Coming of Age Drama Sad

A strong gust blew his curls across his face then waned. She reached out a weak hand and pushed them aside.

“It’s out there,” she said.

“What is?” he replied, curious despite the grief he was feeling.

“The world.”

“I don’t know what that means,” he confessed, confused now.

“You will…ready the boat…then you will see.”

The boy looked behind them to the tree line where the craft was tethered to several trunks. 

“Can’t I just stay here?” he asked.

She shook her head.

“You will be alone.”

“We have always been alone.” 

“Not like this,” she wheezed, the rattle in her chest like stones in a cup. “You will forget who you are…how to speak…how to live.”

“Like you did?” he asked.

She nodded.

“Yes…before your father came.”

The boy thought of his father, but like all memories of him, they were mere flashes of imagery, and he could no longer tell between what was true and imagination.

  “You know what to do?” she asked him, her breath barely above a whisper, the crackling of the fire nearly drowning out her words.

He nodded, squeezing her frail hand between both of his.

She had been preparing him for months, ever since she first heard the rattle in her lungs. He didn’t know what that portended until she explained it to him, and even then it didn’t seem real. 

In fact, it didn’t seem real until a couple of weeks ago, when she first spat blood into the sand after a coughing fit. Then it was all he could do not to be in a panic every waking moment. He spent more time on the boat, stripping and twining tree bark together to braid rope, lashing the trunks together, filling every empty coconut he could find and strapping them down to the mast. The fish, he cut into strips and dried under the sun. They were held together with banana leaves and wrapped in a bundle. It helped to keep his mind off of what he knew was inevitable.

“Don’t worry about me. I’ll be fine,” he said to her, but he was lying.

He wasn’t going to be fine. 

She smiled at him then looked to the night sky. He followed her gaze. Up there was Scorpius, its tail curled and poised to strike at Libra. Carina, Vela, and Crux were peeking out at about twelve degrees. He didn’t even need the ancient sextant anymore. Besides, it had broken long ago. 

Each of the constellations told a story, and she had been good at telling them. So many nights he had sat enthralled on the beach, the sound of the waves a chorus of accompaniment to the imagined horse hooves as they bolted from the danger of the scorpion’s sting, or the rumbling of the autumn wind blowing against the sails of Vela as Jason and his Argonauts scoured the seas for the Golden Fleece.   

“Tell me about Crux again,” he said forlornly. 

He didn’t realize she had stopped breathing until a spark from the fire landed on her cheek and he watched it die out without her flinching. Then he knew she was gone. 

The boy put her on the stretcher and took her into the trees. They had walked the same path so many times that the ground beneath his feet was smooth, but it was still a difficult journey. By the time he reached his destination, the night birds had ceased their calls and the Saffron Finch was starting to wake. 

He was bathed in sweat when he stopped at the waterfall. It was where she had met his father when he fell from the sky in metal and fire. At the edge of the pool was a headstone she had carved herself. It read:

Captain Nic Bao

Loving Husband and Father

Setting her down gently, the boy picked up the makeshift spade and began to dig. He did so until the first morning rays began to creep through the trees before deciding it was enough. 

The boy had to roll her into the hole. He winced at the sound she made when she landed, but there was nothing for it. When he finished covering her up and the last spade of dirt was patted down, he sat next to her with the blank wooden headstone in his lap, the carving knife in his hand, thinking of the words he would etch. 

But nothing would come to mind. 

He screwed up his face and closed his eyes and chased the words around in his head until he thought he would scream, and still there was nothing. 

In the end he only carved one word before placing the headstone over her grave. Then he sat and cried himself to sleep.

When he woke it was past mid-afternoon and the tide would be coming in the next couple of hours. His body ached from the labor and his hands were already sprouting blisters, but he knew she wouldn’t want him to linger. 

Picking himself up and sheathing the knife, he walked to the cave, gathering the few supplies he had already packed. He stopped at the entrance for a moment and looked back, knowing one way or another he would never see it again. 

He closed his eyes and tried to hear her voice, thinking that if ghosts were real, hers would choose this place. Except ghosts weren’t real. 

The boy didn’t look back again as he left the cave and headed to the beach.

Untying the braided ropes that held the boat to the trees, he looped them together and secured them to the mast. Nothing wasted, his mother would have said. Then he placed the rolling logs in front of the boat and spent the next hour pushing it out of the tree line and down the beach. When the water was lapping at the bow, he finally rested on the sand, gasping for breath.

For a moment he thought he heard rattling in his lungs, and just like that, the panic surged to the front, threatening to overwhelm him. He had to force himself to slow his breathing and concentrate on the sound of the waves against the shore, the feel of the wind at his back, until finally his heart returned to its normal cadence. 

The boy stood up and did a mental check as he surveyed the boat. He’d built a triangular hut pressed up against the mast to keep out the weather and his stores dry. His mother had jokingly called him a boy scout when he’d first presented it, and then she had laughed. 

He didn’t know why that struck her as funny, but looking at it now he felt a rumble of laughter as well. 

The chuckle came out, unbidden but not entirely unwanted. When it was gone, he felt better. 

He knew the tide would come within the hour, and in a couple of weeks the rainy season would start. It wasn’t much of a window, and though she had warned him many times of what would happen should he not reach land before that, he wasn’t scared. 

The boy pushed the boat out into the sea and hopped on. He untied the mast and unfurled the sail, both hands on the rudder. He didn’t know where he was going or what he would find there, but that was okay.   

As the breeze encouraged with gentle hands pressed against his back, he tested those words out loud, allowing them to be carried ahead as a herald to the unknown.

“The world is out there…”

March 08, 2024 22:57

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