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Lunghezza:
418 pagine
8 ore
Pubblicato:
Jun 15, 2011
ISBN:
9781467511780
Formato:
Libro

Descrizione

SALT is the story of Mitchell Burns, paralyzed as a young man by an explosion aboard ship, returned now to the rugged Atlantic with the belief that an old blue-water sloop will deliver a freedom that has eluded him throughout a twenty year odyssey. Independence, his mountain home and the woman he loved - everything Mitchell treasured is lost. But if he can sail this boat from Essex, on the Connecticut, to Portland, Maine, he believes he can sail it anywhere. Life will begin again, he is certain. It has to.

His chances are dependent on Andy, a young cousin with whom Mitchell is constantly at odds. For Andy this is an opportunity to prove himself after failure in Mexico. He is unaware that Mitchell is desperate, headlong between obsession and uncompromising belief and bound for the edge of reason.

Pubblicato:
Jun 15, 2011
ISBN:
9781467511780
Formato:
Libro

Informazioni sull'autore

Scott Goetchius is a novelist and writer of short fiction, an award winning essayist and a nationally known performance poet. He lives in Unionville, CT.

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Salt - Scott Goetchius

SALT

Long Island Sound

Mitchell steered the old sloop out from forest shadows that lay across the channel into ferocious sunlight, igniting the long white decks and the cabin top. He reached for the brim of his tattered grey fedora, thumb and fingers bent weakly in the everyday failure to grasp. Twenty years, he said, his face tight against the sharp light and the gut anxiety clawing at his muscles and his breathing. He flopped his hand on the hat brim to push it down. Christ, I could use a cigarette.

A highway bridge passed high above the forty-eight-foot aluminum mast. Then a railroad bridge, its rusting black ironwork stark against an azure sky as the river pulled Mitchell under the tracks above, away from the land and the desolation that was now his life.

Magnificent, he said.

What, the bridge? Andy stepped barefoot off the starboard deck onto the bench and down into the cockpit.

My cousin the ball-breaker Mitchell thought. What it’s like to have a kid brother.

He found respite from the fear and the engine’s roaring in the calm of his right hand, secured to the unvarnished teakwood tiller with one of his grasping gloves. His left leg extended on the bench over three orange life-jackets piled under his knee, his boot was braced on the cabin bulkhead under the magnetic steering compass. His right boot was down on the cockpit sole above the engine vibration.

He shoved his weight backward, forcing his shoulders over the top of the helmchair to convince himself the bolts would hold in rough seas. He had tried using the seat cushion from his wheelchair, but it raised him above the back support he needed. Forget the hardness he told himself, and looked over his shoulder to check the dinghy, an old wooden pram nodding eagerly in tow. It was something to keep his thoughts from the unforgiving seat of a year ago, and the thousands of hard useless miles. But Mexico was still there, too strong really. Water in a wooden bowl to wash the dust from his face. Children climbing unafraid into his lap.

Hey! Hey, there!

Yeah? Mitchell turned to a metallic-red powerboat flashing sunlight as it cruised alongside.

You need to get back in the channel, the tough-faced skipper called from behind the windshield. Get back in the channel. There are rocks out here.

Good point. Thanks, Mitchell nodded, renewing his attention and steering back into the channel. The skipper looked him over then hard-throttled the powerboat ahead. Wrecking the boat in the river on a clear day would be bad form.

Ignoring Mitchell’s sarcasm Andy reached for the certainty of the cabin top. There it is, he said, and climbed on deck to starboard to keep out of Mitchell’s line of sight to Long Island Sound, silver and sparkling beyond the prow. Amidship, between the cabin top and the shroud cables stabilizing the mast, Andy reached for a shroud and stood in the mirage of safety that preceded the foredeck with his dark eyes fixed, a pilgrim come to pay homage to this blue distance.

Enormous, the sea. Mitchell forced his concentration onto the green cans marking the channel to starboard and reached with his left hand to brace himself; his fingers curled with paralysis scraped the non-skid deck. Can I do this? He snapped his head sideways. Enough, goddamnit. It’s this or life as rubbish.

The river mouth broadened to the sea; the channel funneled between two seawalls of gigantic storm-smooth granite blocks awash with sea foam. Sea of antiquity. Timelessness quickened Mitchell’s blood. He aimed his vision over the foredeck at the horizon and discovered a white wall. What the hell? Fog. Coming fast. Son of a bitch, he almost spit. Calm. Stay calm, he whispered. Remember to breathe.

Visibility beyond the mast was obliterated by huge strands of dense condensation that smothered the boat. Hurrying aft to the cockpit Andy grabbed the signal horn from the starboard cubbyhole and straight as a bugler, unperturbed by the shrouds of mist, he pierced the fog with five flat metallic yaps. He checked his watch to time the next warning.

It impressed Mitchell. He had made their course on the compass before the fog. He saw the foredeck then it was gone into layers of vapor. The vague shape of a lighthouse off the starboard bow. It disappeared. He glanced at the compass, the engine droned and water slapped the hull. We’re too long in the narrows, he said, and the fog vanished like a spell lifted. The sloop was in the Sound, vast and bright beneath an immense sky.

Mitchell gazed across the lit sea, touching it with his vision and it reached for him, remembered him, he thought. Tears wet his eyes. Years of yearning. Always for this, the knowing it would be unchanged here. Unlike him, a man older and torn and more than a little uncertain the sea would have him back. I have to do this he thought. There is no other place.

Let’s look at the chart, he said.

Andy ducked under the boom to swing below off the sides of the hatch opening. Quick again up into the cockpit he unrolled the chart across Mitchell’s legs then leaned on the heavy folds of mains’l lashed to the boom. He shoved a hand into the thick curls of his wild black hair. Do you think we should eat before we try this with sails?

Mitchell was anxious to get under sail, he felt hostage to the engine’s loudness, cut off from the sea-calm. It was like this now, subtle cruelties reminding him that freedom was just out of reach, up ahead somewhere, and he wondered where in his mind the torment had formed itself, how much of him it would take to tear it out and if he had that kind of strength. We should have the food he thought. You’re doing the anchoring. Pick a spot.

Andy pointed an arm. Over there. He hustled to the foredeck to fake out the anchor chain and the hemp rode in uniform lengths across the deck. Then he walked aft to kill the engine and instantly the day was hotter and quiet finally.

Mitchell held their course while Andy hurried back to the foredeck; sea water sloshed along the eight-ton fiberglass hull, still cruising ahead but slowing. The knotmeter on the cabin bulkhead fell to three knots, two, one. Mitchell pulled the tiller to his chest. Drop the hook, he called.

Andy leaned over the side under the lifeline and released the anchor into the sea. Fakes of rode sizzling overboard disappeared into silvery reflections on the surface shine. The hull backed, the anchor grabbed and the sloop swung before the wind.

Beautiful. You’ve got the knack for that anchor. Mitchell swayed in an easy counter-balance to the sloop’s rolling on the surface undulations.

You should varnish this teak, Andy said, stepping down over Mitchell’s leg into the cockpit. At least stain it. He climbed down the cabin ladder and disappeared below.

Mitchell stared after him. Then there’s reality. He slid his hand off the tiller and used his teeth to unbuckle the grasping glove. Clawing two fingers into the handle of a plastic gallon water jug on the bench between his legs he hefted it on the back of his wrist and the water tasted like the hose back at the shipyard. Andy handed up a sandwich fat with tomato and cheese; his arm was rigid, his hand steady while Mitchell pushed against the bread to open his thumb and forefinger, trapping the sandwich and lifting it carefully into a never certain balance.

We’re here, Mitchell said, and sensed they had yet to begin. Listen, let’s eat and get moving. I’m already half-baked. This isn’t good.

Andy wiped the tomato juice and seeds from the galley counter with the bottom of his ragged yellow tee-shirt. He mixed Tang with water in a white plastic mug and gulped it down then made himself another sandwich.

Mitchell drank from the jug; he glanced warily at the predator sun. The water would help, but it wouldn’t cool his skin or prevent his body from absorbing the heat. I need wind he thought, at least a breeze. Since his neck had been broken he didn’t perspire to cool his body. He didn’t do a lot of things, but heat like this could do real damage.

He drank steadily and studied the hazy coastline. An island he thought of the land, rising up cultured and cultivated and gazing green-eyed. Then he laughed inwardly at his cynicism because he knew the land’s granite heart as well as any man with scarred calluses and frostbite and half a life of solitude hardened in his hands. Goodbye land he thought. I speak a different language and this sea will come for me like every other man. Christ knows that will be refreshing.

Andy climbed up through the forehatch; he had stripped down to his baggy purple shorts and stood on deck staring down at the rode while reaching over his shoulder then up behind his back, trying to scratch between his shoulder blades. He was stalling, gathering his confidence, uncomfortable with his openness to Mitchell’s scrutiny.

Let’s talk this over before we make a move. Put some of this screen on the back of my neck, will you? Mitchell fumbled a plastic bottle of sunscreen from the cubbyhole in the bulkhead below his armrest.

Walking aft and climbing down for the sunscreen Andy filled his hand with cream and rubbed it on the back of Mitchell’s neck over the thin vertical scar that descended from his hairline into his white tee-shirt. He rubbed Mitchell’s face and arms with cream.

Mitchell’s breathing began to labor. Raise the anchor then make the mains’l. I’ll get some steering while you hank on the jib.

Andy tossed the sunscreen onto the bench. He strapped Mitchell’s hand to the tiller then climbed on deck and walked forward again.

Spooky that a guy can be that quiet, Mitchell said, watching him.

On the foredeck Andy sat to get a good grip on the hemp rode. He heaved on it, but the rode stayed fast. He reached farther down on the rode and heaved again and the rode came up with his hands then slid back into the sea. Bracing his heels on the toe-rail that edged the decks he leaned between his legs for a new grip on the rode and heaved again; his eyes shut tight from the strain, arm and back muscles bulged as the rode came up then slid down. Dropping it in disgust he hung his forearms over his knees and looked away at the distance.

Relax. There’s no hurry. Mitchell had been intimate with waiting. Let’s work it, he called, and his lungs strained. Start the engine and I’ll move the boat. Maybe we can work it free.

Andy walked aft to the cabin top and reached down through the hatch opening to switch on the vents, a surly rattling under the cockpit sole while gasoline fumes were aerated from the engine space. Andy stared down into the cabin. Mitchell watched the sea and they waited in an awkward and familiar silence. It was the same when Andy had come to the mountains to visit and when they had made the fateful run to Mexico, this mutual discomfort, two men alike but worlds apart. Mitchell wondered if it should be easier to share that, his uncertainties were alive at depths hidden even from him. He knew that now. But if he could sail this boat to Portland he could sail it anywhere. Life would begin again. It had to.

Andy stopped the vents and turned the ignition key and the engine belched grey exhaust into the sea. He eased the throttle lever forward above the gauges on the bulkhead under Mitchell’s helmchair.

Take it slow. Mitchell pulled the tiller to his chest to turn the boat and the rode squealed against the hull, a piercing shrill that disappeared into groans of strained hemp suddenly cracking like pistol shots. Andy toppled backward from the throttle.

Kill the engine!

Andy lunged for the key and quiet settled on an empty sea as the sloop swung into the wind. Andy massaged the back of his neck. I don’t know if I can get it out.

We’ll get some help.

From who?

Another boater, Mitchell said. Or we can call the Coast Guard.

I don’t want to call the Coast Guard.

Okay. What’s your idea?

No response.

That’s par Mitchell thought, breathing with his mouth now. Shallow breaths quickly rose and fell in his belly. He had the urge to urinate and reached behind his buttocks to push his hips forward, but his condom catheter ballooned then burst and urine soaked his lap, spreading a dark stain through the grey material of his work pants.

Shit! Goddamnit! Grab the bucket and douse me down with seawater. Fuck! I’m soaked.

Andy had seen Mitchell deal with these things. He climbed below and brought up a bucket on a rope, threw it over the side and drew it up full. The water flooded Mitchell’s pants and pooled in his seat. He glanced at the sun and looked around in the hope of sighting another boater. We’re losing the day, he said.

Andy dropped into a crouch and hammered his foot with two quick rabbit punches.

Mitchell stared. What the hell are you doing?

Spasms. I get ‘em. Andy punched his foot hard. When I played Little League I got neck spasms that dropped me. He rubbed his toes hard with one hand, his other fist was cocked.

Take it easy. Mitchell was incredulous. We’ll get going. Motor up the coast– New London. He struggled for an inhalation. Anchor in the river– Fresh start– Morning.

Andy raised himself onto the bench.

Unbelievable, Mitchell exhaled.

Andy lifted his head. What?

You– Played ball?

Do you want more water on you?

Uh-huh.

Seawater sloshed heavily into Mitchell’s lap, but he was preoccupied, watching a Coast Guard patrol boat approach the narrows. Say?

Andy looked over his shoulder and found the patrol boat. I’ll get the anchor out, he said.

I’ll make– Call ‘em.

I’ll get it. Are you okay?

Yuh.

Andy’s call from the foredeck woke Mitchell to pain clenched deep in his chest and the dull realization that time had passed. A headache throbbed savagely above his eyes. Slumped over the tiller across his chest he lifted his head to watch Andy pull the rode aboard.

They motored the sloop at five knots, half a mile off the coast and the heat waned while air disturbance swirled steadily over the hull. Mitchell took full deep breaths, cooling himself in the false wind. Underfoot the burly growl of the old gasoline four-cylinder called his thoughts deeper and deeper into hypnotic blue combustion...

Loud pulsing of the ship’s screws crushed the fragments of Mitchell’s dreaming as he lifted his head against the gravity of exhaustion to see if he had taken off his clothes after the last rearming. Indigo darkness prevented it. He reached for his hips and felt the sheet and remembered undressing. Daisies, he exhaled, the cliche` forgotten. Eighteen years old he was worn beyond fear and already a survivor.

Pushing the sheet aside he swung his legs out of the berth and sat forcing his mind into the morning, awakening a belief in himself kept sacred by youth. Light beckoned through the porthole. With both hands on the steel rail of the berth above he pulled himself up and stepped to the porthole to gaze at the dawn. Bluish altocumulus clouds hung swollen above an onyx sea, the ammunition ship was plowing through its calm at fifteen knots. Mitchell felt a regret like sadness for the clouds and the terrible heat they foretold. He was thankful for the calm.

He showered and dressed in work denims, aggravated by a huge gash across the steel toe of his work boot; it had been shred by a scrap of flying aluminum when a five-hundred pound bomb pallet blew out on deck. He had lost any concern that it might have torn his leg apart.

Sickbay was cool and clean with deep green linoleum and stainless steel appliances. And good light from two portholes and the battery overheads above the hydraulic operating table. He pulled his first aid bag out from the others on the deck between the refrigerator and sterilizer and opened it on the table. The steel hatch swung open and the Chief corpsman stepped through the hatchway, his long face was pale and serious. He set his coffee mug on the stainless steel counter below the medicine cabinets. Good morning.

Morning, Chief. What’s the word?

Carriers. Three of them. He smoothed a hand over his thin blond hair, trying to relax.

Shit, Mitchell blew the breath out of his lungs. Two destroyers escorting each aircraft carrier, nine ships, fourteen hours to rearm each compliment of three. Okay, he said. Then, Shit.

The Chief lifted his bag from the deck and set it on the table next to Mitchell’s. Armand and Steve?

They still have an hour.

They’ll go home when we’re out of this. Hand job and a bowl of beans. Like all the other sane people. The Chief sat in one of the chairs under the portholes; he put his feet on the operating table and hunched his shoulders, gathering his tallness. He rubbed his hands on his khaki thighs.

Mitchell took the Chief’s blood pressure because it was always high before a rearming. One-seventy-four over one-twenty, he said. The coffee isn’t helping.

You’re a helluva good corpsman, Mitchell. We’ll get you to med school some goddamn day.

Mitchell wanted to say he didn’t care anymore, about anything, but his mind was imprisoned by trauma. Emotions had slowly ceased to form there. He stowed his stethoscope and the blood pressure cuff and closed the bag.

The Chief gripped the chair arms to stop his hands. Some of it’s useful, I suppose.

What is?

The stewards are aft on your stretchers for this one. Let’s hope they can keep their eyes open. School, the Chief said. There must be something they can teach you. But he didn’t say what. Mitchell was wondering about his own blood pressure. The Chief dropped his feet and stood and his head just missed the lights above the operating table.

Listen, Mitchell. He stuffed his hands into his pockets then pulled them out. No mistakes. Be sharp out there.

Always, Chief.

Good luck. The Chief took his bag to stand his station with the captain on the bridge.

Alone Mitchell opened his bag again. The contents were unchanged, he had refilled it after the last rearming, but looking into the bag and seeing the orderliness of the sterile cloth packages for bandages and emergency tracheotomies put the day ahead in perspective. Someone would die, probably. First the screams and then the shouts and men running, some trying to save friends, others trying to escape the assault of bombs raging on deck. He told himself to check the stretchers. Then he put his hand in the bag on the packages to feel their calm. In his mind he heard the screams, but held fast to the calm, assuring himself of the strength in his body. It took muscle and adrenaline to get through the chaos on deck.

With the bag slung over his shoulder he stepped from the coolness of sickbay into insane heat choked inside the passageways under the midship superstructure. Grey steel bulkheads and non-skid decks were illuminated fore and aft by a tropical sun blazing out on the main decks. Red fire axes were mounted on the bulkhead beside rolled fire hoses. Then his stretchers, the steel basket stretchers and the canvas stretchers with flaps for vertical lifting, were mounted on the bulkhead. He checked the lashings and cleared two knots before walking aft into the light.

Fuckin’ Doc is here, a sailor on deck hollered. We’re saved.

Mitchell kept his eyes lowered against the sun-blast and watched his sweat discolor his shirt a deeper blue.

Save this, Doc.

He climbed the ladder to the number-one deck, his rearming station, still in temporary shade from the superstructure. The morning sea was an omnipotent sapphire distance encompassing all horizons. The ship’s wake lay silver astern. The helicopter deck was flat and open above the fantail; below it was unobstructed deck on all sides of the paint locker, a good place to drag a man if bombs weren’t loosed in there.

Between his station and the fantail the main decks were hidden under labyrinths of bombs and projectiles in pallets stacked twelve and fifteen feet high, with only the bulwarks and the short sides of the number four and five cargo holds to pen them. Yellow forklifts were parked to port and starboard. Men talked across the enormous steel hold covers, while others used the covers to fake out lines that would carry winch cables to the arriving ships. Between holds the winch operator’s platforms perched above massive winch engines and enormous drums that released and returned the steel cables from the great height of the booms.

You ready, Doc? Gonna be a couple long days. Alfred Robeson was on the main deck, looking up at Mitchell and smiling. Sweat glistened on his broad black face; he was on his third enlistment, a good bosun’s mate, in charge of the port and starboard crews on the number four hold.

It’s too tight through those pallets between holds, Allie. Too tight if you need me. Who the hell’ll get through there?

Robeson looked at the pallet-towers of explosives and up at Mitchell again. Okay, Doc, he said, and held up a hand. Stay calm. I’ll tell Red over on five. Soon as we get some ships we’ll get ‘em outta there. Eat something. I got coffee and sandwiches on the way. Robeson took off his hard hat to wipe a big white handkerchief across his face and over his head. I’m tired of it, Doc. The whole goddamn –

Ships! Here they come!

They looked up to the signal tower atop the superstructure, where Chuck Rodriguez and Tex Brandt were leaned on the railing. Rodriguez raised his chin and aimed his eyes north. The men on the main decks looked across the sea expanse, still empty from where they stood. Then in the offing a tiny black shape appeared silhouetted against the blue horizon. Then another, and another. And then more shapes appeared.

Here we go, someone said.

Let’s get to it! Hard-hats and life-jackets! Let’s go! Robeson was moving toward the hold. Hey Boats, where’s our food? Someone complaining. There’s plenty of time. Let’s go! Get your gear! Robeson demanded. You! Yes, you! Get your head outta your ass! Ray, move that forklift! I see ‘em! Someone yelled. ‘Course you do. You ain’t workin’. Loosen those bolts! Alvarez! Alvarez, bring that hook down! Get those covers up!

From his station above the main deck Mitchell stood at the railing to watch the denim bosun’s mates in their scarred hard-hats and filthy orange life-jackets keep a disgruntled rhythm with more of the cage-like pallets of bombs and projectiles rising steadily from the depths of the ammunition ship’s two big cargo holds aft. Mitchell expected their screams even then, while crews winched and forklifted the explosives into towers on deck, until every possible space was crowded with armaments. Sailors stood on bombs and forklifts and winch equipment and along the upper deck railings to watch the grey silhouettes of the aircraft carriers and destroyers on their approaches.

Cruising alongside to port an aircraft carrier was gargantuan. Men shot lines from the dwarfed ammunition ship to the men on the working decks below the carrier’s flight deck; bolos were thrown to a destroyer cruising alongside at rearming speed to starboard. Cables were fed out and hooked to winch drums, both sides of the ammunition ship’s five holds were working. Men pushed steel slings under pallets of bombs and projectiles and then patted the hooks for something akin to luck. The electro-hydraulic hum of oil-blackened winch cables through the booms was the only distraction from the heat and the churning of the convoy’s mammoth engines and gigantic screws while thousands of pallets of explosives were hurried above the sea from the ammunition ship’s holds to the arriving ships of war.

Through the long sweltering day and night and into the rearming’s torrid second morning Mitchell had been relieved twice, for twenty minute breaks. He stood on station with sweat rivulets from under his hard-hat wandering down his face and dripping off his chin. Another pallet went up on its cable and tore apart, spilling projectiles on deck, the explosion instant, blowing Mitchell backward as a steel fragment sliced through his neck muscles, shattering his cervical spine.

White sky all in his eyes, the ship rolled gently through his shoulders, blood wet on his face and warm around his head like voices; so many voices swimming through his mind until they drowned in the prop wash and rotor blast swarming out from the aircraft carrier’s rescue helicopter.

Mitchell ascended. Blanketed and belted tight into the shallow cocoon of a steel basket stretcher secured to the narrow deck of the aircraft he lay staring from the corner of his eye past the machine-gunner in the open side door. The sea flashed yellow and silver and gold as far as the arc of the horizon. His fear was monstrously alive. Allie Robeson and his crew were dead. When will I be back? Asking his own shock...

Sunlight polished the hardwood floor in the correctional therapy gym where Mitchell was practicing with his wheelchair, mounting and dismounting a simulated curb. Wes came into the gym and walked over to sit on one of the raised mats that Mitchell had cursed and screamed at during thousands and thousands of pushups.

How ya doin’, kid? Wes brought his shoulders forward to prop himself on muscular forearms, his long white shirt sleeves were rolled back, his thick callused hands rested heavily on the edge of the mat.

Okay, Wes. I hear you’re retiring.

Yup. It’s time, Wes said, with his usual frankness.

Congratulations.

Thanks, kid. Whattaya hear from home?

Mitchell stopped his chair. What’s up, Wes?

Yeah, well, maybe you’ve heard from your folks, maybe not. You’re being discharged next week and I need to talk to you before you go. It’s important. Listen, kid, do you know about this place?

Just what I’ve heard from the older guys. Used be an Army hospital. Something like that.

Wes nodded, laughing memories to himself as he stretched his legs, crossing his ankles and folding his arms across his chest. Crazy bastards, all of them. His grey eyes brightened. Nineteen-forty-six, he said. I was working with Frannie Damato, building a chair for in the showers and over the hoppers. An old clunker with steel wheels. I’d cushioned a wooden toilet seat and secured it to the frame with brackets. He raised his palm, his face was suddenly serious. Remember, this was all new. We made our own prosthetics in these shops. Even the brackets we made. He blinked and then stuffed his hand. Anyway, Fran was soaping himself and the chair was holding up good when all of a sudden the bullet that paralyzed him popped out from the skin of his underarm. A big chunk of crushed metal ringing on the floor tiles. I couldn’t believe my eyes. I said, ‘My God, Frannie, do you need help? What can I do?’ Fran shot me a look and grumbled, ‘Promise you won’t tell a goddamn soul about me not having hair on my armpits.’

Mitchell laughed with Wes and it wasn’t the first time.

Most of the people who live with paralysis never saw a war, kid. They’re everyday folks. They had car accidents, diving injuries, falls. One man I know tripped on his kid’s toy and broke his back. Anything can happen. Wes leaned in close. Kid, a lot of good people have come through this place. Some didn’t get to leave. Everything you’ve learned here, your independence, was at their expense.

Mitchell looked straight into his mentor’s eyes. I’m a lucky guy. Is that what you’re telling me, Wes?

Wes’ chin jerked back then came forward with his shoulders. You’re damn right it is. There are places where you’d be lying on the ground.

I don’t buy it, Wes. I don’t think my life is worthwhile because other people are dead or miserable.

I’m talking about your support system, kid. You have one. It’s not that common, take my word. Have you ever thought of the time we’ve spent learning how to live with paralysis? Wes hardened his chin as he shook his head. Not many people have wanted to look at it.

Outside the fences it hasn’t changed much.

Yeah, life is hard, huh kid? Wes said it flatly, without mocking. You won’t be running or jumping anymore and I can’t say I know how you feel. I do know you’ve learned something few of us ever realize. It’s in your eyes, kid. Sometimes painfully. You know something most of us don’t.

Mitchell sat listening; he knew what Wes was talking about.

Kid, don’t water down your chances with that bottle in your locker.

Mitchell’s hands went slowly to his tires. What about it, Wes?

There’s nothing about it, kid. You never missed a therapy even when you could have. I’m proud of you. But you need to know the choices here are black and white. You deal with it or you don’t. Kid, you’re one of those people who can make it. I want you to know that. You work like a demon. Don’t forget to stretch everyday, without fail. And remember there are solutions to all the problems. Improvise. Every question has an answer. Never forget that. Okay, kid?

I won’t forget, Mitchell said. Thanks, Wes. Thanks a lot.

Wes smiled. Take care of yourself, kid. He shook Mitchell’s hand. Then he stood and walked away, leaving Mitchell with eyes filled and a sudden excruciating loneliness...

Copper evening melted on deck as Mitchell steered the sloop into the general anchorage off Green Beach in the wide mouth of the Thames River. Andy sat on the cabin top forward of the mast with his shoulders slumped like a broken dream.

This is good, Mitchell called.

Andy walked aft to kill the engine then back to the foredeck, kneeling with a hand on deck to slide the anchor into the sea. The sloop swung in a wide easy arc and settled into the wind, but then the hull rolled violently, thrown almost to its rails by jagged black swells.

Eyes sharp with caution, his grip eager for the lifeline and the mains’l lashed to the boom, Andy hurried aft and climbed down into the cockpit. Mitchell held the tiller aside, every heartbeat for balance while Andy unfastened the mainsheet and rigged it quickly with a sail tie under the boom. He pulled two safety-harnesses from the line locker and slid one under Mitchell’s knees, the other around his back and under his arms. Andy clipped both harnesses to the sheet’s bottom pulley and hauled hard on the sheet and Mitchell rose above the helmchair with his knees pulled up under his chin. His buttocks cleared the armrest and he swung inboard, descending like a parachutist; his legs opened and extended onto the cockpit sole. Andy slid the sheet forward on the boom then climbed below.

Sitting and swaying with his arms braced well apart behind his back Mitchell glanced past the deck at the sharpness of the swells. I’m back, old world. On a rolling boat.

Andy hauled on the sheet and Mitchell’s body was gathered tight into the harnesses again, sliding forward on the cockpit sole through the companionway and swinging down into the cabin. Andy caught him in an arm and on his chest then leaned on the sheet to trigger its release, guiding Mitchell’s further descent onto the port couch where his weight sank to the bottom of the thin foam cushion.

You’re a goddamn genius for having thought of that rig. Mitchell fumbled doggedly with the harness rings. Andy stood watching with one hand locked on the overhead grab rail. Then he reached and opened the clip to release the rings and they stripped off Mitchell’s shirt and pants and the urinary-drainage bag strapped to the side of his calf. Andy handed him a soapy

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