The Wooden Nickel
By William Carpenter
Published by Little Brown & Company 
March 2002; ISBN: 0-316-13400-7; 320 pages

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The Wooden Nickel by William CarpenterHE'S SOUND ASLEEP, no dreams, nothing, then a hand touches his forehead and he surfaces slowly, as if they're hauling his brain off a fifteen-fathom ledge. The voice sounds like a stranger, though it's the same one that has whispered him awake for twenty years. "Lucas. It's almost quarter of five."

She gets up even before he does, checks out the forecast on the scanner, arranges his clothes on the bedroom recliner so he can feel for them in the dark. He can tell the weather from what's laid out for him. Today it might as well be January, she's got the union suit, two sweatshirts, wool pants, two pair of socks. "What the hell?" he says. "Look."

He raises the blind. The red GMC pickup down in the driveway is covered with snow. "Jesus H. Christ, Sarah. It's April."

"Quiet, you'll wake the kids. The weather radio says it's changing to rain. And you know, Lucas, it's not just April, it's the fifteenth. Have you mailed the tax forms?"

"Fuck them bastards. I paid them last year."

"You didn't, Lucas. It was the year before. And I wound up doing it."

April 15 may be a black moment for the lawful citizen, but it's Opening Day for the lobstermen of Orphan Point, and the Wooden Nickel's sitting out there in the predawn darkness with forty-eight brand-new wooden traps weighing down the stern. He was up till near midnight loading them on because that son of a bitch Hannaford put him on last for the dock crane. Clyde Hannaford blames everyone in town for his wife problem but for some reason Lucky most of all, though he knows god damn well Lucky's married with two kids and Sarah does not cut him much slack to frig around.

He is tired and pissed, mainly at himself for not putting the pickup in the garage so he has to scrape two inches of wet slush off the windshield, and for taking the big Fisher plow off the hook already and storing it out back. Forty-six years in Orphan Point, you'd think he'd seen enough April blizzards to know better, but this is the year they said global warming was supposed to kick in. Fucking environmentalists, nothing but broken promises. If you have your head up your ass, naturally the world is going to look like shit.

 

He would have liked to plow Sarah out before going to work. Now he can't. The pickup's got thirty-three-inch Wranglers, it can steam through this fluff without even going into four-wheel drive. But her little blue Lynx with the twelve-inch tires won't be able to claw its way out of the garage. Kyle won't shovel her out either, because she'll let him sleep till ten minutes before his ride like he was still in the second grade. Well fuck her, he thinks, she has dug her own grave with that kid, she'll be lucky if he doesn't end up in Thomaston like Howard Thurston's son that robbed the convenience store, three and a half years and one suspended.

Now she's bent over in the half-light, going through his pockets. "Just making sure you have your medication along. There won't be any drugstores out there."

"And checking for cigarettes."

"We do want to keep you alive, Lucas, even if it's against your will. You know what young Dr. Burnside said, and I'm not going to be along to remind you."

She doesn't find them. Fact is, the Marlboros went aboard already, along with the gear, fuel and bait.


Thick snow blows towards his windshield so it feels like he's stopped dead and the white world is swimming past. He drives the still-unplowed road around the back side of the cove towards Hannaford's wharf. Other pickups are coming from other directions, their lights illuminating the snowflakes like darting schools of shiners as they converge on the waterfront. Lucky of course knows every truck, every driver and passenger, even in the predawn darkness, and he would know them if struck blind, so long as he could hear their individual engines and the wake of their oversize tires through the snow.

Every boat wants to be first out of the harbor on opening day, so they are all heading straight down to the wharf and out to sea, without stopping for coffee and crullers at Doris's. He, Lucky Lunt, was once among the first men out with the most traps, but last season Kyle stopped sterning for him, he had to do all the work out there, and he slowed down. One string of traps and he'd break into a sweat, have to stop, have a cigarette, a beer maybe, rest half an hour before hauling the next string. Then in the fall he shot the moose up in Ambajezus and couldn't get it out of the woods. They found him passed out on top of the christly thing, at first they couldn't tell which one was dead, him or the moose. The paramedics had to use his own four-wheeler to haul him out to a field where the chopper could land. They flew him to the Tarratine hospital and found his arteries choked up like a saltwater engine block. Eleven years since his last checkup. They did the first angioplasty on the spot and sent him home, he was out on the water in a week. They drill right through your crotch up into the coronaries and inflate a long skinny five-thousand-dollar condom which is supposed to push the layers of butter and french fries back against the arterial wall. Sarah served the moose for Thanksgiving dinner, next morning he was back in the heart ward for another try. The second time, when they pulled the balloon out they left a stent to keep the stuff in place, a few inches of stainless steel plumbing that will still shine like starlight when the rest of him's eaten up by worms.

Sarah had a hard time adjusting to a metal part inside her husband, but the way he sees it, the stent brings him that much closer to the hearts of his boat and truck, an honorary member of the mechanical world.

After the operation they poisoned him with vegetables and put him on three or four different-colored pills, which he's long since mixed together in the same brown bottles, one in the pickup, one over the bathroom sink. He takes a handful of them now and then when Sarah reminds him, though they make him seasick in front of the TV. Well fuck that, he'd rather listen to country, though when the stock car races are on he clings to both arms of his chair and watches anyway.

He's also under strict orders to slow it down, not drive straight to his chained-up skiff but pause for a cup of decaf at the Blue Claw, and if Doris is not yet open, spend a moment relaxing in the pickup cab with the heater on listening to High Country 104. Course it will make him the last boat on the water, an honor that used to belong to Alonzo Gross, but now the Wooden Nickel will bring up the fucking rear. He used to be right up there with Art Pettingill, who goes to bed at half past seven and rises at three, but now he's supposed to cut his stress level in half and take time "for himself," as Dr. Burnside told him, but who the fuck is himself ? There's lobsters, there's the Wooden Nickel and there's the sea. That's it.

Doris opens the Blue Claw sharply at five-thirty, but he's already in the parking lot at twenty past. He knows she's in there because her old Plymouth minivan's out back with the faded blue claw on its two front doors. The restaurant windows are fogged already with coffee steam, but the closed sign is still up and she's not going to flip it around till five-thirty even if the coffee is turning to creosote at the bottom of the urn.

There's enough light now to make out the silhouette of the Wooden Nickel moored among the Orphan Point fleet, all of them stern down and low in the water under their first-day load of traps. A wheelhouse light snaps on in one of the boats, then another, then red and green running lights that blur through the light snow like it's still Christmas. The first diesel kicks in, maybe Pettingill's but nope, it's a straight-six, probably Dennis Gower in the Kathleen and Brian, which he repowered with a Volvo 102 last year but it already sounds like an old man farting himself to death. Big dumb Swedes, twenty-four hours of daylight and still they can't build shit.

The diesel sounds float in over the water and fill his heart with anxiety and competition till he feels the medication kick in and slow it down. How is he going to cut his christly stress level in half if he has to sit here hearing the other boats start up? He takes the pill bottle out of his lunchbox and puts it in the glove compartment instead. Fuck that. He's not going on the water with that stuff.

The DJ is still playing his mellow wee-hours material, it fits right in with the sky clearing and the late stars coming through the clouds. He even lets himself cue up Garth Brooks's "Go Tell It on the Mountain" because of the weather, must still be winter up in the mountains where their studio is. On the western side of the harbor, lined with gloomy vacant summer estates, there's not a sign of life. On the east, though, all along the shore he can make out the lights of fishermen's homes through the colorless snowy haze of dawn. The men are already at work but their wives are cleaning up after the first-shift breakfast and getting ready to rouse and feed the kids. He knows the town so well it's like X-ray vision, he can see through the walls, knows each woman in each kitchen, each kid in bed, the contents of the refrigerator and what station she's tuned to waiting for the sun to come up, country mostly, but some will have the Christian station or the talk show, then they'll all switch over to Rush when he comes on.

It was torture to see Art Pettingill and his boy drive past him in their big crew-cab F-350, not even turning to look at the Blue Claw, straight to the mooring. Art's boy will be straining at the oars, Big Art in the stern, skiff sinking under his whale's body and the twelve-pound lunch pail in his lap, Art putting the sponge to her every ten seconds because she's still full of shotgun holes from when the Split Cove boys gave him a piece of advice. He hears their boat start up, old Caterpillar 320 with dual pipes up through the wheelhouse roof. The Bonanza. Banana, it should be called, it's got the hog shape and the yellow hull covering the rust that drips off of all Art's gear. Still, he is a highliner and he brings them in. Thirty-five thousand pounds of lobster last season and his wife won't let him trade the boat. Alma Pettingill's a churchgoing woman and she's got him securely by the nuts.

Art's son is fifteen, sixteen, great big kid, just the right age for a sternman. Another year or two and they want their own boats, then you have to hire a stranger who half the time won't know what the fuck is going on. Sternperson, that's what you're supposed to call them now, though somehow that word makes him think of doing it dog style, he can't say why. Things have changed, there's a lot of female sternmen. Wives, daughters, girlfriends, it does improve the morning if you can get laid down in the cuddy after a few strings, but for Lucky Lunt the purpose of going out on the water is to catch lobsters, and like his old man used to quote out of the Bible, a man's not supposed to mix fish and flesh. The day Ellis Seavey took that Tarratine girl with the bikini top out to show her his trapline, Lucky shouted, "Going after crabs today?" and Ellis didn't speak to him for a month. That whole summer Ellis had one hand under his oilskins, scratching away, till his uncle Lester lent him his tube of Captain Scratch's crotch ointment and they found someplace else to live.

Twenty-five past. He keeps the pickup idling in park, not just because it's cold but he also likes the sound of the rods just turning the crankshaft over in its bath of oil. The pickup's only a 350 but it's a 4-barrel, and its low, rumbly, slow-turning V-8 with just the right hint of exhaust failure sounds enough like his Chevy 454 marine to get his blood moving even before his first sip of the morning regular Sarah won't give him but Doris might.

Just light enough to see Art Pettingill's old Cat diesel farting black soot like a Greyhound bus as the Bonanza casts off and smokes out towards Sodom Ledge into the April fog. Art's got a CB tuned to the truck channel because his brother drives for Irving Oil, another radio on VHF 64, which is the Orphan Point fishermen's party line, and a third radio on Christian Country 88.5, all at top volume, though Art can't hear any of them through the Cat's exhaust.

He leans his head back against the reassuring hardwood stock of his .30-06 Remington Standard on its rear-window rack. He used to carry two guns back there, one for Sarah, but after Oscar Reynolds shot his old lady and glassed her into a hull mold, Sarah asked him to lock hers away in the gun cabinet. Each year, as the hair on the back of his head thins, he can feel the oiled walnut stock more clearly against the exposed nerves of his scalp.

The .30-06 hasn't left its rack since the ill-fated Ambajezus hunting trip when he wound up getting butchered along with the moose. He likes the gun there, though, it's a warmer headrest than the plate glass window.

He can see the whole harbor now as the snow subsides and the day brightens over Doris's parking lot. The Blue Claw sits at the head of the harbor just east of the bridge over Orphan Creek. Over on the westward side, where there's water enough to float a vessel at all tides, is the wharf of Clyde Hannaford, buyer and dealer for the Orphan Point lobster fleet. Like it or not, you catch lobsters, you deal with Clyde. Otherwise you might as well eat the fucking things yourself. Clyde has a monopoly, that's how it is and has always been. Over in Split Cove they have a socialist co-op, maybe they pay a cunt hair more than Clyde does, but if you don't like the American way, you might as well move up to Canada and sit back and let the government pay you not to fish.

Beyond Clyde's, passing down Summer Street where the Money shore begins, there's Phelan's boatyard, full of sailboats shrink-wrapped for winter like a field of tent caterpillars. Then comes the row of summer shops-the Quiche Barne, Bloom's Antiques, the Cockatiel Café. Then the Orphan Point Yacht Club, dues alone more than a working man makes in a year. Then a chocolate-colored Episcopal church with a fancy brown-shingled steeple that starts tapering at the ground and terminates in a golden cross. The summer people have that cross gilded every June with fourteen-karat gold leaf, slapped on by some bearded asshole they get up all the way from Philadelphia. After that church Summer Street peters out into a dirt road running behind the row of big spooky summer mansions they used to break into to smoke and jerk off when they were kids.

On the other side of the harbor, there's Main Street, where the year-round fishermen live, there's the Blue Claw, Lurvey's Convenience & Video and Ashmore's Garage. There is also the regular Methodist church with a normal white steeple, so these two churches separated by water both reach for the sky like a couple of guys giving each other the finger. A brown guy and a white guy, if you thought of it that way, which Lucky doesn't. He doesn't give a fuck what a man is, though everyone knows the Asians are taking over the earth. And they can have it. Lucky hasn't set foot in church for fifteen years, except for a handful of funerals when Sarah dressed him up like the corpse and made him go.

If you spend enough time offshore you realize all those steeples are pointing the wrong way. If there was to be a God, which is not likely in this numb universe, He would be down under the surface where the real power is, in the cold invisible currents of the sea.

He focuses his ear on the soft well-tuned drum of the idling V-8. It doesn't waver, it doesn't skip a beat. Now if they had a church with a truck engine up at the altar end, that would mean something and he might sign on. If you're going to worship anything it should be something you can get your hands on and you don't have to argue whether it's there or not. You can trust an engine. When you're over the horizon, past sight of land, maybe it's thick of fog, cold, with the wind rising, nothing around you but freezing black salt water and cold-blooded predators that don't give a fuck, no invisible spirit is going to help you. That can be proved by Dennis Gower's cousin Calvin Willey, a God-abiding Mormon that never touched a drink or smoke, but his RV stove exploded a couple of Julys ago after the Stoneport races and everyone trapped in the back of it was killed. All God-fearing Mormons, every one of them burned to a crisp. Now a V-8 engine is something to believe in, made by honest American working stiffs with their own hands. You won't find a V-8 in a rice-burner. It can be steaming out beyond Shag Ledge at fifteen knots with the stern half sunk beneath a load of traps, hard-driving the hydraulic winch to haul a thirty-fathom trapline, or patiently waiting in neutral as you cull the catch, rebait, dump them in again. Your wife may cheat on you and your friends may forget you ever lived. Your own body starts fucking you over the minute you're born, the heart lurks in your chest like a land mine, the brain goes useless as a fistful of haddock guts. But an internal combustion engine is another matter. Long as you take care of the bastard, when there's nothing else on earth to count on, it will get you home.

He feels all the clothes Sarah put on him, the Grundens oilskin bib trousers and the wool sweater and the long underwear and beneath the clothes, his own skin wrapped around him like a survival suit. Under that layer there's a circulation no different from the heart of a big-block V-8, the Havoline 10-40 gushing from the pump to lube the pistons stroking in and out of their cylinders like a tight-holed fuck, the nervous gossipy valves jumping in their seats, the spinelike crankshaft turning in its bath of oil. His body idling in the front seat, the engine idling under the hood, they're the same fucking thing.

Not that it's true for every vehicle. Take Sarah's Mercury Lynx, which is an aluminum-block four-cylinder piece of shit. When she started insisting on a car of her own, he planned to buy her something American at Harry Pomerleau's Lincoln-Mercury up at the Narwhal Mall in Norumbega. Gas mileage is everything for Sarah, she doesn't want to take any more than she has to from those nice Arab sheiks and their Rolls-Royces and their dozen wives. Harry Pomerleau sold her a four-cylinder Lynx whose engine sounds like an ice-fishing auger but Honest Harry told her the thing would get ten miles on a quart of gas. That's the word that slick son of a bitch used on her, a quart, like they were going to put milk in the fucking thing. They had the Lynx three months before Virge Carter told him it was built in Oakville, Ontario. He should have known it from the name, Lynx, must be the national mammal up there in Molsonland. The laws of marriage force him to keep a car in his garage built under a Communist government by slave labor, same as their socialist cooperatives and government-funded fucking Canadian piers so they can give lobsters away while just over the border a free people starve to death.

So he doesn't set foot in his wife's car with its lawnmower engine, and Sarah won't ride in the truck because it smells like fish. I don't mind it on you, Lucas, but then I don't have to climb inside you, do I? When they go out together they take both vehicles, even on the thirty-mile run to the Tarratine mall, the navy blue Lynx tailgated by the big red pickup, Lucky behind the wheel looking down at his wife's neck through the Lynx's rear window and thinking, Fuck fuel economy, I'd like to see the EPA rating on us.

After the angioplasties last November, he was supposed to recuperate on an exercise schedule with walks of gradually increasing distance. He skipped the exercise and went right for the boat engine instead. Within a month of the operation he had cleaned the garage and fashioned an engine bed out of railroad ties, which he couldn't lift and he had to pay Kyle a dollar apiece to lug them in. Then he flushed out the water-cooling passages with hydrochloric acid. He ran the acid over and over through the engine block the same way they'd done it with the artery balloons run up past his nuts and guts into his own chest. When he was finished the acid came out the same as it went in, swift-flowing, colorless and clear: no rust, no clots. As soon as they let him drive again he dropped the block back in the Wooden Nickel, balanced the shaft and flywheel, and at 3000 rpm it ran fifteen degrees cooler. He drove over to the clinic and said, "Check me out."

That exercise program did the job for your husband, that's what young Dr. Burnside told Sarah when they ran into each other in the IGA.

At exactly five-thirty, Doris flips the sign around. Open. Just at that moment Clyde Hannaford shows up in his blue three-quarter-ton Dodge Ramcharger with the bright yellow Fisher plow still on the hook. Clyde's never lowered it yet, not wanting to dirty her up with snow.


CL. HANNAFORD DEALER LOBSTER CLAMS GROUNDFISH ORPHAN POINT


He's got groundfish crossed out because there's none of them left, and what there are the government won't let you have, their goal being to starve the fishermen off the water and turn the Atlantic Ocean into the world's biggest national fucking aquarium, look but don't touch. It's good to have your name on a truck. As long as your name isn't Lunt. The one time Lucky tried it, the weekend wasn't over before it became


LUCAS M. CUNT LOBSTERS

Scrape it off as he tried, it kept reappearing, even when he painted the whole fucking door it would be there again when he got in from a day's fishing. Lucky Cunt.

Now Clyde is bringing his thirty-year-old child bride Ronette to her job as Doris's counter girl at the Blue Claw. Lucky can't figure why she works there. Clyde Hannaford is not some dumb fisherman in debt for fuel and bait, scraping to meet his boat loan. Clyde owns a wharf and fuel dock that he inherited from his old man, Curtis Hannaford, a first-class prick who diddled the fishermen for about fifty years and now writes postcards from Miami Beach. It's his boy Clyde who buys and sells every lobster that comes into Orphan and in the winter he now has the urchin trade. With his brother Arvid he runs a lobster takeout in back of the wharf. Come June first they get out a copper kettle big enough to boil four or five New Jersey tourists in and they sell a one-pound shedder with a boat price of three bucks for eighteen ninety-five. Not to mention the daily dock markup that probably nets him ten thousand a month while a man like Lucky, out at sea all day doing the work, can barely scrape up the payments on his gear.

Clyde's truck door opens to the sound of a Patsy Cline tape and Ronette Hannaford bounces down from the high cab in a black winter parka over her little waitress miniskirt, showing some places that don't often see the light of day. She looks like what Paula Jones should look like, if they had a real president in there, only Paula Jones is a dog if you study the pictures, while Ronette's got a face that makes her look naked even with an overcoat on. She was a cheerleader at Norumbega High, can't be more than ten or twelve years back, while Clyde Hannaford was two years ahead of Lucky and Sarah at the old red brick high school in Orphan Point. Sarah went out with him too, the years Lucky was a motor-pool mechanic for Uncle Sam, but that was all over when Lucas Lunt came back to town.

Lucky taps the horn, cries out, "Ain't you cold?" through the closed window which she probably can't hear over Clyde's exhaust.

Ronette looks embarrassed and pulls the skirt down, wraps the parka tight around her tits and flashes a mean look, fake mean since Ronette Hannaford does love to be noticed. It's Clyde that is shooting over the mad-dog stare, then he backs up fast with a lot of unnecessary noise, spins his slick nine-fifty by sixteens and heads for the wharf to drink hazelnut decaf and count the profits. Lucky shuts off his engine and goes in.

Without asking, Doris hands him his coffee and a slice of strawberry-rhubarb pie. "Everyone's out," she says. "Won't be any lobsters left for you."

"I'll give them a half-hour start, that way we'll all arrive at the same time."

Ronette looks up and pouts her lips at him, her body bent way over behind the counter to pull up a jar of pickled hard-boiled eggs. Her skirt lifts up so high he can see the shadow of her ass darkening her upper legs. As the father of a daughter he wants to grab hold and pull it back down, as a man out on his own in one of the mornings of the world he'd like to raise it the rest of the way. Talk about miscarriage of justice, an asshole like Clyde Hannaford sleeping every night alongside a woman you should have to be twenty-one to even look at. Without glancing up she says, "That's you, Mr. Luck, faster than the eye can see."

Doris is breaking coin rolls into the cash register but she's got her ear out. "Don't get near him, Ronette, he's so fast he'd do it and you wouldn't even know it was done."

"Wouldn't know till the Fourth of July," Ronette says.

"You'd know before that, dear." Doris slams the register shut, takes the key out and pockets it. Just then a truck comes screeching in, brakes spray gravel on Doris's plate glass window: smell of diesel smoke.

Doris says, "Jesus, what a stench. Who's got a diesel truck?"

"Blair Alley," Ronette says. "Watch out. Don't that thing smell." Blair and his brother Frank weigh a good six hundred pounds between them, about three ounces of it is brain. They kick the door open with their boots and try to walk through the doorway at the same time, get stuck for a second then figure out that Blair was first-born and Frank stands aside. Ronette stands up with the jar of hard-boiled eggs and looks down at their boots and says, "Frank Alley, I have always wanted to know, what size shoe do you take?"

Blair says, "Frank don't reveal things like that. They're trade secrets with him."

"He don't reveal them," Lucky says, "he sells them."

Doris opens the cash register drawer with a big ring but zeros showing on the screen. "Frank," she says, "how much would that information be?"

Blair reaches into the glass-doored doughnut drum and pulls out a chocolate éclair and throws it in his mouth like it was an M&M. He slides another one down to his brother, who opens his huge jaws like a basking shark and the éclair is gone. "I guess that will do it," Blair says. "Go ahead, Frank, tell her."

Ronette leans over the counter to look down at Frank's feet, but his trousers hang so far over his boots that Frank's standing on the cuffs, and meanwhile the cleavage of his dark hairy asscrack is showing like Dolly Parton on Rogaine. One of Ronette's tits presses down on the how-to-eat-a-lobster place mat, the other presses on a fork and knife. Lucky wonders if she can feel things like silverware through the bra and the white waitress blouse.

"You're going to have to lift them trousers up," Ronette says to Frank, giving him the weird glance she has, as if one of her eyes was astray. He has heard the rumor that Ronette has a glass eye but he does not believe it. Both her eyes move when she looks around, just maybe one doesn't come at you quite as fast as the other, that's all. It's a sexy moment, waiting for the other eye to catch up.

Doris, who was a friend of his mother's and must be close to sixty, is pushing her dyed blond hair up in an interested way. "You know what they say, Ronette. 'Big feet, warm heart.'"

Frank says, "I wear a nine."

"Sure you do," Ronette says. "And your brother here is a ballet dancer."

"Belly dancer," Lucky says. The Alleys choose to pay no attention.

"I wouldn't shit you, Ronette," Frank says. "You gave me an ee-clair." He hoists the trousers back up over his stern cleavage and there's a boot two sizes smaller than Lucky's own. "It is a nine."

"Something must be wrong with that one," Ronette says. "Must be deformed. Lift up the other one." Same size. Nobody knows what to say. Frank Alley is the big one too, he must weigh over three hundred and he's walking around on a size-nine foot.

Doris says, "Whew, I don't know how you stand up on them. They must hurt at the end of the day. I know mine do, and I ain't got your weight on them."

Blair says, "I think Frank should get more than a fucking eclair." He pulls a glazed honey-dip out of the doughnut drum and gives it to his brother and stands up.

Frank says, "Fucking daylight saving time. It ain't never going to get light."

"Just set your watch ahead an hour," Lucky tells him. "It'll get light right away."

Frank looks at him seriously and says, "No shit?" He starts frigging around with his watch as they go out, then looks east towards the sunrise like he's just caused it, pleased as piss. By the doorway he bends down to pet Doris's weird little Chinese dog and as he does his pants slip down again. His big white cheeks bulge out in the brightening air.

Ronette whispers, "Ain't every day you get a sight like that."

"Don't get all jealous." Lucky says. "Frank's had an implant. It ain't real."

The Alley brothers can't hear a thing, they're outside cranking the diesel over which won't start cause it hasn't been plugged in, but Ronette still bends close to Lucky to whisper. The steam rising off his coffee forms a little ridge of moisture on her chin. "Would you of believed that?" she says. "Frank Alley. Size nine. What size are you, Lucky?"

Doris hears. "Why don't you call Sarah up and ask her? Lucky never buys his own shoes. How's he supposed to know?"

"You don't know your own size?" Ronette says.

"Eleven."

"Makes sense," she says. "You're a few sizes bigger than Clyde, he wears an eight."

"Small feet, cold heart," Doris says. She walks to the jukebox and plays some Garth:

Parked on some old backstreet
They laid down in the backseat

"Clyde does have a cold heart," Ronette says, suddenly serious, like the song. She hums along as she loads the hard-boiled eggs into the small jar. "Coldhearted Hannaford."

"Treats you nice," Doris reminds her. "You got that Ford Probe or whatever it is, you got that hot tub."

"Money ain't everything," Ronette says. "There's a few other things."

"Damn few," Doris says. "You get where I am in life, you see all the other things were daydreams."

"Money's a daydream," Ronette says. "Tell her, Lucky."

Lucky says, "I wouldn't know. Never seen any."

"You ain't going to," Doris says, "if you don't leave the help alone and get on your boat."

Ronette sticks her tongue out at her boss, just a quick flicker not meant to be seen, and puts the big egg jar back in the floor cooler. Lucky pays up and leaves her a buck tip for a sixty-eight cent coffee and heads for her husband's wharf, where he keeps his skiff.

Turns out he's not the last boat, the ones that didn't pick up their gas and bait the night before are still crowding Clyde's wharf at the pump float. Lucky just has to take the skiff out to his mooring and cast off. Rowing past the gas pumps, he calls, "Good morning, Clyde, just had breakfast with your old lady," and gets nothing but a wicked glare. Then he remembers his radio. Clyde also handles electronic repairs, not that he can do them himself, but he takes the units to Chubby Burke in Norumbega, supposedly to save you the trip but now Clyde's got it so Chubby won't take your repairs if they don't go through him. Chub gives him a volume discount that does not get passed on. That puts another wing on the hot tub so Ronette gets to stretch out her tired little body to its full length. One good thing you can say about the Commies, they would have eliminated the middleman. Guys like Clyde Hannaford would have got reformed in a labor camp. Too bad. "Hey Clyde," he shouts, "you got my radio?"

"Chubby says another wait. That thing's so old he's got to get parts from Illinois."

"At least they ain't coming from Tokyo."

"You probably got the last working radio made in the U.S.A. That thing belongs in the maritime museum. Chubby says it uses crystals. You could get two Apelcos for what those crystals are going to cost."

"Damn good radio," Lucky says. "You can hear the fucking thing fifty miles away. They don't make them like that anymore. Know where they make them Apelcos? Malaysia. Wherever the fuck that is."

"No doubt. But those crystals are going to be another three weeks."

"Don't need a fucking radio anyway. I ain't going out to talk. I'm going to fish."

It's now a brightening mackerel sky over Orphan Point. The snow has stopped. The underbellies of the eastern clouds are stained blood-red the way the floors of the old fishhouses used to look before the government shut the tuna fishery down. Lucky rows Downeast style, stern first, so he can see where his ass is going, not like the summer folks who row out blind as quahogs into the fog. Moving at half speed in memory of his operation, he rows down the west shore of the harbor, towards the Money side, where the seasonal residents have their estates and stables on spidery dirt roads that don't even get plowed in winter so some of them have a foot of snow on them even now. That's the way they like it, the summer people, they think it keeps the vandals out but nowadays kids break in anyway using their Ski-Doos. Lucky himself got caught once poaching a couple of bottles of Canadian whiskey out of one of those places when he was right around fourteen. He was detained and interrogated by Officer Arden Jewett, who accepted one of the bottles for evidence and let him go. The owners of those places have three or four homes, couple of Lexuses in the garage, helicopter pads on their lawns so they can step right onto their yachts, rich bastards, they ought to open their mansions after Labor Day and let people come take what they want, instead of having to break in at the coldest time of the year.

After rowing past a couple of these mansions to stay out of the current, he turns out towards his boat, heading for the east side, where the fishermen live, their old black-shuttered white-clapboard Capes still insulated with newspapers from the Civil War. Same families that built them are living in them now. Lucky's great-great-grandfather funded their place with a Union Army bonus-that's how his mother told it-became a fisherman, and they've been fishermen ever since. Not one of the Lunt men knew how to do another god damn thing. That's what they say, a Lunt can smell his way to Nova Scotia through the fog but he needs a compass to find the grocery store.

No different for Sarah. The Peeks were a fishing family since any-one could remember. They had a house with gingerbread trim, just below the Orphan Point cemetery, on Deadman's Hill. The Peeks and the Lunts had been marrying off and on ever since lobsters sold for three cents a pound. When the state came to town and set up that office of genetic counseling, they called Lucky and Sarah to come pay a visit, but it was too late, Kyle was on a tricycle and Kristen was on the way. They came out all right, five fingers on each hand, what the fuck. The GC office is a waste of taxpayers' dollars, except for maybe the Gross family, and all the genetic counselors on earth couldn't have stopped the Grosses from breeding in. They just don't have an eye for anyone else.

He can see his own house among the others, all the lights on now. Sarah will be fixing breakfast. Kristen will be pacing in the hall outside the bathroom for Kyle to finish, which takes an hour now he's shaving his whole fucking head, it's a wonder they let him in the school.

The Wooden Nickel's riding low in the water, lower than she should be even with the traps on board. She's been a leaker since they put her in this March, no two ways about it. He put a few new strakes on her while she was hauled over the winter and he thought they'd swell in, but she must have half her bilge full cause the water-line stripe's a foot under even in the bow. Under the traps the stern's pretty near submerged.

He fixes the skiff to the mooring and pauses a minute to let his heart catch up. Everything looks right and smells right: fresh engine oil, black polysulfide seam caulking, bait bucket full of nice ripe herring in the stern. Just a whiff of that stuff brings women to his mind. When he was a kid he was scared to kiss them below the waist, then one day he recognized that aroma and realized he'd been working in it his whole life. After that, he never hesitated to plunge right in. He'd do it now if Sarah would give him half a chance, but she pulls his head back if he even gets close. "Lucas," she always says, "that tickles."

He sticks his head right in the opening of the bait bucket and takes a deep pungent inhale until his mind goes blank, he's back under the covers and Ronette Hannaford is in the bed, her whole body smelling like a beautiful smoked trout. He slides the cover off the engine box, just like opening a coffin lid, and there's a fresh-painted, reamed-out Chevy 454, cold as a corpse till he touches the electric fuel pump for a second, hits the starter and it comes to life, a miracle that could be in the fucking Bible if you think about it, yet it happens every single day.

He lets her run out a bit at 1300 rpm, then he switches the power takeoff to the bilge pump because half the harbor has slipped into the cracks of his christly hull. Another hour, she would have been up to the flywheel with the traps washing off the stern. Once he gets offshore and the sea works the hull a bit, she'll swell and settle in.

He tunes the stereo back to High Country 104, they've got a female DJ now with a nice raspy sunrise voice that makes him think of the Marlboros he's got stashed behind the radar screen. He flips the box open and eases one out with his teeth. Nothing about a cigarette he doesn't like, including the filter's crisp dry asbestos taste. They pick the best of life, every time, and take it away from you. Dr. Burnside made him quit after the operation-right when he needed it most. Those first nights home from the Tarratine hospital, he'd wake up seasick from the medication, withdrawal pains worse than the angina, cold turkey after two packs a day for almost thirty years. He'd stand in the bathroom before breakfast those dark and frigid mornings with his hands shaking like an addict and tear up Kleenexes one after the other till Sarah came in and walked him to the table.

But Dr. Burnside left a loophole big enough to sail a supertanker through. He didn't say anything about smoking offshore. Outside the three-mile limit a man can do anything he wants, and in ten minutes that's where he's going to be. He jams the unlit Marlboro between the wool cap and his ear. He revs the engine to finish pumping the bilge, and soon as the hose sucks air he switches the PTO to neutral, then goes forward up on the high prow, pulls the heavy eye splice off the bitt and steps back to the wheel, backs off a bit so he won't catch the pennant, and in a moment he's clocking fifteen knots on the loran, stern down and throwing a rooster tail behind the prop with a nice wake forking off astern. He detours east across the harbor so he can pass by his own house with Sarah and Kristen waving from the kitchen window, steering so close to shore he can hear the prop echo off the bottom and see his family's breath steaming against the glass. Kristen turns away and it's just Sarah, not waving anymore, looking out to sea like a widow over the yellow Fisher snowplow and the snowy lawn. He slows to an idle. If he had his radio he'd ask her to meet him back at Clyde's and go out lobstering. She wouldn't have to do anything, she could sit and sketch the islands like she did in the old days. He goes to the port side to wave her towards the wharf with his orange glove, but by the time he gets there she's turned from the window and then she's gone. He speeds up and cuts sharp to starboard to avoid Little Sow Ledge with the three black shags perched on the daybeacon looking just like the shapes of death.

He'd like to max out the rpm and get right out to the three-mile limit and light up, but he's got a rebuild and she's got to be run gentle the first few hours. On High Country 104 Wynonna's singing "Heaven Help My Heart," which reminds him to take it easy on the engine. He turns up the radio and throttles the V-8 down to give it a break. He doesn't even have to look outside the wheelhouse to know where he's going in the light dawn mist, just watches the fishfinder trace its cardiograph across the screen and feels his way along its contours like a crab. As long as he can see a fathometer line he has his location in this world. He knows every rock and crevice on the ocean floor for ten miles in all directions. If he had to crawl home dead drunk on the bottom of the sea he could grope his way among the sunken dories and ghost traps right to the shore of his backyard.

The fishfinder deepens from six fathoms at the harbor mouth to nine off of Sodom Head, then it shallows up in the Sodom Ledge channel, so he eases her westward to clear the invisible killer shoal with its beacon missing and the pole bent crooked from winter storms. Once he's past that it drops off and he turns twenty degrees south without looking at the compass, steering by the contour line alone, because on the route to his spring territory he knows the seabed rock by rock.

Most of the boys will be two or three miles out already, going for the April lobsters, which are still creeping in from their deep winter grounds between Red's Bank and Nigh Shag Ledge. Lucky figures on going just inshore of them with his first string. He'll drop them around the fifteen-fathom line that runs south and east from the Sodom bell. No lobsters inside of that, not yet.

Now the fog thickens like a sudden eclipse, white dew coating the windshield as it steams into invisibility. He swings the glass open but it doesn't make any difference, so he switches the radar on, gives her a minute to warm up, then another minute, but it's still blank. He bangs his fist on the top of the screen housing and she glows green, the raster swings around, and one by one the Orphan Point boats form a circle of green blips, his own at the center. Fucking Raytheon, built right in New England. Maybe.

The fleet's setting their traps out past the twenty-fathom line, half a mile into the fog bank. But one blip is close by, pretty soon he's up to them and out of the salt mist appears the Abby and Laura, skipper Alonzo Gross. They say Alonzo's father married his father's niece, and Alonzo went and did the same thing: chip off the old block. His old lady's got the same name as his mother. If old Stubby and Abigail Gross had gone to the genetic counselor with little Alonzo, she would have counseled them to throw him back. Yet there he is hauling traps with his daughter as sternperson, who looks just like him: big square head, square face, squared-off body. Xerox copy, just like that sheep clone over in Finland. By now all the Grosses, male or female, look exactly alike. She's a big girl with a big orange lobsterman's apron around her waist and just a jersey on top, a contender in the wet T-shirt contest, sumo division.

Lucky waves at the Abby and Laura, slows down, yells out, "Hello Alonzo!" then follows the track of his bottom machine into the fog, leaving father and daughter back on the twelve-fathom curve, old Lonnie leaning right over her as they raise their string of empty traps. They say Alonzo gives it to her every chance he gets. Of course the world would be a fucking zoo if you believed everything, so you have to sort out the truth from the rumors, which are all mostly true in the case of Lonnie Gross. Back in high school Lonnie would grow these curly black hairs on his palms from too much jerking off. He'd stand there in the locker room, proud as piss, hands open for everyone to see.

He switches the fishfinder to high resolution and watches the bottom grow in contour and detail. He has to think like a crustacean now, not a hairy-assed air-breather but an armored and camouflaged creature that lives to hide. He fixes on the contour line with the eyes of a green-black lobster moving from deep winter water to medium-depth spring water, groping and searching for a place to lurk and feed. He slows the Wooden Nickel to half a knot, just about the speed of a lobster in high gear. The fathometer shows rocks and drop-offs, ledges and crevasses and canyons in the blind kelp-coated underworld. His body starting to outgrow its shell, driven by cold lust and raw anger, the lobster man feels his way forward with his sensitive antenna and arrives at the chosen spot. He turns her south-southwest to lay the trapline along the current flow. Back at the stern, he pushes over the first of a triple, uses its fall to pull the other two over, and casts his buoy over last of all, painted Day-Glo orange and green with a delicate white intermediate strip by his wife Sarah, an artist in everything she does.

Just as the pot buoy goes over, a small fluttering charcoal-colored bird comes by, circles the boat as if dazzled by the sight of an object in the fog, then settles on the water not ten yards off the stern. Good omen: birds know where the lobsters are. Maybe they can stick their beaks in and look straight down.

By the third string he's sweating and exhausted and has to sit on the coiled pot warp and have a smoke, his heart pounding the floor of his chest like a basketball, twenty-six thousand dollars down the fucking drain. He goes to pop another heart pill, then realizes he left them back in the truck. He opens the lunch pail. She's wrapped the crab salad sandwich in a penciled note: Be careful out there. We love you. He picks the sandwich up with shaky fingers but feels better after the first bite. Maybe it's just hunger and not the heart.

He kills the engine while he eats and lets her drift. He turns the radio up at first for Deana Carter's "If This Is Love," then turns it off. It's hard to swallow the word love out here in the fog: cold sea wind, no sound, no color, like one of those dreams where the earth is all water like it was at the beginning and you're the only person alive. He tries to taste love in the crabmeat salad Sarah mixed up at 4 a.m., but if there is any, the Miracle Whip covers it like a deodorant. He's not sure he loves any of them. They were all accidents, even Sarah, it was a shotgun wedding though they moved fast and they were the only ones that knew. Now they're all turning away from him. Kyle's got his own boat, he's not even lobstering anymore. He's diving for whore's eggs, that's what they called sea urchins before they got discovered by the sushi crowd. Kristen's three years younger than her brother. She was so smart she skipped a grade and now she's graduating a year ahead. They started Kyle late and kept him back a year in the third grade like you're supposed to with boys, then the school kept him back another in junior high. Kristen thinks her college roommate's going to be some lawyer's daughter and she'll have to confess her old man fishes with his hands. Sarah's a celebrity now with her little sea glass sculptures, all of a sudden the summer people think she's Polly Picasso. Come June she'll spend more time up at the art school than she will at home. All of them dykes and homos, that's what Stevie Latete says, he lives just a half-mile down the road.

He throws the sandwich crust to the gray seabird, who shows no interest, but two big gulls that have been trailing him all morning swoop down and fight for it. He lays the last string right where he's drifted, too tired to locate another perfect spot. The boat's riding higher with the traps off, and it seems to be swelling in so the leak is down, he hasn't run the bilge pump for half an hour. He's about seven miles from Clyde's wharf. The Wooden Nickel can do thirty-one knots in flat water when she's in tune, but there's no use risking the engine with the Stoneport races a couple of months away. Lucky got fourth in class at Summer Harbor last year. The guy who took third, Sumner Ames out of Riceville, has moved over to diesel, at least that's what they say. This year, if the heart behaves itself, he's got a chance to place.

Should be fifteen minutes at twenty-four knots. He takes the last sip of decaf from the thermos, lights his last Marlboro, turns up the radio and puts the hammer down. It's the first time he's opened her up since the rebuild. The 454 whines like a banshee, it throws a rooster tail, it pitches luminous spray over the bow onto the windshield and dumps green water back in the cockpit on every wave. It's a big Saginaw engine with a ripped muffler and it silences everything else around, including the rebuilt heart.


They eat supper watching CNN, it's President Clinton on with some lie about Whitewater, then he's holding hands with his Lesbian General, Janet Reno. Sarah sees her husband about to go violent and reaches up to switch the set off. "Thanks," Lucky says. "Saves me from throwing a Rolling Rock through the screen."

"Your first day out, Lucas, after the surgery. How did it go out there?"

"Finest kind."

"You smoked, didn't you? I can smell it in your hair. You're like a twelve-year-old, sneaking off with a cigarette, but it's your own body, you can't run away from it."

"I didn't inhale," he says. "That's one thing I got in common with that son of a bitch."

"Yeah," says Kyle over his third bowl of cod head stew. "You both lied about it."

"Who you calling a liar?" He pushes his chair back, stands, leans over the big chowder caldron on the table. Kyle's out of his chair, Sarah poised to move between them if it gets physical. They're almost the same height though Lucky's heavier, twice as thick in the neck and shoulders, not to mention the waist. He could still take him, bad heart or not. The kid looks like a terrorist with the shaved head and the shadow of an X cut into it and the T-shirt with the arms ripped off. A twenty-year-old high school junior: maybe they shouldn't have kept him back.

His daughter Kristen says, "Don't just stand there, fight. You're males. That's what we learned in biology. Males fight till just one of them is left."

"He ain't worth the trouble," Lucky says.

Sarah stands behind Kyle and runs her hand over the shaved head. "Lucas, it's your own son. Can you imagine your father saying that?"

"He wouldn't of said nothing. He would of cocked me one."

Kristen pulls her Walkman out of her backpack, jams the ear-phones down over her blond hair. "Thank God I'm getting out of this in September, I won't have to hear it. EVER AGAIN." She cranks up the earphone volume till you can hear it in the room.

Kyle yells at her, "WHAT'S THAT?"

"Smashing Pumpkins." She closes her eyes and pegs the volume all the way.

He turns to the shaved head. "You got that shitheap in the water yet?"

"Lucas."

"Just wondering if he's planning to race this year."

"Racing's a waste of time."

"You got third last year. Play with that Merc a bit, you could take it."

"That was then. Now's now. I got business."

"What kind of business? You're supposed to be in fucking school."

"Private business." He rubs the X on his shaved head like it's a sign saying keep out.

Sarah stays close beside her son to protect him, the top of her head level with his nose. She's done the same thing as Kyle, two weeks ago she came home from Shear Heaven with her hair chopped and spiked up like a gray-blond porcupine. It gives her a homeless look, though she's spent the last twenty years in this house, every single night. "I'm going to my studio," she says. "Send someone up when you guys have worked things out."

He turns his back on all of them and switches the TV back on to a Merrill Lynch commercial and turns the volume up. "Finally," he says, "an ad for bullshit."

Forgetting himself completely, he reaches into his shirt pocket for the Marlboros he should have left on board, sticks one in his mouth, looks around with his hands for a light. His wife says, "Lucas, if you don't care whether you live or die, think of the budget, twenty-six thousand dollars for that hospital to clear the tar out of your veins."

Kristen's got her earphones off now. "And the fat," she chimes in sweetly. "Remember what he used to eat."

"Money we don't have, with the home equity gone into the boat, Kristen's tuition coming up."

"Too poor for insurance," Kristen says, "too rich for welfare. We had a social studies unit about us."

It feels like he's in the parlor of a lobster trap, cornered crustaceans going at each other with both claws, might as well build a house of steam-bent laths, let the wind blow right through. He crumples the cigarette and puts it on his plate. "Jesus H. Christ, this place a home or a church? I'm going to bed. I got to set sixty traps tomorrow."

Sarah says, "Lucas, come to the studio on your way up. I'd like to show you something."

He doesn't want to get near the studio, it raises his blood pressure till his neck veins ache. Three years ago Sarah and Kristen said they didn't want him smoking in the house anymore. He built himself a den out in the attic of their three-door garage, deer head on the wall, nice little fridge, couple of windows overlooking the water, a man could take his boots off and tune in High Country 104 and light up without his family coughing like they'd been teargassed. Then after the operation, when young Dr. Burnside laid down the law, Sarah asked for the den as a studio for her beach glass ornaments that are supposedly works of art. She argued the case like a lawyer with Kristen beside her all the way. She'd been making them up in the bedroom, which hardly left them a place to sleep. The den had a north window with some special kind of light. And in conclusion, she might one day sell one of the christly things and help the cash flow. In the long run they caved him in, a den is pointless if you can't have a fucking smoke. Just before Christmas, Kristen and Sarah moved the workbench and soldering tools in. "You have the third bay of the garage," she would say. "You have the basement. You don't need the light the way I do." His response was a three-week reign of silence that included Christmas and New Year's Eve, when instead of taking her to the Grange party he got drunk at the RoundUp with Travis Hammond.

He still makes it a point not to set foot in his former den, but tonight he feels pretty good having set forty-eight traps without dropping dead at the helm, so he ducks his head for the low passage leading to the second floor of the garage. It smells of butane and soldering flux and something else, like clam flats, an odor you can never quite get off glass that's been salvaged from a beach. He misses the cloud of tobacco and spilled beer. She's got fringed lilac curtains and the big braided Peek family rug that still smells of her mother's dead cocker spaniel, Rufus. He spends all day in the stench of lobster bait, you'd think his nose would numb out, but it's keen as a drug dog. Every article in her room speaks to him with its own repellent scent, his back hairs are stiffening, he's in the lair of another species. She's got two long tables with mounds of sea glass stacked up by shape and color, she's got a tray of brass wires to hang them from, she's got another table with her vise, her low-heat butane soldering torch, her lead strips, and the diamond saw he got her Christmas before last when she still worked on a Black & Decker Workmate at the foot of their bed.

There's several of them in different stages on the workbench and a couple of finished ones hanging from the ceiling in front of the window, his window, that looks across the harbor to the old light-house which is now a yuppie bed-and-breakfast down on the tip of Sodom Head.

"I want to show you something, Lucas. These are the ones you've seen, from the group exhibition last year that you refused to go to. And this is the one Yvonne Hannaford wants for her gallery this summer. If I can make more like it, she might give me a one-person show."

"You'd be the first person that fucking family ever gave anything to."

"Well, it's not totally a gift. Dealer gets fifty percent. It's the one thing art and lobsters have in common."

Now she says "art" like the summer people, ort, like there's an r in it. Something wrong with their tongues. He picks the thing up by the top wire and holds it under the workbench light. She frames up chunks of different-colored sea glass with lead moldings like the windows in the Episcopal church showing Jesus H. Christ and the sheep, except in hers there's no story. He turns it around, squints at it, raises it and looks from below like he's staring up a girl's skirt, but he can't make out what it's supposed to be. "I give up," he says. "What is it?"

"It's not a puzzle, Lucas, it's an abstraction." She lays her glasses on the workbench. Her face is thin under the chopped hair. The outlines of her eyes are red, like she's been crying or leaning over the butane torch or staying up too late. Who knows when she goes to bed now that she's got the studio, he never hears her, yet she's up with his clothes and lunch fixed before he's even awake. She's got classical music going on his radio too, all of it sounds like a funeral, she's worse than Kristen.

He hits the preset for High Country 104, Reba McEntire's singing "How Blue." He puts the sculpture down, kicks the foot-stool out of the way, puts an arm around his wife's slender waist and waltzes her slowly from the workbench to the skylight across the den. "Remember her first one?"

"Lucas, it was a thousand years ago. I never listen to country anymore."

"'One Night Stand.' Jesus, we had a one-night stand, lasted us twenty years."

She gives in, lays her head on his chest even though his sweat-shirt's crusted with green algae like a mooring spar. Then she pulls back and says, "Your heart sounds different."

"I got machinery in there."

"All the more reason to take care of it. You can't keep going out alone. Remember your father, everyone told him to take a sternman after his first."

"Won't be Kyle."

"It doesn't have to be Kyle."

"Lot of the guys are using their wives. Think about it. Working together, wouldn't be no overhead, we'd get the hospital paid up, Kristen's school."

She stops and looks up with the blue, red-lined eyes. "Lucas, I can't be a sternman. I've got another life. It's April. In another month I'll be starting school again." She takes his huge hand in her thin birdclaw hands, the two of which together don't weigh as much as his thumb. When they first got together, her hands were a mass of tiny cuts from picking crabmeat at the cannery. Now they're the same way, only it's from the workbench, and she's repeating, "I'd love to, Lucas, but I can't."

It's late, he's got to be up an hour before sunrise. He leaves her soldering another piece of sea glass and goes down to catch a few laps of the Coca-Cola 600 on ESPN2.

Even with the studio visit and a fiery stock car crash that takes ten minutes to clean up, he's in bed by ten-thirty. He takes a couple of heart pills with a shot of black rum. In no time at all he's dreaming of Ronette Hannaford in orange Grundens oilpants ten sizes too big so you can look right inside them but there's nothing down there, no hair, no pussy, not even legs. She has an oilskin top stained with fish blood which he strains to remove so he can see her tits, but he can't get his arms to move. He's yelling at her, or someone, It's my fucking dream, I can get the coat off if I want, but it won't work. He hasn't had a hard-on since he mixed all the heart pills in the same bottle, but now he wakes up stiff as a propeller shaft. He hears Sarah coming to bed, quietly so she won't wake him. The red digital clock says 11:30. He turns over so she won't notice the hard-on and ask him what he was thinking of.

She slips in beside him, quietly, then whispers, "Lucas?"

"Pretty god damn late, isn't it?"

"I've been talking to Kyle."

"Can't it wait till morning?"

"It's serious. He wants to move out and get his own place."

"He ain't even finished high school."

"He wants to quit. He's afraid to tell you."

"He should be fucking afraid. I'll kick his ass."

"Lucas, you didn't finish high school yourself."

"Things was different, them days we had lobsters knocking on the door, asking themselves to dinner. You didn't have to know nothing, any dipshit could make a living. Now there's technology out there. There's competition. There's guys setting twelve hundred traps. They got them on their computers, they don't even have to steer the god damn boat. Kid wants to go lobstering now, he's going to need a fucking brain."

"You tell him, Lucas, he won't listen to me. He feels bad too, his younger sister graduating before he does."

"I ain't going to tell him tonight," Lucas says. "It's almost twelve."

"You listen to the weather?"

He reaches over and pushes the button on the NOAA radio, but they haven't changed the tape. "I'll check it in the morning. It ain't going to blow too bad."

He thinks he can get back in the same dream where Ronette Hannaford has the oilskins on and this time he can get the top off and see what she's got. Then his wife puts an arm around him under his flannel sweatshirt and puts her hand over his heart. She's been working and her skin smells of the butane torch. "Lucas, you asleep already?"

"It depends."

"On what?"

"Depends on who wants to know."

He turns slowly, so he can have time to put Ronette Hannaford back where she belongs, and while he's turning Sarah switches her clock radio on and it's the Garth Brooks song "The Red Strokes," soft and easy, she couldn't have picked better if she'd punched the numbers into a jukebox.

Steam on the window, salt on a kiss

The outside air has gone tropical with the east wind, the last of the snow is dripping off the roof. The easterly must be bringing the fog in; even with the song playing he can hear the Split Point horn, sounding and echoing off the granite cliffs of Sodom Head. He reaches over his wife to turn the bedlamp on so he'll be certain who he's with. It's a mistake though. They're less than a foot apart but he can't find her. He squints his eyes twenty years into the past, there's a skinny blond kid jumping up beside him in the truck with cuts all over her hands from the cannery, four of them in the front seat, with Art Pettingill and his girl. Now Alma Pettingill would have to be weighed on a truck scale, but Sarah's got the same body she came with, so thin she's forever shivering from the cold.

When he opens his eyes again she's studying his face like a meat inspector. "I hear that Rhonda Hannaford's planning to leave home."

"I ain't heard anything to that effect." The news brings his dream back in full living color. He's face to face with his wife under a reading lamp but his mind's wondering what another girl looks like under an oilskin coat. It's not right and he knows it. But when he tries to put Sarah's body into the yellow jacket, it won't fit. Then the front door slams. A truck pulls up outside, idles. It's a Ford six, not too new either, wicked knock, but he doesn't recognize the exact vehicle, must be from another town. "What the hell, Sarah. You hear that?"

"It's nothing, Lucas. Just one of Kyle's friends."

"It's fucking midnight." He gets up, yanks his sweatshirt down and his long underwear up, pulls the fishing boots on which are always by the bedroom door. He glances at the Winchester .30-30 in the open closet, just to make sure it's there. Kristen's light is still on.

She's on the floor with her homework, feet up on the desk. "Where's your god damn brother going?" he demands.

"Hey, I'm not the criminal. Don't yell at me."

He opens the front door and there's his son talking to three guys in an '88 Ford half-ton that he's never seen. They've all got cigarettes and Kyle's lighting one up too. The Ford's on idle, missing a cylinder if not two and passing oil, he can smell it in the air. Whoever it is, they're on his list already for neglecting a decent truck. When they see the door open, the Ford crunches into first and takes off. Kyle's startled to see his old man under the porch light, in trawler boots over his long johns. "Bit early to start out, ain't it?"

"Who the fuck were you talking to?"

"Friends."

"School friends?"

"Yeah."

"They ain't from around here."

"They're from Burnt Neck."

"What the fuck you hanging out with Burnt Neck kids for? Every one of them bastards ends up in Thomaston."

"I dive with them, that's what."

"You don't dive in the middle of the fucking night."

"We're just talking business, that's all."

"Business."

"Yeah, Dad. Business. We're in the urchin business together."

"Whore's eggs. Them are the garbage of the sea," he says. "I wouldn't bait a trap with them. Even a fucking lobster won't touch them things."

"Dad, the Japanese pay three dollars and fifty cents an ounce for that stuff. Darrell and me got it figured. We hold them back a while into the off-season, they're going to be paying us by the gram."

"Might as well sell cocaine while you got the scales out," Lucky says.

"Yeah, well maybe we'll do that too."

"I'll kick your ass. I need a sternman and you're out in the middle of the night playing pussy with the Chinese."

"I got my own boat, Dad. And I've got my own dealer. I ain't chained to that asshole Clyde Hannaford like some I know."

"Yeah, well at least Clyde ain't Chinese. The money feeds right into the U.S.A."

"The money feeds right into his wife, that's what I hear. You see the car she's got?"

"I wouldn't know," Lucky says. He stops in the kitchen to wash down another heart pill with a shot of Wild Turkey in a glass of double-strength mint-flavored Mylanta. He stomps upstairs past Kristen's bedroom with the light still on, some horrendous screeching coming out of her stereo. He pokes his head in, yells, "What's all that noise?"

"Nine Inch Nails!"

"Jesus H. Christ, you got the headphones on, shut the damn speakers off."

"I'm listening to Brahms on the headphones. I like the combination. Besides, it drowns out the cacophony in this house." Cacophony. What the fuck. He kicks his boots off by the door. He gets back under the blanket and says to his wife, "Burnt Neck. Bunch of degenerates. Never should of consolidated the fucking schools."

She doesn't answer. He knows from her breathing that she's fast asleep.

Copyright © 2002 by William Carpenter
Reprinted with permission. (back to top)

Synopsis

Against the backdrop of the rugged world of downeast Maine lobstering, William Carpenter gives us a drama of tradition, survival, and a man caught in the unforgiving tides of change.

Lucky Lunt is an endangered species: a third-generation lobsterman who works the same waters as his father and grandfather, and pilots one of the few remaining wooden boats in the fleet. He knows every truck and trawler in town by the sound of its engine, only buys American, and nurses a hearty contempt for the rich tourists who throng to the coast every year.

But even in Orphan Point, things are no longer what they used to be, and Lucky's beginning to feel like an outsider in his own house. His wife has become an artist, selling sea-glass sculptures to yuppies; his daughter is bound for college, which might as well be another planet; and his son, who has turned angry and lawless, is already making more money than his old man. Even Lucky's heart is failing him: he can't haul traps alone anymore. But it doesn't take a genius to see that his new deckhand, the sexy, not-quite-divorced wife of the local lobster wholesaler, looks like a whole lot of trouble.

As if that weren't enough, Lucky finds someone else's buoys bobbing in his ancestral waters. Before he knows it, he's embroiled in a lobster war that forces him to break all the rules: family, health, business, even the rules of the sea. As waves of bad luck turn into a flood tide, Lucky enters an epic confrontation with his enemies and a rogue whale—a battle his unreliable heart may not survive.

Full of pathos, comedy, and unforgettable characters, The Wooden Nickel is a classic story, told in a powerful, distinct voice, of a man raging against a changing world.

Amazon readers rating: from 3 reviews

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Author

William CarpenterWilliam Carpenter grew up first in Watertown and then in a mill town in central Maine. But he spent summers on Cape Cod where he shared he love of literature with other kids and where his grandfather was a professional sportfishing guide. He received a B.A. from Dartmouth College in 1962 and his Ph.D in English from the University of Minnesota in 1967. Then he got a job teaching at the University of Chicago. "It was the worst possible time to start an academic career. My students smoked dope in class and showed up naked in the cafeteria line. They left for Canada, faked psychoses, shot up and starved themselves to avoid the draft. My office building was occupied by the SDS."

He fled east with his young family to start an environmental college on a Maine coast island and started to write poetry. He published three poetry books in the 1980s, then he wrote his first novel.

Carpenter teaches literature creative writing, comparative mythology, and Maine coast history and architecture at the College of the Atlantic in Bar Harbor, Maine.

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