Flotsam & Jetsam (Part I, first entry)

 

the sea

The ship rolled with each swollen wave that crawled across the surface of the shining, ripe-melon green sea.

On the starboard deck, the Boatman scraped the toughened soles of his feet along the rough, blistered wood beside the gunwale. Reaching down, he unknotted the anchor line from the stanchion and let it slide in slow spurts from one hand to the other until each release no longer elicited the same sucking sound from the unsteady sea—and instead offered a weak sloshing echo—so he knew it had reached bottom.

He rose to his feet again and saw that his companion was standing, bare-chested with wind-furled hair, and staring out across the sheet of water leading to the river’s mouth.

“The jib,” the Boatman called out to him. The boy swept his hand over his scalp to untangle his hair—sunbleached lighter than his skin—and grinned back with ceramic white teeth before scurrying over the foredeck to untie the lines binding the foresail, which was flapping noisily in sharp jolts against the mast with each tug of wind.

The Boatman stepped toward the mast and worked to secure the mainsail. As he worked, the boy kept jerking his head over toward the coast while the Boatman made quick, deliberate tucks in the canvas, binding it into a tight roll about the boom.

“How far?” his companion asked, beaming grin intact.

“Three days up,” the Boatman answered without taking his eyes off his work. “No more.”

The Boatman finished first and moved to help his companion. He made the boy reroll the last few arms’ length of canvas before they bound it.

Next they moved to the stern and pulled the tarp free of the skiff stowed just clear of the tiller. It took both of them to lift it off the aft deck. They carried it to the edge and, with a hefty shove from shoulder height, let it fall to the water where it landed with a plop and a splash high enough to wet the boards by their toes.

The skiff was still fastened with a single line, so it bobbed just off the starboard. He told the boy to fetch the jugs of water and the provisions from below.

“Three days,” he said aloud once the boy was gone from sight. He swept the empty deck with his eyes, but seemed to find nothing that could hold his attention so they drifted back out to the sea—not the narrow stretch that follow the verdant coast to the river’s mouth, but the open expanse opening up to the horizon and meeting the sky in a frozen embrace of blue and gray.

His companion emerged from below with two satchels slung over a single shoulder and a container of water yanking each of his gaunt arms downward. Still he beamed his unbending smile.

He set them on the deck and then bounced, feet-first, into the ocean. The Boatman watched as his matted hair disappeared beneath the water and then bobbed back to the surface. Like an otter, he scaled the side of the skiff, almost without disturbing its steady rhythm in the current, and shook out the water from his head, each knot of hair dripping an even parcel of water onto the thwart where he’d settled his wiry frame.

From his seat he reached up his arms like a beggar and the Boatman tossed the sacks and jugs through identical arcs, each one landing securely in the boy’s bony fingers before being hurriedly stowed away, allowing his open palms to fly up again for the next bundle.

The Boatman walked the perimeter of the deck again, scanning the deck even more intently, seeming to study every board and nail.

Finally, either satisfied or resigned, he knelt before the hatch below deck and with a gentle movement of his arm, as if guiding a child to an altar or a woman into an open space for a dance, he closed it. He clicked an iron lock the size of his fist to the catch and clicked it closed, folding the key into a hidden pocket on the inside of the waist of his trousers. Standing, he retrieved a pair of sandals from a spot by the mast where they had rested, unmolested, for days.

He flung them into the skiff and then gestured for his companion to tug at the line and pull in closer to the ship. He passed the oars—one at a time—to the boy and then carefully lowered himself onto the skiff, finding the strider with his toes before lowering his full wait into the smaller boat.

He untied the last line and flung it loosely into the water, where its impact startled away some narrow-beaked fish that had been pecking at a barnacle on the underside of the hull.

“Alright,” the Boatman said, gazing forward at the river’s maw. “Let’s go.”

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  1. November 3rd, 2013
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  6. November 6th, 2013
  7. November 7th, 2013
  8. November 7th, 2013
  9. November 9th, 2013
  10. November 10th, 2013
  11. November 10th, 2013
  12. November 11th, 2013
  13. November 12th, 2013
  14. November 14th, 2013
  15. November 15th, 2013
  16. November 15th, 2013
  17. November 16th, 2013
  18. November 17th, 2013
  19. November 17th, 2013
  20. November 18th, 2013
  21. November 19th, 2013
  22. November 20th, 2013
  23. November 21st, 2013
  24. November 21st, 2013

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