Tall Tale

Pa has always sat on the dock, staring hard out at the wild water beyond the bay. For as long as I can remember he’s sat there in that same spot every day, no matter the weather; no matter his health. Even when he was in hospital with beginning signs of cancer he’d make a fuss and attempted to escape so much that in the end the doctors released him early because there was no reasoning with him anyway. When I came home after college and pregnant, I didn’t even knock on his door, I just went straight down to the dock and sure enough, there he was, sitting in his old fold out fishing chair, arms at rest, mouth drawn in a tight line, and staring at the horizon, watching the sea. When I was little I asked him once what he was watching for, he just said he was making sure nothing was coming up, but I always had a feeling he was hoping something would. Now that I was much older I asked him again. I thought he might not have heard me, but before I could ask again, he exhaled deeply and his focus shifted on me for the first time in years. His eyes widened a little as he studied my face, recognition dawning. “You look just like your Me-maw when she was younger. Have you always looked like that?” I blushed a little with embarrassment. “I think so, except, people only started making that connection last year. Uncle Herbert thinks so, and so does aunt Clementine.” He looked back at the horizon a couple of times during our exchange; probably out of habit. I asked him again, “What are you waiting for, Pa?”He cleared his throat and said, “I think you’re gonna need to pull up a chair for this. There’s another foldin’ chair in the tool shed over yonder. Go get it, if you can with that belly of yours.” No one’s been able to get this much out of him in years, so I jumped on the chance to finally learn what he’d been staring at for all of my lifetime. I walked back up the path towards the house and stopped at the shed to dig out the second chair. It was covered in cobwebs and some sawdust from disuse. I brushed all that off as I headed back to the dock, then set up the chair next to Pa. He was looking at the water when he started to speak in his gravelly voice. “When I was about 35 and your Me-maw 29 — I remember it because it happened on her birthday, y’see. When she was 29 and your momma was just a little spud of about 5 years, Essie and I went down to the dock to catch a break from the family for about half an hour. We were just sittin’ here, in these chairs, holdin’ hands. The moon was a great big ol’ thing that night, and it was balancing on the water when we got here. We were marvelling at it for a few minutes when this old wooden ship started to emerge from the water. It was comin’ to the surface like you, when you used to jump in the water and come up for air. All this water was pourin’ off the sides and then it just sat there. “It was real quiet, and we knew the party was still goin’ on at the house because we could hear laughter and music and clanking silverware on plates, but it sounded so far away suddenly. We heard the water lapping at the shore and then we heard a bell tolling. It came from the ship, and before it stopped chiming a little dingy fell from the boat and onto the water. It started comin’ towards us real slow and when it reached the dock it stopped right there.” he pointed to the space just in front of him. “I told Essie, ‘Don’t you touch that thing now, we don’t know what it means.’ But she wasn’t hearin’ me. She looked at the dern thing, then gave me the biggest grin I ever saw on her, and climbed into the boat. Then she turned to me and held out her hand. I didn’t want to get in, but I couldn’t just leave her like that.” He stopped talking and bent forward, inhaling deeply. I could see this wasn’t easy for him. “Have you told this story before, Pa?”He righted himself again and looked at me, “Now hold your horses there, Missy. I ain’t done with my tellin’ yet.” he looked at me indignantly with that weathered old face of his, but then he winked at me and gave me a little smile. “No, I ain’t told a soul about this before, but I think it’s time I did, especially with what’s to come.” Before I could ask what he meant, he continued the story. “So now we’re both sat there in that old dingy like two knots on a log, when it starts moving all on its own. It’s steerin’ us back to the ship, a grand old thing like someone 400 years ago might have been commandeering. All the way there the sounds of the water accompanies us, the little splashes, the fish comin’ up for air, the crickets and cicadas; we hear it all, but once we reach that ship it all goes deathly still. “There was a ladder on the side which we used to haul ourselves aboard. We looked around the thing, poked our heads in nooks and crannies we could fit them in and then there was this music. Shanty music. It came from up top where the captain would have been. So we went there and climbed those little steps. “When we got to the top we heard another instrument playing a different tune, a fiddle or some thing like that. It was comin’ from the other end of the ship. We looked over to the sounds of the second song, and while our heads were turned I noticed something shimmering at the wheel. I looked at that spot and couldn’t believe myself. I nudged Essie and nodded to the spot and she gripped my arm real tight then. “It was a ghost. The ghost of a man playing the accordion, and as he swam into focus others appeared all over the ship, doing whatever they were doing. I don’t know if they actually knew we were there or not. They just kept goin’ about their business. “I yanked on Essie and pulled her back to the place where we’d climbed up. The dingy wasn’t there no more, but I didn’t know that until I had climbed all the way down to the water. Essie followed after me, but when I shouted up to her that we’d have to swim I saw that one of the ghosts was up there, looking out over the ledge. He was sayin’ something and was lookin’ right at her. “I tried to grab her foot but was bucked off the side as the ship started to sink back into the water. I shouted, ‘Jump, Essie, jump! We gotta swim to shore! Swim real hard!’ And I know she heard me because she shouted something back and then I was swimming my hardest when I heard her splash into the water behind me. And we swam and swam and didn’t stop until we got back to the dock and I turned around then and saw the mast disappearing in the water and realised I was alone. She was gone. My Essie was gone.” He gave me a minute to let those words sink in. I was confused. Was this real? Had a ship emerged in this bay, one as old as he says it might have been? It couldn’t have been possible, why would it surface after hundreds of years only to sink back into the water? “Hush your mind, child, I know it’s a lot to take in. I know you’re thinkin’ it’s a tall tale I’m tellin’ you, but I promise you it’s not. That ship took my Essie nearly fifty years back. I saw it floating on the water the night you were born, I saw it when I held you in my arms in your momma’s bedroom. I was so happy to see you finally in this world, after all those complications that had happened. When I looked out the window I saw it sailing peacefully along and out of the bay. By the time I made it out to the dock it was goin’ under again.” He was right, I did think he was spinning me a tall tale, but I was happy he’d spoken to me for that length of time. I had decided on helping him out by moving in with him and my fiancé. We’d be able to take care of him and have our baby in my old home. The night my baby was due I called out for Pa. He came and looked at me through watery eyes, stroked my big bump of a belly, and kissed my forehead. Then he left the room. My call to get him to come back turned into a moan and then a scream as I went into labor right there. The next day I called for Pa. I stumbled through the house after I didn’t see him sitting on the dock. Nowhere. He was nowhere. When the doctor came back at noon to check on my beautiful baby boy and me, he told me the strangest thing. “I saw a ship, an old looking one, in the bay last night. It looked like it was sailing toward the moon, which was also abnormally huge.” I felt like I knew where my Pa was now, so I named my son the only thing appropriate, Alfred, since I had been named after my Me-maw, Elisabeth.


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