R.A. SHOCKLEY

Final Voyage

 

I trim my sails again and waste a small thought on my little bomb. It wasn’t as easy to make as I thought it’d be. Reminded me of that old blue Bel Air I clanked around in fifty years ago, because it turns out that building bombs is a lot like building cars. You have to take a systems approach. There’s the compaction system, the ignition system, the timing system, and about three others. On top of all that, I had to find a way to gather the materials without anyone knowing, especially my son. If I’d left any clue at all, I know Bubby would have found it. He’d never overlooked much, not even as a kid.

He’ll know anyway, of course, after it’s done. But I can’t allow him to think he missed something. He’d only blame himself. He’d remember what I said two years ago, back when Doc Whitworth first told me what’s what in his way too white-washed office. He’d tell himself that he might have stopped me, though he should damn well know better by now.

“You won’t have to worry about me in the end,” I’d said. “I’ll make certain of that. I don’t want any blubbering on my account, and getting tucked away under a granite rock puts me off a little.”

“You’re not going to die, Dad. You’d never allow it. I won’t, either.”

“Okay, then, maybe I won’t. Maybe I’ll just ride off into the sunset. Or maybe sail off into it. We’ll make a movie.”

I’m far enough out now that I have to squint to see the shore. My wake is smooth and straight, the ocean gentle for May. This time of the morning the sun is gentle, too. I shed my shirt to take its warmth and watch its rays bounce across the ripples. I’ve sailed waters a hundred times rougher for sure, but that’s a long time ago now. I send God a quick thanks for the weather—couldn’t have asked for better.

I’m as relaxed as I’ve ever been and pretend it’s the wind and sun and steady rush of water against the hull that got me here. It’s really Doc’s pills, of course, or I’d still be feeling that cussed pain in my gut. But it’s better to pretend. I decide to get the tiller tied down while I’m sure that I can still handle the knots.

The boat is good—all I could have wanted. She’s old, like me, and ready to go, also like me. The lettering on her stern’s all but worn away, but the last owner told me her name: Alice Ann. I like it. It’s a damn fine name.

I look once more into the wake, and see only water behind me now.

“Okay, Alice,” I say. “It's our time.”

I reach beneath the gunwale to start the timer I’d installed only yesterday. If I listen I’m sure I could hear its tiny cogs whirring, but I make a point not to. The sounds of the water, sail, and boat are better, gentler.

The charge itself is small and far up under the bow—just enough to help Alice Ann slide down into the coolness. My brain is working slowly now, and I wonder if Alice would find the thought of that coolness as comforting as I do. I can’t think what that’s called—anthropo . . . something.  I hope she does. Part of me wants to be with her when the ocean covers us over, but I know it won’t happen that way. I’ll be long asleep before the timer runs out.

It's been a good hour since we left the dock, Alice and I. This morning I'd worried about whether it’d been such a good idea, asking Bubby to help me launch the little sloop. He must have wondered why I needed him. Now, though, I know it was the right thing. He’s as different from his old man as a boy can be, and yet just the same. In so many ways, just the same.

The early morning breeze had been perfect, cool and brisk, and I'd had no trouble throwing Alice Ann into a lively beam reach. I’d known that we’d be out of the harbor in minutes at that clip, so I’d made myself take one last look at Bubby. He was never a fool, and in his hidden sadness I'd seen what I didn’t know I needed. Even with these pills fogging up by head, I remember it like a movie.

“Nice boat, Dad,” he’d called out.

“Goodbye, son,” I’d called back. “Take care.”

I say the words again now, but only in my head. My tongue would get them tangled, but no matter. I remember them over and over, and it is enough.

End

“R. A. Shockley lives and writes in Athens, Georgia and Holden Beach, North Carolina. He welcomes email at rshockle@uga.edu.”