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Rated: E · Short Story · Experience · #1534314
It isn't the journey but what we are docked to. 2nd Place: March's Short Shots Contest.
The first time we saw the property was a grayish overcast day. The clouds pressed down creating a perfect visual of an unresolved dispute. That same pressure flattened the lake and stretched out the horizon, making the dock look like it was far longer than it was. Thunder mumbled in the distance, a storm approaching. Yet now, the lake was still, waiting for the winds to come, for the waves to batter the shores.

It was the dock that made me decide that this was the right place. Growing up on the water, the dock had always been my thinking spot, my imaginary road to adventure, and my safe haven as I returned to the shore and home.
I remembered my grandmother telling me as a child that the dock was actually the water next to a pier. To my child’s mind it was the docking place, thus the wood became the dock. My grandmother always called it a berth. And over the years I did give birth to many an idea sitting on the dock!

We’d spent the morning sitting in the doctor’s office as he rattled off schedules and prescriptions, long scientific words with too many syllables to remember, let alone pronounce. He’d already pronounced the important part: I was dying. There were things to try, of course, but his eyes said far more than words ever could. His expression spoke volumes.

My husband held my hand, his thumb moving gently back and forth over the IV bruises. Back and forth as if he could rub the blue away, or, perchance, draw the cancer out of my body. Back and forth, his thumb soothing a mind unable yet to grasp the finality, sharing his strength drip by drip, his fingers tightening; a death grip on me, unwilling to let me pull away.

Death would have to wait a while for its closure. We had things to do. That afternoon we would go to a different sort of closing where we signed the papers making the lake property ours. Deadlines, being deadlines, we needed to go forward. Our house was sold and we needed to be out of it by the end of the week.

The boxes were all packed and even now being loaded onto the truck. We had sorted through our lives, deciding what to take with us and what would be thrown away. Not that we would or could, throw the memories away, but now we were moving to a much smaller cottage and there was only so much room for all the clutter we surrounded ourselves with. My mind was cluttered enough with details, of dying, of living, of leaving behind all that mattered.

Even still, the majority of what we would ultimately bring with us was boxes, of books we couldn’t bear to part with, of mementos we wanted, but didn’t need, and of grandchildren’s art treasures. Those were easier to pack than my clothing. Would I be around to need my winter coat? We packed it. My husband made the decisions my mind refused to make.

Key in hand, we arrived at our cottage by the lake. A cottage we would have loved to have been able to get fifteen years ago, with its wrap-around porch overlooking the water, yard carved out of lilac trees backing to state land, two fireplaces and the perfect spot for the Christmas tree. Would I get to decorate another tree? We kept all the ornaments we’d collected over the years, even though there were enough to decorate an entire forest of Christmas trees.

“Stay docked to me,” he’d said. “Don’t let go of me yet.”

He opened the bottle of champagne he’d insisted we get and handed me a glass, “To us, to life.”

To life? What life? My life was almost over. The words roiled in my mind.

“I see that look,” he smiled. “Yes, to life. We aren’t done with living just yet. I won’t let you be.”

I’d wanted to go down to the dock, but I fell asleep on the couch. I was so tired these days. I dozed off watching him put my beloved books on the built-in shelves flanking the fireplace.

It was early when I awakened, cozy under the blanket he’d covered me with. The shelves were full of my books and nick-knacks. I’d slept through his moving the couch against the bay window. The living room looked like home already. I wandered out to the kitchen and saw the coffee pot all set up for morning. I poured in the water and switched it on.

My favorite coffee mug was on the counter, along with a note that read, ‘Good morning, my love. The weatherman promises a beautiful day, and I hope you are awake early enough to catch the sunrise for us.’

I took my coffee, grabbed my jacket he’d hung on the peg by the door and wandered down to the dock. It was warm for April and the daffodils were spearing green along the path to the lake. I was feeling good that morning. I walked out on the long, long dock. The water was still as death. It mirrored the sky as it turned blood red ahead of the sun. High, thin clouds edged in gold as the sun winked about the trees on the far side. A light breeze began to blow and the mirror shattered into dancing copper and gold. I dipped my hand into its riches and smiled. A pair of Canada geese water skied to a stop about ten yards out, their black necks regal in the morning light.

It was good to be living on the water again. I’ve always felt the most alive when living within sight of water. Too long, and too far away from it and I’d once again feel that inexorable pull to return. I needed the water now. I heard footsteps on the dock behind me. “Happy?” my husband asked. A bit surprised, I realized that I really was, and I smiled
Weeks passed by marked by blooming daffodils and chemo appointments. Strands of falling hair were carried to the blooming lilacs by gentle spring breezes. I imagined their being woven into robins' nests. I was skinnier than I had ever been, and missed my size twelve clothing. I wore exhaustion like an enveloping cloak. Some days the dock seemed so very far away and I sat on the couch by the window, looking at it instead. He brought me a floppy hat, pink camouflage, but teased me that now our bald heads matched. I spent Mother’s Day recovering from the aftermath of my latest bout with chemo. Feeling good or bad had become relative. The definitions of the words had changed.

He bought a small, flat-bottomed rowboat. It bobbed in the water along side of the dock. He put soft pillows in the bow so I could lie there, cushioned as he rowed about the lake. I laid back and watched the clouds and we spun stories about what we saw in the day’s canopy. We awaited the latest round of blood tests: what story would the results tell us?

The doctor was still rambling on but I was stuck on the one word that sank in: promising. What did promising mean now? Few things seemed to mean what they once did. We drove home and he carried me to the end of the dock. He cradled me and we talked. He was smiling. ‘Trust the results,’ he said. ‘You are doing better. It is working.’

His expressions, his eyes, were so full of love. He is my dock and there by the water I slipped into sleep as the geese glided by, their seven teenaged goslings following behind them.

We sat on the front porch swing and watched as the geese taught the young ones to fly. They ran flapping newly breeched wings, tumbling head over tail feathers as they landed and we laughed at their antics. Weeks later, I watched as my husband practiced shooting his bow. I used to be able to retrieve the arrows for him; now I sat on the porch and watched him make the trips back and forth. Three arrow groupings the size of a quarter; he was ready as hunting season loomed. He was counting down the days to a positive. I was still afraid.

Radiation replaced chemo. I remember being this sick when I was newly pregnant. Could I possibly give birth to a tomorrow? He came into the house, radiant. He’d gotten an eleven point buck. There was ice on the lake and it screeched against the wooden dock. I sat there watching arrows of geese fly overhead and smelled venison cooking on the grill.

The day after Thanksgiving found us once again in the doctor’s office. He was guardedly optimistic. He said he was happy that I’d put on some weight. I laughed. After so many years of trying to lose weight, it sounded funny to hear him telling me I need to gain ten pounds.

We shopped for a Christmas tree and I managed to walk around the lot several times as I searched for the right one. We decided to move the couch and put the tree by the front window. I was tired then, and sat by the fire as he decorated. First his drummer boy, second a sailing ship made of glass. It had survived all these years and is one of those so very special ornaments. We sipped coffee and drank in our most perfect tree.


Christmas Day is a jumble of wrapping paper, grandchildren and too many people all talking at the same time. Children, unaware of our journey the past year, tell me I have lost weight and ask what diet I’ve been on. I am told they love my new pixie haircut. He sidetracks them with a tale of the Christmas puppy’s antics and I flash him a smile of relief. I don't want them to know. There is now a chance they will never have to know at all.

We walk to the dock and look up at the stars and the full, full moon. He is warm as he holds me close. We have come so far together, but we have so much further to go. Our breath clouds around us as we sing Silent Night. Our voices slide over the ice and up to the stars. Wearing a winter coat I thought I’d never live long enough to wear again, celebrating a holiday I never thought to see, I am filled with an inexorable pull to stay right here. Hope has been given new meaning. It is bright as the shiny ribbon on the package he hands me. “I wanted to wait for just the right moment,” he says softly as the snow begins to feather down from the heavens.

It’s a necklace with a tiny silver charm on it: a dock complete with silvered slats and diamond tipped water. “You are my dock,” he says. “You have ever been my port in a storm and we have weathered this storm together. The doctor called yesterday. He said he couldn’t wait until your next appointment and wanted to give you a Christmas present. The latest test results showed you are clear!”

With joy and tears, and laughter bubbling, he spins me round and round on the dock. Or maybe, I should now start calling it a berth.

1919 words
Winner; 2nd Place in
Short Shots: Official WDC Contest  (ASR)
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