Purely fiction. Purely. (Well, almost purely.)
Over at Proper Course, Tillerman has issued another writing challenge. This one is to produce a post exploring the relationship between Love and Sailing. He has graciously permitted this exploration to take the form of fiction. And he has invited readers to explore not merely the positive aspects but also the negative. Thus, I present this excerpt from my current National Novel Writing Month project, Murder on the Sports Desk.
Hannah Montgomery, our point-of-view character, has been recovering from a traumatic brain injury. Her fiancé, Harry O’Malley, has been taking care of her. Her friend, Flash Duran, has just taken her sailing on his high-performance racing yacht, Avenger, and Harry’s not too happy about that. In the aftermath of that argument, they have gone to bed.
She dreamed that she was sailing on Avenger, out on the ocean, far from the coast, which was just a hazy dark line along the horizon. She was at the helm, steering the boat and also trimming the mainsail and jib – pulling on those dozens of lines as if she knew exactly which one to pull when, and which one to ease when. The boat was cutting through the waves with great speed, and she was getting splashed with chilly, salty water. She thought she was alone.
Suddenly an arm reached around her from behind, startling her, and wrapped her up in a tight grip, so that she could barely breathe. She felt the sinewy strong arm of the man behind her as he pulled her to him, and she felt the hard muscles of his chest against her back. She started to scream, but the man clamped a hand over her mouth, so all that she was able to do was make a slight squeaking sound. She could feel hard calluses against her lips, and she could taste the man’s sweat, a mixture of salt and the sulfurous tang of gunpowder. She tried to twist herself out of his hold, but she could barely move; his arm was too strong.
Then the man gripped her arm in his other hand and turned her around to face him, wrenching her shoulder as he did so. She released the tiller, and the boat careened out of control, rounding upwind and stalling out, to be slapped sideways by the waves. She looked at her captor. Dressed in full pirate regalia, with ragged breeches, a sash at the waist into which a cutlass was thrust, a shirt open to show a bare chest, tricorn hat, eye patch, pencil thin mustache, was … Flash Duran.
He removed his hand from her mouth. “Flash?” she squeaked.
“Aye, wench,” he said. “Ye be on my boat, ye be my wench.” She looked down and realized that she, too, was dressed as a pirate, barefoot, with a ragged red skirt and a loose white blouse. He put his hand behind her head, lacing his fingers through her hair, and pulled her face toward his, his mouth open to kiss hers. She could feel his hot breath, and smell it – he must have had liverwurst or something like it for lunch, and then smoked his cigarettes afterward. He slipped a hand inside her blouse and she realized she wasn’t wearing a bra; the calluses on his palm felt like sandpaper against her skin. She squirmed and pushed, but his other arm held her so tightly to him that she could barely move.
“Flash, no,” Hannah said as his face loomed in hers. “Flash!” Hannah felt herself spinning, and she wasn’t sure whether it was only the motion of the out of control boat, or also her own mind spinning, her head reeling. “Flash!” she screamed again.
She woke up with a jolt, bolting upright in the bed and gasping for breath. Harry was next to her, also awake, groggily sitting up. “That must have been some dream,” he said.
“It was, um, well, I don’t know,” Hannah said. “I don’t know what it was about.”
“It seemed pretty clear to me,” Harry said. “You were moving around like, well, like when we’re making love. And then, you scream out somebody else’s name instead of mine. Somebody you insist you don’t have anything more than friendship with.”
“It’s not like that,” Hannah said. “This dream was … frightening. He wasn’t a friend. He was … not … who he really is.”
“And how do you know who he really is?” Harry asked. “Could the dream be trying to tell you something?”
“No,” Hannah said. “Flash Duran may be a rogue, he may be self serving, he may have an ego the size of a house, he may be used to getting his way, but underneath, he’s a good person who cares about his friends, including me.”
“Honey,” Harry said, “I know you have a soft spot for the guy. But look at him, look at his reputation. He’s a pirate, and pirates are not nice people. Romantic imagery aside, even the pirates in the eighteenth century were ruthless, bloodthirsty criminals who took whatever they wanted without a care for whoever they might hurt in the process.”
How strange, Hannah thought, that Harry should bring up the pirate image, when she hadn’t mentioned anything about Flash being a pirate in her dream. “But Flash is not that way,” she said. “He would never hurt me.”
“Didn’t he hurt you this afternoon?” Harry asked. “He took you on his boat, his dangerous, demanding, brutal boat, and he had you trimming sheets and going on the foredeck, all the things you shouldn’t be doing until you’re fully recovered from your injury, and he brought you to the brink of collapse.”
“You don’t understand,” Hannah said. “That sail gave me much more than it took away. The feeling of that boat, it energized me and made me feel more alive than I have since before the injury.”
“You know, that’s what drug users say,” Harry said. “They take their uppers, and they get a charge out of the high, but really all the drugs are doing is robbing the users’ own energy reserves. Then they crash. When you got off that boat, you crashed.”
“That’s not how it was,” Hannah said. But then, she thought, was it? When she had stepped off the boat and set foot on the pier, she had no longer felt the energy flowing through her, and she had attributed that effect to the fact that she was no longer drawing energy from the boat. When Harry had hugged her, she had felt energy draining away, as if Harry was sapping her strength. But could it have been that the boat had been making her burn her own energy, and it was coincidence that the crash came when she left the boat and entered Harry’s arms?
“You’re having doubts, aren’t you?” Harry said. “I tell you, that man and that boat are dangerous.”
“I refuse to believe it,” Hannah said. “He’s saved my life often enough for me to know he does take my well being to heart.”
“He also takes his own desires to heart,” Harry said. “He wanted you on that boat more than he wanted you healthy. I don’t think you should sail with him again.”
“We’ve already been through this,” Hannah said. “Didn’t you agree that I could sail on Avenger if I’m just a passenger and don’t exert myself over anything?”
“I said I’d think about it,” Harry said. “Now, I’m not so sure I should even have said that.”
“You’re not going to take this away from me,” Hannah said. “I know you don’t like it, but the feeling of that boat, of being there on the water, the power of it, I can’t give it up.”
“But you have to,” Harry said. “Your health …”
“Is at least as much my business as it is yours,” Hannah said. “I can choose to take a risk if I wish, and in this case, the risk is not so big as you say it is, and the payoff is much too big to give up.”
Harry reached out and grabbed Hannah’s arm. “You can’t do it,” he said. “Think of me. Think how much I love you. Think how much it hurts me when you hurt. Don’t do something foolhardy that will cost me you.”
“Do you really want to not lose me?” Hannah said. “Then you’ll have to let me do this. If you really cared about me, you’d see that this is something I must do.” She pulled her arm out of Harry’s grasp, threw off the covers and got out of bed, reaching for her clothes, which she had tossed on a chair on the way to the bed earlier that evening.
“Don’t do it,” Harry said, getting up to follow her. “I only want what’s best for you.”
“What’s best for me is the freedom that I found going out on that boat,” Hannah said, pulling on her jeans and sweater, not bothering with a bra. “If you can’t allow me that, I can’t stay here.”
“Please, Hannah,” Harry said, putting his hands on her shoulders, “don’t go. I love you. You’re my life.”
“Well, you’re robbing me of mine,” Hannah said, pulling away from him again. “If you call that love, I don’t want to have to deal with it.” She dashed out of the room, grabbed her purse, laptop, papers and car keys, and was out the front door.
As she was unlocking her car, Harry appeared at the doorway, belting on his bathrobe. “Hannah, come back,” he said. “I take it back. You can go risk your life on that damn boat if you want. Just stay.”
“It’s too late for that now,” Hannah said. She climbed into her car, started it up, and drove off.
As I said, this is fiction.