By JA Allen.
Sarah loved the sea.
I bought the boat for her, I can admit that now. After forty years together, I think I’ve earned it. She used to work in Betty’s Café down by the docks. Sometimes, when I came in for breakfast, I caught her staring out toward the water, smiling all wistful-like while the sailboats drifted in and out of port.
“Do you sail?” I asked one morning.
“No.” And, just like that, her smile evaporated. She accepted my payment, making change in the till, and I saw a bruise on her arm. I should have suspected then, I guess.
I didn’t see her for a while after that. The next day I came in expecting to see her pretty brown eyes, and Betty was run ragged, trying to serve everyone in the place herself.
“Where’s Sarah?” I asked.
“She’s off.” Her red lipstick thinned to a straight line as she poured my coffee.
“Yeah.” Betty turned her back to me, took a deep breath, and made her way to the next table, carrying her coffee pot with the attitude of a soldier on a mission.
Seeing Sarah in the mornings had become a bit of a habit for me, I guess, although I’d never thought of it before. I missed her. We rarely spoke when I’d come in, rarely even made eye contact, but it wasn’t because I hadn’t tried.
Sarah was back the following week, and even though she’d put some makeup over it, I could see her eye was bruised. I pretended not to, of course. We didn’t talk about that stuff back then. But when she took my plate, she lingered by my table, staring out the window.
“What’s Willy’s boat doin’ out there?” she asked.
“Willy died.” I said, looking at the boat bobbing up and down on the waves. “Took a heart attack in church.”
“Yeah. Betty told me. What are they going to do with it, do ya reckon?”
“Ah, well–he willed it to his son, but Jamie doesn’t sail. That’s a boat that needs takin’ care of, a grand old beast like that. Needs love. I imagine Jamie’ll sell it.”
Sarah nodded. “Should stay in the family, really. Jamie might learn to treat her right.”
I put my money on the table, looking at her wedding band as she held my plate. “Some things you’re born knowin’ how to take care of, Sarah. And some things, like boats, I guess, should be passed along.”
Sarah’s stiffened, her eyes narrowing in on me, and then walked off.
A couple nights later I had to walk past the café on my home from a day out fishing. We caught a big haul that day, and I was feeling pretty cocky. And then, I heard Sarah screaming from inside and her drunk bastard of a husband shouting at the top of his lungs. The parking lot was empty, except for Sarah’s beat-up bug. I ran up the stairs and opened the door, and saw him standing over her, fist raised, about to nail her.
She glared over at me, tears running down her face, and shook her head. “Don’t come in, Cyril,” she said. “I’m fine.”
I went in anyway. I was big back then, mind. I weighed about the same as that old hilly-billy, but, unlike him, I was strong. I was used to long days out at sea, pulling up fishing nets and adjusting sails. The only work Ted saw was opening the beer he paid for out of Sarah’s tips.
He turned toward me, fist falling, bashful as a kid caught raiding a candy-jar. I punched him anyway. And then, I punched him again. Caught that good-for-nothing looser by the front of his shirt and pushed him against the wall, ready to go to jail for murder–if that’s what it took to keep Sarah safe.
Old Ted’s face was near to blue. Sarah’s voice shocked me back to reality. I loosened my grip on his throat and dropped him, backing up, looking at Sarah’s tear-stained face, the shock in her pretty brown eyes.
“Get out!” she yelled at me over her shoulder, running to him, slapping his face to try and wake him up.
“Sarah, he could have killed you. Let’s get out of here. Come with me. Please.” My heart pounded hard and fast inside my chest, but I couldn’t tell if it was from the fight or fear out of what she would say next.
“He’s my husband.” Sarah pulled his arm over her shoulder and tried to pick him up.
He was too big for her to carry. I shook my head and helped her, and shoved him into the passenger seat of the bug.
The next morning the tables and chairs were put back like nothing had happened. Sarah came out of the kitchen with a plate of bacon and eggs, and set it on my table before I’d even asked. The café was almost empty. She sat in the chair across from me, all quiet, looking out the window.
“You get any more trouble last night?”
She shook her head. “He fell asleep on the couch. Spilled beer all over the carpet, the git.” I smiled. “I see Willy’s boat’s still out there.”
“Jamie hasn’t decided what to do with it yet,” I said, chewing a mouthful of toast.
Sarah hesitated, thinking. “Might not be Jamie’s decision.”
I put down my coffee. “What d’ya mean?”
“A boat like that should be passed along. Might sink, so close to the rocks.”
“You want to go sailing?” I asked.
Sarah softened, looking into my eyes. “I’ve thought of it, I’m not gonna lie. Ted gets sea-sick, though.”
“I’ll take you.”
Sarah looked away, laughing. “Ted would kill me.”
I wanted to laugh to. But I couldn’t. I was wondering if she might be right.
The next day, I came back before the place opened. Fishing her keys out of her purse, Betty saw me waiting on the ste, and shook her head. “You gonna get that girl in trouble, Cyril.”
“Nah. I’m fixin’ on gettin’ her out of it, today.”
She looked me up and down like a momma bear with a cub to protect and nodded. “Alright then.”
It wasn’t too long before Sarah showed. She spotted me a mile away and smiled, getting out of her bug. “You must be hungry,” she said. “You’re here early.”
I put my hand in my pocket and took out the keys.
“What’s that?” she asked.
“I thinks it’s time to take Willy’s boat outta here.”
“You bought it?”
I nodded. My palms were sweating, holding onto those keys. I remember wondering if she could tell.
“Cyril, I hope I didn’t make you think I–,”
I cut her off, taking three strides over to her, pulling her toward me. “I didn’t buy it for you. I just wanted a boat, is all. Come for a ride, Sarah. A girl like her deserves to sail the seas if she wants.”
“I have to work. Tom will kill me when I get back. He’ll find out–,”
“Then we won’t come back.” Spitting those words out was a mite harder than I’d thought it’d be. I’ll admit that, too.
Sarah looked down at her left hand, examining the git’s ring. “What about your job?”
“Don’t care. Reckon I can get a job anywhere.” I pointed out the horizon. “Good waters today. Steady. The sea’ll treat her right.”
A grin spread over Sarah’s face, wider than a Mexican banana. We took off running down to the dock together and pushed that boat right off the rocks. Now, I’m not saying those waters were always steady, but we rode them through. Till she died. Forty years together, four kids. It was a good life.
The cancer took her nice and quick, and I spread her ashes in the sea.
JA Allen says “I am a wife, mom, step-mom, and lover of books. I’ve lived all over Canada, and dipped down to Oz, and now reside in the snow bank otherwise known as Prince Edward Island. And someday, when I grow up, I want to be a writer.”