Chapter Four

All but Isaac were agape. He pulled his top crossed-leg closer to his belly. He had never seen the aurora borealis but it was not what he expected. “What’s our latitude?”

Raphael pretended not to hear.

Isaac didn’t really need to know. The boat was roughly on the same latitude as New York City and, on the other side, Portugal. How far south did the lights extend? He was a native New Yorker and had never seen the lights. A few years back he had read something about the lights extending down to DC.

But what of them? All those colors? Reds and Greens and Purple too.

Isaac rocked on his seat, no longer looking up.

“Raffi?”

Raphael waved Isaac off. “Enjoy this will you?”

But the lights were coming from the east and the south.

“Hey Isaac, whatcha scared of?” Neville said. “Think your Old Testament God is prepping to strike you down ‘cause you ain’t praying five times a day on the boat?”

Neville looked to Nils with a broad grin. Nils shifted his bulky discomfort from the left to the right side of his backside and returned a thin smile.

Isaac shrunk into his bench and crossed his arms. “Jews pray three times a day. Muslims pray five times a day.”

Neville swung a playful arm in Isaac’s direction, trying to knock off his yarmulke. Isaac ducked and Neville’s open hand bounced off Isaac’s ear.

“Lighten up dude,” Neville said.

“For fuck sake, leave him alone,” Raphael said.

To the east, the horizon glowed with the day’s promise and the colors above faded.

They pulled off their coats while Isaac still rocked.

And then the lights were gone. The sun’s first rays kissed the decks and their cheeks.

Isaac climbed back to the bench behind the wheel, away from Neville, and closer to Raphael. He pushed Vashti’s legs aside without a word but then didn’t sit.

The sun was now too bright to look at, the blue sky giving way to an orange haze.

“Raffi, Raffi, Raffi, Raffi,” Isaac said leaning toward his friend.

“Eye Zak, Eye Zak, Eye Zak, Eye Zak, Eye Zak,” Raphael replied. “Isaac, I told you to stop fucking doing that.”

“Sorry. Raffi?”

“What is it?”

“Sorry.”

“Isaac. Go on. Please. This is one of the many ways you drive people crazy. What? Please. What is it?”

Isaac shuffled closer to Raphael and lowered his voice. “You know this is really weird, right. Like unprecedented. Like we should not be seeing this. Not here. Not if we are on-course. You know that, right?

“Are we off-course, Raphael? We must be, right? Like we are really far north now. How did this happen? Should we be worried? Should you tell the rest of them?”

“Isaac, slow down,” Raphael said, swallowing a chuckle. He took a hand off the wheel and wrapped the free arm around Isaac’s neck, pulling him close.

“I do love you, Isaac,” he said and kissed him on his forehead. “You know that, right? I love you even when you drive me crazy, which, as you also know, is most of the time.”

“Yes, I know,” Isaac said without smiling. “But Raphael, I am just a bit nervous.”

“I know,” Raphael said.

“And there’s more,” Isaac said, this time loud enough for Neville to hear.

Neville glanced up at both of them.

“Not now Isaac,” Raphael whispered back. “I understand your worries but we’ve got other things to deal with first. Can you hold this in, just for a wee bit?”

Isaac nodded quickly, biting his bottom lip. He stepped back just as Nils stood and stretched his beefy frame, raising his arms two feet higher than the mizzen boom.

“Ahhhh,” he groaned. “Coffee anyone?”

“Yes, perfect,” Raphael said. “But Nils, you stay up here.”

Vashti knew everything he knew and was as solid a member of the crew as anyone. Nils would go along with the majority. Neville and Isaac worried him.

He turned to face Vashti. “Can you make the coffee?”

She carefully followed his lips and headed below while the others looked to Neville.

“There is something we all need to discuss,” he said.

It didn’t take long for him to explain what had happened overnight. He pointed at the compass and the indolent needle. He said none of the electronics on the boat could find any satellites. He flicked at the chart plotter that still had no fix. He didn’t mention Vashti’s hearing aids, knowing that would just inflame Neville.

Isaac moved back into the cockpit.

“Thoughts?” Raphael asked.

Nils shifted his knees to the side as Neville rose and stepped toward the wheel, standing between Nils and Isaac. He tapped the compass.

“Why didn’t you wake us up, Raphael?” He said.

Neville stood directly in front of Raphael, on the other side of the wheel, and looked down at him. “Cap,” he said, spitting out the p. “We don’t know where we are. We’re what? Maybe 800 miles from New York City and nowhere. And we’ve been sailing for half a day, maybe longer, not knowing where the fuck we are, and you think that’s cool?”

Raphael resisted raising his voice. He didn’t have a great counter-argument.

He stood as tall as he could without being hostile but held Neville’s gaze.

“Listen, you’re right, maybe I should have woken you up but I didn’t see the advantage to that. My guess is we have some stray current somewhere on the boat that is fucking with the electronics,” he said.

“And the compass Raphael,” Neville reminded him.

“Yes. And the compass. We know we are generally heading in the right direction. We just don’t know how far south we are. We can’t be that far off course, 50 or 60 miles tops, unless, of course, you were steering us off course yesterday afternoon.

He immediately regretted adding that last thought. Any blame rested with him.

“Which is most unlikely,” he added.

Neville looked away. He could not look at Raphael. He did not respond.

Isaac looked to Raphael and mouthed a question: “SOUTH?” Raphael extended his arm slightly, his palm open, facing down. Amazing, thought Neville: For the second time a few minutes, Isaac understood and let it go.

“Besides, it would have been unlikely for us to have found the problem in the dark,” Raphael said, filling the silence.

Isaac nodded agreement. Nils looked to Raphael but without any guidance also nodded yes.

“Isaac, take this,” Vashti said as she emerged from below, passing him a coffee pot, a quart of milk and a jar honey. Isaac who put them on the folding cockpit table, which Nils had just locked in place.

Neville forced a smile.

Vashti ducked down again then stepped up and out of the cabin and into the cockpit, carrying three mugs in one hand and two in the other.

The boat rocked aimlessly but without a free, steadying hand, she mistimed a step. Neville was still standing, facing forward.

He grasped her upper arm to steady her and then pulled her toward him. He whispered through his teeth: “You knew about this last night and didn’t fucking wake me? Worse, Raf, and you, lied to me.”

Raphael watched Neville’s grip tighten but could not make what he said.

It didn’t matter she didn’t hear what he said. “Don’t fucking touch me,” she said, yanking her arm free.

Raphael heard that.

Nils did too but poured the coffee as if he didn’t.

“Black as the night, though not last night, for Raphael and Neville,” he said. “Black with honey for our trusted, sweet-hearted rabbi. And the land of milk and honey for Vashti.”

And with that, they all smiled, even Neville, albeit reluctantly, and Vashti albeit a little late.

“Neville, tighten that mizzen sheet, please. Isaac do the jib-sheet,” Raphael said.”These flogging sails are driving me mad.”

And with that done the crew seated themselves around the table. Raphael remained standing behind the wheel.

Vashti sat on the starboard side bench, nearest to Raphael, and away from Neville. She touched an ear and Raphael understood that her hearing aids were still not working.

Everyone grabbed their mugs and waited for Raphael to speak.

He cleared his throat and faced Vashti. She was to check all the electronics again and find their position at the last known fix.

Isaac was to get the big paper charts from the forward cabin and then work with Vashti to plot their course back for the last 36 hours, as best they could.

Vashti frowned as she gathered fragments of the sentences. It took a moment but she reassembled the words and filled in the blanks. Her face relaxed.

“Good. Nils?”

Raphael told him to check the wiring from the fuse panel for any unexpected draw or grounding issue. Check the batteries too.

Neville kept his gaze forward, away from the crew.

Raphael asked him to take the wheel. He would call the forecaster and then make breakfast.

“All right. Any questions?” Raphael looked to Neville but, again, he refused to acknowledge.

Raphael surveyed the rest of the crew. Vashti was with him. Isaac needed to be busy. Nils shrugged.

He finished the last drops in his mug and felt the coffee, dusty and bitter, on his tongue.

“Let’s get to this.”

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