The Perfect Day
Evening mist crept across the marina, cloaking the yellow sky. Annie licked her lips, tasting the salty dampness, humid and sticky. Knapsack hoisted over her shoulder, she boarded the Aura, her footing sure on the worn teak decks.
In a flash of gray, Maui sprinted from bowsprit to cockpit. On his knees with his back to Annie, Kyle rubbed sandpaper over a single plank, the same plank he’d been sanding an hour earlier. “Hi, sweetie,” he said without turning.
Averse to speaking to backsides, she circled round to his front. “Maui’s loose.”
Kyle stood, hands covered in teak dust. “Maui confided in me. Says he’s sick of being tied up.”
As if to affirm this, Maui padded up alongside them. Now two years old, he’d been a tiny kitten when Annie found him behind the marina dumpster, crouched beneath a tented pizza box. They’d made eye contact and that was it. Another lonely soul, abandoned. This was before Kyle or, more accurately, before she and Kyle became what he called an item, a designator she disliked almost as much as when he called her sweetie, though it seemed trivial to complain.
Annie bent to stroke Maui’s belly, but the cat pivoted toward Kyle, rubbing along his legs. Maui’s attention span was short, as was Kyle’s. Both were easily distracted—Maui by ducks and birds, Kyle by anyone who stopped by to chat.
She thrust the knapsack on Kyle and retrieved the tether, managing to hook Maui by the collar before he leapt away. The cat responded with a single plaintive yowl, then sat with his back to Annie, licking his paws.
“He hates being restrained,” said Kyle.
“I don’t want him falling overboard.” It had happened before, Maui scrambling up a dock piling to safety.
“He’s older now. Wiser.” Kyle had made a similar case for himself with Annie.
“Not wise enough.”
Kyle peered into the knapsack. “What’s for dinner? An orbital sander? Yum! And sandpaper with teak cleaner dressing. Yum yum!”
“Very funny.” She tugged at the edge of the knapsack, Kyle accommodating her reach, leaning close enough for her to smell the sweat on his skin. From the knapsack, she retrieved a crumpled paper bag, which she opened to reveal her success at the farmer’s market: plump white radishes, a red onion, an heirloom tomato, an English cucumber, and mixed greens. From a smaller bag, she took a fish-shaped kibble treat from the chandlery, which she offered to Maui. The cat sniffed but didn’t bite.
Kyle seemed equally unimpressed with her haul, though she knew he’d be all over the salad once she’d made it. “I thought we agreed we’d do the sanding by hand,” he said.
“If we do it by hand, it will be twenty years before Aura sets sail.”
“They’d have sanded by hand when she was first built.”
“Only because they lacked the equipment.”
“So, I’ve been thinking,” he said.
“Uh oh.” Keep things light. That was the course she’d determined to chart with Kyle, who’d complained growing up that she took things too much to heart.
“Who named her Aura?” he asked. “Other boats have clever names like Off Course and Harm’s Way. As long as we’re giving her a makeover, she deserves a new name. I was thinking Escape. Or maybe Escape Hatch. Or maybe just Hatch.”
“This boat’s got a perfectly good name, the one Grandpa gave her.”
Kyle circled his arm around her waist, holding her with the same ease as he held the knapsack. “The past is behind you, babe. The view’s forward from here. You and me and endless horizons.”
She pecked his cheek. He dropped the knapsack and drew her into a deep kiss. As she closed her eyes, Maui gobbled the treat she’d left at his feet.
Far more than with the boat, Kyle was a craftsman in the kitchen. In what he called the one-butt galley, he rolled out the pasta dough he’d made that morning and sliced it into tagliatelle while the big pot of water he’d set on the stove came to a boil. Meanwhile, Annie chopped vegetables for salad, the only dish she felt confident preparing. She hated cooking, hated the ordeal of performing step after step. If it weren’t for Kyle, she’d be eating microwave dinners—no complicated steps, no long waits, no pots to scrub or dishes to wash.
They fell into an easy routine, speaking of their plans for when they finished the sanding and repairs. With what was left of the sum Annie’s grandfather left her, they intended to sail the Caribbean. If the money held out, they’d head to Bermuda, though Kyle would have to prove himself with the sails before they headed into open water. As always, he was the first to joke about his shortcomings as a sailor, his deep-throated chuckles evoking her smile.
The business with Maui and the tether forgotten, they sat down to eat. The mushroom sauce Kyle had thrown together was exquisite, seasoned with garlic and pepper and onions, complemented by a crisp Pinot Gris that Kyle poured with relish.
“We could stay right here,” Annie said, woozy with wine. “In the harbor. Forget the repairs. Eat fresh pasta and drink wine till the money runs out.”
Kyle leaned over and kissed her. “What fun would that be?”
They were sharing a slice of Kyle’s raspberry cheesecake when the boat’s rocking intensified. Waves splashed against the hull and porthole. A storm was moving in, earlier and stronger than predicted.
“We’d better check the dock lines,” Annie said. “Make sure everything is cinched down.”
“I took care of all that,” Kyle said.
“What about the dock cleats?”
He rubbed her shoulder. “Done. All that’s left is to ride it out in the V-berth.”
She felt a strong need for fresh air. “I’ll check. Just in case.”
Without turning to witness the disappointment Kyle rarely attempted to hide, Annie went up top. The night was dark, the sky overrun with clouds. Wind whipped her shirt, and the hairs on the back of her neck and her arms stiffened. She tightened the unsecured halyards that were clanging against the masts, then checked the bow, breast, and stern lines. Kyle had wrapped the lines around the dock cleats, but he’d failed to thread the lines through. She undid the lines and re-secured them. Grandpa always said there was nothing more cleansing than a good storm, as long as you prepped for it.
When she returned to the galley, Kyle was drying the dishes. “How’d I do?” he asked.
“You had it pretty much right. The lines just needed some adjusting.”
He wiped his hands on a towel. “How about Louie Louie?”
She’d known him most of her life, but still the non sequiturs threw her. “Huh?”
“Our song. It’s the perfect name for the boat.”
“We’re not changing the name. It’s bad luck.”
“Since when do you care about luck?”
“It’s a boat thing. You christen her, and that’s that. You don’t change the name.”
“What, it’s against the law or something?”
Annie had been taught early not to react to words that stung. “There’s no law. It’s just…tradition.”
“No change. Not ever,” he challenged.
“Hardly ever. If you do change it, you have to remove every trace of the old name. Then you’re supposed to have a proper ceremony, to install the new name. And you’re supposed to offer a sacrifice.”
He raised an eyebrow. “A fatted calf?”
“More like a pot of rum.”
The dock lines creaked, straining against the wind and waves. Hands on her hips, Kyle pulled her close. “So, we’ll have a ceremony. Play the song. It’ll be perfect. You’ll see.”
Annie prided herself in being able to sleep through the worst of storms, but that night she woke and couldn’t get back to sleep. The wind was subsiding, but not her thoughts. She rose and headed for the V-berth, having managed to persuade Kyle against the two of them sleeping there. Passing through the main salon, she averted her eyes from the framed photo of her and Kyle and John, a celebratory image taken after one of the many races she and John had won with Aura. Quite the team, she and John. What they’d shared went way beyond trophies.
She nestled into the V-berth, the place where she felt closest to him still. But there was no point in indulging those memories, and so, as she waited for the gentle rocking of the boat to lull her to sleep, she directed her thoughts to Aura. Designed and built by her grandfather, the boat had been beautiful in its time, mizzen and main sails furled, edges trimmed. She looked like a cruiser, but there wasn’t a sailboat around as fast as Aura on a course. She’d be fast and beautiful again, once they’d replaced the sails, redone the decks, and buffed the hull.
Comforted by this vision of Aura restored, Annie closed her eyes. Instantly, the image that first woke her returned, crisper and clearer than ever. A bright sky, cloudless. Warm sunshine, dappled waves. A ferry chugging toward shore, a flag-draped casket displayed on deck.
She blinked into the darkness, resisting the image by recalling an earlier ferry. She and Kyle and John were aboard, returning from a big outdoor concert in the city. Blaring from the overhead speakers was a song about a ship sailed alone, to a fine little girl who waited across the sea.
The song was all about the beat, the lyrics indistinct. But she’d made a point of knowing them. Take her in my arms, never leave her again.
The three of them—Annie, Kyle, John—claimed the song. They vowed they’d never forget.
She’d never forget.
Annie woke to light streaming through the hatch above. Maui pawed at her face, telling her it was time to get up. Stretching out, rolling onto her back, she reached upward toward the hatch to block the brightness. It must be late morning. She bounded out of the berth and pulled on her jeans and sweatshirt, still damp from when she’d gone above board to check the lines. She needed coffee. Music thrummed in her head, notes from the song.
As she approached the companionway ladder, she realized the sound came not from her head but from Aura’s speakers cranked to the maximum. The final chords sounded, the drum rolled. “Let’s go,” belted the vocalist. Or maybe, “Let go.”
Then the song started over, on repeat. A fine little girl and a ship sailed alone. Louie Louie.
She found Kyle standing on the stern swim platform, palm sander in hand, whistling along to the song as he sanded. “Morning, sunshine,” he said. “Storm’s gone. It’s a perfect day.”
In her fury, she could speak only two words. “Her name.”
He shrugged. “You said all traces had to be removed.”
“I said we aren’t changing it.”
“Come on, babe. It’s our song.” He started whistling again.
“It’s bad luck, whistling on a boat.”
“What’s with all this superstition nonsense?”
She reached for the sandpaper, but he was faster, holding it behind his back.
“Aura’s keeping her name,” she said.
He flashed a cocked grin. “Too late. It’s gone. I sanded it off the stern and the prow, both sides, and the dinghy. I don’t see why you’re resisting. Louie Louie is perfect. You love that song.”
She breathed deep, the sea air now cleared of its mugginess and smelling faintly of smoke as the café at the end of the dock began preparations for its weekly luau. Beyond the blare of the song, there would be people chatting as they readied their boats for weekend outings. At the edge of the harbor, the old lighthouse stood watch, its Fresnel lens refracting and reflecting light that otherwise couldn’t be seen.
“I don’t love that song,” she said. “Not anymore.”
Kyle let go of the sander. It thudded to the deck, dinging the wood with a scar that would be difficult to remove. Taking a single step, he stood with his face inches from hers. Blue as the ocean on the brightest of days, his eyes glistened.
“This is about John, isn’t it?” he said. “Look, he’s dead. Dead and gone. You think I like that any more than you do? He was my goddamn brother.”
The flag-draped casket. John, coming home.
She wrapped her arms around Kyle, held his head to her shoulder. There were so many places she’d have to check. The logbooks, the life jackets. The engine compartment, where Aura’s name was engraved, trickiest of all to remove.
For the ceremony, they had the song. And the sacrifice—that had long ago been made.
Intuitive, colorful, prolific storyteller and an eccentric free spirit, Cat Wyatt has drawn from experiences placing her in the right place, right time and wrong place at the wrong time. Mother, grandmother, friend, her stories show “slice of life” adventures with a sly sense of humor. She has never turned down a new adventure including sailing, racing, living on sailboats on the Columbia River, San Francisco Bay, Mexico and Florida Cays. Published in several periodicals including Dunes Review, Penmen Review, MARY, and Good Works Review. Cat studied under Pam Houston, Richard Bausch, Steve Almond, Luis Alberto Urrea at renown Tomales Bay and Chautauqua Writers Workshops. She’s worked with nonprofits, the American Red Cross, law enforcement and as a trauma intervention specialist with ski patrols, police and fire bureaus. Living in Anchorage, Alaska, with her husband and adopted cats — she can still see the water.