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Sudden Storm: Flash Fiction by Cam
The Channel is quiet today, just like it was a year ago. How can it be that a whole year has passed since I last walked in this sand? I used to come here nearly every day with my ten year old brother, Angus. He never minded hanging out with his big sister, Maddy. Over the last year, I’ve looked toward the water from our house and heard the breakers crashing onto the rocks during storms. The rumbling of thunder and the roaring of waves make me want to hide in my bed with blankets covering my head like a flood, crying myself to sleep. I’ve cried and slept a lot since that day.
I don’t want to remember, but isn’t that why I’ve finally come back? The water was so still and the skies so clear, I decided to take our little sailboat out for the afternoon. The Channel is narrow at the beach, but grows wider until it opens up into the sea. The sailboat was moored a short distance from shore. We rowed out in a small dinghy that we kept on the beach, beyond the reach of the tide.
As I said, I’ve slept a lot this last year, but my mother is coping with things a bit differently. I do the grocery shopping, cooking and cleaning. Mother stays in her room with the telly turned up and a bottle tipped up. She even stayed in there on my seventeenth birthday. It’s her way. I leave her to it.
The two of us climbed into the sailboat and raised the sail. There was hardly enough breeze to move us, but eventually we were out into the Channel, basking in the sun. There were no other boats in sight, so I drifted off to sleep. Angus spent the time fruitlessly dangling a fishing line over the edge of the boat.
I don’t know how long I slept, but Angus finally woke me because he was worried about the clouds forming in the distance. They grew higher and higher like mountains rising out of the sea. I hoisted the sail and turned toward shore.
When the boat came about, the lighthouse on the beach was barely visible against the background of trees. The wind was only a breeze, barely disturbing the surface of the water, but it helped us make headway. I had lost track of time and our father would soon be home from working on the fishing boats. I hoped we’d be back on shore before he came to look for us.
The first peal of thunder was distant, but shook any confidence we had that we would reach shore ahead of the storm. The first wave to come over the stern soaked both of us and flooded the boat. The wind was building and driving us so hard that I had a difficult time controlling the boom and sail. Angus steered, but I could see the fear in his wide eyes. I shouted to him that we were going to make it, but the words were swept away by wind and water.
The boat tipped to the starboard. Two hands clutched the gunwale, and our father pulled himself out of the small skiff he had been rowing and into the sailboat. He tumbled onto the flooded floor and struck his shoulder hard against the mast. I helped him onto the bench where he hugged me with his injured arm and Angus with the other. Father took down the sail, pulled out two oars and struggled against the wind and waves. I could tell his shoulder was hurting, but what else could we do?
I don’t know why Angus stood up. It could be that he wanted to help with the rowing, or maybe he was disoriented with fear. The wave took him so fast, it was as if he had disappeared into the air. My father grabbed two life preservers and was over the edge before I could scream my brother’s name.
I watched my father dive and resurface, time and time again. He had lost the life preservers, and I threw him the floatation ring attached to the boat with a rope. My aim was poor, and the ring flew wide of its mark. I pulled it back and threw it again, but my father was gone.
I stand here and look at the place where my father and brother died. I remember every anguishing, torturous detail, memories that have up to now been eclipsed by a storm cloud of guilt and shame. I’ve told myself that it wasn’t my fault, but I know that isn’t true. I was sixteen years old, and I knew about the sudden storms that could come thundering down the coast.
“Daddy, Angus, please forgive me. I love you.”
The words sound empty and taste bitter. Before I leave this place I’ll speak words that my father spoke to me when I was a little girl and to Angus after that. He quoted it like a poem, but I think it was an old folk song written for a son. Father would change it a little for me.
Dance to your Daddy, my little Maddy
Dance to your Daddy, my little one
Thou shalt have a fish and thou shalt have a fin
Thou shalt have a codlin when the boat comes in
Thou shalt have haddock baked in a pan
Dance to your Daddy, my little one
A good memory to leave with. It’s dinner time, and I'll ask mother to join me. I miss her too.