A ship sails into rough waters.
I”ll Name Him Abel
His eyes opened to the last morning he would awake at home for many months, and the last morning he would awaken to Catherine for longer than he wished. Abel had already decided that this would be his last voyage, his last crossing to England. When he returned he would never leave Catherine again. He lazed in bed as reality separated itself from sleep, and dawn quietly slipped into the room through the open window. The screech of Sea Gulls filled the salted breeze that rustled the bedroom curtains, and brought with it the pungent scent of decaying seaweed.
As he stretched his powerful arms he felt the warm sheets where Catherine had just slept. He could hear the sad song she sang as it left her soft lips, while she busied herself across the room packing his clothes into his weathered sea bag. She stood looking at him, her auburn hair flowing in waves past her shoulders, her skin the color of pearls, and her swollen belly visible under the soft white cloth of her chemise. To Abel, Catherine was a vision of beauty, especially now. He stopped himself from thinking about how much he would miss her during his voyage. Instead, his thoughts ran to the knowledge that he would not leave Catherine again.
“Good morning, Captain.” Catherine said through a playful smile when she noticed he was awake. “The out-going tide will begin soon, and unless you’ve changed your mind about going, you don’t have much time.” Abel thought he saw hope in her eyes, but her hope, and her smile, slowly faded as he began to talk.
“One day soon, my love, I won’t wake to the sad song you sing so softly. I look forward to ten thousand mornings of your smile, and your love.” Abel watched as Catherine closed his bag and buckled the belt.
“But you take my love with you, no matter how far you travel from me, surely you know that, Abel.” Picking up a silver tray with two coffee cups on it, Catherine brought it to Abel and put it on the table next to the bed. Sitting on the rumpled sheets she looked deeply into his sleepy eyes.
“Abel, promise me that this will, indeed, be your last trip, that we’ll share our remaining days without the separations your work now requires.” Abel was propped on one elbow.
“Catherine, my love, this is my last voyage, I promise you. I have already arranged with Samuel that I will chart his ships for their voyages, but I will not be on them when they set sail.” His hand moved to her belly and slowly stroked its roundness, a smile crossed his lips.
“You will be a father when you return, Abel.” Her smile danced and her eyes filled with joy. “If it is a boy I will name him Abel.”
“And if it is a girl?” His eyes peered over the rim of the coffee cup.
“Then I shall name her Elizabeth, for your mother.”
Walking slowly through the mist on wet cobblestones, Abel could see his ship, the Mary Bell, as it swayed at anchor in the lingering fog. Catherine walked by his side, huddled against the morning breeze. The sun began streaking the sky with blue, popcorn clouds lined the horizon, the City Hall tower clock struck eight times…and the tide was beginning to ebb. With his arm hugging Catherine’s shoulder Abel could feel how delicate she was. Her fine auburn hair was pulled into a loose bun at the back of her head, wispy strands of hair did not hide the soft white skin on her neck. As they walked together, Abel caught glimpses of sadness in Catherine’s blue eyes. But the sadness gave way to a shy smile that lit up her face when she caught him looking back at her.
“The autumn chill is here, and with it the sudden fierce storms, be watchful of that while I’m gone, Catherine.”
“I will be careful, Abel. I know how powerful the storms can be.” Her face turned serious, she wanted Abel to know she understood.
As they arrived at the edge of town, the station master, in his black uniform, waived his flag, and a heavy, black locomotive heaved into the mist with its load. Smoke rose from its stack as it lumbered past and hid them. Abel pulled Catherine close and kissed her forehead, and then her lips. His public display of affection was unusual, but it was welcomed by Catherine. She eagerly kissed him back. At the port gate Abel held Catherine by her shoulders and looked at her, allowing his eyes to take in her warm eyes and soft, full lips. His hand went to her face as he gently brushed back strands of hair that had come loose from her bun. Her hair felt soft, even against the rough skin of his hands. He saw her tears welling up into pools, and unable to blink them back, they fell, wetting her cheeks. He pulled her to him in a soft embrace, her head tucked in under his chin. His heartbeat raced.
“I will return to you as soon as the winds, and God, allow.” He felt her shake her head in agreement against his wool coat. “I will think about you everyday while I’m gone, my love.” Catherine gently pulled herself away from him, a tear hung from her chin, then dripped onto her cape.
“I love you, Abel. God speed, return to me quickly.” Looking into his dark eyes she saw gold specks that looked as if stars had been sprinkled in them, the ocean breeze rustled his dark curly hair, she pulled his jacket closed at his neck.
“There, we don’t want you to catch cold, now do we?” She managed a thin smile. His eyes never left hers as he reached into his pocket and took out a gold orb. Holding it out to her by its gold chain, he gave her the watch he had bought yesterday.
“Keep this to mark our time apart.”
“Thank you, Abel, it is beautiful. I will miss you…I love you.” She could no longer push away the sadness she felt, and she fell into his arms again. Abel could feel the fullness of her belly, and the gentle heaves of her body as she sobbed. His arms encircled her; his desire to protect her was never stronger. They gently swayed in their embrace while the salted sea air caressed them.
“Abel, return to me quickly,” she pleaded. She turned and walked away. Abel watched Catherine as she pulled her cape tightly around her shoulders and walked up the incline to the edge of town, her shoes against the cobblestones the only sound. Abel took solace in the fact that this would be their last good-bye.
As the lines were loosed from their moorings, Abel felt the Mary Bell slide in the water. The bow pointed into the sun as the sails were hoisted and the wind filled them amid loud, vulgar shouts from the crew. Abel held the railing as he gave orders to the helmsman. Feeling the slight heave of the deck beneath him; he knew he was on his way. He looked to the hillside for one more glimpse of Catherine, but she was hidden in the remnants of the morning mist. The winds were brisk and the Mary Bell moved gallantly through the gentle swells, Abel and the crew would settle into a routine of work and sleep. The crossing to England had begun.
Abel sat at the small desk in his cabin and made an entry in his log, something he did every morning. The lamp hanging above his head swayed from side to side as the wind whipped through the open window.
“The morning of September 25 finds the Mary Bell heading northeast. The seas are choppy and our sails are supple with a brisk wind.” He wrote. “The storm clouds that were seen to the north last night have moved closer, and the helmsman has been ordered to keep close watch.”
“Captain! Captain, Abel.” The knock at the cabin door surprised Abel, putting down his pen he unlocked the latch.
“What is it Brewster?” Abel asked. “Is there a problem?” Brewster grabbed the door jamb to keep his feet as the Mary Bell began to heave violently.
“Yes, Captain, the storm is upon us, the winds are increasing. The helmsman reports that the rudder is not responding.” Brewster’s face was tight with stress, his voice pleading.
“I’ll be up directly, Brewster.” Walking back to his bunk, Abel put his cap on, straightened his jacket and walked the three steps to the rear deck. When he arrived, Abel found that a gale had blown up, and the Mary Bell was floundering. Salt water stung his face.
“Helmsman.” Abel shouted above the howling wind. “What is the problem, sir?”
“Aye, Captain, the rudder is not responding to the wheel, sir.” The helmsman stood with a wide stance as the deck heaved violently.
“Mr. Brewster,” shouted Able, “Lower the sails, and send someone below to see to the rudder.” Abel looked ahead, the dark billowing clouds were flashing with lightening, the rumble of thunder was loud and shook the deck. Abel watched the main compass spin on its dial.
“Aye, Captain, I’ve sent Marshall and Evans below, they should report the problem soon.” Abel could see the alarm in his eyes.
“Aye, Brewster.” Abel felt the powerful swells batter the hull, he grabbed a rough line to steady himself. Looking to the north, he saw wildly undulating waves cresting, and the strong wind churning the sea. The crew looked over their shoulders as they worked and spoke hurriedly to each other. The Mary Bell twisted and rose with the heaving swells, only to fall violently into the troughs, and then rose again to be battered by the next violent wave. The Mary Bell was being controlled by the storm.
Marshall and Evans were climbing the ladder to the upper deck when Abel turned back to the north. His thoughts turned to Catherine and his unborn child as he watched with terror as the towering wave loomed above as its foamy fingers lashed outward. The cold water fell on Abel as he slid across the slippery deck. He heard shouts and screams as men were washed over the rails into the raging sea. Abel tried to stand but another dark wall of water fell on the Mary Bell, causing her to twist out of control and exposed her starboard hull to the brunt of the storm…and the waves. Abel watched as the starboard rail raised high into the sky as he fell over the rail into the cold sea. His call to Catherine was washed away by the howling winds and violent dark water. The storm raged on.
Catherine sat in Abel’s favorite chair while she watched the evening sky turn purple, then grey. Through the open window the waves were a distant sigh. Suddenly she felt sharp pains in her stomach, and the most violent kicks she had experienced since becoming pregnant. It worried her, but the pains and kicking subsided, and she fell silent, her thoughts returning to her loneliness. She sighed, “It has only been five days since Abel sailed.” Pulling her watch from her apron pocket, she was concerned to see that it had stopped working.
2nd place winner: Stories of the Sea contest. (November 2010)