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  • We were 15 miles offshore heading to the lee of the Little Island to wash down and clean up when Dickie idled back and let her come into the wind.

    He gave a quick smile and reached for the radio. I couldn’t hear thing over the pulse of the diesel but he always picked up when it was Gwennie calling.

    Dickie held the mike in his thick white mittens. He nodded when he spoke as if she was right there with us.

    When he was done, he hung the mike carefully along side the white VHF radio and tucked the coiled cord away so it wouldn’t dangle. He had 3-4 inches of headroom but I had to duck to go in and out the wheelhouse and with insulated hipboots I was close to scraping my head on anything that did the least bit of a dangle down.

    Gwennie says you’re to come to supper tonight when we get in, he said and spun the wheel to put us back on course for harbor and home.

    Sounds good, I said.

    What?

    OK.

    We thumped up the back steps to the kithen door, the only door anyone ever used but then Dickie closed the door gently behind us. We took our boots off in the little entryway and I made sure to line them up neat and square on the sections of newspaper she had laid down. We hung our layers on the pegs. Hat and poly vest, sweatshirt, sweater, flannel shirt, sweater vest. Our oil coats and bibs overalls were left hanging aboard the Deborah –Jayne but we still had plenty of layers to shed before coming in. I was 6 layers thinner and forty pounds lighter when I walked in, quiet and careful, to Gwennie’s kitchen.

    I was suddenly conscious of the wet sleeves on my sweatshirt and the deep and abiding oily tang of bait on my boots and cuffs and the way my hair stuck up every which way after 16 hours under hat and hood.

    Gwennie sat me at the table after I washed my hands and wouldn’t let me do a thing while Dickie went in to wash up. I watched her in the pantry dishing up. Beside the sink and the old hand pump was her VHF radio. Mounted on the wall, the white mike hung carefully beside the receiver, the coiled cord tucked out of the way. Her window looked out on to the back yard. She couldn’t see the boats or the wharf or the open sea beyond. Her view was the apple tree out back and the little swing Dickie’d put up for Deborah or Jayne, the apple tree and the line of traps Dickie’d piled so neat and square from out of his workshop in the cellar below.

    The kitchen walls were lined with photographs and needlepoint and bright copper aspic molds.

    We ate when Dickie got back to the table.

    Gwennie asked how’d the day had gone.

    Dickie talked of tide and wind and pounds sold.

    Gwennie talked of roads and weather and who’d called.

    I’ll dish you some more, said Gwennie, and filled my plate again.

    Look at you she said, not enough meat on that long frame to amount to a thing.

    Dickie grinned and passed his plate for seconds.

    You know what the doctor said, Gwennie reminded him.

    Dickie smiled but didn’t take his plate back till it was full.

    There was coco-cola cake for dessert that night.

    I asked and Gwennie shared the recipe.

    Dickie got up and listened to the weather for tomorrow.

    Looks like we’ll get half a chance for the morning Benjoy, he said.

    3:00, I asked.

    Ayup, he said.

    I helped clear the table even though Gwennie told me not to. I watched her look up from the dishes in the sink and saw her reflection in the window.

    I imagined her reaching for the white plastic mike. Calling out across the void.
    Base to Deborah-Jayne, come back.

    I imagined her calling that night, the night Mick and I were lost. The night she called my parents and said we hadn't come in. That all the boats were out searching. Imagined her listening to the wild chatter of waves and engines and voices calling out of the dark and the gale. Waiting to hear some word, any word out of the realm of icy dark and the deep and unforgiving sea.

    I imagined her calling during the days when we were out far enough that we lay under the curve of the earth and out of reach. Imagined her trying again in the dark as we ran in toward the lighthouse’s beacon and the glitter of lights that marked the harbor. Heard her calling, Base to Deborah-Jayne.

    And heard Dickie answer back. Deborah-Jayne to base. Over.

    I could see her lean against the sink then and bring the mike a little closer and for a moment I could hear, clearly.
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