Raphael stood. He needed rest. He hadn’t slept in well over 24 hours. And since Isaac had started talking he felt his mind inching beyond his grasp.
“I’m going forward,” he said. “Isaac, make sandwiches for anyone who is hungry. Make sure Neville and Nils have water too, especially Nils.
“After that, you have the helm, such that it is.
“Vashti, you need to take a nap too.”
He wrapped a towel around his waist and another over his shoulders and stepped onto the deck. Out from under the tent, he felt the sun on his neck.
He walked forward following the shadow lines cast by the main boom and sail bag, He sat, facing forward, his back to the sun and against the mainmast. His knees were bent under the towel, protecting the pink tops of his feet. He rearranged the towel over his shoulders so the back of his head and neck were covered.
The dinghy gently bumped against the hull.
He closed his eyes, vaguely wondering about the time. Five? Six? Still, several hours of sunlight remained.
He was aware of the sun descending. He was aware of the bump-bump-bump of the dinghy against the hull and the gurgling of the seaweed carpet. He could hear the mumblings of Vashti and Isaac and even Nils.
Suddenly, he was sobbing while others were screaming. Water was filling the boat. He rushed back to the companionway and looked down. The rest of the crew was below. The cabin was three-quarters deep with water.
“This is all your fault. Get us out,” screamed Isaac. “Save us. Get us out of here.”
Vashti too was blaming him for their sinking. Nils was trying to lift her toward the companionway. Neville was behind them all, up to his neck in water, smiling, content.
He tried to reach down but his arms were now just hands and he couldn’t reach. His burnt thumb had swollen to the size of a fist.
“I’m trying, I am trying,” he screamed back but he could do nothing. He froze. Tears flowed down his face as, one at a time, each of his crewmates disappeared below the water in the salon, their voices replaced with bubbles.
And as each bubble burst, it released a chirp or click. He watched his crew die while sitting inert, his legs bent, his chin resting on his knees. And then the bubbles were gone and all he could hear was the sloshing of the water and the chirps and clicks, which remained. The sounds bounced around the salon and in the air above his head.
He felt something pass across his face. It didn’t touch him but was close enough to move air around his nose and eyes.
And then he was back in front of the mast.
An arctic tern stood on one stumpy orange leg on the bowsprit. Above him, hundreds of terns swirled and dived. Raphael could hear the chirping and clicking. Some had small silvery fish or yellow crabs in their blood-orange beaks. Others swooped, the top of their head covered with a highway robber’s black mask, stabbing at another’s meal.
The tern on the bow occasionally opened his beak and released a cheeky chirp.
Raphael shook himself. He turned his head to look toward the stern. Isaac stood slouching over the wheel, reading a book in his left hand. Vashti lay on the starboard side deck, she slept. He couldn’t see the others but assumed them alive.
“You lost too buddy?” he asked the bird.
“Just like you, we can’t find our way,” the bird replied.
Raphael thought how strange it was that it felt normal that the bird would answer in Isaac’s voice.
“Where are you going?”
“Up north,” the tern said. “We’re going to where the sun never sets. We lost our bearings about a day ago. We saw a large patch of seaweed and decided to stop and feed for a while.”
“I can point you to the north when the sun goes down” Raphael offered.
“No, we’re good. The stars will guide us. It’s the daylight hours we struggle with.
“Is your name Isaac?”, Raphael asked.
“My name is Timothy, but you can call me whatever you wish.”
“May I ask, why do you have just one leg?”
“Yes, just one.”
“That’s tough, huh.”
“Not really. Us terns, we have a saying …”
“You have sayings?” Raphael interrupted.
“Why not? Anyway, we have a saying: A tern can do without anything we have two of except a wing.”
Raphael sat with that. “Make sense.”
He felt the boat rise, unexpectedly. He jerked forward, reaching up for something to hold onto. There was nothing there.
He looked off the starboard bow and saw a rolling wave move away through the seaweed, which now extended 100 yards all around the boat. Hundreds of terns fluttered above the water. A few rested on the seaweed.
And then the sea was flat again. Isaac was still reading. Vashti sleeping.
“Good evening Timothy,” Raphael greeted the tern. It didn’t reply.
The sun drooped near the western horizon. To the east, where the sky was now darkening, were wisps of green.
“Are you OK, Raphael,” Isaac yelled forward.
Raphael waved him off. Far to the northeast, unnoticed, two jet engine contrails reflected the pink of the dying day’s rays.
Vashti opened her eyes. It was almost dark. The sun had set and Raphael was still forward though he was awake now. Isaac was chewing on his nails and still reading a book about whalers.
She pressed and released a finger into the skin on her left forearm. It went from pink to white to pink again.
Neville was still sleeping. Nils too.
She considered the island of seaweed that surrounded them and the hundreds of birds that had settled around and above it.
Now that everyone knew, she had taken out her hearing aids and stowed them below. It was nice not to have them in her ears.
But she felt vulnerable, especially so given that they were reduced to three able-bodied crew members. They were not moving and hadn’t for sometime. The world was, quite literally, flipping on its head. The sun was cooking them. They had to figure out what to do.
And for the first time, she felt a twitch of anxiety.
“I would love to get stoned,” Vashti said.
“Excuse me?” Isaac replied.
Vashti didn’t see him speak. Isaac didn’t care.
Raphael headed back to the cockpit. The air was cooling fast and the rapid chill made his belly ache. He needed to put on some clothes. He had stacked them on the bench at the bottom of the mizzen mast and Nils, still sleeping, was resting his feet on them.
A clear yellow liquid was oozing from under the layer of ointment on his back and dripping onto the bench below him.
Purples and blues had replaced the red on the side of Neville’s chest. His head was flopped back on the same spot where he landed on his ribs. His mouth hung open.
“When were either of these two awake?” Raphael asked.
“It’s been a few hours,” Isaac said. “Nils sometimes wakes up but goes right back to sleep. Neville hasn’t moved.”
“I’m gonna grab a couple of sheets to cover those two, then whip up some dinner and get dressed,” Raphael said. “Do either of you need anything?”
“Pass me my clothes,” Isaac said.
“Me too,” said Vashti.
Each had folded their shorts and shirts and piled them next to the companionway. Raphael tucked Vashti’s bra in the pocket of her shorts and passed the piles back before heading below.
It was still warm in the salon but was comfortable enough to move around. The inside was cluttered with useless electronics, charts and clothes, The sink was filled with the dishes from breakfast.
He threw up two sheets to cover Nils and Neville.
The aft cabin floor was scattered with various manuals. He could smell stale urine. And topside was as cluttered as it was down below. The boat was not ready to sail. Sandwiches again for dinner, he decided.
He opened the icebox and grabbed cold cuts and bread, along with a beer.
Raphael made the sandwiches and pushed them out to Vashti and Isaac. The other two were still sleeping.
To the southeast, he noticed clouds in the half light after dusk. The eastern edge of the cloud bank was tinged pink. Maybe some wind is coming, he thought.
He spent the next hour organizing below and washing the dishes. He occasionally glanced at the compass but nothing had changed. Through the overhead hatches, he could see the sky light up as it had that morning.
He scrubbed the heads and wiped the floors, where pee had splashed while they were sailing the night before. He straightened sheets on the bunks, rolled up sleeping bags and put away the manuals.
He swept the cabins’ soles and made sure the tools were secured. He folded the chart Isaac and Vashti marked and tucked it in the nav desk. The rest he rolled up and stowed in the forward cabin.
At least there was order below, he said to himself. Outside, the lights slowly faded. There was no moon and the chirping and clicking terns darted between the rigging and the stars, largely invisible
Raphael pulled on a fresh pair of shorts and shirt. He had a plan.