I pulled the throttle back as we approached the edge of the ship channel. The momentum of the boat slowed letting the bow tip forward, cutting lower into the gulf’s waters. My hair fell over my forehead now that the speed-borne wind had stopped holding it back.
I stepped away from the center console of the small boat. Neptune ran from the bow, eager to see what would happen next. The eternally happy labrador retriever never needed coaxing to hop onto the boat as any day spent on the water was a huge success in his eyes.
After lowering the anchor, I did not grab a fishing pole as I might have any other day. Instead, I stepped around the console, out of the shade, and sat down on the small seat built into the front of the center console. I let the early morning sun warm my skin. The salt in the air and heat off the water had kept my body tan, lithe, and calloused over the years. Neptune had followed me, curious about what his owner was doing but happy to be a part of it nonetheless. When I did nothing except sit quietly with my eyes closed, Neptune offered free kisses.
I smiled and guided Neptune off of me while scratching him behind his ears to placate him.
“Sorry boy. I don’t think I’m gonna fish for anything this morning. I don’t even know why we came out here. Probably just a waste of gas.”
I sat there, watching the massive ships sleepily crawl through the ship channel. Their wake tossed me from side to side like a slippery cradle as I closed my eyes to enjoy the rocking. Just like every single morning for the past sixteen years, the line of freighters backed into the gulf, each ship eager to stop in one of the busiest ports in the world where most of the nation’s insatiable hunger for refined oil was fed.
I thought back to this morning when the pre-dawn sky seemed blinding as I awoke, unable to remember a time I had woken up so clearly for absolutely no reason. I sat up and put my feet down on the bare floor. The wood flexed and creaked with age under my weight. I looked around the same empty house I had lived in for years, the walls largely blank since no one stayed long enough to supplement my own meager style. Chloe certainly hadn’t.
Before I had flicked on the light next to the bed, I could make out the blonde outline of Neptune on his own bed in the corner, his head lifting at the movement. When the light flicked on, Neptune squinted slightly before he adjusted to the light and looked at his beloved owner, ready for anything. That’s one of the things that I loved most about dogs. They were never really surprised, and they never surprised me. This is most likely why my home never permanently expanded beyond myself and a few boisterous pups, of which there had been many over the years.
Each dog had given me companionship and conversation, even if the conversations were one-sided. I used to spend hours talking with my old german shepherd, Merc, mostly because Merc was more than happy to lie on the couch next to me as I blathered on and on about the events of the day or how the politicians would kill us all eventually.
But Neptune was special from day one, the day I had picked him up from my friend’s house. The young litter of mutts bounced inside their pen. Mania ensued as I approached them, their blonde and black and chocolate butts wiggled with puppy ferocity. And as I reached in, listening to my friend talk about the various puppies and any traits they might have exuded in their first few weeks of life, I noticed one blonde beauty who had not run to brush his head against my fingers. Instead, he was pulling on the large bowl of water, tugging it until it slid across the wooden porch. I watched this distracted puppy as he eventually tipped the bowl over and rolled in the water where it settled in small pools on the wood. The dog just laid there, wet and perfectly happy.
I smiled and took Neptune home immediately. His affinity for water only grew, and he was the only dog I ever owned who loved going out on the boat. He certainly helped entertain the more inexperienced fishing groups that would charter me and my boat. Neptune offered such a good customer experience that I eventually rebranded my charter as Neptune’s Waters.
But no one was scheduled today. Disposable income had dropped over the past year as the economy tanked and the threat of war was stoked by the politics of the decade. I got by with a part-time job in a distribution warehouse. Sometimes dinner consisted of nothing but fish that I had caught during the week and maybe a potato.
I hated just getting by. I didn’t want to make tons of money or anything. I just wanted to do something that made a difference for people. I don’t know if everyone feels like they have some grand purpose and it’s just human nature, but I really believed I could be a part of something that would be important and have real stakes.
Even the charters were usually special days for the groups who came aboard, and I got to be a part of their memories forever. But now, all I had was a forklift license and an empty house, especially after Chloe left with the few things she had brought with her during the short time we lived together (probably should have been a sign).
So this morning, I could only assume that my body had woken up believing I was late for a charter or the warehouse. I was still unsettled throughout the morning. A cup of coffee didn’t stabilize me as it usually did.
With nothing on the agenda for the day, I felt better driving to the dock where the boat was housed. The sun barely peeked over the horizon as I filled the cooler with ice, drinks, and more than a few snacks and sandwiches. I wasn’t even sure how long I would be out, but it never hurt to be prepared for anything.
“Tuna, what do you think we’re doing out here?”
Neptune’s eyes grew big as he heard the sound of his name. He took the opportunity to nuzzle his broad head rather forcefully into the crook of my elbow so that he was even better positioned for head scratches.
“I just had to get outta that house this morning, you know? I feel better out here. Hell,” I looked around and stood up, Neptune alert to my next move, “maybe I will do some fishing.”