By Mark Cunningham
Alex awoke on her back, rocking gently on the waves. She blinked past the sun, shading her eyes with one arm, hanging the other over the stern of her boat, Oonagh. They were low enough that she touched water; a warm crystal blue and green of velvet resistance against her trailing fingers. The ocean murmured: wooden creaks from the settling boat scratching the backdrop of vague morning whispers that rode on the wind. Alex closed her eyes, stretching languidly into the helpless luxury of defeat. They had bet it all, but the house had won. Oonagh was sinking.
The storm had been sudden and brutal. Donny had gotten them through the worst of it while she had puked in the cabin as the wind screamed and Oonagh was hurled savagely against gibbering waves. At the peak, they had risen vertically as she had hung to the side of the commode, fear overcoming nausea as they pitch poled. She had felt the boat turn; imagined him pulling on the wheel as Oonagh howled. Then she had felt them shift and heard a grating tear as they struck a reef. Gradually, the storm had given way to the morning sunrise. There had been triumph in his eyes, but it didn’t even try to mask the contempt.
“You are as useless in a storm as you are anywhere else Alex. ” He had gone below to start the pumps.
It was her money that had paid for the trip; the money her father had left. It was what paid for everything. There was a lot of it; a lot of money; a lot that needed to be paid for.
“It’s the Coconut Milk Run Alex. The one you said your father always wanted to do.”
The Coconut Milk Run: Galapagos, the Marquesas, the Tuomotus, French Polynesia, Cook Islands, Tonga, Fiji, and Vanuatu to Australia. She remembered the map her father had showed her, one big hand spreading it out, the other taking hers, allowing her to trace the route with her fingers,
Oonagh had been her father’s boat, named for the Faerie Queen who had married Fin MaCool, the giant of Irish legend. He had sailed her in between business trips, taking young Alex with him, in between semesters at boarding schools. Her mother had died before memories had formed, but her father had filled her with joy.
“You’re my angel Alex, my own star in heaven. You lit my sky before you were born and you will be there long after I die.” He had died a week before her nineteenth birthday; two days before she was to meet him for a trip.
They said the heart attack that killed him had been fast. The year that followed had been slow. She had followed the path of least resistance and lost herself, first in grief, later in liquid and powder forgetfulness. By the time she met Donny, she was a petrified forest; dehydrated and dry. When he first saw Oonagh, she saw her future in chains, reflected in the flat, wet puddles of his eyes. She followed the path of least resistance and they were married in a year. Selena, was an accident. Donny made sure they never had another.
She had surprised Donny when she agreed to come on the run. She had seen through his taunting invitation, but Selena was at yet another new school, this one tucked away in Lucerne, becoming increasingly withdrawn and sullen until the holidays required her brooding presence. An empty house or an empty boat; it had seemed the path of least resistance.
The stern was almost completely under, so she walked towards the bow, passing Donny on the way. Ignoring him, she began to prep the raft. They were still a few days from landfall in Vavaʻu, an island in the Tonga chain, but she had seen birds. There were atolls and uninhabited islands close enough. She had a radio, flares and enough food. She began to lower the raft over the side.
“fffffylllht.” Or something like that. It was Donny. She finished lowering the raft and knelt beside him.
He had gone below to start the pumps, singing as he worked. The sun had climbed high above the shimmering water and something had sparkled on the deck. It was a dinghy anchor that must have fallen during the storm. Donny had come back up the hatch with a beer in his hand and shook his head. She had avoided his eyes. As he walked by, she had brought the anchor down on his head without thinking. When he fell to his knees, she had thought about it brought it down again. Afterwards, she had gone below and turned off the pumps, then come back up and laid down on the flat of the stern and closed her eyes and drifted off.
Donny made another noise, but it might have been the Oonagh, now in her death throes. She needed to move quickly.
“Goodbye Donny. It wasn’t planned. It just seemed the path of least resistance.” He said something unintelligible. He might have moved, but it was probably involuntary. “I promise not to be useless in Selena’s storm.”
She gathered torn rigging and wrapped it tightly around his legs. Dragging him back towards the stern, she rolled him into the ocean, tangled in the lines. He sank without resistance.
Five minutes later, she was in the raft. She started the motor and pulled away about thirty yards and stopped. Looking back, she watched the Oonagh sink. It didn’t take long. After a time, she set out in the direction of Vavaʻu. If they ever salvaged Oonagh, they would find whatever the fish left of Donny caught in the rigging.
“It was terrible. I was below during the storm. I felt us hit something and went up on deck, but Donny was gone. It was dark and I couldn’t see. He must have fallen overboard. The boat was sinking so I got out the raft. I circled looking for him. Oh God, I can’t believe he’s gone.”
Her voice sounded dry in her ears, but she imagined that it would become easier with practice. Tears would help.
She looked up at the sky, at the stars she couldn’t see in the brightness of morning. Selena was there, ready to light up her sky. Alex gunned the engine and started down a new path.