward to it," I said, as Mr. Aleksa led me into the house.
Ivan sat at the table with a cereal bowl in front of him. When our eyes met, he quickly looked down into the cereal bowl.
"Hey, Clay. Glad you showed up. I hoped the Aleksa boys' feuding didn't run you off."
"I work for your father. You can feud all you want. No sweat off my balls."
"Sports fishing isn't anything like what we usually do, Clay. This is more a pleasure trip. We don't get Boris on the boat too often," Mr. Aleksa explained. "He's never caught the big fish."
"How big?" I asked.
Mr. Aleksa shook me by the shoulders lightly, saying, "Big fish like you."
"Aren't you going to say hello, Ivan," Mr. Aleksa said, as Ivan refused to look at me.
"Hi," Ivan said, his eyes met mine for a second before he looked away.
"Hi, back," I said, being willing to let this drama run its course. "Nice outfit."
Kenny released the bow line and the Vilnius Two, engines purring, eased out of the harbor and into the fresh new morning. There was the slightest bit of light as we turned toward the southwest and by the time we were leaving land behind, the horizon appeared with a ridge of low moderately dark clouds.
Overhead was clear. We had fair skies and following seas. The air carried the fragrance of the gulf. The smell of salt was in it. On my first trip out into the gulf, I was apprehensive once I could no longer see land. Now I lived to be deep out in the gulf. This was where I worked. We were going where the big fish were.
The boat remained quiet. Kenny went about doing his morning chores.
Four seats had been bolted to the Vilnius Two's decking. Two faced aft(rear), and one each faced starboard(right) and port(left). Each seat had its own harness.
Ivan was in the starboard seat facing aft. His feet were propped up on the boat's side. Boris sat in the seat next to him. Both looked to where the Vilnius Two had been. They didn't speak to or look at each other.
Getting a cup of coffee, I stood inside the bridge next to Mr. Aleksa. He smiled as he piloted his boat toward the fishing grounds he'd decided upon. We might change spots from time to time, depending on our success. I was anxious to know what sport fishing was. Big game fishing gave me a better idea of what we were going to do, but big was subjective in most cases.
Kenny took some time showing us the rods and reels Mr. Aleksa picked for us. I liked one of the smaller rigs. Embarrassing myself was always a concern for me. I could handle the rod and reel I picked out.
Ivan, Boris, and I listened to Kenny without needing to speak. Kenny was deckhand on all of Mr. Aleksa's sport fishing adventures, since four businessman from Seattle paid him to outfit his boat to take them where the big fish lived.
It created another stream of income for Mr. Aleksa. The fishermen paid for the boat, the captain's time, and for the use of the equipment. It didn't matter how good they were at fishing. That made it a money making proposition.
When I sat in one of the side facing seats, Kenny came over and immediately showed me the proper way to strap into the harness.
"Here," he said, handing me a dangling strap. "Pull it."
When I pulled it the awkward harness tightened around my body.
"Take this line," he said, showing me a line on the opposite side of the harness.
When I pulled it, the harness eased up if I moved around in the seat.
"Why do I need all this stuff?"
"I'd let you find out for yourself, but I wouldn't want to lose you overboard. I think Mr. Aleksa might not appreciate that."
"Lose me overboard?"
"Wait and see, Clay. Me describing it won't really explain it. You'll be happy to have that harness if you hook into something bigger than you."
"Bigger than me?" I asked him, watching his face.
"Way bigger than you, Clay."
"I'll let you catch that one, OK?" I said and Kenny laughed.
I wasn't afraid of water. Being yanked overboard by a fish sounded like something to avoid.
As daylight took over, the great expansive sea was pleasantly mellow. It was plenty warm when I sat down in front of the bridge, leading back on a spot just below the glass where Mr. Aleksa stood to steer the boat. I sipped coffee and looked at how broad Kenny's shoulders had become, as he sat on the bow in front of me.
He looked back over his shoulder as if he felt my eyes on him. He scooted up beside me, leaning his back against the outside of the bridge.
"You OK?" he asked.
"Fine. You?" I asked.
"Isn't this great. I love it up here. I like getting where we're going first. I say a prayer that the fish will be biting. Stupid huh?"
"No, sweet," I said. "I didn't know what to make of you when we first met, Kenny. You're OK."
"I don't know what to make of me either. I do the best I can."
You never had to tell Kenny to do something twice. Sometimes you didn't have to tell him once. I wasn't sure how Kenny would get along if not for Mr. Aleksa, but Mr. Aleksa would be lost without Kenny.
The Vilnius Two slowed and I felt the boat go into neutral.
"When you hook something, I'll be beside you," Kenny said reassuringly. "I'll give you some basic tips to help you reel in a fish."
Kenny knew what we were there for. He was soft spoken and friendly.
I watched Ivan and Boris as they picked out big and bigger rigs. I returned to the one I'd decided on when Kenny opened the closet where they were stored.
Instead of casting the big rigs, which would have been a joke for Ivan and Boris, because of the size of the things. When the lines were in the water, the boat moved forward to let the line out.
Kenny put 'chum' in the water before the boat moved forward. It was a gooey bloody mix of fish heads, tails, and fishy innards. I suspected there was a ton of the stuff at the fish warehouse.
"When you want to cast, let me show you the first time," Kenny said. "I like that rig. I've used it. You won't catch no fish giganticus, but twenty or thirty pound fish bite on it. Anything bigger than that and you need to let me handle it."
"The harness?" I asked, as Ivan and Boris sat facing behind us, watching their line disappear into the gulf.
"Nah! I like standing. You'll see how I do it. My rigs about that size. Watch me a few minutes and you'll pick it right up. Believe me, if I can do something well, it isn't hard."
"I think you do everything well, Kenny. I don't know of anyone who knows their job as well as you do," I said.
Ivan turned his head to look at where I stood five feet behind his seat. I turned to face Kenny.
"You're just saying that, Clay. You're just being nice to me."
"I don't say things I don't believe, Kenny. I'm nice to you because you're a nice guy."
"Cool. I like you," he said. "Most guys don't like me."
"I like you fine," I said.
The boat drifted between ten that morning and noon.
One time Ivan's reel began to click.
Click! ...Click! ...Click.
This was significant because Mr. Aleksa and Kenny both turned right to that sound, moving toward Ivan's seat.
The clicking stopped and they relaxed. My rod and reel still leaned against my seat. I watched the brothers Aleksa from a spot where it wasn't easy for them to see me.
If standing on the beach or on Ivan's deck offered a spectacular view, bobbing in the middle of the Gulf of Mexico wasn't all that shabby either.
There were birds. Some landed on the top and the bow of the boat. A pelican landed where Kenny usually sat, standing on one leg. It was a funny looking bird. I'd seen pictures but I'd never seen a pelican up close. A face only a mother could love.
Kenny used a rig smaller than the one I picked out and over a half an hour he caught a snapper, a grouper, and a blue fish. He did this by pacing back and forth with his rig. He put his rig down to get his catch into the holds and he came back with an orange Tru Ade. "How often do you guys fish like this?" I asked, only fishing with nets until then.
"Five or six times a year. Men come looking to go sport fishing. They pay big bucks to go out for a day or overnight. This trip is for Boris. The boss wants him to catch his first big fish," Kenny said.
Ivan caught a cobia that was about two feet long. It took him a little time to finally have the fish on deck where we could inspect it before it went into the holds.
After watching for a while, I fished for an hour or so. I caught a moderate sized amberjack and a red snapper. Boris caught a flounder that was the biggest catch so far.
Boris caught two red snappers in a row to equal the number of fish Kenny caught before deciding Tru Ade was more fun.
Ivan and I ate one of the sandwiches my mother fixed for us. Now I leaned against the backside of the bridge, unwrapping my lunch. Ivan slid down beside me, leaving plenty of room between us, as he carefully unwrapped his egg salad sandwich.
Nothing was said.
We didn't look at each other.
"Want a root beer?" Ivan asked. "I'm thirsty."
"Coke, please," I said.
"Pepsi," he said. "Dad caught a good sale on Pepsi. He's a sucker for a sale. Saved a nickel a bottle."
"Pepsi's fine," I said.
He brought me back the cold soda.
"They're ice cold," Ivan said, looking at me as if he wanted to say more.
"That's Good. Cold is good. Thank you," I said, taking a long refreshing swig of soda.
It was early afternoon and the gulf was calm. The temperature was mild. The boat bobbed easily in the water.
Boris stayed seated and waited for his big fish.
Kenny remained close to Boris.
Mr. Aleksa drank coffee and stood near the bridge.
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