A young reserve leading seaman in the Canadian navy is tested on his first night watch on a minesweeper.
Zeke on the Middle Watch
Almost there, Zeke thought, legs feeling like they were on fire as he continued up the gangway on the port side of the minesweeper Nintaga. Its stack was spewing diesel exhaust into the hazy afternoon sky.
His arms were pinched by the straps of his bloated duffel bag, and he felt squeezed in his navy-blue dress tunic. Fingers of sweat tickled his spine. He knew his cap was crooked, but he thought adjusting it could potentially throw him and bag into the murky salt water 20 feet below.
A horn blared from the ship in the next jetty. Zeke lost his balance. The duffel bag shifted too far and seemed to fly off his shoulders. “Oh no!” One of the straps caught a hook on the side of the gangway. He thought he heard the sound of a rip.
“What an uncoordinated seaman,” Zeke heard from the vessel, the voice cursing after every word, followed by a mocking laugh.
Zeke lifted the bag and found a hole about the size of a running shoe, and one was missing. The duffel bag felt like it weighed 500 pounds. He lumbered with it to reach the deck and a man in work dress sitting a table.
“Hi, uhm, I’m Leading Seaman Zekerman. Like, where do I report for duty?”
The man bearing a single hook on epilette snickered and seemed to sneer looking at Zeke’s two hooks. Zeke felt like he was being measured for a beating.
“You look too young to be that rank!”
“I’m eighteen,” Zeke said, trying to sound confident.
The man shifted eyes and grunted. “What kind of a name is Zekerman, SHAD, or should I call you Beakman?” he tapped Zeke’s aquiline nose.
MacDonald was much taller and heavier than Zeke. His thin mustache grew in patches and appeared small against his round face. His stomach strained against his shirt. He was leaning against a bulletin board. White buttons, like tiddly winks, served as markers representing officers who were aboard or ashore.
“Able Seaman MacDonald?” said another man in work dress, splicing a thick rope on the deck above them. “He’s here to do a job, just like us. Besides that, our skipper started out like a SHAD too.”
“Whose side you on?” MacDonald bellowed.
“No one’s side, able seaman,” said the man. “Just let him prove himself before you tell him off.”
“Yeah, yeah, yeah,” MacDonald mumbled, cursing.
The balance of this story is available at Amazon as part of a collection in the book "Short Stories: To Think and Feel"