Here is my second story from the Protection Island Short Story Book. It is fiction and was inspired from a Times Colonist competition many years ago. The Colonist had put up a challenge to write a two hundred and fifty word short story that had to include the five words: newspaper, cosmos, whale, spiderweb and impress. I didn’t win, but got good feedback. Since then I expanded the story and changed Cosmos (which in my original story I appointed as the cosmos flower) to Forget-me-nots to better suit the ending.
They met in Ucluelet at a B-B-Q get together of a mutual friend, on a sunny Saturday in early July after a month of rain. He stood across from her at the patio table loaded with assorted salads and condiments. He paused over the potato salad when he noticed her putting her burger together.
She looked up when she felt his eyes watching and caught his stare, stopping her action in mid motion.
“Sorry,” he said, and smiled down at his still naked burger laying on the half bun, “most people put potato chips on the side.”
She continued to add chips on top of her open burger and then squeezed mayonnaise over the chips. She reached towards him to pick up a long slice of pickle and placed it gingerly on the chips, glanced at him as she placed the top bun on, and pressed lightly with a crackling sound then picked up her burger and took a bite. He hadn’t taken his eyes off of her.
“I dip french fries in my milkshake too,” she said and walked away to sit with her girlfriend.
She owned a small sailboat, built by a local shipwright. A 28 foot wooden sloop named Island Girl and moored in Campbell River where she lived. She had sailed her first big voyage last summer, circumnavigating Vancouver Island, with two friends as crew.
In September he accepted her invitation for a weekend sail to Cortez Island. Out in the choppy waters of the Straits he hid his seasickness, and then fought to hide his terror when a short, intense squall hit them before they reached Mansons Landing. After reaching their destination he watched impressed as she set the anchor. He tried to pay attention as she explained to him what it meant to fall off when sailing upwind. He tried to pay attention when she described to him how to plot a course as they sat in the cockpit with red wine and chips. But his attention was caught up in her brown hair that had curled in the moist salt air, and then his thoughts pulled him ahead to how the evening would be, curled in the bunk, he inside her, floating embraced in this wooden half-shell on the still dark water.
They found a place together that winter on Protection, a tiny island near the city of Nanaimo. Island Girl was tucked safely on her mooring in the waters between Protection and Newcastle Island.
During their first winter together he was coerced out of their warm house for short day sails with her in the cold rain and wind, stuffed into thick cruiser suits, toques and gloves. He never let on his discomfort, his tensing, queasing stomach whenever a gust pushed Island Girl’s shoulder deep down into a tossing beam reached sea. It’s ok, she’d yell to him over the wind, she’s a good boat, she’s loving this.
They would come home chilled through and climb into the hot tub, each with a tumbler of whiskey, and he would listen in amused admiration while she talked of new expeditions, her desire for further shores, bigger oceans, maybe a bigger boat. In the evenings he would practice his guitar while she studied for her captains license.
The summer that followed she took him sailing in the Straits of Georgia at any opportunity, exploring the gulf islands north and south, threading through the long inlets along the Sunshine coast. She noted on those trips, and then said that he isa fair weather sailor. When he said he supposed that’s true and how could she tell,she said because his arm isn’t locked around the winch, and he smiles more.
He sees now he missed taking her seriously when she would talk to him about crossing oceans. Sail here, what’s wrong with the waters around here, he said to her.
It was all leading to this day, at the marina, with both of them facing each other on the ramp that led down to the 58 foot sailboat that waited to take her away. The opportunity to crew across the Pacific to New Zealand meant the time had come.
She stood before him holding out a clutch of small purple flowers cinched up in newspaper. She waited while he turned away and distractingly looked back up the ramp at nothing in particular. Waited as he took a breath; watching his chest fill then collapse.
He turned back to her and took the flowers, then dropped his arm to let them hang from his side. He couldn’t look into her face, his eyes searched for somewhere to anchor, where he could hold for a moment; rally a semblance of composure. He found it in a graffiti of three words in blue felt pen on the aluminum rail near her left elbow, Impress with kindness. His lips pursed at this whisper from the ether that told him to open his heart, just for this moment. Enough, he thought, to let her feel that it’s not lost on him; that he is capable of understanding she had anticipated this, wanted this long before they became involved, since before Ucluelet, since before him.
She was asking him to wait for her. She searched in his eyes for a blessing, or a release. She had said to him earlier; to not jump at this chance was like trying to hold a whale in a spider’s web.
He was thinking of that image now, and it pulled his lips into a nearly imperceptible smile. He didn’t want a smile to come, he pushed it down, he wanted her to know his heart was breaking.
But she caught it and her face brightened. She knew he’d be fine, knew it then. They would hold fast. Anything more will just have to wait. There will be enough time for that.
A crew mate called to her from the sailboat, she turned and waved back to signal that she was coming, then turned back to him, opened her arms and shrugged a smile.
He took her in and pressed her tight for a long moment before he pulled back and kissed her mouth. Then defying everything in him let her go and said, “Sail back home, sail back to me.”
He watched her walk down the dock, and then was seized with a sudden need, before she stepped into the cockpit, before the ocean separated them, to call out to her, anything to make her turn and look at him one more time.
“Hey, what kind of flowers are these anyway?” He held them up tight in his hand.
She smiled and shook her head, and shouted, “I don’t know,” then she laughed and said, “forget-me-nots,” and brought her hand to her lips and released a kiss to him as the dock lines slipped to free her.