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Check out the fictionalized versions of the night the shrimp ran in The Art of My Life and Tattered Innocence excerpts posted below today’s blog.
I stood on the aft deck, rising and falling with the bounce of the boat, letting the cool night air slough off sleep.
Pier 1 glowed like a Martian ship was about to land, but only stars spattered the sky.
Our neighbors buzzed along the pier armed with a bevy of bare bulbs, search lights, and living room lamps tethered to the pier’s electric sockets.
I stuffed my pajamas into the waistband of my jeans and wiggled into my sweatshirt. The last time I’d been woken, Hurricane Betsy beat against the blackboard Dad nailed across my bedroom window.
What had Dad shouted through the hatch a few minutes ago?
The shrimp are running!
“Over here!” someone called in the damp breeze.
Feet pounded across the dock toward the voice.
Sparklers of alertness fired in my brain as I walked the Annie Lee’s deck.
I slid from the bowsprit to the pier. Still sluggish, I crouched down beside R.J. where he laid on his belly, intent on Scottie Canfield’s flashlight beam. I stared at the pop-eyed creatures the size of my pointer finger shooting backwards through the water, whipping their tails under them.
Gross—especially the eyes. Like watching Dad clean a fish, I couldn’t look away—equal parts wanting to watch and not watch.
R.J. grabbed the net out of my hand and scooped some shrimp.
“Hey! Dad gave me that net.” I snatched it back, amidst R.J.’s squawking, and headed toward Mom.
She stood at the other end of the pier.
Dad dumped his net full of the creatures into her bucket.
Seawater sloshed over the brim.
I jumped out of the way, then emptied R.J.’s pittance onto Dad’s haul.
Mom spirited away the bucket toward the Annie Lee, saying she’d make shrimp cocktail.
Kate Canfield bustled down the boards with a bucket, yelling at her brother, Matt, to give her a turn with the net.
I caught up with Kate and handed her mine.
When Kate was done, I swirled the mesh back and forth beneath the green surface of the bay in the beam of a shop light.
The shrimp rode along, caught up in the carnival ride of the net.
I shook them into Kate’s bucket and squatted at the edge of the pier for the next scoop.
Around me, the sounds of our middle-of-the night block party hummed.
This was about as much fun as I could imagine.
Later, Mom brought out a bowl of freshly cleaned and boiled shrimp and a bottle of cocktail sauce.
Our friends grabbed shrimp and popped them into their mouths on their way past Mom.
I chewed slowly, savoring the warm soft flesh, the cold tangy sauce. As long as I didn’t think about their eyeballs, it was the best thing I ever tasted.
I glanced up when Dad shouted at Kate’s father. It was a happy sound. Maybe too happy. I stared hard at Dad as he jogged down the dock to say something to one of the men on the Tee. Normally, he only ran during his exercise regime.
Now Dad talked loud and fast like he’d downed six Cuban coffees.
Rocks rolled around the floor of my stomach. Sure, I complained because Dad was too strict, but I didn’t want him loosened up like this. I didn’t know this Dad-gone-a-little-crazy.
I found Mom where she’d wandered down the dock to chat with Pat Thornburg near the phone booth. I pulled her aside. “What’s wrong with Dad? He’s acting weird.”
Mom said he’d had a little too much to drink, and he’d be fine in the morning. She hugged me close.
After a minute I eased out of her arms and found Kate perched on a dock box, supervising our brothers’ shrimping. I scooted onto the box, trying to put too-happy Dad out of my head. As I stared at the rays of light penetrating the water, I drifted to Dad’s making grapefruit wine in the bathtub after Hurricane Betsy blew down all the fruit in our yard. He bottled the wine and passed it out to friends. It tasted so awful, his friends served it back to him whenever he visited.
Before tonight, that was the only connection in my mind between Dad and alcohol.
The gravel in my stomach shifted like the pebbles in the sluice box Dad built to pan for gold out West. What if Dad didn’t wake up sane? What if he got stuck like this?
I told Kate to give the net back in the morning, I was going to bed.
I curled up in my bunk and put my head under the pillow to block out the laughter. Something at the very bottom of me felt rattled and wrong.
I never saw Dad drunk again, but I’m glad I saw him that way—once. The picture of the night the shrimp ran followed me to high school keg parties. Even though I knew people didn’t go insane when they drank, I poured out my paper cup of Miller High Life when nobody was looking. And as an adult I’ve never felt the desire to repeat Dad’s performance.
My appreciation for all the boat days came late, too.
Today I thought about the day Hurricane Betsy barreled down Eleventh Street, we huddled in our boarded-up house listening to her bluster through the night.
The next day the eerie quiet of her “eye” settled on us.
We ran outdoors to feel the stillness.
Minutes after we retreated to safety, wet wind thrashed back, heaving a tree through our roof.
Afterward, the Annie Lee, still a hodgepodge of two-by-four’s, resin, and fiberglass, huddled unscathed in the yard.
I realize how close I came to losing the boat days—the eye in the storm of my (and R.J.’s) childhood. I’ve finally come to cherish the night the shrimp ran, sailing Biscayne Bay, sea glass, swinging from ropes and dropping into clear, sweet heaven. Friendships that lasted a lifetime.
I wonder what took me so long.
If you ever wanted to know how much truth goes into fiction, read the fictionalized excerpts from The Art of My Life and Tattered Innocence below.
Excerpt from The Art of My Life:
Aly climbed up the companionway steps toward a cockpit doused orange with sunset. Another day with no business. Her purse and laptop thumped against her thigh. Go home, put in a load of laundry, throw together a salad for dinner…. What could they do to make money?
Cal stood at the bottom waiting to follow her through the hatch.
She’d expected today to be awkward after calling a halt to kissing last night. But sharing space with Cal all day had been warm and comfortable—bumping into him, exchanging bits of conversation, hearing him breathe and move around the cabin. Maybe it was easy for them to revert to their old friendship because it had always been so comfortable.
She glanced back and caught Cal’s gaze lasered to the seat of her jeans. He met her eyes and shrugged as if to say, It was there. I looked. No big deal.
She hurried up the last step, her mind hurtling back into his kiss, into his wanting her. Her pulse sped. Her breaths shortened. No, nothing between them would ever be the way it used to be.
As Cal stepped through the hatch Fish leapt off his boat. “The shrimp are running!” He sprang onto and off a dock box, zigzagged around the dock like the Cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs bird. “The shrimp are running!”
Fish locked eyes with Cal, then he darted for the gate. “Shrimp, glorious shrimp!”
Cal gazed after him. “We’ve done a dozen shrimp runs together. Our fathers bought all of us kids lifetime fishing licenses before we even went to school.”
“How long are you two going to fight?”
Cal shrugged, and Fish careened back toward them.
“Where?” Cal shouted to Fish.
Fish’s face swung around toward him. His jaw clenched. He stared hard at Cal. “Between Rattlesnake Island and the mouth of the Intercoastal.” Fish turned his back, vaulted back onto his boat and disappeared inside.
“We’re going. We’ll be up all night. Run home and get warm clothes, buckets.”
“What’s the fishing limit?”
“Five gallons of shrimp.”
She plunked down on the cockpit bench and opened her laptop. “I’m going to find out where I can grab a fishing license.” While her laptop booted up, she called Missy. “The shrimp are running. Come fish with us…. Seven…. Great.” She minimized The-Art-Of-My-Life.blogspot.com, typed Florida fishing license into the Google search window, and looked up at Cal. “Who else has a license?”
“Dad, Leaf, Henna.”
Cal wrinkled his forehead at her.
“Thirty gallons of shrimp. Income. Even after everybody has all they can eat tonight, we should have plenty left to sell at the Farmer’s Market in the morning.”
Cal grinned. “I love your brain.”
Her body went still, and warmth prickled across her chest.
He pulled his phone out of his pocket and walked toward the bow. “Dad, the shrimp are running!”
E-copies of The Art of My Life are on sale this weekend for .99.
Or enter to win one of 10 paperback copies here.
Excerpt from Tattered Innocence:
Rachel inhaled the heavy salt air, Hall’s voice reading through her iPod about developmental milestones at eighteen months. Things still seemed distant between them, but Hall had agreed to read for her.
The last guest on deck, Maddy, had turned in for the night. A shaft of moonlight reflected off the wavelets. Jake bent over the bow, the circle of light from his flashlight disjointed from his body as he checked the anchor. The white ship’s light glowed atop the mainmast.
Jake rarely stayed up this late. Even half a ship between them, attraction crackled in her chest—right next to the snippet of his conversation with Maddy saying he wanted Gabrielle back.
Jake yelled something, and she yanked the ear buds from her ears, racing toward him.
He grabbed her arm and pulled her down. “The shrimp are running!”
Rachel’s heart jogged. Her eyes darted to Jake, but he bent over the beam of the flashlight on the water, his hand still clutching her. She followed his gaze to the pop-eyed creatures the size of a pointer finger shooting backwards through the water, whipping their tails under them.
He thumped the flashlight, warm from his grip, into Rachel’s hand and slapped his palm along the length of the fore cabin. “All hands on deck. The shrimp are running!”
Jake grabbed long-handled nets and a shop light from below and paced the length of the light beam, chattering to the shrimp, “Come to Papa, sweet babies.”
He handed Rachel the extra nets and caught her grinning at him. “What?”
Sparks zinged back and forth between them as though the shop light had connected with seawater.
Will’s parents, in disheveled nightclothes, clambered from the cabin followed by the rest of the guests.
A half-hour later, Rachel watched Jake heft a net full of shrimp into the bucket, sloshing seawater over the edge. She wrinkled her nose at the ugly creatures. “No way am I cooking those.”
“What? You owe me after making me spill to Maddy.”
Rachel curled her lip at the bucket. “I don’t owe you this much.”
“Okay, I’ll bargain. What do you want?”
“A bonus in my check,” Rachel counted off on her fingers, “a day off KP, and another backrub.” Geez, had she really said that?
His grin widened. “Deal on the backrub.”
After uncounted pounds of shrimp guts and shells had been tossed overboard and everyone had their fill of warm shrimp cocktail, Rachel washed the last pot.
Jake wiped down the counters at her elbow. The inside of his arm brushed against her as he reached around her with the dishcloth. Rachel tensed, her gaze skidding into his. Brown eyes flecked with yellow stared back at her for one chime of the ship’s clock. A second chime. She let her breath out slowly, willing Jake to do what she read in his tired eyes. Could he have changed his mind about wanting Gabrielle back?
He smiled softly, leaning in, his lips inches from hers. “Thanks. You were great tonight.”
“Yeah, I was.”
Will barreled through the companionway, taking the steps two at a time.
Jake straightened and tossed the cloth into the dishwater. His speculative look said there would be a next time.
Maybe God’s forgiveness came with second chances.
More information about Tattered Innocence here.