CHAPTER 3

DRIVE WAYS

In the beginning of that time after Ruth’s death, I didn’t know how to describe what it was that I was feeling. But I knew what she felt like, her cold feet on my bare legs at night, her high, disarming laugh in my ears. It was all familiar, evolving still as if Ruth continued to exist in flesh among this world. 

          It would take years for me to unravel those months after she passed. And it seems that no sooner than the coffin was shut, I was being pointed somewhere. I trusted her to show me another life, as if it were her responsibility, as if she was as important to me dead as she was alive. We’d only been married for a little over two years after a long year of courting. I could never marry again.

          And Ruth remained unvanquished.  

          In the years that followed her death, I would often wonder if I should have grieved more, should’ve cried out “why” into those many dark nights I slept alone, worked the land and the rough wood in the shop alone and rebuilt my life from the inside out — alone. As much as I loved her, as much as the pain of losing her tore at my soul, it was not hard to let her go. And that surprised me, confounds me still.  

           I went into that exiled state with the sincerity of a man on trial. Unknown as it was, that little mahogany and teak skiff tied to the back of my ’42 Ford pick-up existed as if it were the Dead Sea scrolls, full of proverbial wisdom that was centered in the one woman I would love. Her with that sardonic insight bordering on the supernatural, her guiding me, her — no longer alive — appallingly human, Ruth’s memory and the damn boat that killed her… life was strange.

          And I was about to re-frame my alone-ness while the country of America boomed with post-war economic glee. 1951 was the year I met Phin Davis.  

 

Even if memory is apt to be inventive, I was damn sure I hadn’t been here before. Yet the familiarity crept in and stayed like a light spring rain on thirsty crops, each new moment welcomed and appreciated. Jed Riot had been correct, the place was not signed or numbered, just hidden two, maybe three miles down a series of red clay roads that twisted and turned back on themselves as if designed to force the driver to slow their approach and have a good look around at the tall sugar pines, silver dollar eucalyptus, salt marsh grass and low, low rolling hills. The sensuous horizon made the road wind and bent the time it took to drive from the corrugated tin mailbox on the main road to where the house might be. It was more a passage than a driveway.

Jed and Winnie had mentioned “acreage” but there was no way to tell when I might find the residence of one Harry, Grace, and Gillie Davis plus? as the mailbox had said. The sun was flirting with the branches of a row of thin willows and a thought moved in that showing up right at supper time might be impolite. I put the truck in low gear, slowing to a near halt but it seemed that the trees and the light and the smell of wild jasmine that had filled the cab were still streaming by on either side of me. My truck could’ve been dead in the water but still in motion, caught in the gravity of something unknown to me.

Just then four dogs came running out from behind a wild blackberry hedge and started yapping curiously. I couldn’t make out the kind of dogs; maybe it was the fading light. More than likely their make and model were like this town — indiscernible and rough around the edges. They surrounded my truck at a safe distance, guiding me in as fighter jets would a suspect plane, enjoying the run, their pink tongues hanging out, their paws gripping the moist ground and kicking up little clods of earth in their wake. I can’t say for sure, but I’m pretty sure I smiled for the first time in months.

Round a wide arc of mature white cedar, the sun just nudging the western edge of the world, I came into a broad clearing. In the center was an oblong-shaped patch of Bermuda grass grown quite tall but trimmed around the edges of the gravel driveway that crunched under my tires. There were several out-buildings in varying states of construction and repair, and in the dusky light there appeared a number of small to medium-sized marine craft nestled in and around the compound. Through the trees, along a short path, I could see a rather large garden, rowed, planted, and fenced. Plants I knew. This was a producing garden, the result of much work.

The whole scene — boats, small and tidy work shed, plants — spoke of care and effort; not exceptionally organized but aesthetic and nurtured in an involved way. Momentarily, I found myself thinking it would’ve been fun to grow up on a property such as this.

The dogs split off in pairs, two moving over to my truck that I had parked off to the edge of the driveway near a slightly newer ’48 Ford short bed and a surplus Willy’s Jeep. The other dogs had stopped near a split in the tree line where the path to the home began. They had all stopped barking and appeared unthreatening. Odd for dogs on open land.

“Good boys.” I put out my hand for them to catch my scent. “Are your owners around? I imagine I’d be a sight for them out of nowhere. Maybe you better go let ‘em know they got a visitor so as I don’t scare ‘em. Go on now.”

I stepped out of the truck and one of the cylinders kept firing for a few seconds. I reached for a cigarette and then remembered I quite smoking two months ago. The crickets started in as if they were laughing at me.

That’s when Harry Davis came into my life, with sound before sight.

“That’s okay, Cain. You can stay. He’s all right. You take Abel and the girls and go on back up the house and check on the girls and Phin.” The voice was gravelly but smooth, as if the stones in his throat were small, polished pebbles. It was the voice of a judge who might’ve grown up on whiskey and cigarettes, secure and authoritative but with an edge just under the surface.

It was difficult to see his face, silhouetted by the last of the day’s glow and he carried no flashlight. I could tell he was tall though, well over six feet, and what he did carry was an unexpected calmness in light of the sudden appearance of a Negro man arriving at his white home unannounced.

“I like to give my dogs names from the Bible and talk to them like humans. Figures it gives them a chance of feeling like they belong here, know what I mean?”

“Personally, I haven’t considered that,” I replied, “but then, it makes sense. Our dogs on the farm are also there for more than just keeping the varmints away from the crops. They do their job well enough, but I give ‘em names like Rex and King–normal dog names.”

I could make out the man’s head nodding and the agreeable “uh huhs.”

“Listen, sir, ah, Mr. Davis, I don’t mean to barge in on you with a surprise visit but…”

“You ain’t a surprise. I knew you were looking for me since Winnie made that bologna sandwich for you. This town’s got ears big as rabbits, ‘specially when a stranger of color drives in asking for a local. I hear you’ve run across some polite and some not so cordial.”

I leaned back against the truck, hearing this man’s disarming words as an odd collection of down-home diction and downtown intelligence. I joined right in.

“We got folks up near Mobile so poor they can’t afford to spend the night. Some are good, some not. I suppose that’s the way of any town with people in it.”

I saw his head nod in the silhouetting light.

“By the way, the name’s Davis, Harry Davis. You want to come on in and tell me what’s on your mind?”

I reached for his hand that wrapped itself around mine by one and a half. My hands had grown rough and well-hewn from the years working the fields but if my palms were sandpaper, this man’s were steel wool. He squeezed it deftly and with respect, but there was no hiding the years of bait and hooks and salt. The graceful utility of his work on the sea must’ve found their way into his movements but the power and force of the ocean onto his skin.

I followed him down the path, pausing once to apologize for failing to tell him my name. Harry laughed, said it was okay and asked if I was hungry.

“Well Mr. Davis, I wasn’t until you mentioned it and just caught that scent. Sure smells like some kinda’ stew but I don’t know if I can place the kind of meat.”

Just then we stepped into the light from a hanging lantern fixed from the overhang of a wide covered porch and I caught my first real glimpse of the face of Harry Davis. He stepped up onto the landing first and turned to look at me. There was a broad grin across a deeply-browned face with etches carved where you’d expect them to be if you’d spent a good part of your life smiling and squinting. His hair was thick and straight, sun-bleached a wheaty color and his eyes were hazel, unchallenging without any hint of suspect. He was thin, almost wiry and walked with the light step of a boxer. I sensed he was older than he looked on the outside but younger than others his age on the inside.

I’d turned twenty-five two months ago, exactly ten days after Ruth passed. But Harry could’ve been anywhere between thirty and forty-two; his face a kind of story, not ageless but timeless.

“Well, Mr. Cobb,” he spread his arms out like you would to say this is all I have, but there was much pride and virtue in his voice.

“Please, call me Johnny.”

“All right there, Johnny. This here is our home, Grace and the kids and me. Some people like to call these modular homes because they’re ashamed but sure as the sun’s down, it’s just a big trailer we hauled in on a flat bed thinking we’d get around to building a permanent one as soon as I had another couple of good years on the boat. But truth is, we spend most of our lives out of doors and this little place has grown on us like a turtle shell. We like it.”

He opened the solid wood framed door with a small carving of a mermaid near the center, then the screen and waved me inside.

“I did put this door on the house, though,” Harry said. “I hate the sound of anything hollow.”

“Darlin’, we got compny’ for dinner.”

 

*                                            *          *

 

“And I couldn’t leave the cemetery that night; just stuck my body to the warm, moist earth with my ear on a small clump of crab grass…listening. They found me like that two days later. It was a maintenance guy who told me I’d have to dig a hole and climb in if I wanted to die.”

The stew had been Paella, an exotic type of fish soup from Spain, and afterwards there’d been some small talk and home-made wine, but it was the seven-year-old girl, Gillie they called her, who’d gotten me started talking about Ruth.

She was tall and thin, like her daddy, but her olive skin, dark hair and quick, inquisitive eyes had come from her mother, Grace. Like her father, her spirit and mindfulness was disconnected to her age. I had to ask.

“Gillie, that’s an interesting name. I bet you’re about ten or eleven years old.” I’d padded it as a children’s compliment.

“Actually, I’m seven Mr. Cobb. Gillie is from Gilman, a writer mama used to read stories from. She was a kind of, what do you call them Mama? Activates?”

Grace smiled and adjusted the young boy on her breast. She allowed the time lag that seemed to exist in the small living room of the trailer, that existed in the quiet comfort of the space instead of the facelessness of time.

“Try again, honey.”

“Actionist. Activist! That’s it Mr. Cobb. She tried to make the world better for women. All kinds, like married and not married. Are you married, Mr. Cobb?” That’s how it’d started.

I looked at Harry, who sat on a small stool in the corner, fiddling with a piece of wood and a knife, allowing the bigger chairs for his girls and me. He must’ve known some of the story, no doubt, and I did what I could with a glance to get his blessing to tell a sad story to a happy child.

Harry nodded and I saw in his eyes for the first time in that softly-lit corner with the three candles still burning on the wooden kitchen table, a kind of rolling down of a thin hood over the filmy iris, like this was the way that Harry protected himself from the tragedies of life. I wondered if Harry was seeing himself in me, Grace in Ruth. Years later I would confirm it time after time, realizing that every human was always looking for himself in others, in work, in mirrors, in the sounds and smells of ordinary everyday life. But mostly in love, especially in love. A man finds himself in the love of another and he knows who he is, exactly. And even at that young moment, I knew that love, same as hurt, comes in through the eyes and moves out the heart. Harry’d just pulled down a thin shade for the telling.

Grace got up to lay the baby in his crib and put on some tea and to give me some time to compose my thoughts. When she poured the tea and sat back down I spoke, lightly at first, but gaining momentum like a big train until I had to back off and let Grace give me a rest.

“Ruth never spoke much with her lips — words just seemed to move around her, like water splitting a river rock. She could, though, speak with other parts of her body: Her eyes when she was hard-thinking, the way she waved her hands when she was excited or reeled them in when all riled up. But the way I figured it, mostly it was her feet that allowed Ruth to communicate the things that mattered to her, that ought to matter to others.

“When she was happy she sprang like a jack-in-the-box, ignoring the gravity of the time that tried so hard to ground-hold our lives. Or deep in her work out in the garden, those feet of hers, rarely shoed, the red soil drawing half moons under her toe nails, would plant themselves, fixed and firm in the moment, but pliable as the tall, thin pines that rimmed the edge of our land north of Mobile.

“And on occasion, when things went bad for her, those feet would carry her deep into the cypress groves and sway grass, the prevailing south easterlies pushing her into the sheen. It was a place that I’d feared as a child, rarely going into that swampy, misted void. But she embraced those shadows, allowing them to swallow her dismay as if the boggy soil could soften her steps and push her back out into the light.

“‘Johnny, someone spit on me in town,’ she might say, as if mentioning that the sky looked like it might rain. And then I’d hear the screen door slam, footsteps on the creaky back porch, I’d know where she was going. It was the same place where I felt that my heart could move darker and deeper into my chest; it was that thick canopy of trees on the edge of the field. I reckon one person’s lock can be another’s key.

“My wife’s feet counted time, marked the moments and the years as human metronomes, beating out a Robert Johnson beat when we heard his records leak out the broken panes of a blues club in town, or they’d note another passing season when a small crack bled from between her wintered-toes. Volumes of text were crafted by those limbs. And I loved all of their sounds. “

I took a long sip from the coffee I’d been handed. And then a longer breath before continuing. Gillie was looking at me like a seven year-old psychiatrist, scratching her chin. But here eyes were devouring my words. Harry put some branches on the fire.

“What Ruth wanted above all was for those feet and those limbs to carry her far away from the South, carry her to a place were she could learn to speak openly with all her voices, raise up a child with hope that its future would eclipse her own. She didn’t know where that place was, only that she wanted to be on the move, skipping over those canyons that ruled her life, running if she had to, but unchained within the freedom of the road. She had that itch.

“‘Johnny,’ she’d say from time to time, usually while she peeled the potatoes for a stew and I worked up a cooking fire, ‘I been talking to some of the other black folks down at the laundry mat and I been sneaking a peak at some of those books you’ve been bringin’ from the library. Now, I know this here land belongs to you and your brothers. And more so, all of you to it. But there’s better places to live Johnny, and better people to live amongst.’

“I knew she was right. And Ruth knew I was connected to the lands that our family had earned through sharecrop and sweat and one kind old white man and dumb, blind luck. My brothers and I were bound in time and blood to these ninety-four acres of soil so rich that if you threw out one seed, sixteen things would grow back. We all knew that if we left it, we’d be vandalizing our past. And we knew that the people from town would find a way to wrestle it back, compensate us a portion of what it was worth, if that. It’s rare for a Negro family to own that much good earth. And many were the nights when my brothers, Earl and Ramsey, and our friends would walk the crop perimeter road in small groups, torches bright, shotguns cradled in their thick arms with hounds baying at the night noises. Ruth knew that great conflict that nearly burnt a hole in me. I was identified in the red-brown soil that fed our family, that kept us alive. But our skin color was too close to that of the earth. And I hated guns.

“She’d never asked me to choose between her and that land. But near the end, the signs were coming at me, and I had taken up a mind to move us away. We’d use her feet as a compass and I’d pray that my two brothers, Earl and Ramsey, who were still connected to the land in name and employ, their patience with the work wouldn’t erode with the irrigation berms.

“I had begun dreaming that Ruth’s legs had become stiff and straight, timbered trunks that began to ring each passing year but never again light up a Friday night boogie or bounce from berm to berm along the creek side. It was time.

“Land I could find again, up north maybe, Canada, the Alaskan Territories. But Ruth I wouldn’t let go of. Her mother had made me swear on my own mama’s grave that I wouldn’t leave her, always do my best to keep her happy. She ought not to have though. I would of anyway. Beside each other at night, watching the candle burn down, our dreams were telling us the same thing for different reasons. I was going to tell her that next afternoon, out on the lake after supper.

“The day before I was going to tell her, she already knew. Ruth had this gift of knowing things ahead and I’d wondered about it. I’d made my decision and guessed that she knew. I’d seen her with a sense of rising awareness, the way dogs speak when they raise their ears. There was this lightness to her step that told me it was right, even before I told her we’d be going after the crops were pulled come fall. Somehow, if it would all work out with Earl and Ramsey, I wasn’t so sure.

“But time came and went, those dreams dying alongside the ceasing of her heart and the quieting of her feet as they returned to the earth for the final time. And I would return to our land without my wife and child to come. It wasn’t the same land anymore though; a different moon shone upon it.”

 

There were tears running down Grace’s cheeks and she’d long since tried to blot ‘em out while I told them the story of Ruth’s drowning in the boat, the complete one including the stranger who’d told me about Harry, Uncle Chuck’s disappearance and then this strange mission I’d felt compelled to complete. Grace had stopped me at various parts to clarify a point or to make sure she could see and feel the whole scene as if she was there. In a polite way, Grace and Gillie Davis were making me dredge up the essential root of the experience. Within her facial expressions, she forced my game of solitaire, at once tasting the exile that came in the words and breathing new air into the space that was left in their absence.

“That’s a really, really sad story, Mr. Cobb.” It was Gillie who was lying on the carpet resting her head on her elbows, brushing her hair out of her eyes and squinting when I told of finding Ruth’s body on the lake bottom and pulling it up. Her eyes were dry, giving away an uncanny insight to her resilient psyche. Of all of them, Gillie reminded me the most of Ruth. And more than one old black sage who knew her or had read her hands had said of Ruth that she was the type to live very long or die much too soon.

“Do you talk to her now, Mr. Cobb?” Gillie asked, almost matter-of-factly. Harry started to interrupt but Grace shot him a well-telegraphed glance allowing the inquiry. “I mean do you go visit her grave?’

“I talk to her, Miss Gillie. But not as much as I did, and right after it happened it was like she was talking to me all the time. As quiet as Ruth was, she was giving me all sorts of advice once she was gone.” I took a sip of my coffee, thinking that if any child could grasp this thought, it would be her. I hadn’t spoken openly to anybody of this. And then to be spillin’ my guts to a  family I just met? “But no, I don’t visit her grave on account of I don’t know where her body is.”

There was a thick silence in the room. I was in it and had to get along as far as I could. “I’d asked Earl to bury her on our land but not to tell me until I asked. Is that strange?”

Grace said no, not really, compared to the fact that I was even sitting here. Gillie seemed to be trying to but some simple meaning to it. But it looked as if her mind was tumbling like the inside parts of a lock.

“I don’t know if I’ve loved her anymore in hindsight because I don’t know where her body is or that she’s become what I’ve dreamt about. I do figure I’ve moved closer to what I admired in her. And I’m sorry if I’m being vague, but sometimes I think and sometimes I feel and at a time like this when they both come together things come out in tongues.”

Harry, who’d been quiet the whole time, listening and whittlin’ the wood into a bucket and nodding his head and looking at his family, two eyes at a time, finally spoke.

“The white man down on the lake who told you about me and my new boy…you never asked him his name or why he thought I’d be in the market for a new skiff?”

“No sir. I felt like there was something moving through me and I was afraid to get in its way.”

“Are you a religious man, Johnny?” Grace asked, “I mean do you ever consider what kind of thing that force might be?

“Well, yes and no, Mrs. Davis. I believe that there is a God out there, and He gives me some point to my being, though I was well and damned, excuse me, darned confounded when Ruth died. I don’t believe that stuff about “her being called home,” as the local preachers railed on with. But I can’t believe that all of her is dead, that her soul went into the ground with her body. Sometimes I go to Sunday services because it seems pointless not to try. But there remains a curious split, a give-and-take, between the living and the dying. And that’s where I get confused. I reckon that I have no call for the organized religion of people who follow a regular man no matter than what he tells him to do or not do. But I believe heartedly in a holy spirit, whatever it may be.” I was going to tell them of what I’d been taught by Grayfalls about the Great Spirit, but backed off. The story of Grayfalls was best told by a man’s actions, the time and place as important as the lesson.

There was a silence that entered the room now and seem to sweep into each person’s mind. But it must’ve settled somewhere deep and safe enough for the quiet was no trouble. The space between us was comfortable and no one felt the need to force their rhythm on the other.

There was a sound at the door, not quite a knock but neither a scratch. Gillie got up and let the last two dogs in.

Harry asked her if she’d make sure that Sarah and Micah had water before they lay down in the corner next to the other dogs. Looking at me, Harry shrugged his shoulders and said it took awhile for the Bible to even use female names.

I sensed the night winding down, heard Grace tell Gillie to get ready for bed, then get up to check on the baby who she’d laid in a crib next to the fire while Harry made some tea.

Gillie kissed her dad on the cheek, pressed out her hand to me and said it was nice to meet you. Then just before leaving the single front room of the trailer, she turned gracefully as if it was scripted, reached for the door jam and spoke in a tone somewhere between question and statement.

“Mr. Cobb, you think a lot, don’t you?”

“Yes, Miss Gillie. I do that. I reckon it’s become who I am, this pondering.”

“You know what I think, Mr. Cobb? That dead people keep on thinking too. Good night.”

Harry stood up slowly from the stool, sheathed his knife then stretched his arms and legs one at a time.

“If I was in your shoes, Johnny Cobb, after that telling, I’d be wanting a belt of my home brew that’s been curing out in the shed. But seeing as that you’re too polite to ask, I’m going to insist on it. Besides, the moon ought to be up by now and I’d like to see what the weather’s going to be doing in the morning.”

We walked out into the thick Florida air that kept all things damp and clumpy most of the year. Harry stood looking at the sky, breathing, feeling; much like the farmers up north did around planting time. Only he was a fisherman, he did it by the hour without even noticing.

He led me to a narrow shed with a high ceiling that hung assorted nets and floats. There was a work bench covered in rows of reels of spools of line and hooks and underneath, a metal cabinet with a heavy lid. Harry said he’d grown the wheat and barley and hops himself and it’d been exactly thirty one and one half days. It should be perfect. He reached in and pulled out two large dark brown bottles and popped the lids on the edge of the bench.

He handed me one of the bottles, held the other up to the single light bulb with half a dozen mosquitoes buzzing in concert and checked the sediment.

“Liquid bread with a kick” I asked?

“Something like that. To family, Mr. Cobb, past and present.” He raised the heavy bottle in my direction and put it to his lips, tasting the earth that had grown the wheat and barley and hops, set the bottle on the work bench and wiped the back of his mouth with his shirt sleeve.

I took his look and drank and heard the crickets in the yard and wondered what breath had put me here. But I didn’t have to know right then and drank hard, feeling the warm beer flowing into my stomach and its effect already taking place not because of the alcohol but something else, something that came from nowhere. And everywhere.

“Your new son,” I finally asked as Harry was busy studying the mosquitoes and then reaching into the cabinet for another. “What’s his name again?”

“Well I’ll be damned. You don’t know?”

“Not properly introduced a’tall.”

“Well, there aren’t any official papers on him declaring to the world what he should be called. Grace delivered him in the back room with a little help, right where I reckon you’ll be sleeping tonight. I’m getting on in years, Mr. Cobb, so I figure he’s about the best thing I got going in my life; right up there with Grace and Gillie. I don’t plan on letting the world get a hold of him for a spell.

“That boy is heritage and I can’t deny him that without denying the purpose of my own living. He’s a gift from your God, Mr. Cobb, that spirit force you spoke of maybe. I ain’t as eloquent a thinker as you but the connection between your Ruth dying off and my boy getting birthed and you coming here…well, it’s enough for a guy like me to start thinking he ought to do more thinking. I’m a slow learner, Mr. Cobb, but once something is set in my mind, it’s like a gaff through the gills of a shark — it ain’t coming loose.

“And his name Mr. Davis? His name?”

“Oh, well, it’s Phin, Johnny Cobb, it’s Phin, after every living thing in the water.”

“Phin.” I said the word out loud and the weight of it struck bottom, surprising me. “Not Phineas?” I asked.

“A few people have adopted that but, you know, it being an odd name and such, I don’t much care. He’s our son, at least for awhile. And then he’s his own. I’m sure you understand that, Johnny Cobb.”

“I’m not sure anybody understands something like that. But I reckon we sure can have a go at it.”

“You go right ahead, Mr. Deep Thinker. Lemme’ know what you find out. I think I’ll just try and raise up these kids best I can.”

I was momentarily stalled in the icy hard thought that more’n likely I wouldn’t have a child of my own and pulled another beer out of the case without asking, unashamed of my action.

“You worry about your kids getting hurt?” It was a simple question, obvious but unfair.

There was a shift in Harry, a pulling down of more than the lids.

“Of course. But nothing’s gonna happen to my kids if I have anything to do with it. And around here, I have a lot to do with who comes near them.” I believed Harry Davis as he said this–he believed he could protect them from all evil in the world. At least until they had a chance to protect themselves. And even then he’d keep on trying.

“It ain’t gonna be like it was in ’41. We have enough work keeping our own county at peace, let alone the rest of the damn mixed up world.”

“Oh,” I asked in passing, “Did you serve…over there? I mean, in the army?” Soon as they come out I wanted to take the words back.

“Serve? Worse word y’all used all night. I like you, Johnny. But don’t ever ask me about my ‘serving,’ okay?”

“That’s fair,” I back-pedaled and made a note to keep Harry and the subject of war in separate corners of the world.

“And before I forget,” changing the subject quick as I could, “I wanted for you to have a look at this present I brought for Phin, which was a something like a gift to me and had to be passed on, if that makes any sense.”

“Shit, Cobb,” the momentary tension between us gone, “as salty as my head can be, I actually thought you were more sensical than my fresh water  friends who went off to college and think they run this town. I know exactly what you’re talking about.” Harry’s words thickened with the night air and a third beer.

“Well, she’s on the truck. The Ruth Henry David, a birthday present for the boy.”

“Coulda’ been born on the same day as your wife’s drowning.” Harry didn’t apologize for the words and grabbed two more bottles as he led me out of the shed toward my truck. “Henry David, eh? That a family name or from that nature rebel-type from up northeast?”

“Not bad Harry. You got potential.”

“That’s Grace, Johnny Cobb. She’s the one who likes to read stories about people bucking the system. Something in her blood, same as anyone, eh?”

“Yeah, sure, Harry. It’s either in your blood or it ain’t.”

“Gonna’ be nice tomorrow, Johnny,” Harry said, running his hands on the splitting teak rail caps of the boat, moving away from something else that was too close or too powerful or that he couldn’t control. It was as if he could manage boats and weather and the future of his family. But not his own past.

“It’ll be a good day to get an honest week’s work in. If’n I were you, I’d be thinking about sticking around for a few weeks and getting to know the ocean a bit. We got lots of it right here. Maybe you could find a job right on top of it.” He winked and traded an empty bottle for a full one.

“Besides, I’ve never owned a gifted boat with both male and female names. Might need you to fill in the gaps a bit; both in these split floorboards and the details you left out tonight. I take that boat off your hands, Cobb, I’ll need some book learning to go along with it, some book ideas fill in the seams.” Harry put his hand on my shoulder, “Reckon the men in this family don’t read enough,” and then added, “least not stuff between the covers.”

We stood in front of the little boat as the moon did its best to show us her graceful lines beneath the weathered exterior, the sudden hints and playful jabs turning back to a comfortable silence.

“Yep, Cobb,” Harry was admiring the moon as he might a lover, “It’s gonna’ be a good day in the morning…a damn good day.”

And as we walked back to the house, I thought how fortunate I was to have had a reason to be here. Comin’ down this way with no reason woulda’ been akin to an innocent man sent to prison.

 

 

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