23 March 2010 | Vol. 10, No. 1
The Mooring Line
Hewitt wakes to find his arm asleep beneath his wife's neck. The old patchwork quilt is gone, kicked to the floor during the night and now only the top sheet remains between them and the cold draft from the cracked windowpane. He watches her shoulders rise and fall with each breath – tries to match her rhythm. Before getting up he kisses her back, between her shoulder blades, and she shivers, pulling the sheet to her chin. He slides his arm out from underneath her, sits on the edge of the bed and shakes it to regain feeling. His feet search the cold wood floor for his slippers. She stirs.
"Where are you going?" she asks.
"Should I come?"
"I told Kenneth I'd meet him. You should sleep." He pulls on the worn canvas pants he'd been wearing the night before and tucks in his white undershirt, takes a clean flannel from the bureau, a hunter green plaid.
His gear is in the truck, heaped on the front passenger seat, hosed down, but it still smells of bait. He pushes in the clutch, turns the key in the ignition, and waits while the old engine clears its throat. He puts it in neutral and rides the break down the hill to the road.
The ferry landing is on the west side of the island, almost two miles from his house on Pulpit Harbor. He keeps the truck in third gear, taking his time, and listens to the sound the engine makes – a low groan uphill, then higher pitched down the other side. The pavement is still dark with last night's rain.
He coasts into town, past Brown's Market and the new community center, takes a right into the parking lot. Kenneth, his brother, is standing at the railing looking out the water, but turns when he hears the truck. He has a paper tucked under his arm and is holding two Styrofoam cups. Hewitt leans over to open the passenger door and Kenneth gets in.
"What do you got for the time?"
Hewitt checks his watch. "About a quarter 'till." Two more cars roll into the lot. Both drivers park in the reservation line and leave their engines idling while they walk to the ticket office. Kenneth hands Hewitt the paper.
"There's a piece in there about him."
Hewitt takes the paper, and puts it up on the dashboard. "I'll read it later," he says. The two men sip their coffee.
"Why didn't he swim?" Kenneth asks after a moment. He is looking out the window.
"You don't know he didn't try."
The men spot the ferry easing in through the narrow thoroughfare. It carves its way through the dark water, a large wake trailing behind it. When it gets close enough the engines shift into reverse and the boat turns so the cars on board face the landing. A man in a navy blue uniform and an orange vest has come out of the ticket office and is directing the captain toward the ramp. Another man in the same uniform unchains the safety gate.
Passengers without cars are first off the boat. Hewitt and Kenneth watch from the truck. There are no tourists this late in the season, so both cabins are nearly empty. The grocery truck rolls off after them. In a few hours Brown's will be fully stocked and crowded.
Two more cars and then the hearse. Hewitt gets out and hurries to its passenger window. The driver rolls it down.
"Are you Mr. Waterman?"
"I'm the uncle," says Hewitt.
"Very sorry for your loss."
"Thank you. You can follow us to the house. We're in the red truck," Hewitt says and motions with his hand. "It's not far."
On the way to his sister's house Hewitt watches the hearse in his rearview mirror. The driver is singing, nodding his head to the beat.
"I'm not sure what to say to her," Kenneth says. "He was a good kid. Maybe something like that."
"It doesn't matter," Hewitt replies.
He pulls the truck around to the back, and knows that his sister will have heard their tires on the gravel driveway. She'll be waiting for them at the door, pieced together by the relatives and friends that won't leave her side. Her blonde hair will be smoothed back into a tidy bun and her black dress will be pressed. But her dark blue eyes will be wide and wild with grief.
Two days later, Hewitt is up and down the driveway before five. He takes the truck to Mullen's Head where his boat waits on its mooring. He greets the other lobstermen with a stoic nod like always. A few of them shake his hand, tell him how sorry they are. Curtis Hopkins, Hewitt's former deckhand approaches him on the dock as he's untying the dinghy.
"Hey Hewitt," he says.
"Good to see you, Curtis."
"You going out today?"
"No, just straightening things up."
Hewitt begins to bail the rainwater from the bottom of the small wooden boat. Curtis lingers on the dock, shifting his weight from one foot to the other, eyes on Hewitt.
"What can I do for you, Curt?"
The young man hesitates. "I was with Rob that night."
"I wanted to let you know he hadn't been drinking. He had a beer at Coopers, but that's all. He was doing really good. He just bought that boat from Tom Wilkins and I was going to give him some of my traps to get him started."
"He wouldn't take off his gear, he was so excited."
Hewitt pictures his nephew sitting on a bar stool in his black boots, rubber orange pants and suspenders.
"He must have slipped," Curtis continues. "Maybe he saw something in the water, or nicked a trap on his way back to the island."
"Come on you know how that can be. You're pissed you caught a line. The deck's wet with spray. He must have just slipped, hit his head."
"He didn't have any injuries, Curt." Neither of them speak for a while. The only sound is from the gulls that follow above the boats, and from Hewitt's bucket, scraping against the bottom of the dinghy as he continues to bail.
"I'm sorry, Hewitt. He was a real good guy."
"Give Maggie my love." Curtis continues down the dock to his own dinghy.
Hewitt is still on the dock after all the lobstermen have left for the day. The gulls go with them, swooping at the bait buckets. Shrieking. He walks up to the truck and pulls his gear out from where Kenneth had moved it to the back seat. He brings it down to the dock, unties the dinghy and fixes the oars in their locks. He rows hard and fast, his arms soon burning with each stroke until finally he drags both oars and drifts to a stop at the boat's stern. He ties the dinghy to the mooring and climbs aboard. He kneels to unlace his work boots and stows them in the compartment under the bench along with his jacket. He puts on the orange pants first, over his jeans, pulling the elastic suspenders up over his shoulders. Then he slips each foot into a black rubber boot, a size too small.
Hewitt sits on the edge of the boat and looks around to make sure no one will see him. Then he pushes himself off the side. His boots fill with water and he lets his body sink along the mooring line into the dark. He uses it to pull himself further down and he looks up at the surface. Soon he can feel the pressure in his ears. He lets go of his breath and sinks further still, lets the water fill his mouth. Then when his body begins to fight he grips the line and pulls himself fist over fist toward the light. When he surfaces, he wipes the salt water from his eyes and looks toward the shore. He sees the sharp kelp covered rocks, the beach with perfect skipping stones, the woods, dark and abrupt. The gulls are swooping at his bait bucket and the dinghy nods at its tether like an affirmation.
About the author:
Anna Blackett is a recent graduate of The Colorado College and is currently volunteering and teaching in Tanzania.