THE DOCK • by James MacKeogh

I put a piece of chocolate in my mouth and contemplated my toenails. Should I cut them? Maybe I should shave my legs? Back to the toenails, they were borderline? Big decisions.

Looking out over the marina at the sky, it seemed bigger than normal. It’s always big on the water, but tonight it seemed enormous. Orange with sunset, warm, calm and still.

I put another piece of chocolate in my mouth and my eyes dropped to the water. Murky with listless currents swirling in no useful direction. If I needed a metaphor for my life, there it was.

“You’re not still eating chocolate are you?” Simon’s voice came from below decks. “It won’t help the shape of your butt.”

Irritated, I looked around. “It’s my butt,” I thought, but didn’t say. “Weren’t you going to the gym?”

Simon, my “boyfriend”, stuck his head out of the companionway, fit, assertive, perfect butt. As a bed warmer, serviceable. I just wish he had a little more heart, something — tender, maybe. There was something missing.

“You should join me,” he said.

“I’m building up to it.”

He climbed past, jumped off the boat athletically and stood on the jetty facing me, blocking my view. He was wearing his wonderful, trim, gym clothes, bouncing on his toes. Full of action and zest.

“You can’t just hang around here eating chocolate. We’ll have to widen the companionway to get you in.” he said it with a smile. If he meant to sound helpful, I heard condescending. He’d been in my life for three months and already seemed to be running it. We’d met in the marina. He’d been out racing on someone’s shiny maxi yacht, a testosterone and beer festival. One month later he’d somehow moved on board my father’s forty-foot, aged sailing ketch. Simon was tight with the pennies it turns out. Has them, and likes to keep them. But he’d seen a bright future for us. We were going to be “People”. That’s with a capital P. You could hear it in how he pronounced it. Clearly at this stage in my evolution, I was “people” with a small p. Which is why I needed chocolate.

“Did you look for a job today?” he said. I’d been living off the money my father had left. Dead now, a year, I missed him terribly. I needed to ask him questions, and he wasn’t here.

“Not specifically.” I felt like a child.

“Jess, we can’t just sit here in this marina going backwards financially,” he said. “Neither of us want that. It’s not what we agreed.”

I looked at him, considering his words. “What we agreed”? Did I agree to something when I wasn’t there? He must have agreed for me. Considerate, saving me the trouble.

I found myself apologising. “I’m just unsure about the future, Simon. My future. I wanted to travel, go sailing, get out of here.” I knew I would have to go back to work sometime soon, just not yet.

“I want to travel too, Jess, but first we need to build ourselves up. I have a good job, a future.”

“Meaning I don’t have one?” I said. “Anyway, they are using you. Telling you you’re special so they can get you to work long hours. They’re conning you, Simon. All that crap about loyalty is… crap.”

He rolled his eyes. The fight was on. It was already an old fight, and I barely knew him. I looked at him standing on the jetty, so sure of himself, my opposite. But maybe he was right. Maybe hanging onto this sailing dream was irresponsible, but it was important to me!

“My father left me this boat for a reason,” I said. “If I go back to work now, any chance of sailing off, getting over the horizon, will be gone. It will evaporate in exchange for the search for perfect throw cushions.”

Simon smiled and put his hand on my shoulder like a patient adult. “Wouldn’t you rather have a gorgeous house, nice car, a BMW like mine maybe? That’s a fairy tale too.”

“There weren’t any BMWs in the fairy tales I read.”

He looked at me quietly, weighing something up, then suddenly, inexplicably, he said, “I love you.” And it was as if the words were a test, to hear how they sounded, to lay them out so we could both see them hanging in the air, study them, hopefully feel them.

But there was nothing.

Did it show in my eyes? If it did, he was, or chose to be, oblivious. That was Simon. Maybe for him just saying them was enough, like an affirmation that would one day come true.

“Look, you’re clearly not in the mood for a serious discussion. We’ll talk when I’m back from the gym. Maybe you should shave your legs.” He winked and turned away.

“Sure,” I said to his departing back. He bounced his way down the jetty, shadow boxing a fire hose. Master of his domain. I realised I hated him.

I sat looking over the water. There was a warm, offshore breeze now, perfect for sailing. The decision was made. I gathered Simon’s limited possessions and placed them neatly on the jetty. I found a spot without seagull poop.

I considered writing a note, but didn’t.

I considered dropping a match on the pile… no.

Then, almost giggling, and with the traditional fast-beating heart for this proper fairy tale moment, I let go the mooring lines and backed the boat out of the berth.

I was short on chocolate, nearly broke, unemployed, and no doubt headed for ruin, but it was me at the wheel. No one else.

James MacKeogh lives aboard a sailing boat with with his wife and Max the dog. Beyond loved ones his priorities are writing and a passion for avoiding sensible work.

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