narrative imaginings


“Get the rope, stupid.”

Noelle blanched. She couldn’t stand the sound of Tiffany’s voice at this point. She looked down at her hands and noticed how the sun reflected off her palms and made the skin translucent. She imagined she could see her heart beat through each vein—each winding pathway that criss-crossed beneath her flesh.

“You get it, jerk. Do it yourself,” and Noelle walked down the side toward the back of the boat.

“Dad! I’m trying to set the sail and Noelle won’t help,” Tiffany called down to their father who was setting out supplies below deck, while Noelle began unwinding and rewinding a dirty clump of piled-up knots she found astern.

“You guys work it out,” Arlen called back as Jack, the youngest, snickered by his side.

Girls, he thought, as he contentedly unpacked drinks and handed them to his dad who stood in front of the open fridge.

Three weeks before, when their dad had come home from work and announced plans for this weekend trip together, the stale, suffocating air of their house—air that felt so dense it literally weighed down on their shoulders as they entered the door from outside—changed. There was a charged kinesis that was palpable. Their dusty brown living room usually managed to somehow suck the oxygen from its vicinity and replace it with such an acute emptiness that it felt like trying to breathe in the void of outer space. Although all four members of the family shunned this room and its damaging effects, Arlen above all went out of his way to never step foot in it. He always entered the house from the garage, and passed the living room doorway without so much as a side-glance as he walked through the hallway. At the news of a family trip, even the living room’s grip on their collective sense of unconscious dread seemed to loosen ever so slightly.

The three children had been drifting through the interiors of the home like rudderless ships for two years, on occasion penetrating the invisible boundaries of their solitude by wandering too close to each other. Incidents that could qualify as interactions were rare, and often volatile. Each in their own erratic path, each with their own personal journey amongst the wasteland of loneliness—they struggled through the same landscape, but recognized no companionship.

Their one link, their one unifying force echoed the vacuum of the room he so assiduously evaded. Arlen’s sense of loss, his unshakable feeling of truncated life led him to adopt an inverted version of phantom-limb syndrome—wherein he always felt that part of his body was missing, yet he looked down and was surprised every time to find that all his pieces were in place. He was completely unaware that his effect on the house and family that existed within perpetuated the ghastly void of the living room, and in fact, infected the rest of the home, as well. He was also unaware that his biological sense of disconnectedness found its emotional mirror. His relationship with his children was as severed as their relationship with their mother, who had died two winters prior.

Unlike her father, Noelle often found herself standing at the entrance to the living room staring at the left corner, where the reclining chair once sat. It was in this corner, just to the side of the large picture window, that her mother spent her last year. Sickness once pervaded the room, but Noelle felt guilty that she preferred that to the stagnant airlessness that now defined it as a place of death.

As her father and brother emerged from below deck with smiles on their faces, Noelle returned to the front of their small vessel to join them. Jack stuck to Arlen’s side and seemed happier than he had in the last two years. As his father settled in the deck chair with a drink in his hand, Jack chose a spot just across from him on the deck’s port side.

The choppy water glinted in the sun, and white caps appeared just above the rail of the boat. Suddenly, a swell came up and pushed against the front of the starboard side. Jack and his sisters felt the boat rise up and resist the wall of water, suspended in a struggle of natural will, and then the boat lowered with the swell rolling underneath them. Jack looked over to see his father’s reaction. The deck chair was empty. A sick knot formed in the pit of his gut as he looked out across the water and saw nothing but blue.

© FMR 10/26/10


One comment on “Adrift

  1. Joseph Gilmore
    October 28, 2010

    Nice open-ending. Well done.

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This entry was posted on October 26, 2010 by in memory, short fiction and tagged , , , , .
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