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George Kuchinsky is a writer based in Boston, USA.  He immigrated to the US from Latvia, then the Soviet Union, as a child.  He has worked as a foreign policy analyst, briefing US and European officials on global developments.  More recently, he has taught history, geography, politics, literature and language to students of different ages.  His debut poem was published in the Lyric magazine in 2017.  His poetry can be read here.   https://kuchinskypoetry.tumblr.com  George is working on a book of short stories.    

 

Mars Seafood part 1

a short story by George Kuchinsky

 

They were part of a wave of white collar Vikings who, having few other prospects, returned to more fundamental pursuits following the financial crisis.  Their uncle had a mid-size boat and wanted to settle in Spain.  They sold the apartment they shared and having had no lasting romantic obligations moved, very cleanly and unilaterally, to Stimidolur.  For the first few months they worked the boat with the Somali.  It was very unusual for foreigners to labor on Icelandic fishing boats but for reasons that had something to do with their uncles bienveillance he hired Hirsu to assist him in catching silver hued, almost translucent fish.  Hirsu warmed to the cold, it could be said. 

 

He had actually been a real pirate.  The bottom of the totem pole in a band that attempted to pray on Western vessels.  They were unsuccessful and as a member of a different clan he was mocked and discarded a few months into the endeavor.  His comfort around water was useful on the voyage to Italy.  After four months of dignity defying checkpoints he reached a beach outside of Tripoli, where about thirty almost dead souls were already waiting for a boat.  He paid his life savings in exchange for a place on a vessel half a century old, helmed by a “captain” with no experience at sea.  With a rudimentary GPS and almost enough fuel they made it close enough to Agrigento that the two-hour swim was hard rather than existential.  No one perished.  Not fully understanding what was happening to him he existed somewhat mechanically for about a year tending orange groves and cleaning a factory floor with a dreadlock broom. Then, a random encounter with a representative of a small NGO revealed an opportunity to return to the sea.  Hirsu responded in the affirmative and saw Etna out of the rectangular window of the plane, half closed to reduce the glare of the sun. 

 

Thorinn and Elki deferred to Hirsu on the all the details of the frigid running of the boat.  They were initially annoyed by the searing splashes of the surf against their faces, the grey palette of the sea, and the low profit margins.  But they were industrious big-picture types.  In the very early morning they ate skyr at room temperature and made elaborate plans.  Fish, it turned out, was a solid prospect.  Americans were once again aware of its existence.  On a large enough scale it could be a very modest Eldorado.  They called friends in Rejkjavik, read industry journals, and let the ideas incubate as they helped Hirsu lower and raise the nets.  When the i’s had been sufficiently dotted, they sold the boat and the attached catch entitlements.   The matter of Hirsu had to be sorted out, he was their de-facto ward.  Thorinn had read about the boutique hotel that was rapidly being erected. Traversing a couple of degrees of separation between himself and the owner, Thorinn inquired whether they needed help. And so the former pirate became the new receptionist.  His Pushkin curls and intense bright eyes were the first thing continental visitors would see ­— taken aback but never showing their surprise, lest their iron devotion to tolerance be questioned.  Hirsu answered questions about availability and put out the tall bottles of fish oil, on ice, for breakfast. 

 

The brothers rented an office in the miniscule center of town and hired an administrative assistant.  A college graduate who needed to work but didn’t want to do too much of it, was retained to make the website.  The hardest part were the pilgrimages to the fishermen in the thirty-mile vicinity.  It was hard to seduce these water peasants and help them appreciate the advantages of redirecting their harvest to a new venture created out of thin air by the fast-talking brothers.  Their uncle’s name helped and the mention of Hirsu tended to break the ice.  “How is the Ethiopian?”, the would inquire.  “Very good, he is “running a hotel”, the brothers would explain, smiling and not correcting them.   The venture worked remarkably well.  They only dealt in cod.  Large trucks would cover the turf every weekday afternoon and picked up approximately eight tons.  Thorinn and Elki never actually saw the fish.  It was immediately transported to a facility close to the airport, packed, and flown to Newark.   From there its fate was more abstract and of little interest to the siblings. 

 

Hirsu settled into a pleasant rhythm.  During the summer when tourists descended on this, no longer remote, island in gargantuan quantities he found a way to be just as attentive to the guests but more efficient by making his responses shorter.  The rest of the year he lingered with those who were ostensibly interested in nature but really looking for company.  On the short walk home from his very small cottage he stopped and inhaled the seaweed permeating the air.   He now had a different perspective on the water.  No longer mining it, just passively absorbing its undulations.  He walked by the business, and if Thorinn or Elki happened to be looking out of the window, returned their wave.   On the 17th of September he checked in a French couple.  They were very nicely dressed but not elegant. After Hirsu swiped their card and his offer to help with the luggage was declined, he handed them their keys.  A few minutes later he heard muffled sounds of pleasure from their second-floor suite.   It’s not that the guests blended in, but usually their individual distinctions were unremarkable to Hirsu.  There were too many small matters to attend to and there was little point in noticing something as fleeting as a vacation personality.  But the French couple began to break through that habitual haze.  He was paying attention.  Not conscious of it at first and puzzled once self-aware. 

 

They were both plump but not in a contemporary kind of way.  If he had been to museums or read novels he would find their slight corpulence reminiscent of market town bourgeois during the reign of Napoleon III.    They were always in an agreeable mood.  Constantly chatting, leaping from one topic to another with the ease of knowing that the dive won’t be too deep.  They visited the hill overlooking the wide bay, and drove to the ethnographic museum.  In the evening their eyes met with those of other tourists making the same rounds.  They ate sensuously as newly-weds eager to devour the food and each other.  They didn’t take much interest in Hirsu who, in turn, though usually very present and uninquisitive, began to wonder who their parents were, what they did for work, and even whether they wanted to have children. 

 

Thorinn and Elki came in during breakfast one day and the owner, who happened to be there invited them to enjoy the buffet on the house.  The brothers felt a bit shy eating while Hirsu was working but nevertheless sat down with the owner and proceeded to recount their most recent entrepreneurial coup.  “He used to be our boss, now he’s yours”, they joked to the owner, pointing at Hirsu.  The owner laughed convulsively, which he always did when the joke wasn’t too funny, and offered them more coffee. The French couple was finishing their breakfast.  Disparate pieces of toasted bread remained on their heretofore heaping plate like spent shells on a battlefield. 

 

“How do you like Iceland, “ asked Elki. Not particularly curious he was belatedly using every opportunity to practice English, which he ignored in school and now found essential to their mercantile endeavors.  “It is …..formidable?” she looked at her husband, seeking a translation.  “Impressive” he said.  “But cold, so cold.  I am carrying, two scarves all the time.”  “You should be fine with all that blubber,” thought the owner.  “Come back in the winter”, proposed Thorinn.  “We could go for a swim together!”, he quipped half-jokingly.  The idea of a bracing plunge with the rosy French woman struck him as alluring after a morning spent amid celibate spreadsheets.  She smiled condescendingly and they parted ways.    The brothers shook Hirsu’s hand on the way out and though their old boatswain was no less friendly than usual, he seemed to be looking past them this time.  Hirsu watched as the couple, with some effort, stood up from the table and proceeded up the stairs. He even found himself examining how their plates were arranged. Looking for meaning in a meaningless composition. 

 

Their reservation was somewhat unusual.  They came for eight days and added another six about a week later.   The chatting, ample breakfasts and day trips went on punctually until the end of the first leg of their trip.  Hirsu noticed that the woman especially, was always cheery and light-hearted.  She seemed to be the type of person who could not and did not get disturbed barring any obvious tragedy.  The husband seemed a bit melancholic on a few occasions.  Once he raised his voice at the owner during a misunderstanding about rates having to do with the owner’s modicum of sloppiness and reluctance to own up to    a mistake.  But she consistently transcended even legitimate grounds for annoyance.  Once he spilled some very hot chocolate on her off-white shirt.  Considering how many people he served it was bound to happen on occasion, but not with him.  And yet he spilled it, creating an immediate, heavy stain.  The husband looked to his spouse as a guide for how to react, and she barely acknowledged neither the damage to her clothes nor the milliseconds of pain from the hot liquid.

 

The night after they left, Hirsu, saw his village in a dream, for the first time in four years.  The beggar woman looked straight into his eyes and the donkeys followed him as he walked toward his grandfather’s house.  The house was empty, except for a very distant cousin, sitting on a carpet in front of a plethora of empty bowls.  “Stop shivering Hirsu!,” he commanded.

 

Part 2

Part 3

George Kuchinsky is a writer based in Boston, USA.  He immigrated to the US from Latvia, then the Soviet Union, as a child.  He has worked as a foreign policy analyst, briefing US and European officials on global developments.  More recently, he has taught history, geography, politics, literature and language to students of different ages.  His debut poem was published in the Lyric magazine in 2017.  His poetry can be read here.   https://kuchinskypoetry.tumblr.com  George is working on a book of short stories.