Dinghy

 

His father's hands are bony and strong. They lift him from the deck and toss him over the transom. In the air, above the calm green sea, there is a moment of peace when he can see his reflection on the surface of the water below him. He sees the sun, and the clouds spin upside down, and hears his own sharp intake of breath the moment before the splash. Beneath the surface, a thousand tiny bubbles, swirling hands, feet kicking in slow motion.

††††††††††† Under the cold, murky water he hears his father's muted screams and the muffled sounds of his bare feet on the deck. Lying still, slowly descending, he tilts his head back and sees the bottom of the boat. Its long, dark shape black against the sky.

††††††††††† In the distance, the silhouette of the dinghy is getting small, moving away on the tide. His clothes float about his limbs like jellyfish tentacles. All around him sunlight is refracted through the green water. Bands of morning light slowly turn above him and he thinks about a brass Kaleidoscope he once owned and then lost. He rises through the rays of broken light, to the surface, treading water. Coughing. At the back of the boat his father curses, crouched over the Evinrude, tugging on the starter cord. The little engine pops and sputters, whines and then dies. His father abandons the task, leaving the engine with a kick that knocks its plastic cover overboard. He paces the deck with his hands in the air, the dark blue vein standing out on his forehead. He grabs the long boat hook and skewers the boy's shirt. He pulls him in like flotsam and hauls him dripping over the gunwale, where he lies spitting up sea water and gasping for air. His father stands over him, hands on his hips, his eyes red and narrow.

††††††††††† Fifteen hundred dollar boat, he says. Gone.

The boy shivers in his wet clothes. His tears hidden by the salt water dripping down from his hair. He gasps for air and cannot speak; he only coughs against the deck-planks breathing in boat smells, ancient teak and creosote. His fishing pole still lies rigged and waiting for the breakfast fish that will never bite. The blackened cast-iron pan sits empty atop the stove. But the coffee is made. He did that before first light, being careful not to bang the lid or rattle the spoon for fear of waking his father, who is sipping it now, from a tin cup. Watching the dinghy bob away.

††††††††††† You better pray we get that back, he says.

The boy is breathing quietly now. He spits out small gobs of salty mucous. He feels his father's eyes upon him. Waiting for an answer.

††††††††††† I'm sorry, the boy says. He's looking down over the rail. Looking at his reflection in the water, tasting the sea in his mouth.

††††††††††† Not as sorry as you're going to be if we lose that dinghy. Go get the engine started.

††††††††††† Can I change first?

††††††††††† No. Thatís part of the price you pay.

The boy slogs his way into the cockpit. His teeth chatter; the skin on his bare arms is blue and dimpled with goose-flesh. He pulls on the starter cord, pulls frantically. Over and over. A hundred times. The effort warms his body. His father watches him from the cabin ladder, sipping from the tin cup.

††††††††††† You might want to prime that fuel line and choke it, he says.

The boy stops pulling the cord. He looks out towards the dinghy and sees that it is very far away -- a black speck now, floating toward a marsh too shallow for the draw of the sloop. He reaches down and disconnects the black rubber fitting of the fuel line. He unscrews the two engine mounts and crouches in front of the outboard. He hooks his fingers around the handle at the back and, with a swift upwards motion of his legs and arms, he lifts the engine off of its mount and lets it fall into the water behind the boat. The splash is hollow. He watches the bubbles and the white foam at the water's surface where it sank. He hears the tin cup drop into the cockpit, rattling like a little bell. Once more, there is a brief moment of silence, of pure peace. Somewhere high above him, a seagull cries. His father's hands are bony and strong.