Fiction | July 24, 2012

Ten years ago today my father went overboard in a stern trawler fifty miles offshore, and I’m headed down to the breakers for an omen. It’s early morning, and the clouds are cutting strips of the Pacific clean silver when I slip down the bluffs to the beach. It’s a steep path, lined with ferns and trillium that bloom purple and white. The shore is dotted with the last of the night smelters hauling their loads into rust-checkered pickups. The waves are out with the tide, leaving traces of foam on the shore like a comb over wet hair. The Eureka Fish Company lurks on the horizon, jutting out on barnacled pilings into the Pacific like an old ship on stilts, the aluminum roof reflecting patches of early light. Here, the stink and rot of the cannery fades into tufts of sea-spray. I can see our fleet of purse seiners, trollers and old-time squid jiggers in the docks, idle and giant. From this distance, most people would mistake the cannery for the flotsam of development hanging over the ocean, an eyesore of industry, but to me it’s more than just fish scales and mung. It’s got a berth that holds vats of cod and the pulse of Eureka in its floors. Made of dusty redwood planks that creak in the tides, it’s home: our airless, two-bedroom apartment saddles the scaling room. It’s where Mama keeps the books and where, above a shipment of herring and sea bass, I was born.

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