The Unfinished Boat

by Justin Brunet

In eighth grade, I went to the spot where my friend Aaron sat. He was working on his art project about his family boat, The Old Frenchmen. I wasn’t surprised. He had pride for his family’s pastime, especially their trawling company, C and P Distributing. He would tell me stories about his summer adventures with his father as they trawled the Gulf of Mexico. I didn’t mind listening to them even though I didn’t understand boat terms. The one he loved to tell me was about a dangerous storm flipping over the boat. I don’t remember much of the story except the part where he and his father waited five hours for the coast guard. It was two months before summer vacation, and I figured he was anxious for the taste of the Gulf’s salt water again.

After flipping through a human anatomy book, I began making my collage. I started with the frontal view of the skull. It took several tries to get the size right. My lead pencil traced the outline of the sides and the jaw line. I added detail and shading to the eye sockets and nasal cavity. I was finishing the vomer when I glanced at Aaron’s project. He had only sketched the bow of the boat. His face was flushed.

“Are you alright?” I said.

“No,” he said as tried to cover his eyes with his hand.

I forgot what day it was. He only acted like this on the anniversary of when he had almost died. This was a story he only told me once. It happened when he was nine, during Easter break. He was trawling with his father when his foot got tangled with the otter net, and he fell overboard. He fought the current while trying to get out of the net, but the pull was too strong. Two members of his father’s crew jumped in the Gulf to save him. They managed to pull him out, but one of the crewmembers died—drowned, I think. He didn’t like to talk about it. He blamed himself for the man’s death.

“Aaron, look at me,” I said. “It wasn’t your fault.”

He put his head down. I wanted to tell him something, but I knew he wouldn’t listen to me. I went back to my project. I was drawing the perpendicular plate when I turned to see if he was doing better. No improvement. I put my lead pencil on my pad, and looked around the room at students working on their final projects. Some were making mummies out of chicken wire and freezer tape while others were sketching iconic scenes from movies. One kid sketched the famous scene from The Lord of Rings—when the ring reveals the Elvish language in Frodo’s hand.

“Can we talk about something else?” Aaron finally said.

“Why do you like trawling?”

“It’s in the blood.”

Before I could ask him what he meant, the bell rang.