Companion Ship
A Short Story by Doug Dean
Written using the suggestion "Companionship"
Originally featured on 04-16-2007
As part of our series "Things you can live without, but most people choose not to"

I tied up the main sail and paused to look out over the green grass of my backyard. There from the deck of our boat I alternated focus between the ripples of each blade of grass and the lawn as a fluid whole. Over in the corner, the mulch pile forewarned of nasty weather. It would not be calm like this for-

“Frank! Did you bag the mulch pile yet?”

A shrill voice from Kitchen, a port I once knew well — once called friendly—but from which I have since been banished.

I hesitate to disembark here. I know that Sharky favors muddying the patches of lawn just below me. I will motor closer in.

I climb up towards the front of my craft. A quick knot and I’ve readied my lasso. My target will be that rusty banister lining of the stairway to the kitchen. There may be grave consequence in ignoring my banishment, the terms of which relate directly to the wave of mulch that rises higher each day, perhaps someday becoming a tsunami and killing us all.

I think of my training during my travels in the Great West, before I learned the pleasures of the sea. In those times, I had to lead by example. There were young lives at stake. As I swing the rope above my head, I whistle, just as Oscar did. Ah, those days on Sesame Dude Ranch!

The rope bounces off the cast iron rail with a clang. This is no time for clumsy rodeo. I quickly pull the rope back in and try again. My target is the knob at the edge of the rail. An accurate throw I can pull the noose tight around that knob and help bring my ship to port, Kitcheners be damned.

My throw is high, I feel it when I release. A lucky accident! It catches on the lamp fixture five feet above the rail. I pull the knot tight. The lamp is certainly less sturdy but should be strong enough for me to shore my craft. I pull.

The flat rubber wheels move slowly over the uneven patches of grass. I pull hard with both hands, overcoming inertia, inching forward. These are new boat shoes, pristine white. Sharky will not have his victory today.

The aluminum siding whines, bending as the lamp pushes down on it under the added pressure of my ship.

I pull hard. The lamp snaps in half. The rest of the way will be out of the boat in Sharky’s territory. I’ve cut the distance some. As lower my foot toward the lawn, I scan back and forth through the two-foot high grass. I see a patch that’s bent over and naked. It’s clear. But I forgot to put away the Book of Chelsea. Oh, and look at those clouds. That could’ve been disastrous. I’d never be welcomed back to Kitchen if I’d been the one responsible for damaging that sacred text.

I lift up the seat cushion and then the wood panel and grab the plastic. I take one more look at Chelsea and Sesame Ranch before wrapping it and stowing it safely. Now I could safely return to Port Kitchen and see what ghastly and exotic foods the kitcheners had dreamed up. I lower my foot and miss my mark. My foot lands just to the right of the intended naked patch. I can feel the extra weight affixed to my sole. Sharky, you clever bastard, counting on my failing eyes.

I pull off my shoe and sure enough it’s a nasty one. I think of dragging my foot along the ground but that would stain the white leather with green. Plus with the grass so high and the failing light, I’d be just as likely hit another of Sharky’s traps as to emerge with a clean sole.

I hop on one foot the twelve feet to the door.

“Evie! Can I have a butter knife?” Even a kitchener wouldn’t deny a drowning man a butter knife. Not on a summer evening like this.

She emerges at the top of the steps and sees my shoe. After wrinkling her face she disappears again to reappear a few moments later with an old butter knife.

“You should just hose it off. Ah, but those are your new ones aren’t they?” She steps forward and hands me the knife. “We’ll eat in ten minutes.” A smile. My banishment is over. Now to clean this shoe.

I swipe quickly and viciously and Sharky’s little treat. I do use the hose in short little blasts and soon I’m ready to go inside. I take a moment to look once again at the lawn as the sun ducked down behind the horizon.

 

I walk through the kitchen and Evie’s got some meatloaf cooking. I can recognize in my first two steps. It’s about halfway done. I guess its Tuesday but it doesn’t really matter. It hasn’t all summer.

“Kelsey is coming by tonight.” I turn to look at her.

“Oh really,” I say.

“Yeah. She’s gonna be here any minute.” Kelsey’s my youngest- no, Kelsey’s not my youngest, she’s my daughter. I don’t have a youngest and oldest. I’ve just got Kelsey.

“Well, good,” I say. I turn and find my paper in the Dining room. The tables set and I take my place at the head. I’m maybe a line or two into the sports page when I hear the front door.

“Dad, you look burnt. You’re really red.”

“Hey sweetie.”

She hugs me and I breathe deeply. I feel her forearm on my sunburnt neck. It’s okay.

“I might go put some lotion on,” I say and then head to the bathroom off from the kitchen.

I am really red. I need to remember lotion tomorrow. Bending down, I see the aloe and go for it. The door is still cracked open behind me. While rubbing my face, oh boy does that feel cold; I can hear them.

Kelsey asks about the rope and Chelsea’s boat. I think she said, “Why didn’t he just tie it to the railing?”

In the mirror, I’m so red beneath my white shirt. I look and feel like I’m on fire.

I smear more ice cold lotion on my face. When I walk out to the Dining room, they’re both sitting. I take my seat.

“Daddy?”

“Yeah, sweetie?” She pauses. I look up from the paper.

“Do you still think you’re going to sell Chelsea’s boat or do you think you’ll keep it now?” Evie is staring at me. She puts her hand on mine. I look at it and then my lap for a moment. Without trying, I picture Chelsea and me on our last fishing trip. I see flashes of us on the Chesapeake. The water looks so dark and blue.

“I don’t know what I want to do sweetie.” We make eye contact. Her eyes are so open. “I still might need to hang on to it.” Evie squeezes my hand a little tighter.

“Okay, Daddy. Let me know if you change your mind and I’ll help you, okay?”

“Thank you sweetie. I will when I’m ready.”

“Okay,” she whispers.

We start to eat. When I look back up from my plate, I see that Evie’s eyes are wet. I reach for her hand but she gets up and excuses herself too quickly. She heads to the bathroom. I look at Kelsey. She nods in a way that tells me she’s going to comfort her mother. I nod back.

I’m alone at the table. After a moment, I go for another bite of my meatloaf. I have an idea. With two ropes of the right length, I could use the oak tree and a pitchfork — I can make short work of that goddamned mulch tsunami. I just have to wade out there with the ropes, and avoid any more of Sharky’s wretched surprises.

Read More By Doug Dean

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