A boat for the ocean

Hey friends. The snow is FINALLY melting, which means this southern girl might finally be able to venture outside without employing her best penguin impression to avoid slipping and falling on her ass–the freezing rain was no joke this year, y’all.

Below you’ll find a short fiction piece I worked on last year. Hopefully spring will bring some more inspiration, and they’ll be more where this one came from. Until then, hug the people you love and take some time to enjoy the sunshine, where ever you are.

 

 

“A Boat for the Ocean”

The dishwasher hummed gently, and the kettle warmed on the stove. He opened the refrigerator and surveyed his options—a colourful assortment of craft beer cans filled the top shelf of the fridge. He pulled one out without checking the label. The pleasure had dulled with nightly repetition. It was all beer tonight.

His wife sat at the eat-in table that occupied the space in front of the patio door. They never ate in the dining room when it was just the two of them. He was waiting for it. She’d been too quiet at dinner. It was coming. The debate had reincarnated every evening since he’d gotten the letter. The only question was what form it would take tonight.

“Sweetie, what would we do with the boat?” Conditional. That was the best he’d ever gotten.

“Hadn’t thought about it,” he answered mechanically.

“We’d have to get rid of it.” He didn’t think she meant for it to sting as badly as it did. He hoped she didn’t. Her voice was cold, detached, a mask. She walked into the kitchen, pulled a package of cookies out of the cupboard, and turned to lean on the counter, examining him.

“Maybe,” he answered, but the pause had been too long. Conversation didn’t come easy nowadays. Every word felt strained, each syllable buckling under the weight of the home they’d built together: the house, the cars, the cottage, the boat. They’d said “‘Till death do us part,” and they both meant it. Life seemed to be the tricky part.

They’d made it through a lot together: jobs, houses, unfruitful attempts at children. They’d survived the early years, when dinner consisted of freeze-dried noodles that were more chemical than food. The dishes were done by hand in those days, and special occasions were marked with candlelit dances in the cramped living room, struggling to keep time as the second-hand stereo battled against the heavy footfalls from the upstairs neighbours.

They’d survived the interim years too, when the hours at the office got longer, the pay-cheques got better, and the rent morphed into a twenty-year fixed rate mortgage. They both accepted jobs they weren’t sure they wanted to get there… he’d never been more than marginally stimulated in his professional life. She’d made a decorated career for herself, but suffered breakdown after breakdown in the process. The bills were always paid on time and the kitchen was always spotless, but she’d been on mental health leave for the past two weeks. He managed his days with stoicism, but he wasn’t in the greatest shape either.

The kettle whistled. She poured hot water over the translucent tea bag, and the kitchen filled with the soft scent of lavender and chamomile. Even those harmless little teabags have plastic in them these days, he thought to himself.

“Just something to consider,” she said with unmistakeable finality. She cupped the war mug in her hands—he knew those hands were cold; they were always cold—and she left him in the kitchen with his thoughts.

The process had been decades in the making, occurring chiefly during those mind-numbing office lulls where your nearly comatose brain can barely fire up the neurons to operate the clunky scroll-wheel on your tired office mouse. It had started with daydreaming of all the places he told himself he’d visit when he was younger. He’d always loved the water. The sea called to him in the way it calls many during youth, offering adventure, exploration, and discovery for those brave enough to seek it. As he tired of the “10 best beaches” in this or that remote corner of the globe, other articles began surfacing, slowly at first: little piece on the evening news here and there about the worsening ocean conditions: higher temperatures, increased salinity, coral bleaching, marine plastic. The more he searched, the stronger the flow of information grew. He heard the call of the sea again, but it was different now: it was a cry for help. But what could he do, from his cubicle, hundreds of miles from the nearest shore? To ease the pain of his impotency, he’d bought the boat. Despite it all, the existential rot in his belly continued to grow.

That’s when he’d come across the program. A new endeavour at a well-known university on the coast, one of the towns where he’d hoped to live one day when he was young enough to dream beyond mortgages, paid vacation, retirement savings plans, cottages, boats. He knew he was fortunate—how much he and his wife had worked, scraped, saved, and endured to actualize those practical dreams. However, in a moment of desperation, he sat in his cubicle, his forehead sweating, applying to an educational program 1000 miles away.

In the early days, over the metallic roar of the window AC unit, they’d fantasized about living together near the sea. They dreamt together of cool, salty breezes as the sweat dripped down his back. The sheets clung to his sticky skin, but she still insisted that they keep the AC on low to save on the electric bill. Means to an end, she’d said in those days. They’d move to the sea; he’d go back to school for a while and work in wildlife rehabilitation, she’d write stories. They’d live humbly, but they’d be happy. Would she remember that now? Now that those dreams had been paved over with the comfortable life they’d created? Now that he’d bought the boat as a consolation?

He didn’t think it mattered anyway. The odds that he’d be accepted to the program were negligible, in his late 40’s with no academic references to speak of. But then the letter came. The letter said if he—if they—had the courage to take the plunge, nothing would ever be the same again.

He heard the TV switch on in the next room. She disconnected stream of sound told him she was surfing —2000 channels and nothing to watch. They’d grown so comfortable. So complacent. Turning down a life to help protect the ocean for the sake of keeping the boat. He smiled at the bitter irony and took a deep draught from the sweating can in his hand. It turned sour in his mouth.

It wasn’t about the boat. He knew she couldn’t help but see this path as backward progress. She was working herself to death to sustain the life they’d fallen into. So was he, though in a different way. Was there really a way to change that? To alter course, and fill the void that was consuming him from the inside out? A way that wouldn’t feel, to her, like starting over?

He didn’t know. He speculated that she didn’t either. The boat he could sacrifice. But the house the jobs, the extra zeros in the savings account, even the 2000 channels? These were sacrifices that would have to be made together. He wanted to go to her. To encourage her to see this as an opportunity to focus on herself for a while as well, and to leave the job that was draining her so completely. To assure her that if they had they were brave enough to take this chance together, their lives could be so much richer.

But the words were so heavy, that weight magnified by the possibility that her attachment to this life might be too tight to let go. He went to the living room and sat beside her as she continued to flip through the channels. He gently placed a hand on her knee, but his gaze remained fixed on the screen. He hoped, in time, the right words would come, but for now, silence was all either of them could muster.

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