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A Long Day for the Captain of The Happy Hooker

Jennine Capó Crucet

Diego Gabaldon, Gestural I.
Our only sister spills her drink in her lap again and yells, Of course he wants us to feed his ashes to a shark, and of course we can’t find one when we need one.

She pushes the head-half of the tuna I’d just chopped in two away with her flip-flop. It slides across the boat’s floor and stops between my bare feet. The machete slides over on its own, as if attached to the fish. Carmen crosses her arms over her bikini top and slinks down even more on her bench.

—We’re just trying to do right by our brother, okay? I tell her. Look, I don’t know why these sharks aren’t coming around either, but how could that be his fault?

I pick up the tuna half. Blood drips onto my shorts. My brother who’s still alive caught it over an hour ago after fighting with it for twenty minutes, ending what he’d been calling Phase One, like this was a joke.

—Maybe they know something we don’t, he says now, more to the ocean than to us.
—All I’m saying is that the guy said there are always sharks out here, and the one time we actually need a good one to swim by, nothing, Carmen says.

The guy is the captain.

—Are you guys fighting again, Mami turns to yell at us from the front of the boat. You three are too old to be fighting. Just get the fucking can and finish this already.

The can is my brother.

Or was: Julio. He was a cop, but that’s not how he died. How he died was on a speedboat—or behind one—trying to push it off a sandbar. But that boat’s captain, who is normally a DJ at Mega 98, forgot to turn off the motors before asking big guys like my brother to jump in the water and help get the propellers unstuck. We had my brother cremated for obvious reasons, though we also know that’s what he wanted—because he talked about it all the time. A cop thing, he said: making sure your wishes are known to your loved ones, which I guess was us.

—It’s so hot, Mami says, putting her towel back over her face. I can’t believe your brother is making us do this.
—He’s technically not making us do anything, my still-alive brother says.

Albert. He went to college and then law school and so lives in New York now, but he flew back to Miami for the funeral and for this. He’s also paying for the boat rental. And for a legit captain who is not also a DJ and who has not said a word to us since his boat safety speech, even when we asked him to throw more chum in the water.

—We’re bound only by our sense of obligation to Julio’s wishes, Albert says. We know this is what Julio wanted, but no one has a gun to our heads.
—Whatever, our sister says.

She puts her face in her hands and stands up, then sits down again when she feels the motion of the boat. The booze staining her shorts—the vodka she snuck on in a water bottle—is clear, so instead of the red mess I’ve got, she just looks like she’s pissed herself. I can’t hear it but I know from her shoulders that she’s breathing hard into her hands, trying to make herself cry. The boat rocks higher for what feels like too long, and so I finally look at the captain to make sure we’re all good. He’s looking over the top of his sunglasses at his watch. He taps it a couple times, holds it up to his ear for longer than he has to, to hear or not hear anything.

—Is it over yet? Mami says from under the towel.
—Not yet, I say.

But I reach for the can.

Julio was not a great cop. He became one for the wrong reasons (didn’t want to go to college like Albert, who he always called Fag-bert for wanting to be smarter than us; wanted to meet girls and have them be a little afraid of him; wanted a free gun), but once he graduated from the academy, he lived that life and talked shit about any cop who’d let himself go or who didn’t work out as hard as he did. What I’m saying is that Julio was huge as in huge, which means the can was pretty heavy for being just some person’s ashes. For what it weighed you’d guess his badge was in there too, but it wasn’t: that was in my pocket.

—We have no control over the sharks, Albert says now.
—Maybe we should move the boat? Carmen says.

The captain, hands near all sorts of controls as if about to get us going: Nothing.

I open the can. It’s less a can than a fancy kind of jar, but Mami’s been calling it the can from the minute the funeral guy handed it to her, so we do the same. Inside, Julio is less like dust and more like the dirty sand on the strip of beach lining the Julia Tuttle Causeway, cigarette butts and all, though I guess the bigger chunks here are pieces of bone. I shake the can a little to make the pieces go away, but actually, a couple more slip up into view. I have no idea why this happens, but it’s awful, so I close the can again.

I say: No offense to Julio, but this is a lot of stuff to get in one fish.

—That tuna can hold him, Albert says. Thing weighs like thirty pounds.
—You guys think he did steroids?
—Probably, Albert answers Carmen. It would explain a lot. Like the rage.
—That’s not real, I say. People just say that.

I’ve juiced twice and never felt anything close to Julio’s rage.

—It’s true, Marco, he says to me. There’s all sorts of evidence, it’s not just anecdotal.
—We believe you, Mami yells from under the towel. Can you please just put your brother in the fish already? I don’t know how much longer I can take this.

I pick up the fish’s front half—heavy because really, when I’d tried to chop it in two I only sort of chopped off its tail area. I look it in the eyes even though that’s pointless. Carmen shakes her head at us and says to the can, Way to make us waste a perfectly good fish.

Then the captain goes, Are you alright ma’am, just as Mami lunges towards the edge of the boat and throws up like nothing I’ve ever seen.


It’s all her throw up that does it—what gets some actual and significant sharks circling. No hammerheads, but some are big enough to freak Mami out and send her slipping to the center of the boat, the machete in her hands as if that will help.

Carmen yells Oh my god Marco hurry up and flaps a sloppy arm in my direction. Albert told me, after he’d confirmed over the phone that the boat charter would be more than happy to be paid in cash, that I’m the one who has to get Julio into the fish and literally throw the fish into the shark’s mouth because he’s not sure what we’re doing is even legal, and he has a lot more to lose than I do, should the people at his job ever find out. He works for some judge—he says he clerks—as like an assistant, but way fancier. He says he could maybe get in trouble if he violates some environment laws, but me? I will not get fired from the Verizon store at Pembroke Lakes Mall if my manager finds out I violated the Clean Water Act, or so Albert says. He is, of course, totally right, assuming the Clean Water Act is a real thing.

I don’t know how else to do it, so I hold open the tuna’s mouth with one hand and start tapping in Julio’s ashes with the other. They pour out in a kind of stream, disappearing into the tuna’s big-ass mouth. I start to worry that chopping off the fish’s butt was a mistake—won’t the ashes just fall out the back?—but they don’t, and I decide maybe I don’t know how fish bodies work. One of those little bone rocks hits the tuna’s teeth as it falls from the can and bounces on the floor of the boat, stopping right near my foot. It’s fine, I think, I don’t want to break the stream, and really, there’s enough going in, but then Carmen is at my side, leaning down, her long hair brushing the top of my foot as she’s picking up this brother nugget while saying Ew ew ew. She tucks it into one of the gills and says, God, of course this is happening like this. Of course, God, Julio.

She wipes her hand on her shorts but then keeps that hand away from her, floating at her side, like it’s contaminated. She shuffles to the edge of the boat to rinse it off in the sea, then something big swims by and she leans back inside before I have to remind her how much blood and throw up has gone into the water, that maybe she’s better off with just some charred Julio on her hand.

I’ve got more than half the can in when I hear Mami crying, which has to be loud, since I’m hearing it over the waves against the boat and the wind snapping the boat’s flags and Albert telling Carmen to back away from the edge even though she’s already done that on her own. Mami is crying and not hiding it, not covering her face with the towel like she’s been doing all afternoon. Maybe it’s because the towel has throw up all over it. Maybe it just sunk in that Julio died the way he died, that he really is dead, that she had four kids but as of last week now only has three, that she’s got lawyers and investigators calling her and that she has to call them back because Albert says he can’t get involved and so she only has me and Carmen to help her figure out what comes next. Maybe I’d be crying about that too, honestly.

—Marco, please! Stop staring at me and keep pouring, Mami yells.

She drags her nose along her whole arm.

—I will never forgive your brother for all this stupidity, she says.

—We don’t have to do this, Mami, Albert says.

She looks at him with a face like the sun’s in her eyes, but her top half is safe in the shade.

—Yes we do, Alberto.

She puts the machete down beside her, but she keeps her fist wrapped around its handle. So I say: We do, Fag-bert, of course we do.

He turns away, plants himself next to the captain—of course he wants to stand near the captain—as he shakes his head No at me, his stupid still-alive brother. And so I figure, now or never, bro.

The fish head is heavier with all that ash in its mouth, and I can’t really close it back up without probably spilling more of Julio out by accident, so I hook all my fingers in the gills and then walk slow to the edge of the boat on the side where Mami threw up. I raise the tuna’s head and rest it against my chest. I might need to launch it at some shark, and it’ll be easier from this angle, would keep the ashes from flying out better than if I were to swing it from between my legs. In the water, dark things fly around. Fins break the surface and I freak out until I remember that I don’t have to leave the boat, ever. Why Julio wants to go out this way is not something I really get, but my guess is it’s got to do with the rage, with the fact that he was the kind of guy who thought he could push a whole fucking speedboat off a sandbar by himself. Everyone there said he was the first in the water. They said this over and over again—on the news, to us at the funeral service—as if that was something noble, as if dislodging a Miami-area DJ from a sandbar was something worth dying for.

The fish smells like the bathroom at Red Lobster and I’m thankful for it, because nobody should have to remember what their brother’s ashes smell like. I am trying to breathe through my mouth between swallowing—over and over again—all the new spit flooding it when Carmen comes up close next to me, presses her arm against mine and leans a little over, her eyes on the water, on the shadows circling just under the surface. She sways and sniffles real tears, and then a wet hand sneaks up on the back of my other arm: Mami, who says, Wait for a good one, Marco. If we have to do this, let’s do it right so we can say we did that, at least.

I wait for Albert—Alberto—to come up behind us, to put his hands on my shoulders and squeeze them, to say, Do it, bro. I wait for my still-alive brother to leave the spot he thinks he’s made for himself by the captain and say fuck it to the laws we might be breaking. If he puts his palms on my back, I promise us all I won’t flinch at the fear that he’s about to push me in with Julio. I promise not to wonder if he’s holding the machete Mami left behind. I swear to myself I won’t even twitch, that Mami and Carmen and even Alberto will not feel how little we trust each other.

I’m looking, Julio, but I’m telling you: there’s no hammerhead here—at least, not one any of us can make out. Not yet. But don’t think I haven’t learned anything from you, bro. I will stay on this boat. Let some other fool move first. I’m standing right here, and I got you.

The water rumbles like it’s time. Still, no hands on my back.

But that’s fine, I’m telling you.

I’m telling you: We can wait.

Jennine Capó Crucet is the author of Make Your Home Among Strangers, a New York Times Editor’s Choice and the winner of the 2016 International Latino Book Award, and How to Leave Hialeah, winner of the Iowa Short Fiction Prize and the John Gardner Award, Her writing has appeared on PBS NewsHour, in the New York Times, and elsewhere. She was raised in Hialeah.

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