Summary: A dock, a boat, and a conversation between brothers. Tissue warning.
Word Count: 1,156
*A group of ducks is called a paddle or a paddling.
The radiant sun raised her head over the eastern horizon, setting to flight a congregation of morning vapors with a single glance of her fiery eye. A circle of gulls passed before her, wheeling and crying plaintively as they began their search for their daily bread, or in the case of all sea birds, their daily allotment of fish. And, being a port city, there was indeed fish to be had; the air was so thick with the scent of it, that I fancied, if I stuck my tongue out, I could taste it. The private dock of the bay rolled beneath my feet, bobbing and weaving to the whims of its mistress, the Atlantic ocean.
“It sure is pretty,” my brother said. Turning, I saw him standing there not three feet distant, hands stuffed into his pockets. Clad in his familiar brown pants, white shirt, vest, boots, and well-loved ten-gallon-hat, he was as out of place in Boston as a swan in a paddling* of ducks. But that didn’t seem to bother him. Hoss was, as always, content in his own skin and easily ignored the strange, side glances that a few of the early risers that passed by sent his way.
“Yes, it is,” I replied, gazing out across the great, blue-gray expanse of water laid out before me.
“I can see why you don’t wanna leave,” he stated, softly. Guilt gripped me with cruel claws. I opened my mouth to respond, but he waved away whatever words I was about to say. “Naw, you don’t need to give me any excuses, Adam. I understand. It calls to you, this ocean, this city, this life, just like the wild, mountain country calls to me. It’s in your blood.”
He wasn’t wrong. She was a fickle mistress, the sea. One minute, she was calm as a glassy pond; the next, she was filled with a fury that would rival that of the fiercest, bucking bronco. For all her inconstancy, I loved her. I could not help it; it was born and bred in me, as it is in many of the folk who call Boston their home.
“I just wish I coulda spent some more time with you, that’s all. I’ve missed you.” His simple confession cut me to the quick, and I pulled him into a brief embrace.
“I’ve missed you too. And you’re right, I should have come back, I should have made the time to visit you all, I just….” there were no words to explain why I had stayed so long from Nevada, from the Ponderosa, from my home.
My home, no longer.
I was bound to Boston as Hoss was bound to Nevada. And though my heart was forever with my family, so far from me, I couldn’t seem to rid myself of the need to be here in the East.
He pulled away. “Don’t beat yourself up about it. We all know how much you love us, and we understand, well, maybe not Little Joe. You need to fix that, by the way. He’s angry, and he’s hurt, but he needs his big brother. He needs you, and he’ll need you more than ever now that….” he trailed off, his gaze drifting to the gentle swells of the sea.
My brow furrowed. “Now what, Hoss?”
He gave me a sad smile, but said nothing. Instead, he made his way to the end of the pier and looked at the only boat docked there. It was a small thing, fit for only one person, yet for all that, it was well built. He ran a hand over one smooth side; his gentle touch reminded me of his way with animals. Though he was rough and tough, he always had a soft side when it came to “critters” as he called them.
“D’ya think I could sail her?” he asked, eyes alight with childish wonder.
“I don’t know….”
He stepped off of the dock and up onto the deck with the ease of a man before the mast. “It can’t be too awful hard,” he muttered under his breath as he examined the helm as one would a rare, exotic creature—half fearful, half curious. Curiosity won out. With a flick, he untied the rope binding the craft to the dock, rolled it up, and stowed it away.
“Hoss, what are you doing?” I rushed to the side, hoping I could climb aboard before he did something rash.
But I was too late.
A playful wink and a bright, gap-toothed smile were sent my way as he turned the helm to starboard, and eased the boat away from the dock, towards the open ocean. “I think I got this figured out,” he said. A sudden breeze filled the single sail, drawing the boat and my brother further and further from me as I watched helplessly on.
He looked over his shoulder, waving a hand in my direction.
“See ya later, Adam!” he called as the current caught the little boat, drawing it inexorably out to sea.
“Hoss! Hoss!” my cries fell on deaf ears, for the craft moved swiftly through the icy water until it was the size of toy. Reaching up a hand, I tried to block out the blinding sunlight as I kept my gaze riveted on the boat.
I blinked once, twice…and the boat and my brother vanished from sight.
“Hoss!” I gasped.
With a start, I sat up in bed, sweat beaded on my brow, heart pounding loudly in my ears.
Heart pounding? No, someone was knocking, knocking insistently upon my chamber door.
Wiping the drowse out of my eyes, I slid my legs over the side of my bed and tossed my robe over my sleeping clothes. Lighting a candle, I carried it to the door. I opened the barrier only to see a servant standing there.
“Beggin’ yer pardon, sir, but this telegram just came for you,” with that, he thrust the small square of yellow parchment into my hand. I dismissed him before turning and re-entering my room. Setting the candle onto the bedside table, I sat down and stared at the paper. Somehow, without reading it, I knew what news it contained.
“…he’ll need you more than ever now that….”
Hoss’ unfinished sentence suddenly became clear. An invisible fist gripped my heart, twisting the organ as if it meant to rend it from my very chest.
Perhaps I’m wrong. Perhaps it’s something else entirely? With all the anticipation of a man headed to the gallows, I perused the parchment.
I was not wrong.
Pain, everlasting pain flooded through my very being.
The paper suddenly slipped from my nerveless fingers to flutter onto the floor, lost somewhere beneath my bed, but that didn’t matter. The words written upon it were forever ingrained in my mind, never to be erased:
Hoss dead – STOP – Drowned – STOP – Please, son, come home – FULL STOP.
Tags: Adam, Hoss, Boston, the sea, boat, brothers, tragedy
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