To Be a Father
by Deirdre

 

At the end of a crowded pier overlooking the grey heaving sea, a
young child was making a valiant attempt to wiggle free from the
grasp of a perturbed looking gentleman. On this early autumn day,
captivity was unbearable for a boy who wanted to explore a shoreline
never before seen. His heart yearned to examine the growths on the
pilings and the shells on the beach and all of the beautiful stones
scattered about.

"Will you be still, boy!" Growled the man as he snapped the
boy back to his side. "Where is that damn boat?" He snorted
under his breath.

"Father, look-what is that bird?" Eyes twinkling with
curiosity followed the swooping image over the water. "Did you
see it, father? What"

"Be quiet, boy! Are you so blind not to see that people are
looking at you? Your behavior is unacceptable, young man!"

The child looked about, blinking through tumbling brown curls at the
others gathered on the pier. He only saw trousers and pretty
skirtsand shoes. Never before had he seen so many different
shoes in one place, and soon thoughts of shoes replaced thoughts of
seashells. The ladies shoes hardly peeked out from under skirts when
they walked, and for some odd reason that made him all the more
curious. There was a pretty blue skirt next to him and he suspected
that there were pretty shoes under that skirt, so he stooped down and
touched its edge. It was smooth and silky, and he thought that the
sea must feel the same way. So, with thoughts of a satiny sea and
wondering about shoes, all of his good sense vanished and he
inquisitively lifted the skirt

"EEEEeeee-eeee-eeeeeeee!!" He never saw the shoes, but
thought it funny that the lady sounded just like a piglet.

"Whot's this?! Whot's this?! Why, the little-" A
man's voice boomed somewhere overhead.

Then a lot of voices boomedand he felt himself being yanked by
his arm so that his feet no longer felt the ground. He was being
spirited past all of those trousers and colorful skirts; bumping from
one to the other as expletives flowed freely.

Now his father's face was glowering into his while gouging
fingers dug at his shoulders and giant paws shook him violently.

"What, in all of God's name, ails you boy? In all my life I
have never seen such a display!"

"I only wanted to see the ladies' shoes, father." His
nose started to fill as big tears popped from his eyes.

The words had hardly left his quivering lips when he was spun around
and a stinging hand came down upon his backside three times. It felt
like three hundred. At this moment, he finally noticed the faces and
the eyes that belonged to all of those skirts and trousers. His pale
cheeks and cockleshell ears blossomed with scarlet; and on a sleeve
of white he rubbed his snotty nose. Sorrowful eyes now searched for
a new adventure, but he found noneall of the joyful anticipation
of this adventurous day had dissolved away.

Again he started to squirm, but this time out of necessity and not
due to his inquisitive restlessness. Twice his father tugged on his
arm for him to settle down, but nothing could still his urgent jig.

"Oh, What is it now, child?" The exasperation in his voice
made his words as sharp as broken shells on little bare feet.

"Please, father, I need togo" His big brown eyes
begged as he proceeded with his cross-legged dance.

"Oh Lord. Very Well."

With a grasp on his wrist that turned his hand blue, he was dragged
across a cobbled street and nearly run over by a carriage that had
the biggest wheels he had ever seen.

Ushered into a narrow alley off the busy street, his father
demanded, "Here now, go."

The soft walnut eyes looked about and saw lots of skirtssome
large and some small, some moving and some standing still.

"I can't father, there are ladies about."

"The ladies are not concerned with you, as you should not be
concerned with them. What is it with you and ladies this day? Now
go, boy!"

Trying to make his little body as small as he could, his embarrassed
hands fumbled about and then he closed his eyes to make everyone
disappear.

"Finished?"

"Yes, sir."

"It's about time." He was being pulled back the pier.
"I do not know why I ever agreed to this folly a boat ride,
of all things! This is work for a nurse, not a man and
certainly not a doctor!" The tirade went on, but the boy no
longer listened; his wide eyes were absorbing the beauty of white
billowing sails dancing against a smoky sky as they neared the pier.

"Is that the boat, father? It is so lovely, isn't it?"

"Yes, yesnow listen. You are to be on your very best
behavior from here on out none of this peeking at ladies shoes
and needing to relieve yourself in dirty alleys like a common boy.
If you promise to behave, you may walk the deck unattended as
long as you do not get under anyone's feet or skirts, for
that matter."

"Oh, yes sir! I will be so good, siryou will be proud of
me." The child saw an opportunity for sweet freedom so did
his father.

His heart leapt with excitement as he crossed the gangway; this was
his first real boat ride - not a little boat that is rowed down a
river or across a pond but a ship that needed the wind to move
her. He swore it was as big as a castle; no one would ever be able
to convince him that it was merely a schooner. Cautiously his foot
touched the deck, and immediately he liked both the look and the
smell of it. The tarred seams made an agreeable pattern that
appealed to his analytical mind. So did all of the ropes that
reached into the sky and clung to the sails and the trees and the
branches.

Free from his father's oppressive grip, the boy touched the thick
tree and plucked at a taut rope. He found it pleasurable to walk up
and down the deck, twisting his fingers behind his back while
watching the crew scurry about hauling lines and shouting orders like
a swarm of important bees.

In awe he watched as beautiful white sails, like sheets hung out to
dry, embraced the wind, breathing life into the small ship as she
glided toward the sea. Walking forward he studied the canvas that
reached out in front of her, grabbing the wind that blew from behind
as the breeze in his face swept back his spiraling locks. He could
taste salt on his lips and he heard pleasant sounds coming from all
of the ropes. His heart was satisfied and he was no longer concerned
with ladies shoes.

But then disaster struck.

Harbor waters are much kinder than sea waters. With the unrestrained
spirit of a wild steed, the little ship now thrust her bow to the
heavens and then plunged back towards the sea. And she did it
againand againand again

Something started to stir in his belly and sweat began to bead on his
pale brow. Eyes full of panic scanned the deck as he started to
sense his breakfast creeping back up his throat. His mind worked
feverishly as frantic eyes searched for a solution. In a burst of
energy and amid shocked exclamations, he pushed past the skirts and
trousers and pitched himself against a low railing, vomiting and
retching so hard he was sure that he had been turned inside out. He
felt his feet dangling as he looked into the miserable churning sea
and once again a mighty heave convulsed his little body. He prayed
that he could just drop into that ugly water and disappear.

Then, as if an angel had appeared, he felt warm, reassuring hands
gently touch his sides and ease him from the railing. He found
himself looking into kindly eyes and at tousled hair much like his
own.

"What have we here, a lubber? Let's fix you up, lad."
With a friendly smile the man took his own shirttail and wiped the
child's face.

"What's a lubber, sir?"

"Oh, that's just someone who's of the land, like
younot of the sea, like me."

"You're of the sea?"

"Seems to be that waybeen out here longer than I can
remember. Going on six years, I believein the navy"

"But this is not a navy ship."

"My the lad is a sharp one, he is! That is so. My last
shipmet with some trouble. See that man there?" He
pointed toward a uniformed gentleman. "That was our first
lieutenant. We're headed to Portsmouth to join another ship, the
two of us are."

"What happened to your old ship, sir?"

"That's a long story too long to tell. I'll just
say this: Don't be afraid to stop a mad captain."

The child's brow knitted for a moment, he wasn't sure whether
a mad captain meant an angry captain or something else.

"So, you want to go on another ship. You must love the sea,
then."

"Ho! What do you think, that I am mad, too? No, I don't
want to join another ship I want to go home. But that gent
there," He pointed to the lieutenant, "he's to see that I
don't run every time we go into port." He chuckled as he
shook his head at the innocent child.

But the child's innocence had given way to curiosity, and he
began asking what this was and what that was the trees were
masts, he found out and the branches were yards or sometimes a
gaff or a boom. As each question was satisfied, the churning in his
belly lessened more and more. The sailor was kind and comforting and
the boy wondered why he wished that this little man had been his
father instead.

It seemed like only moments since first touching the deck that word
began to spread about an approaching port. Soon the boat would
release its casual passengers, but it would keep captive this amiable
sailor who had turned his nightmare voyage into a dream. The one
called a lieutenant stood close by as the man held the boy in the
crook of his arm, pointing out markers and shoals and explained
soundings and the differences between anchorages and docks. As they
drew nearer, the sailor softly sang a song of the sea to him; it was
the first time in all of his tender years and it would be the
only time in all of his life that he thought a song could
actually be beautiful.

He heard his father's impatient call and reluctantly withdrew
from the man who had made his day so memorable. But the pain was too
great, and he found his tiny feet rushing back and he flung himself
into muscular arms and squeezed as hard as his own thin limbs could
manage. He kissed the bristled cheek and whispered a sincere
"Thank you, sir" into his ear.

"It was my pleasure, er-didn't catch yer name"

"Horatio. And you, sir?"

The seaman gave a little wink, "They just call me Matthews,
lad."

Turning away once more, little Horatio skipped across the deck and
dreamed that one day he could be a sailor just like that man he
wished had been his father.