Twenty-three

 

Dyer launched the sloop, running her down his spindly marine-railway. Tied alongside his wharf. She grounds out for nearly half of every tide. A good thing, considering how slow she is to make up. Become a vessel holding out the sea. Not a sieve letting the tide rise inside as well as out.

Her name is Ivy. Carved in gold-leaf across her transom, A long time ago. Fading curls weave along trail-boards cupping either side of her stem.
Dyer plugged her most virulent leaks. Sistered broken frames, Nail-sick. Iron fastenings rust stain her paint.

This morning yet another in a procession of jewel-like Indian Summer days, High tide around nine. The expectation of a sou’wester building in the afternoon. An ebbing tide and a fair wind! A fine offing around Long Point. Past Race Point and out towards Stellwaggen. Cape Ann feels close.

Peter greets his friend under the railroad-crossing sign. The dark predawn feels nippy. Venus hangs over the harbor above constellations of anchor lights. No hint of sunrise. “D’you get it?” Albert asks, even as he notices a parcel under Peter’s arm.

Peter husbands its warmth, pinching its bulk between his elbow and his side. Loaves right off the baker’s paddle tumbled in a cloud of white flour. Crusts hardened as he walked. Should’a bought one for the road!

Albert presents a basket. Its exaggerated bow-handle forces him to hold it out away from his side. He tilts it. Shows Peter its straw-lined interior, “Eggs! Mrs. Santos.” Lifting a tin-can in his other hand, it creaks on its wire bail, “Milk.” Peter, lost in a fresh revery…,“Hmm…”

They walk the last half-mile in silence. Pass other early souls. Men in foul-weather gear. Women wrapped in dark shawls beneath close head-scarves.
At the wharf a feeble glow above East Harbor. Walking out single-file between tall pilings and the weathered side of the boathouse Albert studies Ivy’s rigging. Just her mast visible jutting above the dockside. Something catches his eye, Halyards run straight down, “GOD DAMN IT! The gaff’s un-shipped? The mainsail gone?” He kicks at the nearest piling. His soft rubber sea-boot buckles. His big-toe takes the brunt of the impact. He sets down Mrs. Santos’ little basket. Turns around, Where is he? “Dyer?”

A wheezy cackle reaches them from the end of the boathouse, “Stubbed my toe on a pebble once! Nev’ah on a thit’ay foot pilin’!” Dyer’s cheeks crack along deep laugh-lines. Weathered cheeks like sharkskin sandpaper. Rheumy eyes water. He slaps Albert on the back. Keeps a wary eye on Peter.

Albert ducks. Dyer’s grin broadens. Albert’s face is red, Thinks I flinched. Standing up straight, “Where’s the mainsail, Mr. Dyer?” Dyer laughs, “Good one!” Repeats him in a singsong voice, “Where’s the the m-mainsail, M’ Mr. Dyer? Hah! Hah, hah…” Dyer relishes each dying gasp. Makes a conspicuous show of his effort to control himself. Winks, “Good question!” Feigns another slap. Albert flinches, Again. A last morsel of amusement for the old boatbuilder, “Y’a don’t want-t’a-be-headin’-out-the’ah with that old moth-eatin’ sail do ya?” Pointing at a mound of gray, rotting canvas, “Might be-aright in Joo-lie; but naught fo’ah nigh Novemb’ah!”

Albert looks out across the harbor. “We’ll need some sort of mainsail.” Sunrise breaks above the Truro.

*

Mid-afternoon. Tide rose and has begun to fall again. The fragile warmth of the day bleeds away into lengthening shadows. Peter, tired, returning from yet another last-minute errand, drops his bundle from the dock to land on the deck far below, Boom! “HEY! WATCH IT!” Albert yells from below, swinging his head out of the companionway, “God Damn, It! You’re gonna break something!”

“Look, I don’t mind going for things; but you could have told me when I went for kerosene you needed leather too! Most of this shit must be right in there!” Pointing through the dusty window of Dyer’s shop. “HE should be supplying this stuff! Not us!”

Albert turns away. Stares out across the harbor. Dusk falls. The light fades behind Wood End. The hills of Plymouth loom, More like a band of dark clouds than the continental edge of North America.

 

Continue…

 

 

 

 

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