By: David P. Cantrell
This story is my response to a Picture Prompt Challenge. The image was contributed by Logan Wilt.
The water’s slap against the boat’s hull was as gentle as a mother’s pat on her baby’s rump, but it woke Roger anyway. He hadn’t slept well in the boat’s bow-bunk. It had never fit his 6 foot frame, but strangely, it felt smaller alone than it had with Maribel next to him. The world felt smaller since her death. He hoped fulfilling her last request would bring some relief from the pain in his soul.
If only I could be as strong as she had been, he thought.
Maribel had amazed him with her strength and will to live, never showing weakness in his presence. To her, each day was a new day to be celebrated; there were no tomorrows, only new days. He’d known there was pain when the slightest movement brought a grimace with it, and he’d witnessed the consumption of her beautiful body, little by little, but she smiled all the time and found the strength to return his soft kisses.
The doctors had given her a month, three months at the most. Maribel proved them wrong. She’d learned how to prove people wrong during her nineteen years with the Tampa D.A.’s Office. In this case though, it wasn’t proving someone wrong that had driven her, it was her desire to celebrate their eighteenth anniversary on New Year’s Eve.
On the morning of their anniversary he’d served her breakfast in bed as was their custom. She’d nibbled the traditional cinnamon roll but hadn’t been able to eat much; it didn’t matter to her—it was perfect. She’d sent him home at noon, telling him to take a nap and shower before he returned. “Don’t be late. Be here by 7:00 p.m.”
He wasn’t late. During his absence, one of the angels hidden in scrubs dressed her up with a new bandana, penciled eyebrows and a touch of lipstick.
“Hey, Maribel . . . my sweet Maybe. You’re looking good,” Roger said from the doorway.
“Why thank you Dodger. I didn’t think you’d notice me in this glorious setting.”
They’d laughed at their weak jokes, shared soup and sipped a bit of Champagne. They’d talked about sailing and other, more mundane, things but mostly enjoyed their time together and avoided what they knew would happen soon. Maybe had dozed off from time-to-time, but was awake when New York’s Crystal Ball counted down the year’s end. They’d kissed to celebrate the moment. “I’m tired Dodger. I’ll see you in the new day,” Maybe said and closed her eyes—fifteen minutes later she died.
Roger had sat in the chair near her bed, sobbing softly into his hands while the medical staff did their job. One of the angels, Jennifer, took his arm, walked him to the waiting room, and sat with him until he’d recovered his composure. He’d thanked her for her kindness and stood to leave, but she’d stopped him.
“May I ask you a question, Mr. Montrose?”
“Why did you call her Maybe? We all call, I mean called, her Maribel. Oh, I’m so sorry. I shouldn’t have bothered you.”
“Jennifer you’re not a bother,” Roger said. He smiled as he shared the story of their intimate pet names and the night mutual friends had invited them to a la-di-da party thrown for a Tampa politico. Roger had snuck down to the marina below the politico’s mansion to admire the boats. Unbeknownst to Maribel’s escort, she had done the same. He saw her holding a tell-tail red glass from the party ogling a 30 foot sloop and approached her carefully in the dim light, not wishing to frighten her.
Brandishing a glass like hers, he’d said, “May I have your name?”
Startled, she turned toward his deep voice and was struck by his unassuming smile and the playful twinkle in his eyes. “Maybe, if you don’t dodge the same question?”
“Nice to meet you, Maybe. I’m Roger Montrose, and I’m not a dodger.”
Roger had planned to arrive much earlier in order to make the Duck Key house livable after being boarded up for the winter, but mechanical problems with his plane had delayed the Tampa departure. By the time he landed it was dark and too late to deal with the house, so he slept on his boat, the Beautiful Sea Star.
Roger drank coffee and ate dry cereal while half-heartedly listening to the weather report. He heard mid-seventies and partly cloudy but wasn’t really paying attention, he was focused on his own misery, and missed the chance of thunder storms resulting from a fastmoving storm east of the Bahama’s.
He and Maybe had planned to sail the Gulf Stream to Norway when she retired, but death had come too soon. Roger promised to send her ashes where her body would never go. He sailed east from Duck Key looking for the color change that marked the great current to keep his promise.
At forty miles out, the sea color darkened, but so did the sky. Conditions were deteriorating quickly so he went into the galley for the urn. Out of habit, he hooked up his life-line before he leaned over the side to disburse her ashes. It was good that he had, because a rouge wave hit at the same time.
The wave stripped the urn from his hands and slammed his head against the gunwale. He felt no pain but was blinded by an iridescent white light and thought, it’s the new day, Maybe, as he sunk. “No! It’s not the new day. Kick! You can do it. You have much to accomplish. I’ll be waiting when your new day comes.” Maybe’s voice filled his head and drove him to clear the surface.
The sea calmed as quickly as it had angered but the current had the boat in its grasp and Roger in its wake. His only option was to pull himself to the boat’s stern ladder. Without pitons or toeholds he faced a horizontal climb as challenging as any vertical climb offered by Yosemite’s Half Dome. His head ached more than he thought possible but he pulled himself, hand-over-hand, and slowly closed the long gap. His fingers trembled and biceps ached. When he could go no further, he thought of Maybe’s struggle and found the will to push on.
Maybe’s voice was as clear as day when he breached the stern. “Well done Dodger.”
Life is full of tragedies. Some survivors are consumed by the wrong they think was done to them. They blame God, the government or the poor schlep that was in the wrong place at the wrong time. Roger came close to succumbing to self-pity too, but something pulled him back. Whether it was Maybe’s spirit or God talking through it, he never knew and never cared. What he knew and cared about was that Maybe’s life and death should be honored and he dedicated his life to that purpose. He felt blessed to have the opportunity and promised to never cry over her death again. But, he never watched the Crystal ball drop again either—some promises shouldn’t be challenged.
David P. Cantrell is an author and a member of the Edgewise Words Inn staff.