Come About

This morning, however, the breeze blew steadily enough to sail on but not enough to cause problems. Mr. Prescott cut the engine, and they drifted up next to the sailboat. She climbed out quickly and he followed at a more measured pace, then helped her bail out yesterday’s rainwater and arrange the rigging. His efforts, though modest, made him sweat, and he mopped his brow as she busied herself with the tiller. With a grunt, he stowed his handkerchief, stepped from her deck to his own vessel, and unclipped her from the buoy. The sailboat began to drift away almost immediately, as if it couldn’t wait to get out of the cove.

Mr. Prescott tilted the outboard motor up as the bow of his skiff made contact with the shore. He heaved himself over the side and tugged the boat several feet up the sandy beach. In disembarking, he had splashed the hem of his pants leg and now it clung, damply, about his ankle. The clamminess of the fabric was already bothering him, dominating his thoughts, as he walked up the beach to the cabin, so he did not turn to see his wife lift her hand to him then raise the sail, did not see the wind take it immediately, push it out like a pregnant woman’s dress—revealing but not obscene—and propel her away, across the lake.

He ascended the steps to the cabin’s porch, a screened-in expanse that overlooked the beach and the cove, and considered whether he should change his pants or let them dry of their own accord. Damp clothes bothered Mr. Prescott. In fact, there were few things that Mr. Prescott liked. In the wake of his wife’s religious uptick, he’d tried to find his own interests, a hobby he could rely on, which would define him as clearly as church defined her. The only interests he could find were sleep, being warm, a good meal. These seemed more like mammalian necessities than hobbies. But he had gradually reconciled himself to this and decided that he liked it quiet, peaceful; he liked to be left alone. It was a recent personal coup that his doctor, at Mr. Prescott’s annual physical, had expressed concern about his blood pressure and shortness of breath, some correspondence having to do with his mass when laid out horizontally. In short, Mr. Prescott was not just permitted, but encouraged, required, even prescribed now to sleep in his recliner at night. No more stretching out on his side of the queen-sized bed next to his wife. No more bumping into her knees and back in the middle of the night. No more listening to her soft prayers before she got in bed, no more hearing her breathing while she slept, breathing that, he had recently noticed, was slightly louder than her prayers. No more awareness of her in her nightgown, white cotton in the summer, blue flannel in the winter, just him in the confines of his chair, afloat in the oceans of space in the living room.

He moved from the porch door to the kitchen, poured himself a cup of coffee from the stove-top percolator, and extracted three cookies from the tall glass jar on the counter, sliding his bulky hand through the jar’s narrow neck to pluck the cookies from within. Then he sat at the table with the morning’s paper. He had already spent an hour pretending to read it, an hour in which his wife cleaned the kitchen countertops and listened to some music, Christian music, he thought. Now he read the same articles, this time surrounded by perfect silence. And though the events still meant nothing to him—people and places that would never affect him—somehow it all felt better. When his wife was around, he sensed a certain arrogance, an aura of superiority, as if her interior world were sublime compared to his. The solution to this, he believed, was to stay away from her, to prove his own independence. Standing up, he wiped some crumbs from his shirtfront and deposited his mug in the sink.

He imagined her out on the lake, being carried along by the breeze. It would be gentle, but steady, and she’d have some word for it, like “stiff,” that she thought was particularly nautical. By now she would have cleared the cove and fixed the line, and she’d be leaning in the back of the boat against the tiller, steering her course to the middle of the lake, going towards the shore only if the wind wouldn’t take her anywhere else. He knew she wasn’t a good sailor, but it didn’t matter on a small lake like this; she couldn’t get into that much trouble. Yes, by now she’d be headed out for the open water, her eyes fastened on shore, watching the trees slip by, cedar and hemlock boughs dipping down as if to drink from the lake, feeling herself apart from them, beyond them, as if she properly belonged to this world of water and wind and motion, this divine world that existed before creation. At least, she’d feel like that for as long as the breeze carried her.