Demetrius built a driftwood boat the prior Saturday afternoon, but found it in pieces Sunday morning. His mother said, “It’s those raccoons at it again.” He wanted to build a boat like the one he’d seen from his bedroom window. So he left the Super Friends to go sit cross-legged in the rocky front yard and tie pieces of worm-bored wood together with fishing line, only to be interrupted by a car pulling up the driveway.
Nick slammed the door of his Studebaker hard, and his wave arced so wide his nephew imagined a drifting shipwreck victim hailing an overhead plane. Nick reminded Demetrius of Popeye, if Popeye was a pirate: his oversized jaw, and his skinny body, except for his bulging forearms that were covered with tattoos of anchors, daggers, and nude women draped with chains and flags. And that kind of scary bug-eye wink.
Demetrius’s mother came out of the bayside bungalow armed with ice tea in an only-for-company blue glass she kept behind the plastic McDonald’s cups. “Yassou Nicholas,” she said, passing him the drink.
“Yassou Lainey,” Nick replied, looking down at the tea, like he was checking for dried-up boll weevils floating around — but there weren’t any (this time), so he took a swig.
Lainey spoke; her words rose to a crescendo audible to her son: “…all the savings went to beer and betting on the horses — and probably some cheap, dockside woman in Da Nang! Christos isn’t good enough for me or my son!”
Nick was quiet. When Lainey paused he said, “My brother wants to come see the boy when he gets back — start to know his son.”
On the way back to his car, Nick paused by Demetrius. “Your old man’s a third engineer in the merchant marines,” he said. “The war keeps him busy. One week he’s in the Pacific, the next Diego Garcia, then back to Nam.” He reached forward and further ruffled his nephew’s windblown hair. “It’s a hectic lifestyle. But supplying the troops is an important job. And we’ll win soon. Then they’ll drop anchor and kill the pumps — they’ll be F-W-E: finished with engines. It’ll be time for R&R, and your old man will return stateside and be able to see you.”
Nick departed, and Demetrius recalled his old man whom he knew from a single photograph in an album packed away in the attic years before. The grainy photograph depicted a tall, strong-looking man standing between him in his stroller and a peacock spreading out its tail covered with gold-and-blue eyes. Demetrius imagined a mighty ship, engines roaring, cutting through waves to fulfil its mission; his old man — his father — in its hull, longing for home and missing his family.
Two years passed, and the winter whitecaps lingered into spring. Demetrius was leaning over a workbench he made from rummaged scraps of plywood, using the saw, hammer, and nails from the old toolbox under the kitchen sink. His latest boat would be the best one yet: a twin-hulled craft like he’d seen docked in the harbor. He was building it from salvaged planks and hoped someday — after the biggest nor’easter the bay had ever seen — he’d gather more planks from the high-tide line and build a real boat, then sail across the ocean, to visit faraway lands like his father.
The boat shook as Nick’s Studebaker sped up the driveway and stopped. The dust of crushed shells and sandstone looked like slow-motion waves coming from beneath the car.
Nick passed the man in the passenger’s seat a skinny cigarette. It glowed orange for a long time, like a tiny sun not wanting to burn out. The passenger laughed and got out of the car. He looked like man in the photo — sort of: he was less broad-shouldered, and his hair was thinner.
The passenger had a pack of cigarettes in the flap pocket of his untucked flowered shirt, and he carried a crumpled brown paper bag. He smelled like oil and burnt sugar and reminded Demetrius of guys down at the bottle depot his mother called crumb-bums.
“Remember me, kiddo? I’m Christos; I’m….”
“Were you with me and the peacock?” Demetrius asked.
“Peacock? Oh yeah, sure. Miami. Listen, now that I’m stateside, well, you know, maybe we — Hey!” Christos exclaimed, looking down at the boat, “That’s a real beaut! Nicky told me you build model ships and boats like a regular Argus.”
“Oh, he was real ace — an old Greek shipwright who made a galley so him and his buddies could go adventuring. You know: casks of gold, sea monsters — ROAR! — and long-legged gals. That kinda adventure. Ha!”
“That’s a catamaran you’re building, or a cat to us seafaring guys.” Christos passed the paper bag to Demetrius. “Here’s some water-proof sealant. The good stuff. When you finish give ‘er a good water-tight seal — ”
Lainey was standing on the porch with her arms crossed. Christos followed her into the house. There was silence, then shouts. Christos came back out, carrying the old toolbox. Demetrius watched as Christos hurried to the Studebaker and departed. He resumed working on his catamaran and followed Christos’s advice: by dusk he’d sealed-up all the boat’s cracks and crevices.
Demetrius awoke the next morning expecting to find the catamaran torn to pieces by raccoons. But instead, the boat was intact, on the plywood bench where he left it. There was a note inside the boat:
Boats are gals. So name Her properly.
Christos (your Father)
Demetrius named the boat The Venus, after a goddess he saw rising from the sea on a scallop shell. She was in the mythology book his mother always read after dinner.
Later that morning, with a strong April wind to his back, Demetrius launched The Venus into the outgoing tide. He watched the scrap-wood boat grow small, speck-like, and vanish beneath the waves. Demetrius then turned toward home and stepped headlong into the wind.
The most recent stories of James Zahardis have appeared in Every Day Fiction, Bards and Sages Quarterly, Deimos eZine, 365 Tomorrows, and Thrills, Kills ‘n’ Chaos. James holds a PhD in Chemistry and enjoys writing fiction, fishing, and birdwatching in his spare time.