A short story from: Coastal Maine in Words and Art: Gallery Fukurou’s Reflections by Maine Writers, 2019.
© Donna Chellis 2019
Seaweed Waterfront, photographic art by Yorozuya Yohaku
I hurriedly left the sardine canning factory and headed to the rocky shore. I had one half hour for myself each day in which I ate lunch and breathed the ocean air.
As I briskly walked to my picnic spot, I glanced at the marquee above the movie theater. It read, The African Queen. I thought I might spend my allowance on the Sunday matinee. It would be good to escape to Africa for a while and leave small town Maine behind. I passed the soda fountain and drugstore and smelled burgers and fries wafting out the door. It would be fun to treat myself there again someday. I enjoyed glancing in the window as I walked past and seeing the wealthier women of town eating with their friends. They always looked so clean in their smooth skirts and tightly wound hair. I soon reached the A&P, rounded the corner, and saw the glorious shore.
Whenever I saw the shore, my breathing became steadier and my shoulders drooped in relaxation. I sauntered along the shoreline and found my favorite rock, the one that was weather beaten and shaped like a seat that faced the sea. I reached in my paper bag for a sandwich and twisted the top off my soda. It felt good to take deep breaths and breath in something besides fish.
Before I bit into my sandwich, I first picked at my nails with a toothpick and cleaned the fish remains that were stuck there. For the past two years, since I started working at the factory, I faithfully cleaned my hands with toothpaste each day. It had the ability to neutralize fish odors. Some girls who worked at the factory were not so tidy as I, especially regarding their hands. They let the factory seep into their blood, but I was determined to smell of something other than fish. Even though it took precious time from reading each night, I would scrub myself clean and erase as much of the factory as I could.
I glanced back at the white schoolhouse, after I finished grooming, and wondered what the students were learning. I finished my schooling when I turned fifteen. Sitting in a classroom bent over books did not bring in money for the family, but standing bent over the cannery sardine line brought in a little. It was tough for Mom and Dad raising five children, and they needed every penny.
I stood, six days a week, for ten hours each day, cutting fish heads and tails that came through my line. It was not hard work, but it was monotonous. The head and tail would be discarded down a shoot, and the remainder of the fish was laid flat in a sardine can. Eight fish would be laid out in the can and then stacked on a cart next to my work station. Day after day, I cut and stacked fish, which would later be flavored with olive oil, mustard, or tomato sauce. They were then sealed, steamed and sent all over the world.
Thirty minutes a day was the exact amount of time I had to myself before the factory whistle called me back. I would leave the quiet of the shore and join the never-ending commotion of the factory. I crumpled my brown paper lunch bag and watched as another boat rounded the bend, bringing in fish caught in the weir. It was time to head back to the never-ending cycle of the factory.
ABOUT THE BOOK:
Coastal Maine in Words and Art: Gallery Fukurou’s Reflections by Maine Writers, 2019 was published after a contest for writers to create stories to accompany art photography that depicted Rockland and the coast in its myriad situations, moods and emotions. This story was published in the book along with 27 others.
An overwhelming 88 stories were submitted for the contest. In the end seventeen writers were chosen. Their stories are told with depth, insight, candor, irony, wit and humor. Anyone who has every visited Maine’s coast will be able to relate to them. They’ve put humankind’s instinctive emotional connection with the sea into words.
The Maine Humanities Council provided a grant for our project that enabled the Solon Center to donate books to libraries across Maine. MHC is a statewide non-profit organization that uses the humanities, “as a tool for positive change in Maine communities.”