for last year, Tom said. He dismissed the boat moored on the quay with a
wave of his Nintendo.
France will be fun again like old times, his father Michael replied. He
put down his rucksack and blinked at the sails, scratching his stubble. The
sails had gathered a crust of white sea salt that glinted in the sun. Stowing
them below for the winter was a task he had overlooked. With the funeral and
the endless commiserations, there had been too much else to do for the energy
he had remaining.
Life is about
going forwards, not backwards. We need to try something different for our
holidays, like a game tournament. Id win, obviously, Tom said.
His sister Hyacinth
was checking messages on her phone with bulging plastic bags at her feet. She
looked up from the screen and rolled her eyes. Obviously not. Trying
anything different would be wasted on you. All you want to do is hide in your
Nintendo, she said.
stop arguing for once, Michael sighed. Were going to France
only because we agreed its convenient. We know the way. Ive still got the
co-ordinates on the autopilot.
only going to France because Mummy liked to go shopping there before she got
run over, Tom replied.
passed on, Michael corrected him.
Killed by a
speeding driver, you mean, Tom said. Mummy would have let me play
on my Nintendo for the holidays. She was like that.
She only let
you play for an hour a day, Hyacinth corrected him.
aboard while you two make up. You never used to argue before, Michael
said. He picked up his rucksack and walked across the gangplank to the boat.
remained on the jetty glaring at each other.
the one who started the argument, Hyacinth said with a sideways check of
no use speaking to you when youre glued to your messages, Tom
I was just
checking the weather forecast for the crossing. She blushed and dropped
the phone into one of the bags.
Zebedee is a
centre forward in the school team, not a weather forecaster, Tom
hasnt sunk yet, Michael called over from the deck. He ushered his
protesting children over the gangplank. Hyacinth unpacked the plastic bags in
the galley and Tom clambered below decks to his cabin.
Soon, they would be
acting like they were on an adventure again, Michael hoped. All done in
the galley? he asked his daughter.
Michael fussed over the salt on the sails, picking off each crystal one by one.
He wanted any excuse to avoid his own cabin, crowded by a bed made for two.
cleaning away the cobwebs, Hyacinth announced. She was holding a pink
duster, its head spikey like a hedgehog. The duster was underneath the
He stared at her,
mesmerised by the freckles and the memory they gave of her mother.
I can help
when Im finished cleaning the sails. But he made no move, buried in
Im capable by myself. Hyacinth disappeared into the insides of the
He should have
showed more enthusiasm to avoid alienating her, he reprimanded himself.
Ill take the wheel, he said to the empty deck by way of
atonement. Inside the wheelhouse, he recalled the co-ordinates on the GPS and
steered the boat out of the port. Another family waved to him from their boat
but he stared ahead like a ghost. He was already running on automatic.
on the deck, phone in hand.
The dusting is
done. Getting hungry by any chance? she asked her father while checking
I suppose so. All his meals were a daze.
going to tell you off for losing weight again, Hyacinth said.
Youll become anorexic like the girls at school. Youll miss
France and end up in Spain if you dont eat.
Spain had been too far for his wife when planning their holidays. She said
France had all the stores they needed.
listening? his daughter asked. The freckles peered at him.
She had inherited
her mothers assertiveness. Ask Tom if hes hungry as
well, he replied.
The freckles wiggled
dissent. Toms too busy with his Nintendo to notice his
him instead. The Nintendo was fast becoming a substitute father.
Tapping on his
sons cabin door, he realised he had no idea about the supplies they had
brought with them. He had walked around the supermarket seeing his wifes
ghost in between the aisles and letting his daughter do the picking.
Something tasty? he asked through the door.
Tom grunted back
over the beeps of his game.
assuming a grunts a Yes.
Michael returned the
wheelhouse. He wet his finger and held its tip in the wind, like his wife had
taught him to do. The wind was picking up, but the sails would struggle without
watching. His wife had been no fan of shortcuts, but he didnt have the
energy to rerig the sails, so switched on the engine.
He was lucky for the
first time in a year. The sails werent the only part of the boat he had
neglected to check over winter. The diesel chugged into life. Sailing was
easier than living, he told himself. His nose tweaked at the smell of cooking.
He left the
wheelhouse and went into the galley.
His daughter was
poking a fork at sizzling slices of bacon on the hob. The ketchups
mouldy, she said without looking up.
must have blown a fuse over winter.
it off, you mean.
fuse. Michael bent down below the galleys counter and opened the
No light came on. He
reached behind the fridge, groped his fingers and switched on the power. The
light blinked into life.
The culprit ketchup
stared back at him, along with a bottle of white wine that his wife had bought
a year ago. Sancerre, she had said, to get them in the mood for later.
some more ketchup. He shut the fridge door quickly.
In France? Do
they use ketchup on their snails?
mustard. Michael sat down at the galley table, his hands resting on his
knees. Smells good, he called out. He realised he was the child
waiting to be fed, not her.
Ive fried the eggs, she replied, breaking a shell into two with one
Tom entered the
galley, Nintendo in hand. He sniffed the air theatrically. Breakfast for
inventive, Hyacinth said. My cooking skills are limited. Im
trying my hardest, she flashed at him. We all are, most of
What makes you
think Im not making an effort? Tom retorted. Im the
only one who wants to move on.
isnt about playing computing games, she replied.
Im living, Tom said.
The father and his
two children ate their meal to the sound of the engine chugging. Hyacinth
glanced at her father as he stirred his bacon in the egg yolk. He had eaten
Would you like
the ketchup after all? I can scrape the mould off, she asked him.
Tom gave Hyacinth a
startled look. His father had never sworn in front of them of them before.
Whos up for a game of Monopoly to
cheer us up? Hyacinth asked brightly. She looked under the table.
Mummy kept the board somewhere in the galley.
Im tired already. I better go to bed for an early night. He
got up and pointed at the sea through the galley window in alarm. Whales
are following us! he exclaimed.
His two children
clambered to the window to look. He took the Sancerre from the fridge unnoticed
and quietly left for the wheelhouse. With the bottle emptied, he might get some
Daddys going crazy. I can only see clouds, Tom said to his sister,
scanning the horizon at the window.
wouldnt worry. Weve all gone crazy. Thats the point of having
a holiday, Hyacinth replied.
We can get
away from everything.
Tom pressed his nose
against the window, tracing a raindrop on the pane. But everythings
Precisely, Hyacinth said. We need
to help Daddy. He misses Mummy too much.
miss Mummy more than you miss Zebedee?
Hyacinth jabbed his
back with a dirty fork. Just when I was trying to be nice, you start
acting all immature.
Tom howled and
dropped to the galley floor. You stabbed me, he cried.
His sister knelt
down beside him. Youre so lame. Ill get a sticking
kidding. He reached up to tickle her armpits.
See what I
mean about everything being here? she asked and locked her arms straight
by her side.
forgot you hate being tickled, Tom replied.
In the wheelhouse,
Michael sat on the Captains Chair and unscrewed the top from the
Sancerre. Rachel, he whispered to the bottle. He could remember his
wife sitting on his lap in the same chair while she gave him navigation
Hyacinth called to him from the wheelhouse door.
He hid the wine
bottle behind the chair and turned round. His daughter was silhouetted in the
doorframe by moonlit rain. Did I miss the washing up? he asked.
She brandished her
phone at him. I checked the forecast, despite what Tom said about me only
thinking of Zebedee. Were heading into a storm.
What should we
do? He slid further into the Captains Chair. His wife would have
given an answer. He had specialised in asking the questions in his side of
up the sails, close all the hatches and put on our life jackets. She
opened a locker by his chair and took out three orange life jackets.
The wine bottle
dropped onto the floor and rolled to the side with a clatter.
Do you want me
to help with the sails? Michael asked, hoping to divert her attention
from the bottle for a second time.
You pull them
in and Ill tie the ropes. Ive got little fingers. She pulled
him up from the chair. Tom can check the hatches.
just like your mother, he replied approvingly as she opened the
thats incorrect, she said into the rain. Half of me is
were screwed, he replied, following her orange life jacket onto the
Not unless you
forgot to check the autopilot.
too. Michael turned back into the wheelhouse. The autopilot was still
glowing green. He picked up the bottle and emptied the wine into the rain.
Being drunk in a storm would be humiliating the memory of his wife.
In the morning, the
storm had passed. Hyacinth rigged the sails again while her brother sat on the
deck, playing with his Nintendo. Michael brushed storm water overboard from the
text you in case you drowned? Tom asked Hyacinth.
The freckles shook
at him. He called me a flower. Only Mummy could do that, so I dumped
Michael paused with
broom in hand, over-hearing the chit chat between his children. Im
sorry to hear it didnt work out between you, he said. He
wasnt sure what else fathers could say to relationship-stricken
daughters. Feelings were his wifes expertise.
shouldnt be sad. The freckles gave a second wiggle in dismissal.
I was going to dump him anyway. He had bad breath, which was
went to his mouth. Is my breath bad too?
me, she replied.
pass out. I couldnt lift you up after dinner, Tom said.
Michael breathed at
evaluated him. You dont have smelly breath, but you could do with a
shave. Dads should look smart when they arrive in France, she said.
checked his chin. His wife had liked his stubble on holiday. She said it made
him more animal-like.
his son added.
believe what Im hearing, Hyacinth said, open-mouthed.
below decks. He braved his cabin for the first time in the crossing. The pink
duvet was still on the bed, gathering dust instead of sea salt. He opened the
door to the small bathroom, half-expecting to find his wife fixing the shower
Shaving foam and a
razor were missing from the washing bag he bad brought with them. He
hadnt packed enough of anything. His wifes shaving foam and razor
were in the cupboard above the sink where she had left them. He lathered his
skin and scraped at it with the razor. Then he checked the results in the
mirror. He had nicked his chin twice, out of practice. Cotton buds would do the
trick at stopping the blood. His wife had kept an emergency supply of those
Nicks staunched, he
returned to the deck. His son and daughter were standing at the rails, pointing
at the horizon.
Have you made
up over the charger? he asked them warily.
charger, Tom said. The autopilot must have taken a short cut
because of the storm. Were coming into France.
believe you, Michael replied.
you see, Hyacinth said.
He looked out to
sea. Other boats were passing them, laughing families and stubborn fishermen.
Michel let his
children lead him to the railing.
See! Hyacinth cried. She grabbed his arm and pointed at the green sliver
of land growing larger in their view.
I must be
hallucinating, he said, blinking twice.
We only had to
wait until she came back to us, his daughter said. She waved at the
figure on the shore, tears streaming down her face.
Michael could just
make out the matching freckles. Rachel, he mouthed.
I told you we
should look forwards, not backwards, Tom said at their side. People
should listen to me more often.
Michael wrapped his
hands around both his children and hugged them. Ill listen to
nobody ever again, he said and smiled.
doesnt make sense, Hyacinth said.
life does, Michael replied.
An electronic alarm
blared in his ears. He opened his eyes and stretched across the empty side of
the double bed, knocking over an empty wine glass. An alarm glowed at him in
green digits. He switched on the bedside table light. A silver photo frame
glimmered at him, bordered with a black ribbon. A freckled woman waved at the
camera on a boat, surrounded on either side by a girl with matching freckles
and a boy holding a Nintendo.
The sound of arguing
voices floated through his bedroom door. Tom was teasing Hyacinth about her
boyfriend, again. Michael wrapped himself in the pink duvet and closed his eyes
again. Five more minutes, he prayed.