You know right away when you’ve been fishing this long that something ain’t right. The bulging of the net filled with the last catch is off. Something’s in there with all them fish and it ain’t something that you should find in the ocean.
Couldn’t tell the age or gender, only that it was human. Or once was. The ocean has a way with a corpse, regarding and handling it with a callousness that mocks the slow deliberateness of how the land do.
The questions you never think to ask in a what-if-I-found-one-at-sea scenario such as this: What to do with it? You can’t put it in the hold with the day’s catch because, well, that’s obvious. You can’t leave it hanging in the nets in the meantime. Certainly you can’t have it just lying there on the deck.
Yes, we called it in when we found it. We passed it off to the Coast Guard like some macabre hand-off, transferring cargo that was at the same time of great value yet was for all intents and purposes refuse.
It’s not specifically the smell of briny decomposition that stays with you, nor the grotesque spectacle that inherently carries with it the wake of a tragedy. It’s all those things that stay with you. No matter how fast you push the engines to get back to shore, it’s not fast enough. It’s not a memory you can outrun.