A short story from: Coastal Maine in Words and Art: Gallery Fukurou’s Reflections by Maine Writers, 2019.
© Ed Peele, 2019
Moonstruck, photographic art by Ramona du Houx
It is sunset and the couple make their way to the end of a creaky pier, where a sailboat is tied. It is a modest craft, not new and not yet old, full of character lines that smudge the secrets of its age. The captain appears from below. “Are you my charter for the evening?” he asks.
“Yes,” is the reply.
“Come aboard then.” He welcomes them with only a wave.
Beyond the bay, the moon begins its ascent, warping the horizon and shining a spotlight on the becalmed water. The slight breeze seems too small to move the boat from the dock and even less likely to bring them back. The passengers look inquisitively at the captain. “How will we sail?” one of them asks. “The wind has fallen to barely a ripple. How can we begin the voyage?”
The captain does not look up as he makes ready to shove off from the dock. “There is no reason to worry,” he says. “We do not start all voyages where we think we should. I will guide the boat, and when we return, you will remember the secret of sailing in the moonlight.” He shoves the boat away from the pier. The sails go up, but there is barely a flutter in the cloth.
The captain watches the moon intently, skillfully using a breeze so light that the passengers can barely feel it on their cheeks. The boat is soon aimed straight at the lunar spotlight, and to the amazement of the couple, the sails begin to fill. The lines creek and chatter. The speed of the craft increases, but the boat seems to be pulled rather than pushed. Objects in the bay rush by. Lights in the town glide quickly to the stern, blurred by the increased speed. A lighthouse marks the opening of the bay and approaches faster than possible, then recedes past them and under them. All the world recedes as the boat and its passengers lift skyward.
The captain sits quietly at the helm. He gazes mystically at the stars that are closer now than ever. The moon is so bright in front of them that the cockpit is illuminated as in daylight. Leaning over the sides, the passengers stare slack-jawed at the scene below them. Lights of houses clot together in the small towns and crossroads. Lonesome streetlights twinkle through tall pine forests. Small lights, red and green, mark the anchorage of rugged lobster boats waiting to fish again at dawn. The beams of lighthouses below crisscross the night sky, warning of danger. From above, the lights create a laser show until seen only by the clouds.
The rising moon continues its ascent, pulling the boat and its passengers with it. Higher and higher they fly. A warm breeze caresses their skin, tussles their hair. Clouds engulf them, then part, revealing an even higher perspective of the world below. The captain is resting only one hand on the wheel; steering would be useless. He tilts his head back, allowing the moon to wash its light over him. The passengers only glance at him, for fear of missing some of the show around them. Stars are within their grasp. Briefly one leaves its home in the darkness of forever-space to race past the boat. Lights on the ground, once larger than the stars, are only pinpoints.
Then, without notice, the captain tugs at his beard and speaks to his shipmates. “Coming about!” he orders. The boat banks on its starboard side and gracefully changes direction. With the moon now at their back, they begin to come down.
The world they had left behind looms in front of them. They have no concept of the time spent aloft, only that the trip has passed much too quickly. Again, the clouds glide by. The streetlights and house lights become recognizable, as are the boats. Finally, the pier is below them. And they are back on the surface of the calm water.
Deftly the captain directs the boat to its berth, securing it firmly. He holds out his hand and helps them to the pier. His eyes twinkle, and the smile beneath his beard is that of pure joy. “I have enjoyed having you with me. Remember that it is the unexpected journey that is often the most enjoyable.” He steps back aboard and ducks through the cabin door.
Without a word to each other, they make their way down the pier. As they walk, they meet another couple. The people smile, nod and continue in their respective directions.
ABOUT THE BOOK:
Coastal Maine in Words and Art: Gallery Fukurou’s Reflections by Maine Writers, 2019 was published after a contest for writers to create stories to accompany art photography that depicted Rockland and the coast in its myriad situations, moods and emotions. This story was published in the book along with 27 others.
An overwhelming 88 stories were submitted for the contest. In the end seventeen writers were chosen. Their stories are told with depth, insight, candor, irony, wit and humor. Anyone who has every visited Maine’s coast will be able to relate to them. They’ve put humankind’s instinctive emotional connection with the sea into words.
The Maine Humanities Council provided a grant for our project that enabled the Solon Center to donate books to libraries across Maine. MHC is a statewide non-profit organization that uses the humanities, “as a tool for positive change in Maine communities.”