On Second Thought…

Fiction
Louis M. Abbey


Photo Credit: Don Shall/Flickr (CC-by-nc-nd)

I was savoring my first bite of fresh apple pie when a knock on the front door startled me.

Swallowing quickly, I flipped on the porch light, opened the door and Bill Canfield stood there smiling. He’s six-foot-four with thick brown hair, broad nose, high cheekbones and sad brown eyes. A paunch drapes generously over his belt. He and Louise are my only neighbors for miles along our stretch of the Chesapeake Bay.

“Hi, Bill,” I said. “What’s up? Come in out of the dark. Cup of tea? Piece of pie?” I held the door and he stepped inside.

“Oh, everything’s fine, Larry. I can’t stay long this time, so I’ll take a rain check on the pie. Just wanted to tell you I’ll be away for a few days. My dead brother’s wife’s got a problem with her father’s will—family squabbles, you know. They asked me to help straighten things out.”

“Sounds like a rough situation.”

“Yeah, kinda ridiculous too.” He shook his head slowly. “Here it is 1975, man’s been dead near two years and they still can’t agree on who gets what. Just wanted you to know where I’d be. Louise doesn’t get along with that side of the family so she’s stayin’ here.”

“Well, I’m sorry to say I won’t be around either, Bill. I’m heading out early tomorrow for a month in the Philippines. Hate to leave the same time as you, but… no choice.”

“I understand, Larry. You come and go on short notice. I’ll only be away for a couple of days; Louise can take care of herself. Got her plenty of groceries and there’s a pile of books she’s been dying to get at. She’ll be fine.” He turned and opened the door to the porch.

“OK, Bill. Good luck on your trip and hope you can get things sorted out.”

“Talk to you when you get back, Larry, and I’ll see to your grass.” He chuckled. “Good night.”

I switched off the porch light when Bill reached the dirt road. My piece of pie was waiting patiently on its plate.

*

My work in the Philippines was exhausting. So when I returned, I picked up mail, back issues of the local newspaper, and drove home. Shopping could wait. Pulling into the yard, I noticed my grass was almost knee-high. Bill’s lawn looked mowed but his car was gone.

My fridge was empty except for a can of beer. Unpack in the morning, I thought. Opening a package of cookies, I sat down at the table to scan the local news. The second page shocked me. Louise Canfield had died. I stared at the three-week-old obituary. Tears welled in my eyes. What would I— could I say to Bill?

I had a restless night. In the morning, Bill’s pristine metallic-green Chrysler was in the driveway and he was out raking under the tall pines. His large frame seemed smaller and moved a little slower. I watched through the window for a few minutes, mulling over what to say. Then I stepped outside and walked across the yard between our houses. Bill’s back was turned and he was scratching his rake on a shabby patch of lawn and pine tags.

“Don’t mean to sneak up on you, Bill, but how’s it going?” I said from a few yards away.

“Hi! How’re ya’ doin’, Larry? Welcome back!” His confident tone contrasted with the flustered look on his face.

“I’m fine! Beautiful afternoon. I, ah, read in the paper about Louise. So sorry I was away, Bill. How’re you holding up?”

His eyes filled as we shook hands. “Still pretty rough, I reckon,” he said with a shrug, letting go of his rake. It tilted slowly and thudded to the ground.

“Sure is a beautiful weekend, just the kind of weather for November.” My lighter tone fell flat.

Bill bent over, picked up the rake and leaned on the handle, droop-shouldered, mouth slacked at the corners. “She’s been gone over three weeks now,” he drawled, shaking his head slowly. “Still listen for her to tell me what to do—my scheduler, alarm clock, and director, all gone at once. Life sure is boring without her yellin’ at me. You know, I’ve overslept more lately than in the whole time we were married. That would be thirty-two years this January.”

“Long time…” I nodded.

“Remember I had to go away on that business with my sister-in-law?” Bill asked. “I told Louise I’d only be a couple of days. When I got there the lawyer said it’d take near a week. So I called Louise right away. No answer. Thought she might be outside so I waited and called again, still no answer. I had the car and she’d never leave with anybody else, once I was gone.”

“So I left right then, to hell with the lawyer. Drove all night, straight back; kept stoppin’ and callin’… no answer! Pulled into the yard early in the morning and spotted her first thing, layin’ out there under those trees beside the beach, buzzards circling.” He pointed to a stand of tall pines. “She must have died while I was on the road.”

He wiped his cheek with the back of his hand.

I stared at him—my mouth hanging open. The newspaper hadn’t mentioned that part of the story.

“Right here in my yard—my poor dead wife being picked over by buzzards and I had to come home to find her. I ran at ‘em. Scared ‘em off, but they kept circling. Got a blanket from the car to cover her just so I could go in the house to call somebody. It panicked me. I yelled and screamed at those birds, blubberin’ like a baby. I think about it when I’m alone—where was I when she needed me?”

“I’m sorry, Bill, I didn’t know. Thought she—”

“No, right there. Ain’t nobody around to find her this time of year, just summer places up the road, you know. She prob’ly had some scraps to throw back for the crabs… empty bowl beside her. Buzzards must’ve ate it and were about to start on her. Doctor said it was a massive heart attack.”

I looked away, drew a deep breath and wiped my eyes.

“It was awful,” he went on. “Neither of us have family in the area, you know, and she’s an only child. She meant the world to me, Larry. You never realize it ’til they’re gone. Doctor told me she didn’t suffer. I thank the Lord for that, but I never knew how much I’d suffer.”

“You two sure had a good life… a lot to be thankful for.”

He turned his head and stared across the two-mile width of flat, brown, mid-November bay.

“Know what I miss the most?”

“No, but it must be hard thinking back. You’re brave, Bill, don’t think I could do it.”

“Never know ’till it happens to you… can’t never prepare.” His voice trembled. “You know, she used to iron my— my undershorts and handkerchiefs. Now I don’t mean no harm but that’s what I miss… the little things. She took care of me and I wasn’t even here when she needed me most.”

A tear ran down his cheek to his chin. He let go of the rake handle and wiped his face with the back of his hand. The rake balanced then tipped slowly toward the water landing in the grass. He bent over, picked it up and leaned it against a tree.

“I’d worry when she was late coming back from the store, get mad at her. Not that she might get in an accident or something, but ‘cause she wasn’t here to cook my supper. She wasn’t here for me! Now I can get as mad as I want and it don’t do no good. That’s 32 years of thinking of myself!” He spread his arms wide and looked straight at me. “In the end, she checks out on her own, without me.”

“You know, when I went to the war in Korea, I feared I’d get…” He pointed below his belt buckle. “You know, shot off so I couldn’t use it anymore. I’d rather they shot me dead. Never thought about what it’d be like if she passed first. Just assumed I’d go first, like men mostly do. She was always there for me.”

“I wasn’t even here to see her go! Hell, I’d trade… you know what… to have her back for just an hour to say good-bye.”

“I miss our walks. No hand to hold. Not that we walked through the woods holding hands all the time, but now when I reach out, that hand’s not there. Blows me away!”

I nodded.

“You know I like to read the paper in the morning, front to back, ‘fore I ever get going and do anything. We’d sit there and I’d come across lines or stories—read ‘em out loud to her—get her ideas—talk about ‘em. Now I read to the goddamn walls—nobody there. We never had kids—maybe we shoulda.”

“I went fishin’ the other day. Got back to the dock and I let ‘em all go. Poured ’em outta the bucket right back into the water. Couldn’t bear to clean ’em. All I thought of was their relatives, how they’d be missed.” He shook his head. “Think I’ll ever get back to fishin’ again?”

“Louise, she was a real stickler about leaves and pine tags, remember? I’ve raked a couple of times since she died, not for me, but for her. Thought she might feel better, wherever she is. I feel close to her, out here raking her leaves. She’s here with me every day, right here in my heart.” He thumped his chest. “I know she is.” He kicked the dry pine tags. Silence settled with the dust.

“When she finished rakin’, we’d sit down and have a soda, you know, right over there on the lawn chairs,” he pointed. “They say you never know what you’ve got ’till it’s gone. Well, I’ve got nothing now.”

“You took care of her, Mr. Canfield, and she took care of you. Isn’t that the way it’s supposed to be? Watch out for each other… hope and care. Hope and care’s all we can give.” I placed my hand on his shoulder.

He lowered his head, shoved a hand in his pocket. “Yeah, she used to talk about that. Kept this sad-assed lawn clean hopin’ the grass would grow. You know you can’t grow decent grass this close to saltwater. But she hoped and now I reckon I’m continuin’ to hope for her. She’d be proud of the way I keep it all clean. Only one thing, though, when I’m done, there’s nobody waitin’ over there with a cold soda. She’d quit a minute or two before me, go get the sodas—her ginger ale and root beer for me—then we’d drink ‘em together, sittin’ right under that tree in those chairs.” His voice was thick.

All the chairs needed were Louise and Bill sitting in them, seats weighted down perilously close to the ground. She’d have her hands in her lap, ankles crossed in front of her. He’d cross his legs in the manly fashion, ankle atop the opposite knee. Sometimes he’d cock his arm behind his neck like a headrest.

“Keep working on the memories, Mr. Canfield,” I said softly, patting him on the back. “Pretty soon, you’ll be able to take comfort in ‘em. Now, I know you don’t drink, Bill, but there’s a cold beer back in my fridge and two glasses—one for you and one for me. You wait here and I’ll get ‘em.”

“Well, no thanks, Larry. I don’t drink, you know. Louise never approved. But I appreciate you thinking of me that way.” Then he tipped his head back and gazed up at the sky. The tops of the pines swayed in the wind. He drew a deep breath, slowly combing his fingers through his thick hair. Then he turned back to me. “On second thought, Larry, I think I would like one. We can sit in those chairs over there under the tree.“

I smiled, turned, and trotted back to my house.

pencil

Louis Abbey is a retired Professor of Oral and Maxillofacial Pathology from VA Commonwealth University in Richmond, VA. He has an MFA in Creative Writing from VCU and has published both poetry and fiction in journals such as Indiana Review, The MacGuffin, Hayden’s Ferry Review, Georgetown Review, among others. He has also been published online in Grey Sparrow, Wild Violet, twice in Toasted Cheese and in Zero-dark-30. One of his poems was anthologized in Blood and Bone, Poems by Physicians, Angela Belli & Jack Coulehan, Eds. U. Iowa Press, 1998. He currently lives and writes in Revere, MA. Email: abbey_louis[at]yahoo.com

The Crocodile Grip

Louis M. Abbey
Fiction


Elderly woman hands up - Issan, Thailand

Photo Credit: Ronn Aldaman/Flickr (CC-by-nc-nd)

September 1982, Kamput—a refugee camp in Thailand

Two Thai soldiers grab Vannak by the arms and wrestle him to the ground. He struggles but the knee on his chest forces a bitter taste into his throat. They rub dirt on his hair, all the while shouting in Thai, then let go and walk away laughing. Vannak sits up, glares after them thinking—you are nothing compared to the Khmer Rouge; Kamput is nothing.

He had been looking for leaks in the roof of the hut where he lives with other Cambodian orphans from the Khmer Rouge Revolution.

Raking a hand through his hair Vannak stands up and hurries off along the dirt road to the top of a small hill near the camp’s center. He sits on the ground in his favorite spot to watch the sunset. Red, pink, yellow and orange clouds streak the horizon. Colors envelope him like warm water. He closes his eyes and his sunset dream returns.

He is in Cambodia, ten years old and three years a prisoner in a Khmer Rouge labor camp. It is dark. Monsoon rain drips through a hole in the roof onto his bed. He gets up, grabs a shovel and slops along the path to the work site. There he pushes the blade into the wet ground with his bare foot. Pain shoots through his heel into his ankle and grips his back when he lifts the mud into the basket beside him—dig, lift, fill, all day. By late afternoon, clouds break. He glances at the bright red sky. The old man nearby stops digging, leans on his shovel to watch the sun go down. In seconds a guard rushes over, kicks the old man’s shovel away so he falls then beats him on the hands and head with the shovel. The man groans, stops moving. “Learn this lesson!” the guard shouts at Vannak.

He blinks out of the dream. Fading pink washes over everything, making him drowsy enough to lie down in the thick, soft darkness that swallows the camp for the night. But he rises, walks quickly along the darkening road toward his hut, head down so as not to appear lost. Murmurs, bits of conversation, drift from unlighted huts beside the road. From somewhere, a flashlight’s golden beam strikes his shoulder and moves on.

People with lights never share them, he thinks.

Instinct and smell, not sight, tell him he has arrived at his hut. He climbs the steps, feels his way to his cot and lies down one arm slung across his eyes. Before sleep, another dream returns.

He is shoveling dirt in the same field a year after the old man was killed. Rumors of a Vietnamese invasion flash everywhere. Without warning, a guard drops his weapon and shouts, “They’re here!” Other guards run past Vannak and into the trees.

People flee in all directions, avoid eye contact. Vannak freezes with fear. A line of running men knocks him over. Two women grab him. “Turn around! Wrong direction!” He turns. Tears blur his vision. A hand yanks him to the side of the road. “Follow me!” The man’s voice and grip are strong. He leads Vannak away from the fighting and they begin a yearlong trek to the mountains and Thailand.

Images race behind Vannak’s closed eyes. At the border, Thai guards take them on a night ride to a camp called Kamput. Registration, interrogations—something called United Nations—photograph, picture ID, and a bag of clothing.

In a bright crowded room people shove and shout questions. Babies scream. Someone calls out in Khmer, “Attention! Listen! You will get out of this camp!” A lie? A dream? The voice goes on: “Kamput is temporary. Every morning there is a new list of people who will leave Thailand for a safe country.” Shouting and shoving begin again.

Vannak blinks, smiles in the pitch black. The list, he thinks, then shuts his eyes and falls asleep.

At first light he rolls over and sits on the edge of the cot scratching his head. From beneath the mattress he pulls out his pencil and three calendars, one for each year he has spent in Kamput. He opens the top one and draws a large “X” in the square marking his nine hundred and eighty-sixth day.

He replaces the calendars, rubs water over his face and hair and walks to the food tent where he picks up a bowl of watery rice and sits at a table with three other orphan boys. Eating is the only activity until the bowls are empty, then they talk, make plans to meet later for soccer.

Vannak steps outside and joins the foot traffic walking the dusty half-mile to the UN Office. He stands at the edge of the crowd. The list hangs up front on a weathered board. A UN worker calls out names. People stretch their necks, throw back shouts and questions. Vannak listens. No familiar names. He decides to leave.

As he turns, a hand reaches out of the crowd, grabs his wrist and drags him back among the jostling bodies. The hand belongs to a woman who, two days earlier, had asked him to help her carry a jug of water.

What does she want now, he thinks, and yanks to get loose. Her grip reminds him of the man who led him out of the labor camp.

“Let me go!” Vannak protests. “I’ll come back later.”

“You can’t,” she says. “I saw your name, Soeur, on the list. Tell the UN worker now.”

“It’s not true,” he scowls, struggling. “You dream.”

But the crowd presses him toward the woman.

She did say Soeur, my family name, Vannak thinks. I never told her. She thinks I am someone else. People always look for someone else. I’ll return later.

He pulls and pries at the woman’s fingers, bumping the hip of an old man and knocking into a child. She grips like a crocodile, Vannak thinks.

“Obey your mother!” the man yells, shoving him in the direction of the woman’s pull.

The UN worker stands patiently in front of the list turning pages. Every so often he calls out a name and answers questions.

“Go slower,” a man beside Vannak shouts.

“Go faster.” Another man.

“Back two pages,” the woman gripping Vannak’s arm shouts.

“Go to the end; start over.” Another voice.

The woman presses Vannak ahead of her into the second row, forcing others aside.

He squints the list into focus, but the page turns before he can read the names. He tries to shout Go slower but no sound comes out. A breeze cools his damp T-shirt, and he shivers.

After the last page, half of the crowd drifts away. The UN worker remains on guard. Vannak stares at the list. Sweat creeps down his wrist below the woman’s clamping hand. With his free hand, he fingers the letters on the front of his T-shirt.

The UN worker shouts, “Page one!”

Vannak looks up.

The woman nudges him aside for a late arrival.

I don’t have to speak, he thinks. Who listens to a boy anyway—nothing on the first page.

He smiles. One family takes up half a page—nothing on page two.

On the next page, one family is listed to go to Australia and France. He remembers those countries on a map. USA is easiest to remember. He recalls a story he heard of a man who went to the USA. The government gave him money, even though he didn’t have a job. Vannak smiles, pictures an American on the street handing out money—no Soeur on page three.

“I know I saw your name,” the woman looks down at him—nothing on page four.

The first name on the fifth page is Chann, clearly printed in Khmer. Vannak shakes his head—looks again, smiles—yes, my friend. Closing his eyes, he pictures a soccer ball descending from high in the air; Chann leaps like a frog, lands, captures the ball, steps to the side, changes direction and everyone runs after him. Vannak fingers the letters on his T-shirt and in his mind recites the lesson Chann taught him: “A… B… C… D… E… F… G…” Everybody likes Chann.

“I know him,” Vannak says aloud to no one, then blinks, checks again. Chann is still first on the list. Then he notices U… S… A… printed after Chann’s name. A tingle shoots down Vannak’s arm. The woman lets go. Makes no move to grab again.

Now I can run, he thinks. But I want to see the others. Below Chann’s name are several unfamiliar families. Vannak’s T-shirt sticks to his back.

He rubs his aching eyes, opens them, focuses again and there it is: “SOEUR, Vannak,” plain and clear. He blinks, shakes his head, looks again—“SOEUR, Vannak,” printed in Khmer and USA after the name.

“Look there! I told you I saw it,” the woman says, grabbing and shaking his arm, then letting go.

Vannak feels light-headed but paralyzed, unable to shout, cheer or cry, or even pray. Men, women and children spin around him in confusion. He searches for Chann’s name but all he can see is the UN guy’s wide smile, the large gap between his two front teeth.

Vannak locks his eyes on that gap and it becomes a window through which he is looking out at the shouting people in shirts, shorts, and sarongs. A thin, brown-eyed boy with black hair grins up at him from the second row. Gold and black words (IOWA Hawkeyes) splash across the front of his white T-shirt. What do the words say? Vannak wonders.

Then the picture dissolves and he’s standing alone in front of the smiling UN worker. Even the woman with the crocodile grip is gone. He feels unbalanced, about to fall. Looking down, he fingers the gold and black letters on his T-shirt, thinking, I am on the list with a place to go.

A fly buzzes his sticky neck, then his eyelid. Vannak turns to face the road in front of the UN Office. The stream of people drift slowly by in the hot, red dust, like in a movie. Some carry large bundles on their heads. Others are without burden. They gesture in the air talking and joking. A pair of Thai soldiers stroll hand in hand right in front of him, guns slung loosely on their shoulders. Three people on a moped sputter toward the main gate stirring up a dust cyclone that catches a waft of afternoon wind, whirls up the road then disappears.

On the highway, a hundred meters away outside the gate, trucks roar toward Bangkok. Drawing a breath thick with the smell of diesel and burning shit, he wonders, will I see Bangkok? But he floats above it brushing away another fly on his nose.

Is it a dream that didn’t really happen? With the question, tightness rises in his throat. Where are the others? Chann and I could not be the only ones. He drags a nearby cement block in front of the board, steps up and turns the pages of the list. Chann’s name is at the top of page five. OK, proof enough—look no further.

Idly fingering the smooth surface of his photo ID, he turns to face the road. A woman in a bright red sarong with a large bundle on her head walks quickly along in front of him. Her bundle remains perfectly still as if attached. Where is she going so fast? He Looks at his image on the ID: SOEUR, Vannak is written underneath in both Khmer and, supposedly, in Thai. Does the Thai writing really spell my name? Maybe they wrote “Water buffalo” or “Dog” instead. What if Chann is on the list and I dreamed I saw my name? He turns back, reaches up and leafs to page five again. Chann is indeed there. He moves his finger slowly down the column. As the names come into view, he whispers each one and counts. The fourteenth name emerges. Maybe it was a dream; I think I was closer to Chann. Then the fifteenth name rises like the sun. SOEUR, Vannak, USA. Real. He smiles, steps down, replaces the cement block and climbs the stairs to the UN Office.

pencilLouis Abbey is a retired Professor of Oral and Maxillofacial Pathology from VA Commonwealth University in Richmond, VA. He has an MFA in Creative Writing from VCU. His work has appeared in Indiana Review, The MacGuffin, Hayden’s Ferry Review, Georgetown Review, among others and online in Grey Sparrow and twice in Toasted Cheese. One of his poems was anthologized in Blood and Bone, Poems by Physicians, Angela Belli & Jack Coulehan, Eds. U. Iowa Press, 1998. He lives and writes in Revere, MA. Email: lncabbey2004[at]yahoo.com

Caribou Detail

Fiction
Louis M. Abbey


Sandbags
Photo Credit: Adam Henning

At four o’clock that morning, walled in by sandbags, I stood pissing into the open end of an empty rocket tube buried half its length in the ground. This acrid splatter, I thought, might have been the last worldly sound Sergeant “Ace” Card had heard the previous day at sunset when he’d been standing at the very same piss tube. A single bullet, from the Vietnamese village across the paddies, hit him in the forehead and exited just behind his right ear, exploding a sandbag beside him. He never heard the shot, nobody did. He was probably staring at the flame-red mimosa trees along the edge of the ville. We all loved those mimosas, the way they flashed scarlet then faded into black with the sinking sun. A clever sniper might have fired from beside one of those trees to blend the muzzle flash into the red. Even someone watching wouldn’t have seen it.

A volunteer patrol, including Ace’s best friend Freddy Peroni, took an APC out to the ville but they came up empty. Nobody had seen a thing. Freddy was violent with grief, ready to shoot everybody, even baby-sans. “Burn the fuckin’ place to the ground, they’re only animals anyway!” Freddy shouted, but somebody held him back. I heard later that Hernandez convinced him Ace wouldn’t have approved. Ace was a friend but on mission he was Sergeant Card and we were subordinate to the mission. Love for Ace and Hernandez stopped Freddy from doing a stupid impulsive thing that might have gotten more people killed right then and there, or in a sapper attack during the night. Fear had kept me back at the LZ that day, filling sandbags and piling them higher around the piss tubes. Love, fear, and hate, personal, intense, and interwoven, held us together. But like yarn in a sweater, if you pulled the right strand… we were all on a hair trigger. Our infantry company protected the artillery battery on LZ Flatiron, a small, treeless firebase with an airstrip on the only high ground among the rice paddies west of Danang.

I buttoned my trousers and watched a red crack open and spread along the dark jungle horizon. Soon the whole eastern sky would bleed a reverse of the sunset. Early morning and sunset were about the only beautiful times on Flatiron.

Back at the hooch, I washed and shaved in non-potable water, shrugged on a flak jacket over my fatigue shirt, and set my steel pot on my head. M-16 in hand, I headed for the command bunker and the night sergeant.

“Go on down to the airstrip and wait for the plane,” Sergeant Hall said. “Crew’ll help you. You ain’t never had Caribou detail before, eh, Kendall?”

“No, sir.” I said.

“Treat ’em with respect, don’t forget.”

“Yes, sir.”

About-face and I ducked under the low beam of the door. If I ever get to leave Vietnam, I thought, I’ll miss some things and people like “Ace” but I’ll sure as hell never miss Caribou detail.

A deep cool breath washed the bunker mold out of my lungs. All day we breathed either smoke from burning latrine barrels or cordite the 155s blasted into the air, or both. Re-supply flights dulled our hearing and whipped up throat-parching dust that gritted between your teeth, even after the planes left the ground. That morning, though, all I heard was the peaceful whine of generators.

The pre-dawn red crack faded into streaked yellow. Fragments of the orange sun flashed through holes in the tree lines and silhouetted a guard bunker. Two red dots glowed inside where the guards were smoking. A chill zigzagged up my back. I shouldered my rifle and humped toward the far end of the runway.

The heft of the 16 reminded me of hunting with my father on the Olympic Peninsula. He’d take me out of school for a day or two and I’d tote his gun while we hiked into the mountains that marched right down to the edge of Puget Sound. He gave me a .22 rifle when I was fourteen. I remember exactly what he said, “I trust you with this, son. I’d never give it to you if I didn’t trust you. It’s your license to kill, like the deer rifle’s mine. Learn to be accurate so they don’t suffer. Enjoy the pride of the hunt.” He was totally honest. For him, a gun was a natural extension of a man. My job was to be a man first and above all.

At the aircraft turn-around where the Caribou would stop and take on its load, I sat down on a sandbag berm. The pale sun began to burn the mist off a hectare of green rice between me and the village. Shouts of farmers sloshing and maneuvering water buffaloes drifted across the dikes.

Caribou detail’s work lay behind me in the soft yellow light: five body bags, thirty-two mil black plastic, stacked like cordwood, crumpled and stiff with night-cold. I kept turning to look at them, waiting there for me to load. Each had one journey left… back to the world. Sergeant Card was there, so were Booker, Shorty, One-eye and Werner, or at least pieces of Werner.

I don’t know why fuck-ups happen together, sometimes two or three in a row when you’re in the field. Just the day before Sergeant Card was killed, Werner and Booker were driving a Jeep back from a boom-boom run to the ville. Initiation run, they called it—short-timer like Werner takes a cherry like Booker out to the village, introduces him to the local whores. Before they left Flatiron, Booker kept making excuses, wasn’t sure he should go… had a girl back home. We’d egged him on, called him a pussy, gave him little shit like that. He didn’t want to look scared. Theory was the run took longer than they expected. They raced back to Flatiron so as not to miss chow… didn’t even see the fresh dirt in the road… ran right over a 155 round. Blast was only a kilometer away; everybody heard it, our first hit. We were all jumpy, pissed and scared. Without a thought, I volunteered for the “recon” patrol. Ace led us out to the ambush site. When we got to the big hole in the road, some guys stood motionless, just stared at the mess. The Jeep was bent in the middle, bucking bronco style. Booker got thrown clear and was almost whole. His fatigues still had fold marks and he hadn’t even sewn on his rank. We never found all of Werner… left the Jeep there.

Shadows shortened and the sun jacked up the heat. I still haven’t killed anybody, but losing guys like Booker and Ace… well… things change. My Uncle Roy was a Marine in Korea and he’d killed people.

*

I was just a kid, staying on Orcas Island with Aunt Helen, Uncle Roy’s wife, the day he came back from Korea. She was so excited she pushed me in my wagon with a broomstick all the way down her street to the ferry landing in the middle of town. Roy looked so beautiful when he strode down the gangplank in his uniform, with rank and medals. They embraced… held each other compressed into one person, rocking from side to side. Except for the uniform, I could hardly tell them apart. We walked back. They held hands and talked, laughing and kissing, stopping along the way to look at a butterfly and flowers. I pulled my own wagon.

Later in the kitchen, the amazing thing happened. My uncle took off his jacket and tie and rolled up his sleeves. Aunt Helen was getting him a drink and I noticed the drawing. A smiling yellow and black bumblebee in a sailor hat with a cigar in his teeth was flying down Uncle Roy’s arm holding a tommy gun aimed straight at me. I touched the soft skin where the bee was with my finger. Roy jerked his head around and said, “Duck, boy, that bee’s got a gun aimed at you!” And he pushed my head down on the table like he was saving my life.

“What is it, Uncle Roy?” I asked, head squashed under his big hand.

“A tattoo… ink picture, somebody drew on my arm.”

“Does it wash off?”

“No, they make it with a needle. It’s there forever.”

“Does it hurt?”

“Naw, it don’t… if you’re a real man.”

“Why’d you put it there?”

He looked at me hard, squinted his eyes, extended his arm and aimed a finger-gun at me. I shrunk back and he pulled the trigger, made a gun sound with his mouth.

“I used to shoot people in the war,” he said, menace in his voice. “People like you are alive ’cause I killed them Korean gooks before they could come over here and get you and Aunt Helen.” Then he lunged and wrapped his arms around me, laughing. He hoisted me up on his shoulder while he danced around the room, circling Aunt Helen and stealing kisses. I laughed all the fear out of my body. He’d turned nice again.

“Stop that kind of talk, Roy!” Aunt Helen said.

When I went home, I snuck a ballpoint pen from my father’s desk to make a tattoo on my arm like my uncle. Aunt Helen sold poppies on Memorial Day for the American Legion. We went to the parades in Seattle. I saluted when soldiers marched by with rifles, blaring horns and drums that beat so loud I could feel the noise in my chest. That, I thought, must be the feeling of glory men get coming home from war.

Years later after I got my .22 and still hadn’t shot anything but a target, I heard that Aunt Helen was having a problem with rabbits on her farm. Uncle Roy had died and she lived alone on Orcas Island. Dad said I should go over and help her. He set it up. I took the .22 and hopped the ferry to Orcas.

Next morning at first light, I tiptoed through the wet grass in the pasture beyond the barn. Everywhere I looked in the field I saw rabbits. Some just showed their heads and others head and shoulders above the grass. I don’t think they were scared, only looking around. On my third shot, a big one did a flip and lay still. I snuck up on him ready to fire again in case he moved. He lay stretched out there in the grass, no obvious breathing. I couldn’t see blood, though, or the bullet hole… poked him with the barrel. My hand shook, but I picked him up by the ears, held him out in front of me like I’d seen in pictures of Greek warriors holding up the heads of their kills for all to see, enemies and friends alike… my first kill. I thought I felt a rush of pride but I was alone and birds chirped in the bushes. When I looked again, all around me the rabbits were back, heads above the grass, looking around.

I got drafted and volunteered for Vietnam. My father threw a party for our family and friends… first time I ever got drunk. Dad and I teamed up, arms around one another and sang old war songs Uncle Roy used to sing. I hoped I’d come home with a medal.

*

A trickle of sweat ran down my back. From the other side of Flatiron, whumps of an early fire mission were followed, seconds later, by the familiar thump of the blast in my chest. Beyond the dikes, gook farmers and boom-boom girls bent over knee deep in water, planting rice.

I reached out and pressed in the side of one of the body bags with my hand. It felt like a sandbag. Ace Card’s wife in Jersey would be waiting in long anticipation, I thought, like Aunt Helen. With Ace killed, the strings of anxiousness in her gut had drawn into a knot of loss, confirming her months of fear and dread. Her Ace couldn’t make the journey himself. They carried him to the aid station, stuffed him into a bag, piled him on the truck and stacked him here for the Caribou. Somewhere in that transit he stopped being Ace. She’ll be waiting and he’ll arrive all packaged up like a sewing machine, no ferry, no descending the gangplank. Only thing is you can’t plug him in and make him go. She and Sergeant Card will both know dead—from different sides, not like rabbits in the field. I started to gag from the thick rotten odor rising from the bags.

I spotted the speck in the sky out over the green paddies to the east. The Caribou was coming to bear the killed home so they’d become the dead. It drew closer, slowly descending in the yellow haze. The plane’s outline blurred in the heat waves. It resembled an ungainly gull, wings held high, tail raised, wheels reaching for the ground. It wavered as if trying to gain control of its awkwardness then dropped like a stone at the far end of the runway. Reverse thrust roared and slowed with a palpable vibration that would wake anyone from natural sleep. I drew my goggles over my eyes. It turned in the wide circle where I waited. Dust and pebbles pelted my chest and the wind flattened my uniform against my skin. I staggered back for balance. It jerked to a halt without pretense of grace and the great mouth of the cargo bay opened, lowered and finally licked the ground like a giant tongue. The crew chief hustled off the ramp as my ears blocked in self-defense. The roar and the gale didn’t permit meaningful sound, so we talked with hand signals.

He grabbed the head and I the foot of each body bag. At the top of the ramp, we swung it back and forth like a sack of grain—one… two… three… then heaved the precious reeking burden atop the growing stack of carnage. We did that five times. Somewhere between the third and fourth bag I felt stuck inside a cocoon, assaulted by noise, wind and exhaust. Tears washed from my eyes like I had no goggles on. I gave up all the reasons and motivations I’d borrowed from others all my life and lifted the plastic rim to let them drain. The crew chief didn’t notice, I guess. But he slapped me on the shoulder after the last bag… gave me a thumbs-up. The ramp rose, the pilot gunned the engines and the wind and dirt and pebbles returned to blow me backward onto the berm. The Caribou lumbered to the other end of the runway. I got back up and brushed off my uniform. The plane turned, raced toward me and lifted just as it cleared the last piece of tarmac. I stood at attention, sinuses throbbing from the dust and stench, saluting until the tiny speck disappeared.

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Louis M. Abbey is a retired oral and maxillofacial pathologist from VA Commonwealth University in Richmond, VA. He has an MFA in Creative Writing from VCU and has published both poetry and fiction in journals such as Toasted Cheese, Indiana Review, The MacGuffin and Hayden’s Ferry Review, among others. One of his poems was anthologized in Blood and Bone: Poems by Physicians. He currently lives and writes in the Boston area. Email: LNCABBEY2004[at]yahoo.com

Voice on the Water

Fiction
Louis M. Abbey


“How can you say you’d like one? You don’t know anything about boats,” I said. My father sat on a kitchen chair, a Time magazine on his lap.

“Don’t know exactly, but I feel it,” he answered, distracted. The Red Sox were on the radio. The commentator’s staccato monotone crackled over the hoarse breath of the crowd.

“Feel it. What do you mean by that, Dad?”

“I feel it, David, right here,” he punched the center of his stomach. “When Williams smacks a homer, he doesn’t feel contact, his gut just knows. Same as me about a boat, I know I’d love one—you would too, holding the wheel, wind in your hair, it just feels right, doesn’t it?”

“I don’t know, Dad, I sometimes feel…”

“Hold on, Dave. Williams’s up, bases loaded, Detroit just changed pitchers. Listen to this.”

He upped the volume. “This one’s down the pipe,” the announcer’s voice rose. “And Williams swings, connects. It’s way out there, going, going, gone! There you have it, the Kid’s 17th career grand slam, and 4 more RBIs. You just can’t stop this guy and it’s only July.”

“Way to earn your salary, Kid!” Dad slapped the magazine in his lap. Then he picked up the can of beer beside the radio and took a long pull that bobbed his Adam’s apple. Wet rings intersected on the table. I smacked my left fist into my right palm and swung an imaginary bat.

“Pay for a bat, Dave. That’ll win it for ’em this year. Pay for every last homer. Highest salary in the majors.”

“Bet he could afford a boat,” I said.

“Sure he could. He’s over a hundred-thou-a-year now. It’ll be a million before you know it. A million bucks and you can do anything. A steady job’s all I ever wanted. Boy I could’ve used money like that before you were born. Look at this.” He turned the open magazine around, pointing to the picture.

It was a whiskey ad he’d shown me before. A Concordia Yawl in a stiff breeze, rail buried, sails bellied. A mustached skipper in blazer, white ducks and yachting cap grips the helm with one hand and holds a glass of Canadian Club in the other.

“That’s the life,” he said.

“Dad, it’s just an ad, maybe a fake boat. How can he stand there and drink whiskey in a wind like that?”

“It’s gonna happen, Dave—someday. We’ll work hard and get that boat. This cook job of mine, ‘chief cook and bottle washer,’ it’s all going to lead somewhere, I just know, right here.” He slapped his gut again.

I’d heard more than a few of his dreams in my fifteen years. He’d draw on his cigarette and with smoke-muffled voice, tell me about a deal he’d found on a new Ford. Next day he’d be on his back under the old car, making it last another year. He had a way of falling in love with his intentions.

“I know, you just feel it,” I said and drifted outside in the July afternoon.

*

The next summer, I was sixteen and took a job bussing trays at Shelter Point Inn (known locally as The Inn) on the Rhode Island shore, my first summer away from home. The shingled three-story ark crouched on a spit of land beside a saltwater pond separated from Block Island Sound by sand dunes. Behind The Inn, large cedar-shingled cottages looked out on our world from bayberry-covered hills keeping their own counsel. Narrow, rutted roads connected the houses to the paved road that snaked past The Inn and the yacht club next door.

At work in the dining room, I loitered beside the large windows to watch the local kids sail their Beetles, Blue Jays and Comets between the club’s harbor and the cobalt pond where, far out, they became gliding white triangles, without apparent guidance. In the late afternoon, I would stare, mesmerized by the liturgy of lowering, folding and reverently bagging the sails. On windless days, crews tipped boats up on their sides to wash, varnish, and paint the beautifully curved hulls to gleaming. It all looked so easy. An invisible pull from inside me winched tighter by the day. It wanted to draw me through the windows toward those boats. I didn’t understand it beyond the feeling that I belonged there on the clam flats at low tide.

Apparently the club’s member families sired more daughters than sons. So one day on the beach, the girls invited us “Inn-boys” to a Saturday-night club dance. Several of us went.

In my frayed oxford shirt and sunburn, I laughed and talked with feigned urbane confidence. I added nothing to the boarding school shoptalk and pre-race bravado. Scratchy songs tumbled from a portable stereo. I danced with Calley, a barefoot redhead in madras shorts and her father’s old shirt. She sang the words softly while gazing over my shoulder.

“Will you crew for me on my boat Sunday afternoon?” she whispered.

Whatever she said blended with the verse of the song and I didn’t answer.

“Well, David…will you?”

“Will I what? What did you say?”

“Will you crew for me on Sunday?” softly insistent.

“Yes!” voce robusto. Message received. Heads turned. She wouldn’t have been my pick, but it was a pass through the dining room windows. She said we could meet at the dock at noon, then broke away and trotted back to her friends. Noon was my work time.

Sunday morning I invented nausea and stomach cramps that made me unfit to work.

“Too damn much partying,” said the maitre d’.

“If you miss another day, you can kiss the job goodbye… and I better not catch you outside that dorm!” the manager shouted. The dining room crew lived in two eight-room shacks on stilts adjacent to a salt marsh behind The Inn. The girl’s shack was theoretically separated from the boy’s by the parking shed.

All morning I tried to ignore the off-duty bellhop, Dan, and Carol, a chambermaid, in the room next to mine. I studied a picture of a boat like Calley’s in a sailing book I’d found in one of the other rooms. Underneath the picture it said, Blue Jay—an open, thirteen-and-a-half-foot sailboat with main and jib sails, a centerboard and an outboard rudder. Terms ran together making amusing confusion. Another diagram explained step-by-step how to tie a bowline. Mental images of Dan and Carol interposed themselves between the drawings. My stomach twisted itself into a perfect square knot. The yacht club kids wore scuffed Sperry Topsiders. My wardrobe boasted Converse All-Stars, so I opted for bare feet. It was almost noon.

At 11:50 I tiptoed past Dan’s room. His deep voice penetrated the door, “We can both keep a secret, can’t we, skipper?”

“Sure thing, Dan,” I croaked over my shoulder, “Sure thing.”

A moment’s hesitation, then I slipped out the rear door and down an embankment to the salt marsh at low tide. Keeping below the bank I got well away from The Inn and crossed the road to the club out of the sight line from the dining room.

I bounced onto the dock and tiptoed between skippers and crew unbagging sails; surely someone would ask why I wasn’t at work. They joked loudly in a nautical vocabulary. I heard “…traveler amidships…” and “…jib fairlead…” and began to question my ability to take orders. Calley sat on the end of the dock, back toward me, tying a knot while one foot held her Blue Jay, Squall, against a piling. She hadn’t noticed me.

I stopped, frozen like a pilgrim, and stared. This first boat I would ever sail was my shrine, the most beautiful thing I’d ever laid eyes on. Dark-green hull, her cockpit flashed layers of whiskey-amber varnish. The heaven-pointed mast was square, not round like I thought it would be. I inhaled her light, oily perfume, mahogany mixed with the tarry pungency of marine hemp. Squall was a glass full of Canadian Club, and I had just downed the whole thing. I wouldn’t have cared if Calley had morphed into the maitre d’. It was irreversible. I was hooked, foolish, head-over-heels in love with a sailboat.

Calley looked up. “Don’t just stand there, Dave. Come aboard and bend on the main. I’ve got the jib.” She shoved a folded sail into my outstretched arms. That term, “bend,” searched for a match in my memory. A quick glance around at what others were doing suggested it involved attaching the mainsail to the mast and boom.

I fingered the surprisingly stiff sail fabric. All the activity around me shifted into slow motion. I discovered fasteners along one edge of the sail and fumbled them onto a track attached to the mast. Calley had already linked the jib to the forward mast support, mounted the rudder over the stern and adjusted the tiller.

“Watch it, Dave, you’re upside down,” she said, and grabbed the sail. She slipped fasteners onto the track from the other end so fast it made me realize I wasn’t deft with anything, especially on a sailboat.

“I’ll get the jib.” I lunged, nearly sprawling in some coils of line on the cockpit floor. The boat rocked violently,

“You don’t know much about this, do you?”

“Well, if I could just…”

“No, I mean really.” Calley said with a grin. “The main goes up first.” And with several hand-over-hands, she’d raised and cleated the mainsail.

I glanced up to the dock to deflect her amused frown, or perhaps for rescue. My raised eyes encountered scuffed Topsiders out of which sprouted tanned, hairy legs attached to a tall, square-jawed boy about my age, in wrinkled shirt and baggy shorts.

“Oh,” said Calley, “David, this is Bronson. He’s going to crew for me ’cause his crew went home this morning. Thanks for helping, though.”

I untangled my feet from the line and Bronson gave me a hand up on the dock.

“Looks like a nice one out there,” I said. “Good luck.” My sunburn heated up.

“Thanks for the help, man,” He grinned and grabbed my shoulder. Bronson’s grip molded my weakness into relief. Then he hopped aboard Squall.

I sprinted back to the salt marsh. On the slippery mud between grass hummocks a profound fever for sailboats spread through my body. It helped me shed my morning illness in time to work the evening meal.

I sailed a couple of times that summer, once as passenger and once as crew. At home, the beginning of September, I told my father about my sailing adventures and the Blue Jay, leaving out the Calley-Bronson affair.

We were in the kitchen. I grabbed a straight-backed chair and sat down, the portable fan blowing in my face.

“See, Dad, this is what it feels like sailing into the wind. The boat starts to tip, you lean back over the rail so far your head skims the water,” I leaned back over the chair seat into the breeze. My hair dragged the floor. In my throat, I made the soft gurgle the water makes against the hull. “That’s what it’s like, Dad.”

“They’re pretty small boats, you know, unstable, dangerous.” He always downplayed small boats. “You’ll never catch me in one.” He had the same old car and still planned to get a new one.

*

Over the next twenty years, I built models of sailboats, went to college and got married. My new wife, Gigi, and I actually went sailing together on a long weekend in Maine. We fought and argued through two hours on a rented boat, but when it was over, we were on the same side.

Boat fever flared again in the doldrums of Piedmont, Virginia, two hours from the ocean. A new job, new house, a year-old daughter, Molly, and we were ready for sailing. The nearest water was either class-ten rapids or a twenty-acre artificial lake with a forest of tree skeletons and submerged stumps.

That fall, for diversion, we took Molly to the “Virginia Boat Show” in Richmond. We’d agreed before we walked in that it might be time for a “small” sailboat, if we came across one.

I asked one of the dealers why there weren’t more sailboats.

“Let me tell you something,” he said, moving his hands together prayerfully. “On land, you want to go some place, you hop in the car and go. You look at water like it’s a liquid road. It’s that simple. And I can put you in the driver’s seat of a water vehicle you can drive anywhere you want to go at any point in time. Power, man, that’s it, power that’ll work for you.”

Our Volkswagen Beetle could never have towed the few Winnebagos with sails that we did see. We took a wrong turn looking for the exit and ended up beside another couple staring at a small booth. Meet the Mac Dinghy, the sign said.

She was all fiberglass and extruded aluminum, far from the wood of Calley’s Squall. She offered the penetrating odor of monomer and the “tink tink” of halyards on a metal mast, but she was in our price range. Ten feet long, dark-green topsides bonded to a fat white hull, she conjured up the image of a bathtub. Nevertheless, propped on Styrofoam blocks on a carpet of fake grass, she projected a cheerleader’s perky self-assurance.

I turned to Gigi and explained that the boat was probably too small for the baby and us. She floored me when she pronounced the Mac maybe a good place to start.

“Besides,” she said, “By the time you learn to sail her solo, Molly’ll be old enough to stay with someone on shore while you teach me.”

“Green topsides remind me of the hull on that Blue Jay I almost sailed in Rhode Island, remember?”

An impatient smile, a roll of her eyes—Gigi continued bouncing Molly, who acted like she wanted to nurse.

Eagerness stares a few seconds too long. The salesman, a stocky weathered guy in jeans and plaid shirt, was out of his deck chair and beside me before I could reconstruct my disinterest.

“Sealed, airtight compartments, she can’t sink. Hundred pounds all up. The name’s Roy Waller, what’s yours?” He slapped the Mac’s quarterdeck.

“Uh… David Becker,” I said, casting my eyes down toward his knees while I extended my right hand. Roy grabbed and pulled like I’d thrown him the end of a dock line.

He reached over and handed me the main halyard, “Try this, man, internal halyards. See how easy that main goes up.” He threaded the mainsail’s rope luff into a groove in the aluminum mast (no track and slides). The twisted tan halyard looked familiar but lacked the smell of marine hemp. I gripped the line and pulled. It felt oddly slippery so I suspected a Dupont pedigree. It did glide up easily.

After I’d snugged up the halyard, I worked the stiff Dacron sail fabric between my fingers. Roy tapped me on the shoulder. His right hand balanced the varnished mahogany dagger board on the floor in front of his scuffed Topsiders. I took it from him, pressed it to my nose and inhaled the perfume from Squall’s cockpit. The slick gel coat and bonded deck of the Mac began to blur. I thought, Could I just buy the dagger board? Gigi fussed with the front of her shirt in a seat off to the side of the booth.

A few more minutes and I was hooked. Molly slept in her mother’s arms. My helpless expression drew a resigned but genuine smile and a nod from Gigi. A little more negotiation, a down payment and I was set to pick up the Mac at Roy’s Newport News showroom in a week.

When we got home, we celebrated our new status in our customary way as parents of a one-year-old. The three of us, Molly in her high chair, sat around the table and dug into big bowls of Neapolitan ice cream.

“And have you thought about how we’re going to store our boat?” Gigi asked. I gazed out the window at our twenty-by-forty-foot back yard. Molly mashed her fingers in the vanilla and smeared it on her face. My parents would be visiting in a couple of days and could babysit while Gigi and I picked up the boat.

Two days later, at dinner, I poured wine and lifted my glass. “Dad, Mom, Gigi I want to raise a toast to our new sailboat. To a fair wind and prosperous voyages.”

Dad almost disappeared into the broad grin that took up half his face. He didn’t say anything memorable or unpredictable that evening, and Mom kept asking if we could afford it, and how we could sail it with the baby.

To fill in the time, Dad and I fashioned a rooftop carrier so we could bring the Mac home on the Volkswagen. She was only ten feet long. We sanded and varnished the wood frame and made secure fasteners to which we could attach rope to tie the boat on. We decided to mount the hull upside down. It was Dad’s idea to build in a special arm that would hold the mast on one side and the boom on the other. We finished. Dad ran his hand over the smooth frame surface. I could tell he was back between the covers of Time.

Pick-up day was a clear blue October Saturday. My mother was too tired to babysit. Gigi volunteered to stay behind with Mom and insisted I go with Dad to get the boat. I didn’t argue.

During the drive, we laughed and remembered the old baseball game afternoons and the whiskey ads. We found the yard. Disappointment surfaced briefly when they wheeled out our Mac with maroon topsides instead of dark green. Roy said he’d order green, but it might take a few months. Impatience ignited the check for the balance in my pocket. It would be maroon. Dad slid his hand over the deck and smiled. Roy rigged her and raised the sails. I couldn’t believe it, my first fully-equipped sailboat materialized. I just stared and Dad kept smiling and rubbing his hand along the gunwale. He was aboard that yawl.

Roy must have seen my preoccupation. He had me rig the boat again myself. My own arms lifted the twenty-pound mast, tightened the gooseneck, threaded the main rope luff into its groove, and hauled the halyard. I inhaled the varnished mahogany aroma rising from the dagger board. The final act was raising the jib with its sewn-in wire forestay, no romantic rake of bronze fasteners. I cleated the halyard correctly on the second try.

Roy Waller pocketed my check. Dad and I lifted the hull onto the rooftop rig. Roy stood back and shook his head.

“Sure glad I’ve got that check in my pocket,” he said.

She fit. We tied her down and took off heading back the long way, beside the York River. It was easier to stop in case something needed adjustment.

There was a light breeze. The late afternoon sun made everything stand out in sharp relief along the river. I turned into a car park within a few feet of the water to check the load. We got out and walked down to the narrow strip of sand. It was high tide. A quarter mile out from shore, a crabber gunned his growling diesel every few seconds moving from pot to pot, the only sound except for the occasional swish of a car.

Dad’s hair blew in the breeze, and he looked at me like we were living in one of those magazine ads. He glanced back at the boat on top of the car, then out at the water, then over at me again and caught my eye. We nodded without a word and dashed back up the bank. After what seemed a few seconds, a flurry of untying knots and pulling line, we had that dinghy in the shallows with the mast and boom rigged. Moments later her sails were up and I was fitting the kick-up rudder.

“Go on, get in,” he said and steadied the Mac. I banged my knee on the gunwale. There wasn’t space for him, and he muttered something about no damn room on these small boats anyway.

He shoved me off the sand. I floated free, sail luffing gently. I turned and looked back at him on the beach—bent at the waist, bracing his hands on his knees and grinning the way he encouraged his little kid to push plastic boats in the pond that formed in our backyard after rain. Then her sails bit the breeze, filled and I was on my way up and out into the river.

I turned quickly when I heard him shout. He’d rolled up his pants and waded into the water up to his knees, jumping and cheering, letting out whoops that rang off the nearby trees and slowed cars on the road. He yanked off his T-shirt, soaked it and whirled it around over his head, hollering at the same time. The Mac just perked along making a little gurgling sound where the lee hull met the water. I raised my hand and waved back, going fine, getting closer to the crabber who’d stopped to watch the whole scene.

A couple of minutes and I tried to come about. Dad still whooped every so often. I’d head the Mac up into the wind, luff, but she’d fall off. After my third try, an electronic announcer voice, like at a baseball game, blared from the water behind me, “Head up and keep that rudder to lee,” it said. “She’ll come around.” That’s all it ever said. I obeyed and she passed through the wind onto the opposite tack. The crabber gave me the horn when the Mac bit into her new wind. I waved at him, but kept my eye on dad, how small he’d gotten that far away, and how he looked whirling that wet shirt over his head, glistening in the low sun.
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“I am a retired Professor of Oral and Maxillofacial Pathology. I taught at Virginia Commonwealth University School of Dentistry in Richmond, VA for thirty-five years. I have an MFA in Creative Writing from VCU and have published both fiction and poetry in literary journals such as Georgetown Review, Indiana Review, The Macguffin, Hayden’s Ferry Review and The Literary Review, among others. I currently live and write in Revere, MA.”
E-mail: lncabbey2004[at]yahoo.com