CHAPTER 1a: Broad Reach
Twice they’d nosed bow to stern, the vagaries of angry downdrafts and the insurgency of wayward currents forcing them to scurry with rueful grins and shouts of sorry, sorry, man… fuck… dammit an accompaniment to frantic thrusts with boat hooks and strong, muscled legs.
The patois of the Bay was often colorful and sharp. It got sharper and grittier as the cove filled with weekenders and oystermen seeking shelter from squalls lock-stepped in an endless progression from Annapolis to the warren of hidey-holes on the Eastern shore.
The clutter made anchoring safely impossible. To port the shallows beckoned with such urgency Colin had cranked the centerboard up, leaving Star tippy and skittish. The cuddy cabin was low enough profile not to challenge the vicious gusts, but without stability below she tried turning tail, only to be broadsided and swept sideways, straight into the older Bristol straining hard against her anchor rode.
It would have been better had the gusts beached them. The tide was out. He could have stabilized her fore and aft, ridden it out until high tide. It wouldn’t have been the first time.
His neighbor heaved bumpers over the side and shouted something neutralized by the halyards in a cacophonous tympani. He spread his arms wide, then pulled his hands into his chest. Colin understood and ducked below to snag spare docking lines. Using the boat hook, the stranger held Star fast until Colin had them both secured with spring lines that would allow for latitude as the hulls played bumper cars in the wicked chop.
Colin reached over the lifeline and they shook—a quick slip of wet palm across wet palm. Grasping the stanchion, the stranger leaned as far as he dared and bellowed, “Gonna be a long night. I’m Russ.”
The wind whipped the words away but Colin caught enough to shake his head in agreement and responded, “Colin. And thanks.”
Adversity can make for instantaneous friendships, coddling you within a bubble of shared adventure, or it can simply underscore your isolation with broad strokes of panic and the need to duck and hide. That brief touch seemed to fuel reluctance to engage on both their parts. Colin got it, he really did—that need for isolation, to stand apart and not engage even in the face of necessity.
Fear had Colin wishing for other choices, less onerous options, but after what he’d been through, good sense won out. He accepted the offer of stability in the rising chaos with as much grace as feasible under the circumstances. Shrugging the hood down onto his forehead, he directed the cascade of chilly rain off his nose and chin and onto the deck.
Though it was only late afternoon, churning waves and sheeting curtains of rain met at a watery graveyard, a waterfall of helplessness you rode out because that was your one, and only one, solution. Colin watched with interest as others doubled up, hoping to avoid the kinds of collisions that punctured hulls. Figures moved awkwardly across rain-slicked decks, stepping over coiled lines and the usual clutter on small boats housing big dreams.
His dreams had faded to nothingness, but Star still did her part in the drama of his life, hauling his sorry ass into and out of sheltering coves, seeking endless solace in an endless stream of disappointment and despair. It was the cost of cowardice, that persistent quest for absolution. He wasn’t sure what he’d do with it—absolution—if he ever found it. God knows he’d tried.
The inquiry had been less an inquisition than a roadmap for the apologists. The court of public opinion had been divided, then they’d lost interest. That had been both a relief and an indictment, proving once more his deficiencies and leaving him nothing but the final confessional and more questions than answers. Perpetual repeats with the soft clack of rosary beads against pine seats worn smooth by penitents since time immemorial sounded out his admission of guilt and entreaties to make it stop.
Just fucking stop.