Copyright © 2013 by Larry M. Edwards. All rights reserved. No part of this work excerpt may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the author.
Friday, February 24, 1978
I sat at a forlorn, military-issue desk in a windowless office divided into cage-like cubicles who designs these dismal swamps, anyway? When the phone jangled, I glanced at the clock and winced10:46 a.m. My fingers resumed their frantic dance, typewriter keys slamming to paper, five whacks per second, hoping the call wasn't for me. I'd told my customers their work would be ready by late afternoon. Until then, leave me the hell alone.
"It's for you," my boss called out. "Sounds urgent."
"Urgent, my ass," I muttered, reaching for the extension. I summoned my nice voice and picked up. "Hello, this is Larry."
"It's Linda. Are you sitting down?"
My cousin, phoning from Woodinville, near Seattle.
"Always the nurse," I said. "It's Grandpa, right?"
Our Grandpa Edwards had been diagnosed with cancer two weeks earlier and given at most a couple of months to live. The thought of never seeing him again stabbed my conscience. "I should have"
"It's not Grandpa," she said.
"Tell me it's not the plane reservations. I have deadlines coming out my ass." She said nothing, and I heard her sniffling. "Linda, what is it?"
"It's your father."
"So, it is about the tickets," I replied, my derisive tone conveying the annoyance I felt. Dad would fly from Tahiti to Los Angeles, where I'd meet him. Together we'd go on to Seattle to bid adieu to the family patriarch. Linda, staying with her parents while recuperating from a tumble on the ski slopes, had been coordinating the airline reservations for us.
"Larry, there's been an accident!" she said, like a mother scolding a lippy child.
My neck prickled. "On the boat?"
She sucked a deep breath and said, "I'm so sorry . . . He's dead."
My breath left me as if I'd been whacked with a two-by-four. I stared at a picture of my father thumbtacked to the wall over my desk. Dad at the helm of his beloved Spellbound, master of his floating domain. I'd been looking forward to seeing him, hearing about the trip. He had sent letters from the Marquesas Islands, and I'd had second thoughts about not going with him.
"Are you OK?" Linda asked.
"Yeah, sure," I said and sucked in a lungful of air.
"There's more," she added, choking on the words. "Kerry's unconscious."
My throat lumped up and I could only manage a froggy "What happened?"
She said an amateur radio operator had patched a call from my brother through to her parents' house earlier that morning. "Gary said they were hit by the boom."
I imagined the boat's heavy spruce spar sweeping across the deck like the arm of a giant sea monster, taking out everything in its path. Why hadn't Gary contacted me? I answered the question myself: He wouldn't have even tried.
I'd heard about a typhoon ravaging the southwest corner of the Pacific. "Were they hit by a squall?"
"That's what we thought, but Gary said there wasn't much wind. They were motoring."
"Then how the hell could they have been hit by the boom?"
"I don't know! I'm just telling you what he said."
I apologized, and she said Gary, along with Mom and Lori, were OK.
"How'd Grandpa take the news?" I asked.
"We're not telling him."
"He's going to die in a few weeks anyway. Why not just let him go on believing his son is alive and happy and fulfilling his dream."
"But you told Grandma."
Neither of us spoke for a moment, then Linda said she had more calls to make; she'd get back to me as soon as she heard anything new. I hung up and slammed a palm on my desktop, sloshing coffee on pages I'd have to retype.
My boss's chair creaked. I swiveled around and told him what I knew, my voice nearly inaudible. He snatched a tissue from atop a file cabinet and handed it to me. "You go on home," he said. "We can take care of things here."
I nodded and dabbed at the tears. But I needed to make a few calls of my own, starting with my sisters. I tried to reach Aileen, then Bobbie, and only got busy signals.
Dad still smiled at me from the wall. I fought to breathe in the cramped cubicle, framed by the room divider on one side and khaki file cabinets on the other, the air laden with the scent of inked paper. The only sound the clacking of electric typewriters.
I worked as a writer at Action Resumé Service, which specialized in preparing SF-171 job applications for federal civil-service positions. After a week of ten- and twelve-hour days, I'd been looking forward to a weekend of well-earned R & R.
A second attempt to reach my sisters failed, but I couldn't just sit. As I drove across the high arch of the Bay Bridge to Coronado, my watery eyes gave me an impressionist's view of my little sloop anchored near the public golf course.
A postcard world. Sailboat anchored in San Diego Bay. Perpetual summer.
I had teased family and friends living in the Pacific Northwest about the chilly, rain-sodden climate they endured. But as I slipped the boat's mooring, I yearned for a blustery, Puget Sound day, to be pummeled with wind, pelted with rain, the boat heeled hard, wrenching the tiller as I struggled for control of my craft, seeking proof that I was still alive. Instead, I suffered the insolence of a balmy afternoon.
I drifted northward near the airport.
A plane jet-screamed on takeoff.
I screamed with it.
And screamed again.
I had wished Dad out of my life, if only temporarily. Now he was gone. Forever.
For years Dad had scrimped his pennies as he and Mom labored to build and outfit the Spellbound, a big ketch easily recognized throughout Puget Sound by its yellow hull and glistening spruce spars. The dream they had begun to live, scuttled.
An act of fate? Or something else?
My cousin's explanation didn't make sense. How could Dad be killed and Kerry knocked unconscious by the boat's boom if they were motoring? Surely, the boom would have been tied down.
I sailed back to the anchorage, moored my boat and returned to the office. I called Aileen, hoping she would have more details of the accident. She didn't.
"I really need to talk to Mom, to know she's all right," Aileen said.
"She'll call you tomorrow," I said. "Things have got to be pretty crazy right now."
"Do you think they'll get to Tahiti OK?"
"They'll manage. Things can't get much worse."
But things did get worse. . . .