Come About

Mr. Prescott did want, on some level, to leave his wife in the middle of the lake. That day, he could hear her whistle, shrill and piercing, and he wanted almost more than anything else to let her sit there, alone, waiting for him to come and get her, to bring her home.

That morning Mr. Prescott had helped his wife board her little sailboat. He was a large man. At one point, it would have been accurate to add the adjective imposing, but now he was just large. Belt and suspenders large. Tall, too, but just how tall he could not say because age, especially the decade in which his sixties passed, had taken a few inches from him. So he imagined, but had not confirmed, that he was merely 6’2” or 6’3” now. Still plenty large. In his fishing skiff, he ferried her out to the sailboat, which was moored to a buoy, gently bobbing in the placid cove. He sat at the rear of the skiff, one hand on the outboard, and she sat in the front, looking ahead eagerly, as if she were the figurehead, the bowsprit, gazing out upon the world. Already, the sun was bright and the wind had risen. The breeze usually lasted until almost midday when a calm would settle, and the waves that had rippled all morning would finally make their way ashore and vanish. Then his wife would sit, at a standstill, wherever the wind had taken her. A sturdier sailor would have the foresight to swing about, twitching the sails such that the wind was forced to carry the boat home. But his wife had never mastered the finer points of sailing: she knew how to steer, how to raise the sail, and otherwise she let the wind take her. The idea of “coming about” intimidated her, and so when the breeze no longer moved her, she’d take her whistle—shiny and straight, like a London Bobby’s whistle—and summon her husband. He’d come puttering out in his fishing skiff and tow her back to their cove. To an outsider, especially a real sailor, the system might have seemed ridiculous, but it had always worked for her, made her life simpler, her sailing more enjoyable. And he had never, before this summer, imagined that he would want to leave her out there on the lake.

He guessed that it had started last fall, when the air had just taken on the first bite of winter. He thought it started with Tuesday night Bible group. Mrs. Prescott had always gone to church on Sundays, and Mr. Prescott had long ago stopped going with her. It didn’t interest him, in the same way, he imagined, that Sunday afternoon football didn’t interest her. Neither needed to explain their likes or dislikes to each other; they were long-married and shared the mutual activities typical of most couples: walks through their neighborhood along the lakeshore, meals eaten together followed by dishes washed side-by-side, the search on a rainy afternoon for a movie to watch at the local cinema. But then on Tuesdays she would head off to the Bible study group, which Mr. Prescott wasn’t sure about at all: why did she suddenly need to study the Bible after all these years in church? And then she added a Thursday evening prayer circle, which sometimes met at his own house, and this group of women would sit and murmur for hours, a murmuring he couldn’t understand and couldn’t seem to escape even in the bedroom with the TV on, so that he began to feel like a foreigner, a stranger in his own house. Soon enough his wife was on some community service council, running the church’s soup kitchen, which took an awful lot of time and made her not want to cook so much at home. And it was at about this time, mid-November, that Mr. Prescott had, breaking a thirty-year silence, offered a brief prayer to God to return his wife and their normal habits to him, but he heard nothing in reply, as had been the case in the past. So he took matters into his own hands and resolved not to need her anymore.

Now that it was summer, he could spend almost whole days without seeing her. She in her garden or on some church trip and he sleeping on the porch or feigning interest in some book. The only difficult days were when it rained or the wind was too brisk on the lake, stirring up white caps or blowing down cats’ paws. On these days, Mr. Prescott grudgingly granted his wife the kitchen table on which to do a puzzle or he grew annoyed when the bare clicking of her knitting needles interrupted his nap, and he tried to forget that on former rainy days they had sat and played gin rummy for hours.