Tuesday, after school, Jill and I walk down Smart Street to Ocean Drive. We walk by the bank and Bucky’s Books, up past Homer’s and the crappy little knick-knack novelty shop—the limited-time-only sale sign that’s forever been taped to its front window has been coming down on its own for half of that time. We walk past the old hardware store—beach towels, four ninety three—past the empty weed-infested lot that was once a car dealership, then turn left into a small, gravel, parking lot where a faded-red pickup truck with a flat tire waits hopelessly for help. We stop before the weathered docks extending into the cove.
There it rests, gently rocking in its slip, with a ting, ting, ting, coming from the halyard hanging from the masthead, and the caws of sea gulls circling about the mouth of the cove. I’ve been antsy to show off The Warbler since arriving home from my first lesson. As we waddle across the dock, I feel that weird electricity zipping around inside me again—either leftover from Sunday, or recharging itself.
“Do you believe it? I’m really doing it!”
“Wow! Just think, I’ll be telling my grandkids that I personally knew Evelyn Hatfield, the bravest disappear-er-er of them all.”
I proudly point out the parts of the boat I’ve learned thus far. “Bowsprit, mast, boom, gunwale, topside”—and then, the backend of the boat—“the stern and that other thing.”
“I’m serious. If you disappear, I’ll hunt you down and break your kneecaps.”
I sigh. “I’m not going to disappear.”
“What makes you so vortex-proof?”
“And, anyway, I have to learn to sail first, then I’ll need a boat, and they’re not cheap, you know?”
“Don’t forget to buy yourself some good knee pads, cuz I’ll go straight for the knees.”
“Isn’t it awesome though? I steered it on my first lesson!”
Steering a sailboat is a far cry from actually navigating one, as I discover during my next lesson. Brad is at the stern polishing a gunwale cleat as I arrive. I haven’t even stepped aboard when he says, “Let’s see what you’ve learned. Take us out.”
I stand there on the dock, smiling at him, waiting for instructions.
“Surely you learned more than this.”
“Are you serious?”
“Serious as dry-rot.”
I turn, look toward the bow, the naked mast, the jib, the mainsail boom, the rigging running up, down, fore and aft.
“You showed me how to steer it. That’s all.”
“Oh? Oh, right.” He gives his head a quick shake as though shaking himself awake. “Yeah.” He gets to his feet, then gives me a hand over the gunwale. “So …” He produces a nervous chuckle. “Just trying to add a new dimension to teaching.”
“Shock therapy?” I say.
He smiles and nods. “You are good. I think it’s working.” He then becomes focused and begins explaining the hows and whys of this and that. I learn how to raise the jib and mainsail. I learn the purpose of the various lines of rigging, how to tie two different knots, and how to adjust the main sheet and the jib for a tack. We remain moored the whole time, but I don’t mind. As the hour progresses, I feel closer to my purpose—my source of power.
“You think you could get us out of this cove now?” he says.
“Right there’s the difference between you and me. If I was standing there in your shoes, I would’ve said, yes. But see, I’m a bit of a dumbass and you’re not, which makes a great teacher/student combo.”
I struggle for a moment, trying to untangle the logic.
“You’re not into the Zin thing, huh?”
“Yeah. Basically, everyone is the teacher and the student, equally … perhaps more so.”
“Yeah, well … I’d rather just learn to sail.”
The following weekend, I launch The Warbler myself—with Brad at my side, saying, “No, no, no,” and then, “Yes, yes, yes,” each step of the way. He has me take the boat south this time—the wind at our tail, Bartonville on our port side. A couple miles slide by. I bring the boat about, starboard, at which point I have no idea what I’m doing. Broach what? Fall off where? Beat to windward? A lot to learn.
Once the boat is back in the slip, I walk with Brad to the entrance of the parking lot. There’s still just the one vehicle in the lot, that same old pickup truck with the flat at the front. “See you next Sunday?” I say, as I’m about to turn down Ocean Drive, the opposite direction he’s headed.
“Oh, wait a minute.” He jogs over to the pickup, opens the passenger door, fishes around inside, then comes jogging back with a book in his hand. “You might find this useful.” He offers me the book.
“Sailing for Dolts?”
“Yeah. Don’t ask me what the title means.” He shakes his head. “Sounds a little presumptuous, doesn’t it? But it’s full of useful tips. Open it … any page.”
I open it toward the middle. He closes his eyes and drops his index finger on the page.
“What’s that say there?”
“You know what a cleat is?”
“Yeah. Well …”
“Is that your truck?”
He follows my finger to where I’m pointing and nods.
“You don’t have a spare tire?”
“It doesn’t need one.”
“It doesn’t run?”
“It’s out of gas.”
Monday, 10:64, third period science class:
“So …” Mr. Gamble is standing at the chalkboard, a stubby piece of yellow chalk between his thumb and forefinger. He emphatically taps, peck, peck, peck, peck, peck, just outside the abstract diagram he’d just scribbled on the board. “May Daigh left Normalton at five fifteen on June, thirty-four, forty-four thirty-seven. She had enough fuel on her plane to carry her sixty-one hundred miles, given the weather conditions that morning.” He draws a line from right to left. “That would have put her approximately here.” Peck peck. He makes a check mark. “And Howard Gonfark left Estonburg at … on … in forty-four eighty-two. Let’s put Estonburg over here.” Peck peck. “Now if you take into consideration …” He rolls his eyes. “Yes, Wally?”
“Shouldn’t it be over there … in the East?”
“Yes, it’s in the east, Wally. Because Bufadu is a big wet sphere, you can reach the East by going west. See? Like a ball. Doesn’t matter which way you go, you still get there.”
“But isn’t it farther that way?”
“Bloody hell, Wally! Just watch!” He turns back to his diagram. “So, here we have Estonburg, in the East, which, unlike north and south, is relative. And Gonfark flew his craft, which was estimated to have fuel enough to reach here, to—” He makes another checkmark. “See what I see, class?”
I see what he’s getting at, but can’t draw any kind of conclusion from it, as I suspect he is, and as I suspect he expects us to. “Mr. Gamble?” I hold my hand up. He glances my way, but then quickly turns back to the board.
“So, we have Daigh, we have Gonfark, we have Rodgers, Smith, Snyder, Pitt, we have Wank … all equipped with the means to journey over half the circumference of the world, and not a one returns. See what I see, class?”
I again shove my hand up.
“The much celebrated Dr. Beverly Hoover looks at this and says, ‘Duh! Giant vortex.” He makes a face.
I pull my hand down—my curiosity, piqued.
“They bloody ran out of gas!” He throws his hands in the air. The chalk flies from his fingers and hits the window with a jarring dank! He goes on. “They underestimated. Obviously didn’t pay attention in class. They didn’t carry enough provisions to cover the distance from Normalton to Estonburg. Simple as that. Yes, Wally?”
“Wouldn’t it have made more sense to take the land routes?”
My hand goes up.
“Maybe they made it.”
“Made it to Methania.” I shrug.
“Oh, and the shops happened to be closed that day, so they all lost heart and died.”
A few bored chuckles rise and fall—the last few barely-hanging-on hold-outs. Is it fewman nature that compels us to draw conclusions and then believe in them, even when we have no evidence to support them? I want to say more, but am certain it will only evoke ridicule.
Instead of going home after school, I walk to my grandpa’s house—just a few blocks from the school. Roy Cob is my mom’s dad. Born in forty-five sixty-eight, which makes him, what? seventy-eight years old. One of Bartonville’s oldest living citizens. He’s doing quite well though—not yet ready for Oceanside Acres. He loves music. That’s his thing. And records—those big round black things with the tiny hole in the center. With every visit, that’s what I hear, old records—music of nearly every kind.
I push his front door open a crack and hear piano—something classical—Gaga, I think.
The volume drops.
“That Evelyn?” He enters the room wearing a big smile. “Well, if it ain’t my favorite granddaughter.”
A piano concerto …
“What’d you do with your hair?” he says.
I reach up and run my fingers through it. “Nothing.”
“Wasn’t it pink the last time you were here?”
“It’s always been this, Grandpa.”
“You should maybe give pink a try. Some of that Weasel Juice, too.” He grins. “You thirsty, Honey? Would you like a glass of whiskey or something?”
“You have any calopaker?”
“I don’t drink that crap. You know that. You shouldn’t either. Nothing but sugar.”
“I’ll have a tall glass of whiskey then. Neat.”
I follow him into the kitchen. He retrieves a glass from the cabinet, fills it with water, and then hands that to me. The little speaker perched on top of the fridge hums with orchestral strings.
“So, tell me something nice,” he says.
“I have a job.”
He cocks his head. “Do you?”
“Crazi Arti’s. Fourteen hours a week.”
“Saving for an education?”
“I’m paying for my own sailing lessons.”
His head tilts to the other side, and his brow bunches up. “What’re you planning on selling?”
“Sailing. A boat.”
His eyes widen. “Sailing?”
The pianist drops their fingers onto a broad, dissonant chord.
I smile and nod. “I love it.”
“Sailing … out on the ocean?”
“I think you’d like it.”
He makes a sour face. “Your dad okay with this?”
I shrug. “He’s not thrilled, but he’s letting me do it.”
“Hmm.” He rubs his chin. “So, my granddaughter wants to be a sailor, huh?” I hear a string of notes, like a frightened squirrel running the length of a piano keyboard.
“Quite an expensive hobby, isn’t it?”
He shifts his weight from left to right, then leans back against the counter. “But you’re enjoying it, huh? The lessons?”
“Can I tell you a secret?”
The music quiets. The refrigerator motor kicks on with a thump and a hum. Grandpa shrugs, pours himself a glass of water, then takes a seat at the end of the table. I scoot in at the side.
“A secret?” He folds his hands under his chin. His eyes drift off for a moment, then come back to me. He lifts his brow. “I sure hope you’re not pregnant.”
He wipes a hand across his brow in mock relief.
I nod over my shoulder, toward the west. “Do you think there’s anything out there? Like another continent?”
“Did you ever believe in Methania?”
He cocks his head and shifts his jaw. “And this is …?”
“I want to prove it.”
“Evelyn …” He blinks, pushes his brow higher.
“I know, I know, I know.”
“I’m going to do it, Grandpa.”
He looks at me.
“My teacher, Brad … he thinks I’ll make a good sailor.”
His chest heaves with a sigh. “Of course.”
“I know it’s out there.”
“No. No, Honey. You think it is.” He scratches his cheek. His eyes drop to the table top. “I wish you could have known your grandma. You two would’ve been a force to reckon with. She likely would’ve said, ‘When do we leave?’ Me? I’d rather not think about it, you going out there.” He again sighs. The sustained, final note of the concerto arrives, though it feels a half-step short of a contented resolve. “Look at what happened to all the others? How could I live with that?”
And then silence.
I feel exposed, my selfishness and stupidity out on the table before us, but this doesn’t stop me. “I won’t disappear.”
“Evelyn, think about it.” He throws his hands up. “How silly is it, thinking that? Are you going to leave me with an empty promise? You just pull it out of your hat, and it means something?”
I let my head hang. My eyes drop.
“I’m sorry, Honey, but this is something I can’t …”
I don’t look up, but I can feel his sad concerned eyes on me. “You’re not going to tell Dad, are you?”
“Hmm.” He shakes his head and lets out another sigh.
I try back-pedaling, pretending to reconsider my rash, childish fantasy. I don’t believe he buys it though. So I try a different tack. I put on an expression of chastened shame.
“You’re not angry with me, are you, Grandpa?”
He chuckles. “I was about to ask you the same. No, I’m not angry. Concerned? Yes.”