Spearfish Lake Tales
Contemporary Mainstream Books and Serials Online
Fortunately there were a few benches scattered around the passenger pickup area of Detroit Metropolitan Airport, because Matt and Mary were sitting on them for a long time, their seabags at their feet. It was not a pretty place; it featured lots of bare concrete and traffic coming and going, much of it passenger buses hauling people to surrounding parking lots. It was especially grubby in the early morning hours they had to spend waiting there.
They had thought they were going to be able to get on a plane from Boston to Detroit not long after their plane arrived from Gander and points eastward. But when they arrived in Boston the plane proved to be overbooked, so they had no choice but to wait overnight in uncomfortable airport seats for the next plane. Both of them agreed that riding out a storm in the Mary Sue would have been more comfortable.
Because their schedule had been so unplanned, they didn’t call Matt’s parents with the word they were arriving until after they were confirmed for the early morning flight. It would arrive before Matt’s father Adam usually left for work, so Matt hoped that both his parents would be present to pick them up; his father might be able to cut back on his mother’s temper, although he wasn’t counting on it.
But there had been plenty of time for his folks to make it to the airport, and still they sat there waiting. Pretty sure of what was coming, Matt was almost hoping that his folks, or at least his mother, wouldn’t show up at all. It would avoid what he was sure to be a huge confrontation, but he’d come to realize that it was one that had to happen sooner or later.
Finally a car pulled to a stop in front of them, and not his father’s Buick that Matt remembered. But it was his parents; after all, they could have gotten a new car in the months they had been gone and was mostly out of contact. “Well, here we go,” he said to Mary. “Let’s hope this isn’t as bad as I’m afraid it’s going to be.”
“An’ it might be ye have been doin’ a lot of worryin’ for nothin’”, she replied hopefully.
“Fat chance,” he shook his head as the trunk lid opened, and his father got out of the driver’s seat. “Sorry we’re late,” he said. “Big wreck on 94, and there wasn’t much we could do but sit it out.”
“It happens,” Matt shrugged as he and Mary threw their seabags into the trunk.
They got into the back seat of the car as his father got back in the front. His father didn’t even have his door closed when his mother icily said, “Well, are you done with your gallivanting around so you can look for a job?”
“No,” Matt said. “Just taking the winter off. Mom this is . . . ”
“Matthew, you should be ashamed of yourself!” she cut him off. “You had no right to just take off and do something as dangerous as that when you should have been getting started on your career! But would you listen to me? You’ve had us worried sick! What the hell were you thinking about?”
“Mom, I . . . ” Matt tried to break into her tirade. It was just about like he expected it would be. No hello, no how are you doing, no chance to introduce Mary, just start in on him without giving him a moment to get a word in edgewise.
“My God, Matthew, you could have gotten yourself killed in that little rowboat,” she continued, hardly taking time for a breath. “All that time and money put into your education, and you just want to throw it away. What in the world got into you? I don’t know why in hell your father didn’t stop you when you left last spring.”
“Dad, stop the car!” Matt yelled over his mother’s rant. “Mary and I don’t have to put up with this. We’ll grab a cab or something. We don’t have to sit here and listen to this.”
“Brittany, settle down,” Matt’s father said with more than a little edge in his voice. Apparently this argument had been going on before his parents arrived at the airport. “We agreed we’d let him speak his piece, and there’s no reason for you to fly off the handle the minute you meet him.” He glanced back over his shoulder and said, “I presume you’re Mary from the pictures Matt sent us. Sorry about that. I’m Adam Caldwell, and this is my wife, Brittany.”
“Pleased ta meet ye,” Mary replied in a neutral tone, deliberately not saying anything more than that. She reached out and taken Matt’s hand, to try and show some moral support.
“We had no idea you were coming,” Adam said. “This came as something of a surprise.”
“Yes,” his mother said. “You could have been much more considerate, but then you weren’t very considerate when you just took off into the middle of nowhere without telling anyone where you were going or when you planned on being back. Well, you’re back now, and I hope you aren’t planning on taking off again. You need to get a job, Matthew, you need to be thinking about your career, not screwing around on some little sailboat in the middle of nowhere. Now that you’re home where you belong you’d better damned well plan on staying here.”
“Not for long,” Matt said, resolving to make it as short a time as possible. There had been the distant hope that his mother would be reasonable, although he wasn’t expecting it; well, so much for that. “We’ve got a number of things we need to do in the next couple days.”
“Yes, you need to think about looking for a job. Don’t think you’re just going to be lying around the house living the soft life. If you think you’re going to go back out on that goddamn boat again you’ve got another think coming.”
Well, the hell with being reasonable, Matt thought. “Not till spring,” he replied as soon as he thought he could say a word or two without having his mother talk right over him. “We don’t know just when, yet. The boat is in Copenhagen, and next summer we’re going to be traveling around Europe. We haven’t worked out the details yet. We have all winter to do it.”
“You’re just going to ignore me again, aren’t you?” his mother almost shrieked. “You should be thinking about your career, about starting a family, and not how much you can screw around just doing what you want to do. You have responsibilities, Matthew! What about them? What about the future?”
“And what if I don’t have a future?” Matt said, deciding to drop right down to the basics. “Mom, nothing has changed. I’m still only in remission, and what if there are a few things I’d like to do before I die? There’s still a trace of leukemia there, just like all the other tests I’ve had, and every doctor I’ve talked to about it has said that it could flare up again at any time. To tell the truth, I’m a little resentful of the fact that I got pushed into going to college when I could have been doing something I enjoyed. Instead, I listened to you and wasted four years.”
“Wasted?” she yelled. “College is important to you if you want to get a good job and make something of yourself, instead of just being some kind of sailboat bum! What the hell kind of life is that for a man like you? The leukemia is just a crock of bullshit, you know that as well as I do. If it hasn’t come back in ten years, it’s not going to come back, and you need to face up to that fact, not just use it as an excuse!”
“I don’t know where you get that idea,” he said a little heatedly. “That’s your opinion against a lot of doctors who see it all the time and know what they’re talking about. If it doesn’t come back, I’ll find something to do in a few years. But if it does, I at least want to have had a little fun in my life, rather than just being a job rat until the day I die.”
“And that ignores everything we’ve hoped for,” she yelled. “My god, I spent months sitting in that hospital every day in hopes that you’d get over the leukemia and you could live a normal life, and now you want to use it as an excuse to throw your life away.”
“What if I’m right and you’re wrong?” he said sharply. “If I listened to you and got a job, and then died in a year or two, where would I be? I wouldn’t have accomplished anything in my life that I would have liked to have done. If I’m right and I spend a few years doing the things I’d like to do with my life and then settle down, it’s not going to hurt anything.” It was the same argument they’d often had, although this time he had the experience of doing a few of the things he’d wanted to do.
“But think of the earning potential you’re going to be missing! Think of your career! If you put off getting started on it for a few years, you’re never going to catch up to where you want to be.”
“Mom, I hate to tell you this, but I’ve pretty much spent the summer being here I want to be, which is to say, out seeing the world and having some fun I wouldn’t have had if I’d just gone to work.”
“That doesn’t mean you have to take off like you did without a word to anyone,” she protested. “And that’s another thing! Why did you take off without a word to anyone, and not let anyone know where you were going. We hardly heard a word from you! God, it was bad enough to think that you were going to sail down the east coast, but then we get a postcard saying that you’re going to cross the ocean. Before we could say anything or do anything, you tell us you’d done it, along with some girl we’d never heard of before! What would Stephanie think about that?”
“Do you really want to know how much I care about what Stephanie thinks about anything?” he snorted. “You’re the one who likes Stephanie so much, and I couldn’t care less about her.”
“She would have been a good match for you, Matthew,” his mother replied, no less heatedly than before. “She would have been good for your career, and she would have kept you home where you belong. But it’s too late now, she’s found someone else. You let her go too long, Matt, and she got tired of waiting.”
“Well, good for her,” he said. “I found someone else too, and it so happens Mary and I get along just fine. We’re good for each other and we like each other, which is more than I could say about Stephanie.”
“But I know Stephanie! I know her mother! I know she would have been a lot better for you than someone I don’t know!”
“Someone you don’t know well enough to know how to control?” he replied sharply.
“Someone I know and trust, not someone you just happened to find somewhere,” she snorted. “Jesus Christ, Matthew, what in hell were you thinking of?”
Actually, Matt thought that she might have a point there, but he wasn’t about to admit it. His invitation to Mary had been in the form of a joke, and he had thought her immediate acceptance was too. But it had been one that had worked out much better than he possibly could have expected. “Does it matter?” he said pointedly, deciding that the best defense was a good offense. “After all, I know Mary a lot better now than I ever knew Stephanie, and I knew Stephanie well enough to know I didn’t like her very much. And you wanted to saddle me with a Barbie doll airhead like her? I don’t know why I would have even considered it. I only went out with her a couple times to get you off my back, and I don’t know how I managed to put up with her as long as I did.”
“Matthew! What a horrible thing to say about a nice girl like Stephanie! What wasn’t there to like about her?”
“Almost everything,” he replied, not in the mood to put up with an attack on Mary, which is where he could see his mother was trying to go. He could put up with that stuff from his mother but there was no reason to have to let Mary take it. “The biggest thing of which she was looking for a meal ticket, a guy who would give her a lot of money to spend without having to lift a finger to get it.” Which defines you, he thought, although you’ll never admit it. “And the same goes for a lot of other girls you tried to set me up with. Sorry, Mom. I found someone I like, which is more than I could say about Stephanie. Like I told you on the phone, she wouldn’t last as far as sailing to Put-In-Bay before she would be whining to go home. I didn’t need that kind of thing. I need a girl who shares what I want to do, and I found her.”
“But why do you think you have to go sailing at all? Oh, I suppose it would be all right to go out for a weekend, or on a vacation or something like that sometime, but to go out without a word to anyone and be gone for months? What did that have to do with anything? And why in hell did you buy that damn boat four years ago and not tell us a thing about it until you sailed off into the middle of nowhere?”
“Well, mostly because I didn’t want to spend four years hearing you complain about it,” Matt replied honestly, glad that it looked as if he’d somehow been able to divert the topic away from Mary. “And there’s no doubt that’s what you would have done every chance you got for four years, is there? It’s not something that fits into your plans for me, so you would have had to bug me to get rid of it, wouldn’t you? Mom, it comes down to the same thing as always. I want to do a few things in my life while I still can. You just want to deny the reality that there’s any need for me to do it.”
“But there is no need to do something like take off for months and sail across the Atlantic! You didn’t need to do something like that! You could have just done like I wanted you to, which is to get a job. You’d have vacations to go sailing, and you could have had all the time you wanted to do it when you retire!”
“And there we are again,” he sighed. “What if I don’t get to retire? And how much sailing like I want to do could I do on a week or two worth of vacation every year? I could never have been able to get the time to sail some of the places we went this year, and there wouldn’t be the time to do what we’re planning on doing next year. No, you just want me to sit in some goddamn office somewhere until I die! I’m not willing to take the risk, at least not until I get to do a few things that I want to do. Mom, it isn’t going to happen, at least not until I’m able to check a few items off my list. I managed to do a few of them this summer, and Mary and I are planning on trying to do more of them next year.”
“Jake put you up to this, didn’t he? He’s trying to get even with me, just like he’s tried to do ever since he broke up with me.”
“Uncle Jake was a big help,” Matt admitted. “But no, it was my idea, and if anything he tried to talk me out of it.” That wasn’t totally true, he thought, because the initial inspiration was the sea stories he got me hooked on back in the hospital. But making a long trip really was my idea. “But when he realized I was going to do it whether I had his help or not, he went all out to help me make sure I could do it as safely as possible.”
“Safely? In a tiny little boat like that? How could you be safe in some little cockleshell like that?”
“Mostly because it’s a tough little boat, and others like it have made lots of ocean voyages, so they’ve been proved safe. You can ask Mary; she’s an experienced sailor, and she’d tell you that a bigger boat would have taken a lot more to handle, maybe more than I could handle. It’s a little cramped for the two of us, and if I’d known I was going to be taking her along I might have looked for a bigger boat, but I’m satisfied, and I think Mary is satisfied.”
Matt’s dad broke in, in an attempt to try to lower the tempers in the car a little. They were out on 94 now, and had been for a while, pointed for home. “Mary, is that right?” he said. “You know something about sailing?”
“Aye,” she replied. “I grew up in a Newfoundland fishing village, helpin’ my cousin out on his schooner, so I probably have a lot more time sailin’ than Matt does. Matt is a very good sailor, an’ I was happy to be with him. The boat is a bit small, but we don’t have to worry about it any. I’m willin’ to sail anywhere Matt wants to go, an’ I’m lookin’ forward ta doin’ it some more.”
“I have to admit that I was more than a little worried when I saw it,” Adam said. “It didn’t look like it could sail across the harbor.”
“It’s fit to sail around the world,” Mary smiled, trying to make a little peace while still saying as little as possible.
“Matthew!” his mother broke in. “You aren’t actually considering that, are you?”
“Thinking about it, yes,” he said. “Made a decision to do it, no, not yet anyway. There are some other issues that need to be considered, like my quarterly blood tests. There might be some places where we’d be a little remote to be able to get them on a regular basis.”
“I don’t even know why you worry about the blood tests,” his mother broke in. “After all, Matthew, it’s been ten years. The leukemia isn’t coming back after this much time. It’s just an excuse you’re using to go out and screw around instead of facing up to your responsibilities, things like your career, your family, and the things people expect you to do.”
“And here we are back at the same point,” Matt sighed. “Mom, you may be in denial about the leukemia coming back, but I was the one who had to live in a hospital bed over a year and almost died from it. I can’t deny that it’s a possibility. I hope I’m wrong. In fact, nothing would make me happier than to know that I’m wrong and I’m good for a long life. But from what doctor after doctor has told me, it’s not something I can bet on.”
“But your family!” she shrieked. “You should be getting married, having children, and giving them a good life. I want grandchildren, Matthew, and I want them while I’m still young enough to enjoy them!”
“And so you’re using that to put pressure on me to deny the reality I have to live with,” shaking his head. This was an argument he hadn’t heard out of her before, but he shouldn’t have been surprised to hear it. In fact, he thought it might be at the root of all the other problems she was having with the way he’d chosen to live his life. It wasn’t something he’d even remotely discussed with Mary, and now he wished he had– but really, he hadn’t thought that far ahead and doubted if she had either. Possibly it was something to talk with her about sometime, but not now, for sure. “Like I said, Mom, I may be wrong and I hope I’m wrong, but I can’t deny the possibility. Mary and I haven’t talked about it since we haven’t gotten that far, but I suppose there’s a possibility there could be grandchildren some day. Of course, there may not be, since I’m not sure how badly I want to leave a young widow and fatherless children behind me. It’s something that’s not appealing to me, and I’m not sure I want to even consider it.”
“But Matthew! I want to have grandchildren! I want to know that my family is being carried on!”
“There’s a chance,” he admitted. “But you almost lost it ten years ago as it is, and there’s still the chance you could lose it. Things like that can happen when you have all your eggs in one basket, Mom, especially if the basket isn’t a real solid one. If I get lucky you may get your wish, but it’s a long shot, just like the chances of my having a long life are a long shot.”
“You’d have a better chance of having a long life if you weren’t risking it out on some tiny boat someplace in the middle of nowhere, instead of being home where you belong with a good wife, a family and a good job. As it is, we’d go weeks at a time before getting a post card or a letter out of you, and then it was only to tell us that you were in some other godforsaken spot and about to risk your life some more! My god, we couldn’t have gotten hold of you if we’d had to since we had no idea where you were going.”
And that was just what I intended, Matt grinned to himself without saying anything. If you’d had any idea where to find us you’d have flown in to harangue us like you’re doing now, and you wouldn’t have listened to a goddamn thing I’d have said then, either. “Well, I tried to write when I could,” he replied. “And I suppose I could have called home a bit more, but, well, I didn’t.”
“Mary,” Adam spoke up. “Were you any better about calling or writing home?”
“Afraid not,” she shook her head. “But my Mam and Pap are long dead, an’ so’s my cousin Albert who raised me, so there wasn’t anyone to write home to.”
“You don’t have any family?” Adam asked.
“I’ve a few distant cousins and the like, and some of ’em, I even know their names,” she shrugged. “But no one real close, ’ceptin’ for a few friends here an’ there.”
“I guess that would have made writing home pretty pointless, then. But don’t you think Matt should have done a little better job at it?”
“Hard to say,” she replied. “He was the one that had ta make that decision, not I. After all, he was the one that knows ye.”
“If you’re traveling again next summer, would you lean on him a little about it?”
“Nonsense!” Matt’s mother broke in loudly. “Matthew, you and this girl are not going to be traveling anywhere next summer. You’re going to be working at an honest job, not out trying to kill yourself on that little toy boat.”
Well, Matt thought without replying. So far we’ve accomplished absolutely nothing, which is about what I expected. It would be nice to have a discussion with Dad and Grandpa, because I know they both have some real interest in what I did, but there’s no way I can do anything with her going off every time I open my mouth. And if we’ve settled anything, it’s that Mary and I will be leaving here as soon as possible, and it may be a long time before I come home again.