This time, just this one time, I’d like to be the one who doesn’t have to wait. I’d like to be the one on the boat, steering, nosing into this Reykjavik jetty. The one with all the time. Not the nervous one on shore, trying to guess which of twenty daylight hours will mark Pabbi’s return.
He’s late again.
After Mamma died about ten years ago, he vowed to keep the boat running. In tribute he re-registered her as Margrethe and repainted the stern. My brother and I tried to talk him out of it, but Pabbi is a generous kind of stubborn. Your móðir wanted this, he said. She wouldn’t have wanted it to ruin you, we said. In the end the insurance paid out, so we don’t have to worry. About the money, anyhow. Now he lives on the water, solo, winters wherever the sun is kindest, summers at home.
But not at home, too. He stays on the boat, moored in the same marina where she drowned, the same berth, rather than stay with either Niels or myself. You kids have your own lives now, he likes to say. Lives we pause every summer at his request. Gives a date and a time, which is always wrong.I want the first faces I see to be family.
My mobile rings.
Nei, not yet, I tell Niels when he asks.
We should buy him a phone, he says. He could call when he gets close enough.
He’d just toss it overboard.
I wish he’d use the radio.
He’s too old for this, I say.
Well, he’s got the right gear--
The right gear didn’t save Mamma.
Já, he says, then falls silent.
He saw her first, eight feet down in perfectly clear five-degree water, still wearing her blaze-orange drysuit. Sometimes I forget that.
Sorry, I say.
He coughs, then asks me if I need anything.
Me? I’m fine.
Food? Blankets? Ice cream? Pickles?
Very funny. Is Karen still down sick?
She’s a little tiger.
Good genes, I say. Eighteen months old and never sick.
Healthy as hope, he says, the smile returning to his voice.
I tell him to go take care of his girls, that I’ll call when it’s time. As soon as Pabbi passes the breakwater, to signal his return he’ll wind up the antique car horn he lashed onto the mast, the one that sounds like a laryngitic seal. He’ll bring the boat in under power, the sails lashed tight, be tied up against the jetty in just under thirty minutes. Enough time for Niels to load the family in the car and drive down. Enough time to find a gentle way to explain the math. Two months ago, I shared with Neils and Karen that I was three months along. One month ago my partner left me. In another four months Pabbi might have a reason not to mourn his way across the Atlantic again, before winter arrives.
BRENT VAN STAALDUINEN lives and finds his voice in Hamilton, Canada. His debut novel Saints, Unexpected is forthcoming from Invisible Press in the spring of 2016. He is the winner of the Bristol Short Story Prize and the Short Works Prize. Other work is forthcoming in Prairie Fire Magazine and appears in The Prairie Journal, EVENT Magazine, Litro Magazine, The Dalhousie Review, The New Quarterly, The New Guard Literary Review, and Mash Stories. He is a graduate of the Humber School of Writers and holds an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of British Colombia.