Thursday afternoon, Halibut Girl Liz pedaled to A-Dorm and shouted through the supersize peephole once plugged by a lock. This is our most reliable form of communication, since she fails at dialing phones and I fail at answering them. Her arrival was a welcome distraction from the brow-furrowing task of how to best cook salmon (having been raised vegetarian, this knowledge is not intuitive).
“You wanna go to the bar tonight?”
“Sure, I’ve got tomorrow off.”
“We’re gonna have a bonfire at Staff Quarters after; Boat Boys are in town!”
“You know I’ll be there.”
I solved the salmon problem with a squeeze of lemon and a dash of basil, shooed the Aleut boys out of our work vehicles (“You can’t be in there until you’re tall enough to reach the pedals!”), scrambled up the rocks above town, next to the diesel tanks. There I sat with my mandolin, journal, and a beer, watching the halibut boats come in. It was idyllic—the first day I’d seen the sun for over a month, the first time it’d been warm enough (i.e., 50 degrees) to wear just a t-shirt. The evening was calm, the harbor placid, glassy, reflecting green from the hills.
By the time Liz was done sampling halibut, though, it was after 10:00. Any Thursday night in town, the bar could be open from 9 p.m. till midnight, but there’s a minor technicality: if there are fewer than 10 people inside the bar at 10:00, it closes. When we arrived, there were four—the Boat Boys, halibut fishermen I’d met a fortnight ago at St. Paul’s dance hall.
Tonight at the bar, Andrew and Brandon were shooting pool and Gary was desperately trying to find weed. The bartender was trying to get rid of us and go home; I gestured with a Sierra Nevada I’d swiped from Andrew towards the curling smoke across the road.
“They’re having a bonfire. We should go over there. I’ve got booze.”
That’s all it took; their boat was registered as a dry vessel and they’d been at sea for two weeks. We walked back towards A-Dorm, Gary pleading with everyone—even young mothers pushing strollers—to please find him some weed. On paper, St. Paul is damp. That is, you can purchase beer or wine, but not the hard stuff.
These rules don’t prevent anyone from drinking liquor. Just because you can’t buy it means little. We stashed my jug of Alaska Outlaw in Liz’s green backpack and waited behind A-Dorm with the Boat Boys, now 3. (Gary, still weedless, fell victim to a streak of sentimentality and decided the moment was right to send emails to his ex-women.)
The aroma of burning chemicals led us around the harbor to NMFS the palatial white National Marine Fisheries Service building known to us only by its acronym. Inside, I finally met the enigmatic Sean, who I knew only for his pre-dawn rising (commendable in the land of midnight sun) and skill at enraging male fur seals (unfortunate, since his job hinged on not enraging male fur seals). This remains all I know about Sean, for he shook my hand, informed me it was cold, and then retreated—presumably to bed.
We continued out to the burning pallets. Beers were cracked, my whiskey began making the rounds. Halibut Liz tried to convince Brandon, an Alaskan native, that he was actually Samoan; when she failed, she instead taught him South Pacific war cries. Bobette, queen of seal pups and classless jokes, got so drunk she couldn’t stand up.
Halibut Liz was struck with an irrepressible urge to show me the inside of a rotting warehouse near NMFS Palace. She grabbed my hand and led me to its yawning entrance. The sagging metal exterior housed an abyss of broken glass and questionable smells—the perfect set for a horror movie, I thought. Halibut Liz and I both forgot that I was wearing sandals. I promptly cut my toe, although I couldn’t feel it.
“It’s fine, my tetanus shot is up-to-date,” I reassured her.
We continued into the dark, and Liz handed me a hard hat and told me to hold my breath. She then opened a long-unplugged chest freezer. Its contents were mostly unrecognizable, but we could discern a knee-high brew of soupy reindeer remains.
We departed hastily and decided that, having shared that experience, we should pee together and further cement the
moment. Back at the pallet fire, the whiskey jug was still going around. Anthony—one of the Boat Boys who I’d spoken to twice that night, both times in ridicule, followed me towards NMFS Palace. He staggered a beautiful serpentine.
“Couldn’t pass a sobriety test like that,” I prodded, waltzing ahead of him. Next thing I knew, two rough hands grabbed my hips firmly, pulled me backwards. I ripped Anthony’s hands off my body and spat, “I don’t think so. That’s not happening. Don’t fucking touch me.”
I marched back to the fire, seething.
“He fucking grabbed me,” I told them.
It was an effective way to kill a party that should’ve ended long ago. I walked back toward A-Dorm with Halibut Liz and an Anthony search party.
My whiskey and Liz’s bike were also missing—seems he’d been grabbing everything he could get his hands on.
The next afternoon, Liz pedaled to A-dorm and yelled through the peephole. She’d found Anthony swimming half-naked in the boat’s live well and interrogated him. They found her bike in the road in front of the cannery, salvaged my half-gone jug from a patch of grass. Bobette had puked during seal harvest, Andrew looked like death. Brandon—the biggest of the crew—had passed out on the deck, leaving his boatmates with the challenge of carrying him to bed.
The paucity of wood on St. Paul may be a blessing; if it were easier to bonfire, the island might not be able to handle the consequences. Being resourceful, however, we tend to find a way. Perhaps that’s why St. Paul has banned liquor.
Alison Világ is has been studying Environmental Writing and Media Studies at Unity College since 2014. When school isn’t in session, Világ moonlights as a professional birding guide; her work has carried her to an array of far-flung places (Philippines, Michigan, Alaska.) Follow more of Alison’s work through her blog, Peregrination, and Medium.
“Bonfire” by Deanna Witman modified from source “Image Drifwood fire 2” by Mike Fernwood; This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.