The kid woke up to a spray of saltwater. His nose clogged with it and his eyes burned. His hair was grimy, his teeth yellow, and his hands brown with dirt. The boathouse he had stayed in overnight was being sliced delicately by bright rays of sunshine. The ocean roared a lulling hum behind a chorus of seagulls outside the doors of the boathouse. He was hungry, but the thick stench of dead fish helped to deter it for at least the morning.
The kid got up, wiped bits of seaweed from his torn jeans, and pushed the doors open. The outside was fresher than the inside of the boathouse. He walked down the shoreline to Mr. Halpovich’s place. On the old man’s doorstep was a small pile of hash browns on a paper plate.
The kid ate heartily. Hal was just about the only friend the kid had in town. Hal and his dog, Caesar.
The kid trekked into town to wander the streets and steal what he needed. He made his way to the gas station on the corner of Ocean and Tenth, and bee-lined right to the beer aisle. The pockets of his jeans held just enough room for two Miller High Lifes, three blueberry lollipops and a small bag of peanuts. The bell over the door binged on his way out.
He sat on a bench down the street from the gas station. The occasional cough of a car mixed with the ever-present screeching of seagulls. The kid had been doing this same routine for years now. Sure, this town was a bit new, maybe three months, but it was the same old game. He didn’t even know the name of the town. He didn’t care. He didn’t care about his own name, either. Didn’t need one. If nobody is around to call you by anything, you don’t need to be called anything. He figured it that way, at least.
As he sat on the bench gulping down two frothy warm cans of beer, he thought of how nice it would be to have money. He liked the constant move from boathouse to boathouse and the thrill of stealing food when he needed it, but it had been growing dull. Too dull to continue with. The kid thought of getting a job. Something to help the days go away a little faster.
Though he couldn’t read, the kid walked into any shop that looked like a restaurant and told them he wanted a job. They had been handing him applications as a response, after which the kid simply left the building. After a handful of wasted questions, he came across a pizza shop. The outside walls were nothing but crumbling bricks and the sign was a bit crooked. The inside smelled like old cheese.
“A job, huh?” said the hairy fat man behind the counter.
“Yeah. A job,” said the kid. The fat man looked him dead in the eyes, one cheek squinching up a bit.
“Well what the hell do you want to do here? Huh? Cook? Clean? Manage? The hell are we supposed to hire you for?”
The kid shrugged.
The man sighed. “How does cleaning up sound? Mopping, scrubbing, that kind of shit. Uh, stuff. That kind of stuff. Sound good there, kid?”
“Alright, great. We’ll have you come in tomorrow morning to learn about scrubs and mops and sponges and soap and all that kind of shit.”
The fat man reached out to shake the kid’s hand but the kid was already heading towards the
door. “I didn’t catch your name there, kid,” the man yelled.
The kid stopped and turned around. Name?
“Um… it’s, uh… August.”
“August? Like the month?”
“I guess so.”
“You guess so. Okay, then. And how old are ya?”
August thought for a few seconds. He added up the amount of times he'd been on summer vacation in school and the amount of times his toes had frozen inside boathouses.
“I said how old are ya, August?”
“Fifteen, eh? Hm. You kinda look more like you're... well, it doesn't matter. See you tomorrow morning. Seven sharp.” The fat man waddled back to the kitchen.
August was the only month the kid could still remember learning about in school, back when he was still enrolled. That was back when his parents were alive to make him go. He remembered that, too. He didn’t miss them much. He didn’t need them. The kid walked back to the beach, spotting the same boathouse he had slept in the night before. He thought it’d make a good place to spend the night for at least a few more days, until whatever family who owned it came back into town. He sat down on a rock and watched the waves. A few kids were playing Frisbee down the way. He watched them instead. Among them was a blonde girl, about August’s age. He watched her scamper over to the disc, bobbing in the waves against the shore. Her white beach skirt flowed and whipped in the wind. She glanced his way before prancing back to her friends.
He couldn’t stop staring. He wanted to be with her. He had to.
Later that day August sat on the back porch of Hal’s house with Caesar. Hal came out with two glasses of water. They sat in perfect silence for a while.
“Fishing was good today,” Hal said, chewing on an ice cube.
“That’s good.”“Caught a bunch of cod.”
The dog growled at something on the beach.
“Easy, Ceasar,” Hal said. He looked at the kid. His hair needed to be cut. His clothes needed to be washed. His skinny frame needed food. “How about some smoked salmon?”
They ate, and Caesar got what they couldn’t finish. August thanked Hal and walked back to the boathouse to sleep. He couldn’t. The girl from the beach was stuck in his head. When the sun came up he made his way into town, back to the pizza place.
“Alright, August, here’s the deal. You gotta wear this, first of all.” The fat man tossed a red polo to August, who immediately put it on. “Okay, and, what else here… oh yeah, let’s get you rigged up with some cleaning shit.”
They walked back to the storage closet and fished out a mop, a bucket, some bottles of various cleaning liquids, and a scrub.
“There y’are, kid. Have a blast.” The man walked back into the kitchen. August stood, staring at this pile of plastic junk. He picked up a few things and made his way to the bathroom. He scrubbed and mopped and wiped at all the dirty spots on the walls, the floor, the ceiling, and the counters. He did a fine job.
“Not bad, kid! Shit, I should have hired you years ago. Go ahead and mop up the floor in the kitchen and take care of the tables out there and you’ll be done for the day.”
August did what the fat man told him. As he was wiping down his last table the girl from the beach came in with her friends. All of them were boys. As she ordered, August stared at her, making circles with his cloth in the same part of the table. Her blonde hair swished as she looked back to her friends, giggling, and then back to the fat man, who was bringing out her pizza. After she paid and was leaving, August said “Hi.” She didn’t notice.
The next morning August didn’t come to work. He had gotten drunk with Hal after leaving work the night before, and was too hung over to scrub anything. For a young boy, he could hold his whiskey. Hal’s fishing stories always helped the alcohol flow down a little smoother. The soft roar of the ocean always helped the bed spins to slow down a little smoother. His small frame always helped him to get drunk a little better.
Once his hangover had subsided, he went to work. The fat man hadn’t even noticed.
“How’s the cleaning going, kid?” he asked, scratching his belly.
After work, August saw the beach girl eating an ice cream cone on a bench outside. She was beautiful. He walked up to her, fearless.
She looked up at him, forcing a smile. “Um, hi.” She looked at her feet, then back at August.
“Sorry, do I know you?”
“Yeah, we met at the beach. And at that pizza place. My name is… shit, what is it... August. My name’s August.”
She looked at him, her perfect blonde eyebrows furrowing. “Oh. Hi, August. I’m, um… I’m just getting going.” She stood up and walked briskly down the sidewalk. August watched her leave.
He loved her. He could tell that she loved him, too.
The next day, August showed up to work on time. He didn’t go to the storage closet for his cleaning supplies. He didn’t answer the fat man when he asked him where the fuck he was going. He went straight to the kitchen and grabbed all the ready-for-pick-up food on the counters. He carried the piping hot breads and pizzas in his arms and ran out the door. He ignored the fat man as he yelled after him with every curse word a sailor ever learned.
August walked quickly down the street, turning corners whenever he could. He looked around for the beach girl. He wandered street after street, double-checking every blonde head of hair he saw. He walked for hours. He walked until the sun was replaced by street lights. He walked until the pizzas and breads were stale and cold. He placed the food outside the door from which Caesar liked to watch the seagulls and headed back to the boathouse.
The fishing stories were good that night. Hal had tried out lobster fishing and it had gone well. Caesar was in a good mood. The whiskey went down smoothly. The next morning, the kid would be heading north along the beach to find another town. The kid needed to find another boathouse to sleep in. This town had run its course.
Bio: C.J. Opperthauser is a student of English at Central Michigan University. He finds inspiration in people, rivers and music. He enjoys running and fishing in his spare time.
Poetry in Aldeburgh 2017
3 months ago