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A LONG TIME BETWEEN BEERS
H. Marvin Bird
November 13, 1978
What began as a pleasant day's fishing trip off Baja California turned into an 11-day ordeal for two Los Angeles anglers
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November 13, 1978

A Long Time Between Beers

What began as a pleasant day's fishing trip off Baja California turned into an 11-day ordeal for two Los Angeles anglers

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The breeze crept up slowly as the sun sank. I hated the nighttime, feared the cold and the dark. But at least everything was dry. Bill took the dinghy from on top of the bow and shoved it underneath with the towels and cushions. Our bedroom would be ready when we were. The sun set.

The cold came quickly and the dark as well, but both were pushed away from a tiny sphere whose center was the fires of the still. Stars appeared overhead and a long low bar of orange lingered on the horizon. The breeze was steady. The boat rocked. Rhythmically I changed the rag on the hose. Into the water. Out again. Over the hose. I was saying the words in my mind. Where had I learned to make sounds? "No, doe." I said them aloud. What did I do different with my mouth? "No, doe, no, doe. Nothing. Dothing." Ah! The no went through my nose. Where had I learned that? Who taught me? "No. Doe."

"What?" Bill said.

"Nothing."

Was I crazy? No. No crazier than in land life, life-insurance life. Just closer to the surface.

The wind kept increasing as the hours passed. It started to come in gusts. We adjusted the windshields closer to the burners. The flames fluttered. Within an hour the waves had steepened as frighteningly fast as they had the first night. We had pulled up some of the floorboards and used them to build a wave-breaking extension to the tiny foredeck, but water continued to come aboard. Tending the still was again a two-man job. The wind forced painful dryness into my nostrils. Its whistle was joined by the sounds of crashing sea and of creaking boards. One of the fires blew out. Bill relit it from the other. A gust hit, and then darkness. I scrambled to the battery to spark the wires and relight the still.

"Do you think we should?" Bill said.

He was scared. We had used the last of the extinguisher the day before, when three times flames had set fire to the boat. He was scared of the fire. But wasn't he scared of the dark, too?

I sat down, arms around my legs, shivering. Part of the night was behind us. I looked at the stars. Orion and Taurus danced frantically. The waves were huge. I reached for the plastic bottle. Fresh water. There must have been close to a pint. We had done what we'd planned. We'd kept the still going as long as we could.

"Let's get up there before we freeze," Bill said.

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