Short Story for March

Ever thought of doing something different at night? Here’s one person’s misadventure.

Darkness of Water

Wide awake and restless, Philip rolled over and stared at the clock.  The dial read 11:42 pm. Now what? Hell, why not? He could do it in a few hours and his wife Anna would never know.

He slipped quietly out of bed and dressed.

He drove to the Marina. The dock lights led the way to his boat. On board, he set the sails and with a quick turn of the key the diesel engine started a slow steady thumping. Back on the dock, he gave the dock line a quick swirl, and the line swung free. Adrenaline pumped through his body, stoking a combination of apprehension and excitement. He stepped back aboard and took the helm. Under his deft touch the sloop glided into the darkness.

The warm, summer, offshore wind was no more than eight knots, a perfect breeze for easy sail out and back.

Skyward, pinpoints of lights speckled the sky and a dim milky way stretched across the heavens. The green light of harbor buoy slipped silently passed the starboard side and he trimmed the sails for a beam reach. The thirty-foot Catalina gently accelerated to four knots trailing a sparkling, phosphorescent wake. In the mild offshore breeze, the waves were only long swells. On either side of the boat’s prow, the red and green navigation lights cast a soft glow over the water.

An hour later, they – Philip thought of himself and the boat as companions – reached the five-nautical miles from shore. Time to tack and turn back, he decided, marveling at the incredible sight of the canopy of stars disappearing on the horizon.  The word inky, he mused, described the blackness of the water. On the far shore, a string of winking pearly lights formed in the distance.

To complete the tacking maneuver, he let go the port jib sheet. The line flailed lightly in the breeze until the sail slid across the deck and over the starboard rail.  He hauled in the starboard sheet.  At first it came in easily then stopped, hard. Damn, Philip thought, what now?  He angled the flashlight at the mast.  The sheet had fouled on a cleat at the base of the mast.  Must have happened during the tack.

With a penlight in his mouth he worked his way through the darkness to the mast, and on his knees, he cleared the tangled sheet. The line came loose. With a jerk the sail whipped to starboard. He wasn’t prepared when the boat lurched, throwing him across the deck toward the rail. His body made an abrupt stop when a stanchion caught him in the gut. Breathing hard he clutched the stanchion so hard his fingers went white. He lay half off the deck with his feet dangling over the water. The penlight flew from his lips and spun away into the blackness of the water below his feet. The glow from the sinking light darkened and disappeared.

The sails billowed full in the wind. The boat sailed on. The now abandoned helm jerked back and forth with the swells. He fought the panic flooding his veins seeking the strength and leverage to pull himself onto the deck. He thrust his left leg hard up and threw his body on deck where he rested. Minutes later the ache in his muscles diminished, and in the dark he began the precarious crawl to the helm.

On the long sail back to the harbor, his thoughts sorted through the worst of the possible outcomes of his near misadventure.

Sails flapping, the boat came to a halt in the slip. He sat down waiting for his heart rate to return to normal.  When he calmed, he fastened the lines to the dock cleats and furled the sails.

Nerves ajitter, he drove back home.

He slipped into his pajamas and crawled into bed.

“Where have you been?”  Anna asked in a sleepy voice.

“Nowhere,” he replied.

“What did you do?”

“Nothing.”

“Well dear, try to get some sleep,” she mumbled and turned over.

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