Ten Days in a Small Boat (We Being Three at Sea)
Day One: I take an inventory of the craft. In addition to two sets of oars, we have flares, a flare gun, a flashlight and a mirror or two, all presumably for the purpose of signaling--- which prompts me to tell Rhonda that it looks like when I’m not rowing like a galley slave, I’ll be announcing our position to all creatures sea and sky.
“I’ll be working all day,” I tell her.
“It won’t be long,” she says. “Are there any cigarettes in there, darling?”
We’ve got a first aid kit, some biscuits, rope, candy, water for I don’t know how long and binoculars. No cigarettes.
The Caribbean sun is throbbing today so I prop up the slightly shredded boat cover with a pair of oars and we sit in the shade or sleep.
Day Two: I hold three fingers in front of Rhonda’s eyes. “Nothing,” she says.
Day Three: A word or two about our situation. We were cruising home from the Bahamas on a ship called Siren Song of the Sea. Rhonda booked the trip, taking care of all the details. But one can’t plan for everything. Anyway, she thought we should try to work things out, “away from the circus of everyday life,” she had said.
It was also her idea to take tango lessons on board the ship. They would bring us closer together. I thought that was a funny thing to say.
Once the dancing started and our hips and thighs pressed together, I had to give her credit. Moving with her like that was intoxicating, even if the footwork gave me the occasional fit. And even though I hated her a little then, I found myself sweeping her off her feet and plucking the silver apples of the moon, to quote the poet, long into our cabin nights.
So it was a mild April evening and we were tangoing on the Top Deck, when an explosion rocked the boat. The band stopped playing and everybody ran, mostly into each other. Rhonda tumbled. I picked her up, but smoke rolled over the deck like a tsunami. We fumbled about. Rhonda said she couldn’t see. I said, “I know, it’s hard.” And she said, “No, you don’t understand.”
The ship tilted and we toppled into a lifeboat that was plunging to the water. It was a mistake, all of it, because there was nobody in the boat but us.
Wind and rain came up after that and we crawled through a tear in the nylon boat cover. When we crawled out again, we were surrounded by vast tracts of liquid sea and blue sky emptiness.
Day Four: Under the circumstances I feel I have to tell Rhonda that I knew she was sleeping with Bernie Conklin, our accountant, even before she told me. Two things happened, I say.
“Oh?” She says.
“Two things,” I say. “First my dividends ebbed like a moon tide. Then at our New Year’s Eve party, when Bernie announced he was dumping his business to see the world, nobody said anything but you, and you said, ‘Oh my.’”
Rhonda’s eyes narrow and split to opposite corners of her face, “I didn’t know he was stealing,” she says.
“You say the damnedest things.”
“I’ll get it all back, you’ll see.”
We sit side by side, propped against the gunwale on the lee side of the boat
“He had an idea to run away with you,” I say.
She gropes for my hand and says, “I’m being punished, you know.”
Day Five: Porpoises are pretty and sharks can split them in two, and do so routinely, without compunction I have read.
Day Six: I had not dreamed until I dream of Rhonda riding a porpoise in an aquashow. The audience showers her with coins, and the coins turn into shark fins that circle the pool until the fins grow into whole sharks below the surface of the water. All the sharks have Bernie Conklin’s face and speak in a single voice that says, “Go ahead, stick your hand in here.”
I reach for the flare gun.
Day Seven: Rhonda’s humming a tune that was popular when we first met called Three Little Fishies. She holds her index finger high and spins it when she sings, “Boop boop dit-tem dat-tem what-tem Chu! Boop boop dit-tem dat-tem what-tem Chu!”
I gaze through the binoculars. I have no idea where to look but I feel a breeze carrying us to the south and west, back toward the islands, so I look in that direction.
“We’re only two fishies,” I tell her
“No,” she says, “I don’t think so anymore.”
I let the binoculars fall from my hands. “And you know this since when?”
“Just now,” she says.
“Darling, you must get back to rowing. Row with your face to the stern. I’ll tell you which way to go.”
“But when the wind shifts, as it so often does,” I begin.
“Row!” she shouts.
Day Eight: I don’t know anything about the birds that appear in my binoculars this morning. What are they besides, I don’t know, Bahamian sea birds? Do they signal land nearby or below them? Or do these birds wander wild the seven seas?
This is not an adventure. This is a lesson which reminds me over and over how much my 35 year old self doesn't know about anything. If I didn't feel so stupid, I would be terrified. And terrified just won’t do.
Since I don’t know what the birds mean, I don’t tell Rhonda, who hasn't stopped singing except to eat and drink the rations I give her---all of hers, half of mine now.
On every side of our boat the water is wide, and on the surface, at least, as empty as a hole in the night.
Day Nine: Rhonda stops singing.
“I hear such sounds,” she says, “a roaring that parts the waves like a plow, the palms of tiny hands slapping the surface behind it.”
“Where,” I say, “can you point in the direction?”
She points straight up. She crosses her arms in front of her chest. Her fingers point to opposite corners of the horizon, the way her eyes ran from each other earlier.
“Where?” I repeat.
“Everywhere,” she says and starts singing again.
Day Ten: Part I: “I've got a confession,” I say.
Rhonda’s sitting in the bow of the boat, humming. She doesn't stop.
For her I've made a sun hat out of the flare packaging. Pressed down now, her curls fall behind her ears like commas.
I continue. “I wanted to throw you off the top deck of that ship.”
She stops. “I’m not sure you didn't.”
“We fell together. And I could have let you go.”
“Why didn't you then?”
“This is the truth,” I say. “In my confusion, I thought we hadn’t finished dancing.”
“We hadn't,” she says.
She starts singing again, projecting her song at the empty space in front of us: “Boop boop dit-tem dat-tem what-tem Chu!”
The singing makes me drowsy, carries me off, the oars slip from my hands and catch up in the oarlocks.
Day Ten: Part II: In the full moon light now, the night nearly as bright as day, I see them filling the horizon line. Boats of all kinds__ rowboats, kayaks, canoes, catamarans, skiffs, schooners, speedboats. Their pilots, bleary-eyed and frenzied, flash us with hand mirrors, hail us through bullhorns.
The swiftest of their flotilla races ahead of the others. It’s one of those old rum-runners fitted out with an airplane engine. It roars until the captain cuts the engine and drifts within shouting distance.
He’s a rugged sort. Tall and tanned, his hair untamed and his eyes fiery. “For the love of God,” he cries. “Everywhere Bimini Island rings with that maddening song! Day and night. None of us can sleep.”
Rhonda stops and all the other engines cut out, sails droop, oars and paddles lift from the water and a chorus of cheers ascends. Low hanging clouds become luminescent. Fish fly out of the sea.
“Can you give us a hand?” I holler to the hailing captain over the last fading huzzahs.
“Whatever she wants,” he returns. “We are at her mercy.”
About the author:
Wayne Cresser is a professor of English at Dean College. He lives on an island in Narragansett Bay with his wife and pup. Most recently his fiction has been published in the print anthologies Motif 1-3 (Motes Books) and 10, (Carlow University), online at The Written Wardrobe (@ModCloth), The Oklahoma Review, The Journal of Microliterature, and the Blue Lake Review, and in such print journals as The Ocean State Review and SLAB.