by Abha Iyengar
Richard sat with his son where the seawaters lapped the coast. Richard’s eyes were rheumy, his beard scraggly, and his face wrinkled by the sun and sea. He reached into his coat pockets and brought out fistfuls of pecan shells. He placed these one after the other. They formed a meandering line in the sand.
“This is the route the ship will take to the islands, Tim. My compass will help you with directions.”
Reaching into an upper pocket, he removed a grimy handkerchief and then the prized compass.
“The going is never smooth. The winds can be harsh. Dangers exist. There are scoundrels and sea monsters you’ll have to tackle.”
“Father, why do I need to know all this?” Fourteen-year-old Tim’s voice was jagged with emotion. Scoundrels and sea monsters he could imagine, since he had heard enough stories about them. But he had not encountered them in reality.
“A sailor must know. You are a sailor now.”
Tim was scared to death, but he could not tell his father.
“The Captain’s a good man. And your brother Grant will be there with the rest of the crew,” said Richard.
Grant, full of himself, tormented Tim enough. Tim’s legs shook, eyes watered. He would not survive with Grant, without father.
“Father,” he pleaded, “you are sick. I can stay with you. Or, you come along.”
Richard contemplated his ankles filled with water; the whole sea had accumulated there.
“I won’t be going anywhere. You’ll find your legs without me, don’t worry, son. You’ll make a fine sailor, ” he said.
Tim’s unhappy eyes took in the sea. He studied the waters, and thought about setting sail on a route unspecified, with Grant, a known devil, and the captain, an unknown one. He clung to his father. “I will not leave you,” he said. “I don’t want to go.”
“You are a sailor’s son, Tim. That is the only life ahead of you. I cannot be with you forever. You have to find your feet.”
“Then let me find it on steady ground. I do not want to sail.”
His words made his father shake. He watched in amazement as Richard’s arm wound around him, and flung him towards the waters. “That is where you will live until you die, Tim. Don’t think of another life. You have to take to the water…”
“And let the water take me, like it is taking you?” Tim spat out the words, wading out of the sea. “Well, I just won’t do it.”
And now Tim ran away from the water’s edge, into the forest in the distance. Richard watched his son disappear. Then his eyes closed for the last time. All that could be heard was the buzz of the flies coming in to settle on the heavy body that marked its place in the sand.
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Abha Iyengar is an internationally published author, poet and British Council certified Creative writing facilitator. Her work has appeared in The Four Quarters Magazine, Muse India, The Asian Writer, Pure Slush, and others. Her story, “The High Stool”, was nominated for the Story South Million Writers Award. Her poem-film “Parwaaz” won a special jury prize at Patras, Greece. She won the Lavanya Sankaran fellowship 2009-10. She was a finalist in the FlashMob 2013 Flash Fiction contest. Her published works are Yearnings, Flash Bites, Shrayan, Many Fish to Fry, and The Gourd Seller and Other Stories.
3 thoughts on “Setting Sail”
Very interesting. Surrealistic fiction. I enjoyed it.
The tale seems awkward to me. The theme of abandoning an imposed destiny is interesting, but the introduction of sibling rivalry doesn’t add and the notion of outlining an oceanic course with pecan shells seems problematic. The dark ending shifts the focus back to the father in a way that struck me as less than satisfying. AGB
I liked your story. Well told.