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  • Mick came out to the island just before he went down to Thomaston. His lawyers had run out the appeal process and he was leaving the next morning to do his time. 18 months in Maine’s maximum security facility. Assault to do grievous bodily harm and assaulting an officer.

    I didn’t know the goddam gibrone was in the back of the truck, Mick told me. Jaysus I was some fuckin’ drunk that night. He smiled, looked over to me and then down again, scuffed the ground with the toe of his hip boot.

    I waited, but he never said anything about beating her, never a word about that.

    We stood that awkward distance apart.

    Fuck it, he said. Only thing I hate is I won’t see Chris.

    Wish to hell he didn’t have to know, he said.

    I listened and in the bright and brittle April sunshine I remembered the times we shared, just as I remember them now.


    There in his skiff. Red hull, low sided, canvas dodger angled over the bows, stacked high with wooden traps all slimed with weed. The tide is out a ways and I am 15 feet above him on the rough planked wharf. Mickey bends down and his arms bulge as he swings a trap off the pile, bends and throws it up to me. I lean out to catch them and set them in their rows to dry. 80 pounds a trap easy and him pitching them up to me as the tide runs away out.

    Old Morris nods at the bright brass winch head and the block and tackle mounted beside me.

    Some fellas use the winch, he says.

    Mickey wrings out his gloves and wipes the splots of weed from off of his yellow oilskin apron.

    What the fuck, he says, we ain’t got all day do we, Ben?


    Down at the canning factory Billy doles out the cut herring we buy as bait. $5 a bushel, 2 five-gallon plastic buckets make a bushel. Billy watches us load Mick’s truck.

    16 and out of high school on work release and already he has a bank loan for the truck and another loan on the boat and engine.

    We’re carrying the five-gallon buckets of bait, two in each hand.

    You fellas is some fierce now ain’t you, says Billy.

    I ‘magin, says Mick.

    I guess the shedders must of struck, says Billy. You must be railing them.

    Who the fuck wants to know, says Mick.


    The year we built the cabin on Little Gotts and we loaded the boats with roofing shingles and he took two bundles on his shoulder and so I did too. PK shook his head and let us carry a few loads before he reminded us that they were 80 pounds to a bundle and not the 40 pounds of regular shingles.


    The way he walked up across the beach in a t-shirt even on a raw April day and walked through the loose beach stone like he was leaning into a 50 knot gale of wind.

    George said, That Mick, always walking right into it.

    And Rut said , He oughta have a caution, that Mick.

    And Mickey just said, How bout a drink of Old Duke and laughed like a wolf, howling for the wild joy of it.


    How Phoebe said, Don’t tell him I said so but I watch him come flying up to his buoys like a wild hawk.

    I ran the skiff a bit harder every time I hauled traps round their place for the next few weeks.


    The way the old fellas shook their head at him down at the wharf. That Mick, they said, that boy is right full of the Devil.

    And Dickie said, I tried to beat the devil out of him with an oak lathe but it never made any difference

    And Val, the elementary school principal, stopped and chatted with us on the float and asked where the bugs were striking now and Mickey slapped him on the back, slapped his former principal on the back.

    Wouldn’t you fuckin like to know Val, he roared.


    There was the time when he was on Work Release out of high school and we drove up to pick up his girl friend from the school play and walked in the auditorium all rough and red from the wind and the teachers told us only cast members were allowed at rehearsals and so Mickey stormed out and we spun doughnuts in his truck across the school lawn and took out a row of new saplings they had planted there.

    Mickey hollered out the window , Fuck you and we tore out of there leaving a long trail of rubber like a wake behind us on the cold asphalt parking lot.


    The October night we were all drinking down at Bal’s little place out on the island and could just barely stand when Mickey remembered the lumber piled by the yard outside of town.

    We gotta get you some materials Benjoy, he said. And just like that he was off and down the hill to the skiff and nothing for me to do but follow along.

    We loaded his truck with lumber and took out rows of mailboxes on both sides of the road, one coming and one going.
    Jeesus, Benjoy, tell me when I get so close, he bellowed.

    We heaped his skiff and could only just putt out of the harbor loaded down with stolen goods.

    By the time we got back to Bal’s place they were gone, Bal and his girlfriend and Mickey’s girlfriend too.

    That fuckin nigger, Mickey spat, he’s out there with them both. Out there fuckin them. I’ll kill the bitch.

    He had sense enough to grab a flashlight and took off down the road with murder on his mind, I followed and hoped there’d be a chance to intervene.

    Where the fuck are you, he bellowed. He swung the light wildly around the tiny clearing in the woods. The beam picked out a tree trunk, the peeling white door to the little shack we built to smoke reefer, Bal stepping down and his girlfriend pale behind him.

    Mick,man, we were just getting high, said Bal.

    You were gone so long honey, said his girlfriend.

    Shut the fuck up, screamed Mick and smashed the flashlight against a tree.

    The darkness was sudden and absolute after the glare of the swinging light.

    Where are you, said Mickey, suddenly a kid again. And then, How the fuck are we going to get outa here.

    Follow me I said, just hold your hands out. I know the way. And I looked up at the thin strip of stars that marked the width of the trail in the tree tops. I felt his hand catch at my shirt tails.

    Slow the fuck down Benjoy, said Mick, Christ we’ll lose ‘em if you don’t have a care.


    Mickey was just 19 when he came to find me on the east side of the island. He swung alongside in a rush of wave and water. The boats rocked once and then were still, their sides barely touching. He had a bag of cheap cigars and handed me one. I wiped the bait juice off my hands and took it.

    I’m a father, he told me.

    It was 6:30 and just light in October and no way was I going to fire up a stogie so I stood it up in the plug box along with my spare pairs of blue cotton gloves.

    The next week he had Old Ern paint Mr Chris across the stern of his powerboat.


    Or the bright winter day out on the lake in his truck spinning round and round across the ice. All the way from one end of the lake to the other and back again.


    And later, waiting in his truck outside his apartment with the engine running while he ran up to get some frickin thing. We’d been sitting three across in the cab and now that he was gone I was suddenly too close to his new girlfriend.

    I know he’s wild, but he’ll change for me. I know he will, she told me.

    I smiled, looked up the stairs to his door swinging open and thought how the first one said the same thing, after he beat her, and the abortion and he beat her again and the cops came. Right up until her father had her go out of state and stay with her mother, she said the same thing.

    Don’t you think, she insisted.

    I heard his boots on the stairs thumping down again.

    Know what, he asked slamming the door putting her into gear, steeping on the accelerator, and popping another beer all at once.

    How much I love you, she said and pushed back his cap and ruffled his thinning hair.

    He grinned across at me. Jaysus, Benjoy, he said. We have got to get you a woman, fucking hell, you’re the goddam hermit of Gotts Island.


    He wrote me while he was in prison. Two pages on ruled paper. Ponderous school boy print. He asked about the fishing and how we’d have a time when he got done and how he was working out of the prison now and the food was OK.

    I could see where the pencil paused as he figured how to form the next letter. See where he ground each period into the paper. See how each spelling and word was a hard fought battle.

    I never went down to visit him. He served a year, got 6 months knocked off for good behaviour. He was a first time offender then and young. A hard worker and a winning smile.

    When he got out he ran out to the island first chance he got.

    We stood in the old grassy road in front of the house. Hands in pockets and hunched a little in the weak April sunshine with the promise of spring still waiting.

    Good thing you never come down, he said. It ain’t like here. We looked down the hill to the empty village and the wild spread of field and forest and sea, all ours.

    We were quiet and he looked further than the horizon and I caught a glimpse of Thomaston then. The halls and walls and all of them caged and all he’d had to do to survive in that rough brutal world.

    We were young and men and I never thought to reach out to him, take him in my arms. I never thought how a touch might feel.

    In the years that passed I heard how he’d been caught stealing lobsters, hauling other men’s gear, how he moved from town to town and territory to territory, setting himself up with his fists and his nerve.

    I left him a copy of my book. He wasn’t home so I signed it and wrote a dedication and set it on the counter next to the open jar of mayonnaise.

    He called up drunk as hell a year or two later.

    You must be rich as Stephen fuckin King, he said.

    I only sold about 400 books, I said.

    Fuckit, he said, we’re famous. Kids reading the goddam book in school and everything. You sure you ain’t rich?

    I heard how his boat sank twice on the mooring and all his electronics were pooched.

    He’s fishing in the Stone Age now, said Jeff.

    I read in the Court News how he did another stint in Thomaston.


    We went separate ways me and Mick.


    He showed up on the island two, three years ago with a skinny slip of a woman . He said she was a heroin addict but a goddam good fuck and he laughed the wild laugh until a deep and rasping cough racked him.

    He was thin like a rail himself but still had the shoulders and chest and the hands big as mitts. Still the lean forward walk into a 50 knot gale of wind.

    We stood at the top of the hill and looked over the wild fields and forest and sea.

    Goddam Benjoy, we're still a rugged bunch ain't we.
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