Pay attention to the weather. Lie down in your bunk and don’t get up even if the microwave flings off the counter. Remember what happened last time. Save your good socks for town days. Don’t waste food. Grab the right wrench. Remember it’s two cents a pound for a pumped King, two dollars a pound if it’s hung. On openers, brew coffee at 3am; start the oatmeal before they wake up; prep lunch at breakfast; prep dinner at lunch. There is no kitchen on a boat. Practice your knots. Fasten the bumpers and never leave them to dangle while running. Don’t be sloppy. There is no rope on a boat. Use hot water and Windex to wipe your sunglasses smeared with fish froth and blood. Remember to wear your sunglasses. Don’t be so useless; read your cookbooks; don’t repeat meals. Rip the Gillers from the web before they reach the block. That’s thirty cents a pound whole and it’s better than fish guts down your shirt front. In your mouth. Move faster. Under the floodlights, sort frosty fish into metal bins on the tender; notice when one is still alive, wild-eyed, accusing. Avoid splashing water to get the jellyfish slime off your face. Remember how it reactivates the burn. The Reality, The Silver Wave, The Miss Danica. Remember the crew two blocks ahead of you walking to the bar, Xtratufs rolled down, American Spirits between fingers. Never buy a drink for yourself, not here. Don’t be so helpless. The Captain’s Girl, they call you. Wash with Burt’s Bees face wipes, top-down always; use a fresh sheet for armpits, crotch, and feet and extra when you’re bleeding. Do not go back next season. Wet wool, wet neoprene, wet Capilene, wet rubber. Remember bruises. For dinner, if you braise corned beef, save some for breakfast hash; what a good mother you’d make; this is no place for babies when microwaves fly from the counters. Remember the clean queen bed on land, stretched wide on cool sheets. Star-fishing, he calls it. Remember how good it is to take up space. Remember him mending web with those fast sunburned hands. Deposit your paycheck in September; save for taxes; don’t go back. If you don’t know the knot tie a lot. Haul the groceries, your laundry, his laundry. Hop right off the boat and get to the store before the others buy up all the cream and kale and coffee beans again; we’re not staying the night and the delivery comes in on Thursdays. Defrost the meat. Wax the zippers on survival suits and stash plastic bags in both feet. Toss Sockeye, Chum, Coho, King. Put on your rain gear. Take off your rain gear. There is no bathroom on a boat. Cash your check; it’s less this year; it’s not his fault, it’s climate change, you know. Remember the stateroom and the nudge out of his bunk. Too narrow. Time to sleep. No time for that sort of thing. There are no beds on a boat. Remember he enjoys earl grey and a treat in the afternoons; remember the day the metal hook from the tow line snapped and nearly smashed your face in; remember it’s not his fault, it’s just stressful and those things happen. Go to Craig, Ketchikan, Sitka, Petersburg, Tennakee Springs. Notice how you smell: creosote, public hot tubs, bacon frying, diesel. Arrange snacks on the table for night-watches. Do not put your fingers near the deck winch; remember the deckhand that lost his hand doing just that thing, just that thing fourteen times that day. Remember the lifting up of helicopters like fat bugs to transport bloodied bodies to land. Always ease the anchor out for the first few fathoms. Bake bread from scratch, it lowers the grub bill. Remember the metallic taste of Rainer on your lips that day you deck-loaded; remember standing on the hatch, knee-deep in bloody Silvers, thrashing, writhing, gasping; remember laughing with the boys. Money Fish we call them. Remember how he looked at you. Do not go back. Cut fish, gut fish, de-scale fish, bone fish, sear fish, eat fish. Always hang them tail up to bleed a day before you fillet, firms the flesh, kills the worms. Flex your strong arms. Don’t worry if he doesn’t look at you. Bake muffins once a week. Remember that babies contribute to climate change; inlets warm and salmon don’t return and spawn like they should; it’s the fault of so many babies on this planet, you know; no time for that sort of thing. The Duna, The Sara Lynn, The Cruel Mistress. Flake out the lead line; throw the corks in concentric ovals so your stack goes up so high. Tell dirty jokes. Don’t fall overboard; remember how they laughed. Tie a clove hitch, a sheet’s bend, a bowline. Trim the boys’ hair. Don’t mutilate the fillets. Watch how he makes it look so easy. Sharpen your knife; one smooth push is all it takes. You never wanted it anyways, barely the size of a single salmon roe slipping out to return to the sea. Yes, that’s how to think of it. It’s not his fault, you know. Place glacier ice in your cocktails and drink and drink until dancing is the only thing left to do. Remember the brown bear that used the crosswalk; remember the hike to wild blueberries and that golden crust pie and how your fingertips were purple for days. Fold fresh laundry before it goes in your stuff sack. The Intrepid, The Halcyon, The Gallant Maid. Listen to him talk to the radio; follow the radio fish. Remember wanting to be a fish. Pick the scales off your calves, the walls, the cast-iron stovetop, his cheek. Don’t worry when no one looks at you. Remember those sunsets bleeding you out like a Steelhead; remember the deer he shot, dripping in the fish hold, staring at nothing. Hose the deck. Scrub the deck. Save some of your paycheck this time and don’t forget about taxes. Do not go back. Do not use water to wipe jellies from your nostrils and eyelids. Remember how it burns. There are no maps on a boat. Make sure the coffee is hot; heat it in the microwave if you must but it’s not preferred. Sometimes spaghetti is just fine. Sit quietly in the wheelhouse next to him. Notice his dry hands on the radio, papery skin so close to yours. Don’t interrupt; talk jumpers; talk runs; talk about the weather. Notice how he almost looks at you. Sort Chinooks, Silvers, Pinks, and Reds; notice when one is still breathing.
Sophie Elan’s essays and poems have been featured in the Arlington Literary Journal, Carte Blanche Magazine, F3ll Magazine, and others. She lives and works in Port Townsend, Washington. Find her on Instagram @sippinsophia.