Sunday Snippet, Emprise by Bill Chance

“As for me, I am tormented with an everlasting itch for things remote. I love to sail forbidden seas, and land on barbarous coasts.”

― Herman Melville, Moby-Dick or, the Whale

Sailboats on White Rock Lake, Dallas, TX

Emprise

The thing is, in an isolated tiny town like New Solace, thrown out there lonely in the ice cold windswept plains, there weren’t very many opportunities to meet someone that you might desire. Anyone was lucky to find one. Stan and Emilia were lucky, but there was no other choice. Since they were infants, born on opposite sides of town yet less than a mile away, seven days apart, it was assumed they would grow up to be a couple. Not because of any imagined or real compatibility of their personalities, but because there simply was nobody else.

They married the day after they graduated from high school. Neither of them had ever seen the ocean so for their honeymoon they went to a warm, humid coastal town and decided never to go back to New Solace, even if it was home and they were needed at harvest time.

Stan found work stocking the shelves at a hardware store and Emilia worked in the grade school cafeteria, making huge pots of mashed potatoes and gravy. “Gravy?” she’d ask the children in front of her as they moved through the line with their trays with the already-filled ladle in her hand. They would make fun of her accent that had floated a thousand miles down from the far north. She came home from work hours before Stan and one day, she was waiting for him in front of their apartment building.

“Come walk with me, I’ve bought something,” she said. They had always been very proud of their apartment, although it was too small, cheap, and rundown… it was only a block from the ocean. There was a litter-spoiled bit of beach and a small marina – as cheap and rundown as their apartment. Emilia led Stan to the marina and asked him to close his eyes.

“What? I don’t want to fall off the dock.”

“Don’t worry, I’ve got your arm.”

They walked out over the water and then Emilia let Stan open his eyes. There was a moldy looking sailboat, resting at a slight angle in the water, tied to the Marina with old, greenish ropes.

“What do you think?” she said.

“What does this have to do with us?”

“I bought it,” she said, “While you were at work. Don’t worry, it was a great deal, we can afford it.”

“But what?”

“It’s a Catalina 22, a very common boat. We can fix it up, parts are available and cheap. We can go on an adventure.”

And that’s what they did. Stan was very handy with tools and had a nice discount at the hardware store where he worked. He scraped and painted and varnished and replaced. It was a lot of work and took almost a year but slowly the boat began to look like a shiny new vessel. Emila wasn’t very good with her hands and she figured her part was the planning stages. She was constantly looking up destinations and strategies. After consulting a bulky thesaurus she announced they would name the boat “Emprise.” Stan made a note to himself to look word up and see what it meant – but he never did.

“I think we need to sign up for sailing lessons,” said Stan.

“Naw, we don’t need that.”

“I think we do, they are available at the yacht club,” said Stan.

“Why? All that stuff is available online.”

The boat was gleaming, supposedly seaworthy, and almost finished. Stan took a few days off for the final touches. The afternoon was warm and he was exhausted when he fell asleep in the small cabin. He woke feeling the boat moving in an odd way and stuck his head out up and looked around. All he could see was waves. The sails overhead were out and Emilia was at the tiller grinning from ear to ear.

“While you were asleep, I decided to take ‘er out.”

“Where are we going?”

“I figured we’d do a loop, find an anchorage for the night.”

“But you don’t know what you’re doing!”

“It’s simple.”

But it wasn’t. Emilia wasn’t even sure how to read the compass – it wasn’t nearly as stable as it was in the instructional videos she had watched. The wind kept switching directions and getting stronger and stronger.

“Did you check the weather?” asked Stan.

“Why? Not a cloud in the sky.”

“There is now.”

They never found an anchorage and had to sail blindly into the night. In the pitch blackness the wind and waves rose and rose until they were caught in a full-fledged storm. The hot rain poured down and the warm sea flung itself up until the boat felt like it was being ground to pieced between the two and propelled by the wind over the edge of the world. Stan was beyond terrified and resigned to death several times. Luckily, in the darkness he could not see the eternal grin plastered across Emilia’s face and he would misinterpret her whoops of joy as cries of terror.

Stan woke to the morning heat of the rising sun to the confusion of feeling an odd texture under his body. He realized it was sand and he had been thrown onto a beach next to the broken sailboat.

“Stan, wake up!” Emilia was walking around, seemingly no worse for wear.

“We’re on an island,” she said. “I thought I’d let you sleep. I’ve been walking around, and it looks like there’s a house a bit down the shore. There’s smoke coming out of the chimney.”

Stan had never felt such a weary pain in every bone as he hauled himself up and walked with Emilia to the house about a mile from where they boat had floundered.

They knocked on the door and an older woman answered right away.

“Come on in, I have some coffee and breakfast,” she said as if they were expected.

The woman was Alice and she had lived on the island for ten years, five alone, since her husband has passed away. They walked together down the beach and looked long and hard at the boat but it was beyond salvage.

“Shame,” Alice said. “It looked like such a nice little boat. Can’t be helped, though.”

“But what can we do now?” asked Stan.

“Well, for one thing, you can stay here as long as you need to, or want to. I can use a handyman to keep up with repairs, the yahoos that come out from the mainland are all useless or thieves. There’s plenty of room. Plenty to eat. I can use some company.”

“Sounds great,” said Emilia.

“But we were looking for an adventure,” said Stan.

“But, you see, there are more ways to have an adventure than to go off across the world,” replied Alice.

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