final voyage?
Home sweet home Latest site info Poetic stuff Serious stuff Funny stuff Topical stuff Alternative stuff Shakespearian stuff Musical stuff
  click here for a "printer friendly" version

The Crossing
by Martin David Edwards



“Sailing was for last year,” Tom said. He dismissed the boat moored on the quay with a wave of his Nintendo.

“Crossing to France will be fun again like old times,” his father Michael replied. He put down his rucksack and blinked at the sails, scratching his stubble. The sails had gathered a crust of white sea salt that glinted in the sun. Stowing them below for the winter was a task he had overlooked. With the funeral and the endless commiserations, there had been too much else to do for the energy he had remaining.

“Life is about going forwards, not backwards. We need to try something different for our holidays, like a game tournament. I’d win, obviously,” Tom said.

His sister Hyacinth was checking messages on her phone with bulging plastic bags at her feet. She looked up from the screen and rolled her eyes. “Obviously not. Trying anything different would be wasted on you. All you want to do is hide in your Nintendo,” she said.

“Let’s stop arguing for once,” Michael sighed. “We’re going to France only because we agreed its convenient. We know the way. I’ve still got the co-ordinates on the autopilot.”

“We’re only going to France because Mummy liked to go shopping there before she got run over,” Tom replied.

“Before she passed on,” Michael corrected him.

“Killed by a speeding driver, you mean,” Tom said. “Mummy would have let me play on my Nintendo for the holidays. She was like that.”

“She only let you play for an hour a day,” Hyacinth corrected him.

“Did not.”

“I’m going aboard while you two make up. You never used to argue before,” Michael said. He picked up his rucksack and walked across the gangplank to the boat.

His children remained on the jetty glaring at each other.

“I’m not the one who started the argument,” Hyacinth said with a sideways check of her phone.

“There’s no use speaking to you when you’re glued to your messages,” Tom replied.

“I was just checking the weather forecast for the crossing.” She blushed and dropped the phone into one of the bags.

“Zebedee is a centre forward in the school team, not a weather forecaster,” Tom said.

“Don’t be so nosey.”

“Don’t be so lovesick.”

“The boat hasn’t sunk yet,” Michael called over from the deck. He ushered his protesting children over the gangplank. Hyacinth unpacked the plastic bags in the galley and Tom clambered below decks to his cabin.

Soon, they would be acting like they were on an adventure again, Michael hoped. “All done in the galley?” he asked his daughter.

“Sort of.”

“Ah.” Michael fussed over the salt on the sails, picking off each crystal one by one. He wanted any excuse to avoid his own cabin, crowded by a bed made for two.

“I’m cleaning away the cobwebs,” Hyacinth announced. She was holding a pink duster, its head spikey like a hedgehog. “The duster was underneath the sink.”

He stared at her, mesmerised by the freckles and the memory they gave of her mother.

“I can help when I’m finished cleaning the sails.” But he made no move, buried in remembering.

“No need. I’m capable by myself.” Hyacinth disappeared into the insides of the boat.

He should have showed more enthusiasm to avoid alienating her, he reprimanded himself. “I’ll take the wheel,” he said to the empty deck by way of atonement. Inside the wheelhouse, he recalled the co-ordinates on the GPS and steered the boat out of the port. Another family waved to him from their boat but he stared ahead like a ghost. He was already running on automatic.

Hyacinth re-emerged on the deck, phone in hand.

“The dusting is done. Getting hungry by any chance?” she asked her father while checking her messages.

Michael shrugged. “I suppose so.” All his meals were a daze.

“I’m not going to tell you off for losing weight again,” Hyacinth said. “You’ll become anorexic like the girls at school. You’ll miss France and end up in Spain if you don’t eat.”

“Ah.” Spain had been too far for his wife when planning their holidays. She said France had all the stores they needed.

“Are you listening?” his daughter asked. The freckles peered at him.

She had inherited her mother’s assertiveness. “Ask Tom if he’s hungry as well,” he replied.

The freckles wiggled dissent. “Tom’s too busy with his Nintendo to notice his stomach.”

“I’ll ask him instead.” The Nintendo was fast becoming a substitute father.

Tapping on his son’s cabin door, he realised he had no idea about the supplies they had brought with them. He had walked around the supermarket seeing his wife’s ghost in between the aisles and letting his daughter do the picking. “Something tasty?” he asked through the door.

Tom grunted back over the beeps of his game.

“I’m assuming a grunt’s a Yes.”

Michael returned the wheelhouse. He wet his finger and held its tip in the wind, like his wife had taught him to do. The wind was picking up, but the sails would struggle without watching. His wife had been no fan of shortcuts, but he didn’t have the energy to rerig the sails, so switched on the engine.

He was lucky for the first time in a year. The sails weren’t the only part of the boat he had neglected to check over winter. The diesel chugged into life. Sailing was easier than living, he told himself. His nose tweaked at the smell of cooking.

He left the wheelhouse and went into the galley.

His daughter was poking a fork at sizzling slices of bacon on the hob. The ketchup’s mouldy,” she said without looking up.

“The fridge must have blown a fuse over winter.”

“Mummy switched it off, you mean.”

“Definitely a fuse.” Michael bent down below the galley’s counter and opened the fridge door.

No light came on. He reached behind the fridge, groped his fingers and switched on the power. The light blinked into life.

The culprit ketchup stared back at him, along with a bottle of white wine that his wife had bought a year ago. Sancerre, she had said, to get them in the mood for later.

“I’ll buy some more ketchup.” He shut the fridge door quickly.

“In France? Do they use ketchup on their snails?”

“Probably mustard.” Michael sat down at the galley table, his hands resting on his knees. “Smells good,” he called out. He realised he was the child waiting to be fed, not her.

“Wait until I’ve fried the eggs,” she replied, breaking a shell into two with one tap.

Tom entered the galley, Nintendo in hand. He sniffed the air theatrically. “Breakfast for dinner? Nice.”

“I’m being inventive,” Hyacinth said. “My cooking skills are limited. I’m trying my hardest,” she flashed at him. “We all are, most of us.”

“What makes you think I’m not making an effort?” Tom retorted. “I’m the only one who wants to move on.”

“Moving on isn’t about playing computing games,” she replied.

“At least I’m living,” Tom said.

The father and his two children ate their meal to the sound of the engine chugging. Hyacinth glanced at her father as he stirred his bacon in the egg yolk. He had eaten nothing.

“Would you like the ketchup after all? I can scrape the mould off,” she asked him.

“Hell no,” he replied.

Tom gave Hyacinth a startled look. His father had never sworn in front of them of them before.

 “Who’s up for a game of Monopoly to cheer us up?” Hyacinth asked brightly. She looked under the table. “Mummy kept the board somewhere in the galley.”

Michael yawned. “I’m tired already. I better go to bed for an early night.” He got up and pointed at the sea through the galley window in alarm. “Whales are following us!” he exclaimed.

His two children clambered to the window to look. He took the Sancerre from the fridge unnoticed and quietly left for the wheelhouse. With the bottle emptied, he might get some sleep.

“I think Daddy’s going crazy. I can only see clouds,” Tom said to his sister, scanning the horizon at the window.

“I wouldn’t worry. We’ve all gone crazy. That’s the point of having a holiday,” Hyacinth replied.

“I don’t understand.”

“We can get away from everything.”

Tom pressed his nose against the window, tracing a raindrop on the pane. “But everything’s here.”

“Precisely,” Hyacinth said. “We need to help Daddy. He misses Mummy too much.”

“Does Daddy miss Mummy more than you miss Zebedee?”

Hyacinth jabbed his back with a dirty fork. “Just when I was trying to be nice, you start acting all immature.”

Tom howled and dropped to the galley floor. “You stabbed me,” he cried.

His sister knelt down beside him. “You’re so lame. I’ll get a sticking plaster.”

“Just kidding.” He reached up to tickle her armpits.

“See what I mean about everything being here?” she asked and locked her arms straight by her side.

“I haven’t forgot you hate being tickled,” Tom replied.

In the wheelhouse, Michael sat on the Captain’s Chair and unscrewed the top from the Sancerre. “Rachel,” he whispered to the bottle. He could remember his wife sitting on his lap in the same chair while she gave him navigation lessons.

“Daddy!” Hyacinth called to him from the wheelhouse door.

He hid the wine bottle behind the chair and turned round. His daughter was silhouetted in the doorframe by moonlit rain. “Did I miss the washing up?” he asked.

She brandished her phone at him. “I checked the forecast, despite what Tom said about me only thinking of Zebedee. We’re heading into a storm.”

“What should we do?” He slid further into the Captain’s Chair. His wife would have given an answer. He had specialised in asking the questions in his side of their marriage.

 “We tie up the sails, close all the hatches and put on our life jackets.” She opened a locker by his chair and took out three orange life jackets.

The wine bottle dropped onto the floor and rolled to the side with a clatter.

“Do you want me to help with the sails?” Michael asked, hoping to divert her attention from the bottle for a second time.

“You pull them in and I’ll tie the ropes. I’ve got little fingers.” She pulled him up from the chair. “Tom can check the hatches.”

“You’re just like your mother,” he replied approvingly as she opened the wheelhouse door.

“Biologically that’s incorrect,” she said into the rain. “Half of me is you.”

“Then we’re screwed,” he replied, following her orange life jacket onto the deck.

“Not unless you forgot to check the autopilot.”

“That too.” Michael turned back into the wheelhouse. The autopilot was still glowing green. He picked up the bottle and emptied the wine into the rain. Being drunk in a storm would be humiliating the memory of his wife.



In the morning, the storm had passed. Hyacinth rigged the sails again while her brother sat on the deck, playing with his Nintendo. Michael brushed storm water overboard from the deck.

“Did Zebedee text you in case you drowned?” Tom asked Hyacinth.

The freckles shook at him. “He called me a flower. Only Mummy could do that, so I dumped him.”

Michael paused with broom in hand, over-hearing the chit chat between his children. “I’m sorry to hear it didn’t work out between you,” he said. He wasn’t sure what else fathers could say to relationship-stricken daughters. Feelings were his wife’s expertise.

“You shouldn’t be sad.” The freckles gave a second wiggle in dismissal. “I was going to dump him anyway. He had bad breath, which was gross.”

Michael’s hand went to his mouth. “Is my breath bad too?”

“Breathe on me,” she replied.

“Don’t pass out. I couldn’t lift you up after dinner,” Tom said.

Michael breathed at his daughter.

The freckles evaluated him. “You don’t have smelly breath, but you could do with a shave. Dads should look smart when they arrive in France,” she said.

“Ah.” His checked his chin. His wife had liked his stubble on holiday. She said it made him more animal-like.

“I agree,” his son added.

“I can’t believe what I’m hearing,” Hyacinth said, open-mouthed.

Michael retreated below decks. He braved his cabin for the first time in the crossing. The pink duvet was still on the bed, gathering dust instead of sea salt. He opened the door to the small bathroom, half-expecting to find his wife fixing the shower again.

Shaving foam and a razor were missing from the washing bag he bad brought with them. He hadn’t packed enough of anything. His wife’s shaving foam and razor were in the cupboard above the sink where she had left them. He lathered his skin and scraped at it with the razor. Then he checked the results in the mirror. He had nicked his chin twice, out of practice. Cotton buds would do the trick at stopping the blood. His wife had kept an emergency supply of those too.

Nicks staunched, he returned to the deck. His son and daughter were standing at the rails, pointing at the horizon.

“Have you made up over the charger?” he asked them warily.

“Stuff the charger,” Tom said. “The autopilot must have taken a short cut because of the storm. We’re coming into France.”

“I don’t believe you,” Michael replied.

“Believe what you see,” Hyacinth said.

He looked out to sea. Other boats were passing them, laughing families and stubborn fishermen.

Michel let his children lead him to the railing.

“The coast. See!” Hyacinth cried. She grabbed his arm and pointed at the green sliver of land growing larger in their view.

“I must be hallucinating,” he said, blinking twice.

“We only had to wait until she came back to us,” his daughter said. She waved at the figure on the shore, tears streaming down her face.

Michael could just make out the matching freckles. “Rachel,” he mouthed.

“I told you we should look forwards, not backwards,” Tom said at their side. “People should listen to me more often.”

Michael wrapped his hands around both his children and hugged them. “I’ll listen to nobody ever again,” he said and smiled.

“That doesn’t make sense,” Hyacinth said.

“Nothing in life does,” Michael replied.

An electronic alarm blared in his ears. He opened his eyes and stretched across the empty side of the double bed, knocking over an empty wine glass. An alarm glowed at him in green digits. He switched on the bedside table light. A silver photo frame glimmered at him, bordered with a black ribbon. A freckled woman waved at the camera on a boat, surrounded on either side by a girl with matching freckles and a boy holding a Nintendo.

The sound of arguing voices floated through his bedroom door. Tom was teasing Hyacinth about her boyfriend, again. Michael wrapped himself in the pink duvet and closed his eyes again. Five more minutes, he prayed.




Rate this story.

Copyright is reserved by the author. Please do not reproduce any part of this article without consent.


© Winamop 2022