Main image
31st May
2012
posted by amber

None of us could sleep and Raf had saved one bottle of rum so we lay around on deck, sharing it while we watched Raf steer. No one seemed to want to spend time below.

I felt tired at last. Not tired enough to sleep – it would be many nights before I’d risk having another nightmare wake me into something worse. Not tired enough to be easy. I don’t know if I’ll ever be easy again. But a good feeling of tiredness, something I needed to feel, a slight relaxation of muscles too long tensed in anticipation of needing to stay steady while the world turned upside-down.

The rum helped too. We talked, first about how we could make some money when we got back to land. I noticed no one said anything about hiring onto another boat. Sam got onto the subject of the boss, wondering who would have to tell his wife. That kept us busy for a while, talking about her, thinking about her, so pretty and so young, speculating on whether she’d be the kind of widow who loves her husband more after he dies, wondering if she’d believe our story about him being swept overboard or if she’d make trouble. I was trying to guess, and I know the others were too, who’d be the first to break, to confess the truth in some bar or at the police station or in some woman’s arms. Joe was the weak link but he was in the locker when Raf did what was necessary.

We were talking nonsense, just to hear our own voices, trying to shut out the sound none of us wanted to hear. The wind rises every night. It was something we looked forward to, a bit of coolness for our time of relaxation before going to our bunks. But two nights ago it rose and rose and rose and rose until the black waves were slapping down at us like giant hands, over and over, the morning hour when it arrived on the boss’ waterproof watch finding no brightening in the dark howling hell that possessed us.

Taking water was the least of our worries as the boat groaned and flexed and seemed about to snap. But pumping water was something to do, something to keep us busy and distracted from the worst thing of all – the way the boss and Raf were arguing over how to steer the boat, the way the boss won the argument by going to his cabin and coming back with his gun.

Raf sat near us after that, not helping pump, just drinking. By the way his jaw clenched and his neck muscles corded up, I could see the rum wasn’t making a dent in his anger and fear. I was afraid too. I’ve been in storms before, on bigger and smaller boats. None as poorly maintained as this boat. None steered by a crazy man.

You survive a storm and you’ve got a good story, the sort of story that heartens men to see it’s possible to live and tell the tale. But we all know there’s another kind of story which often doesn’t have an ending, just loved ones waiting at the shore until finally they give up and hold a funeral with empty coffins.

I was scared we were already doomed to the second kind of story. My hands, whenever I took them off the pump, shook uncontrollably. So I kept them on the pump.

It finally got so bad that Raf had had enough. He took a fish knife and went up to the wheel. We didn’t know for several hours what he did, we just felt a difference in the way the boat was being steered – straight into the waves it felt like, being pounded harder than before and wallowing alarmingly before breaking through and surfing way too fast down the other side. It’s how riding out a storm is supposed to feel, if your boat can take it. And none of us were sure our boat could.

But it did, and now we were limping home. We hoped.

The thing is, we didn’t know where we were. The boat didn’t have much navigational equipment to start with and that was never kept in working order. Plus the cabin was never kept the way Raf said it should. The boss always left stuff lying around, heavy stuff like binoculars and boat hooks. They’d gone flying when the storm shook us, busted up the few things which had been operational.

The boss trusted Raf to navigate by the seat of his pants. Truth be told, Raf was good. He was the reason most of us signed onto that boat, besides the fact that most other captains wouldn’t hire us for one cause or another. But the goddam storm had blown us so far that Raf had only a dim idea of how to get us home.

This is part two of the story which won me the Sheldon Currie Fiction prize in 2010. The final part will be on here tomorrow. Enjoy!

 

Leave a Reply