THE BOAT AND THE BOY

The boat sat idly on the water letting the gentle waves caress its hull. It wanted to go out on the lake but it knew it would have to wait. So it lazed away waiting for the warmer weather to arrive.


Winter came upon it so fast and yet it still stayed tied to land. The boat began to worry no one would ever come for it. It wanted to glide along the steely waters and watch the ripples form in its wake. It missed its sails being unfurled on a warm, breezy day and the feeling of the wind tickling the blowing canvas. Mostly, it missed the boy. The boat anxiously waited for the boy’s imminent return. But the boat knew that as soon as the first frost crept on the reedy shores the boy would no longer come for it.


A sharp wind knocked the boat. The boat let itself be carried by the wind’s mighty force. The lines that kept it close to shore pulled against the strength of nature. The pier creaked and moaned as it desperately tried to keep the boat close. But the boat let itself be pushed further and further out into the cruel unrelenting currents whipped up by the strong winds. Then the rain began to fall and the boat quickly filled with the storm’s excess. It felt the raging lake whip against its sides. The boat worried it might drown. That the weight of the water and the pull of the wind might bring it to an early death.


The next morning was calm now the storm had passed. The boy and his father arrived at the lake. The boat felt trepidation at the sound of the truck pulling up and their footsteps on the wet ground. The boat hoped it was a warm enough day for it not to be winter. That they were there to take it out for a sail. Instead, they pulled the little boat out of the water and onto the shore. The boat wished it could resist the drag of the sand and soot against its hull. Instead, it was helpless against the power of the boy and his father.  


The boy threw his hands up in the air and the father narrowed his eyes. He wanted to believe the boy’s protestations against the boat’s sale but his father doubted the boat would ever get used again. Still, it wasn’t an object he could easily part with, like a car or worn out jacket. He remembered the day he bought the boat. It was an expense his wife had very much objected to. He insisted that it would bring him and the boy closer. And in the beginning it did.


He reminisced about the first day the two of them took the boat out on the water. It was an especially windy and bitter day which very much added to the boy’s hesitance. The boy was so tiny that he had held onto to his father’s ankles every time they tacked. The boat would swing around to the other side and the boy would find himself suddenly off balance, having to duck out of the way of the omnipresent boom. But the boy’s timidity with the water only lasted a few days. By the end of that first summer, he confidently scrambled around the boat eagerly waiting for the next gust of wind to push them forward. He anticipated the boom swinging around. He was prepared when his father tacked so that he wouldn’t be jolted from one side of the boat to the next.


The summer after the first the father let him captain the tiny sailboat and the summer after that the boy could sail on his own. The father remembered sitting on the pier with a book in his hands. He remembered waving the boy off as he became an increasingly smaller speck on the lake’s horizon. By the fourth summer of the boat’s life, the boy would go out by himself for hours on end. Eventually, the day would drag into evening before the father was shouting the boy’s name over the distant waters.


As the boy and his father dragged the boat onto the shore and covered it in the tarp meant to protect it from winter’s harm, the father pushed away a tear. He didn’t want to let the boy see him cry. He should have seen it coming. After all, his wife had warned him about teenage hormones and growth spurts but he had foolishly hoped that his boy was different. That his boy would stay a boy.


The boat spent the next three summers under the tarp. Bugs and other creatures began to inhabit it’s insides and soon it gave up on ever meeting water again. Being a tarp covered land object was now it’s fate. Then one late summer evening the father came to the lake alone. It was a warm evening. The water was as calm as it had ever been and the breeze blew just enough to fill the little boat’s sails. At first the feeling of his hand gripping the tiller felt unfamiliar but he soon navigated the waters with ease. He missed the boy pulling at the gib. Scrambling at his feet.


The boy was now in college. The father struggled to remember the last time they spoke. When he returned to shore, the father pulled the boat back onto land. He fumbled with the loose and flippant fabric but eventually the boat found itself once again shrouded in darkness.   


****


The man resented his mother. She had phoned three times just to remind me him of the boat and nothing else. She wanted him to do something about it. She was so persistent that even his own wife began to nag him about the boat. The two of them ganged up on him and eventually he caved. He went to visit the boat.


It was still in the same place where his father and he had left it almost ten years ago. The ropes that tied down the tarp were decayed and he was worried about the state of the hull. He wondered if the sails had held up under the duress of time. He worried that simply wrapping them in duffle bags and leaving them inside the boat wasn’t enough to preserve them.


The little boat heard the man’s footsteps approach and trembled with excitement. It was finally going to go back out on the water. It didn’t care how long it had waited or what state it was in, all that mattered is that the boy had finally come back for it.


His wife and mother strongly advised he sell the boat or if it was in too bad a condition scrap it. He turned to look at the trailer hitched to the back of his car. It would be the first time in his life that the boat would leave the lake. The man slowly unpeeled the tarp and inspected the little wooden vessel. It was in much better shaped than he had expected. Definitely sell-able. The women in his life would be happy to know the boat may sail again in the hands of another little boy.


The man sat on the sandy lake’s shore and placed his hand on the hull of the boat. He prepared to say his last goodbyes but goodbyes were hard to find. Instead, he reminisced about the times he spent spent with his father on that lake. How the two of them had gone out to face what felt like the most brutal of weather and gustiest of wind only to always make it back to land. How his father always knew how to reassure him when the line slipped out of his pudgy fingers and the sail began to flap mercilessly in the wind. How his father always caught him before he slipped into the water. How when the two of them did capsize under the weight of too great a challenge his father taught him to laugh. To let the water roll off his back.

He tried not to remember how his father had begged him to go sailing. He tried to forget how he refused because he thought he was too old to spend time with his father even though the man was still a child. The man tired to remember the last time he sailed the boat, his father watching from the pier or sometimes joining in with the fun. His memory betrayed him and the days, months, years that had passed began to blur into one. Was he twelve, thirteen, fifteen, sixteen? He couldn’t remember.


The man held onto the boat and tried to forget the last time his father had coerced him into going sailing. It was easier to remember the first time they’d gone out together. But those early memories were hard to conjure now they were marred by the cruel twist of time. He desperately wished he could get them back. That the memories he made with his father in adulthood would fade and those from childhood would remain.


The boat creaked under the weight of his grip as the man pulled himself up. After some struggle and difficult manoeuvres, the man eventually pulled the boat onto the trailer. He sat in his car and turned on the engine. He stared at the road ahead and then back at the lake. The spot where the boat had stood was now an empty pit on the shore. He look into his rear view mirror and saw the boat hitched to his car. The man tried to hold back his tears as he saw the tiny vessel helplessly engulfed in the iron clutch of the trailer. He hoped it would meet a happy end. He thought of the next father and son who would sail it out onto new waters. He hoped the boat wouldn’t mind the change in scenery.


The man drove off for the first time on his own from the lake and wished that his father was the one driving. That his father was there to beg him not to sell boat. That the two of them could once again set sail on the lake’s smooth waters.