Guppy

“Did you put on your sunscreen? The sun is brutal today.”

“Yes, Dad.

“How long ago was that?”

“An hour ago.”

“The sun is merciless. It’s a crime to be out in the sun. Get out of the sun. Or put a shirt on.”

“But I put on sunscreen.”

“When?”

“You just asked me this ten seconds ago.”

“Sunscreen’s not enough. What SPF?”

“Thirty-five.”

“Is that enough? I don’t know.”

“If you don’t know then why are you wondering?”

He looked up, shielding his eyes with an open palm, then looked out onto the ocean. Then he looked back at me. Just in case, he reminded me once more that I should be wearing sunscreen everywhere–on my face, on my shoulders, legs, hands, back, soles of my feet, and private areas–then cover up with a shirt, a shrunk baseball hat from my teenage years that was now  way too small for my head, and shades. “People with light-colored eyes should never be in the sun.”

He wanted to protect me, but more than that he wanted to enjoy the ocean–the one place where I always see him unambiguously, unequivocally, even gloriously happy. And he wanted to enjoy the boat.

We were four to the boat not counting the fish…and to everyone’s surprise, there were plenty of fish that today. J. and I were deckhands or unable seaman and woman, depending on what seafaring hierarchy of labor you follow. My dad, though there were constant jokes regarding his qualifications, had enough relatively seniority to assume the duties of a boatswain. And Edik, his fellow Black Sea compatriot and retired owner of the vessel, was captain.

An hour ago we had awkwardly climbed aboard the 30-foot motorized yacht, planting out land feet daintily so as not to slip off deck into Sheepshead Bay waters. But several shots and a half dozen fish later, we were happy and carefree, the very picture of nautical escape. Our heavy thoughts suddenly lifted into a deep-blue sky padded with fluffy nimbi and we we sank our lines with lax content to the invisible bottom, each time with shockingly easy success.

So successful that our first catch–the prize of the day, a giant bluefish big enough to hang upside down by its flipper and take a photo (but only after meticulously suffocating it inside an Igloo cooler), was caught by the boat itself. As we sat down for a celebratory shot of some unidentifiable Scandinavian vodka, my dad slipped and reminded me to reapply lotion. Opening the cooler, I pointed at the unconscious bluefish. “Looks like the fish can use some, too. Look at the color it’s catching.” Edik chuckled–he was well used to my dad’s didactic insistence–but even he needed a release.

Our catch was only beginning.

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Ex-Soviet immigrant turned wanna-be scribe. I bite off more than I can chew, but at least I've got good teeth.

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