Blackbirdan online journal of literature and the artsSpring 2016  Vol. 15 No. 1
 print preview

Und So Weiter

It could be true. What the boat captain said. Boats do come undone to drift over the calid Pamlico. The old couple had seen one long ago. Just offshore. Small, sunpaled, unmanned for the rest of time. They had stood on her father’s skiff, watched it move off, marveled at the reckoning of trackless years that lay before it. That was before everything else.

The decades in the city had slipped past, had climbed into weather balloons at midnight & drifted off. Now, returned to divvy up their life’s accruement, the old couple met an island that had lived its own life without them. Its blue water dazzle, its mosquitoes in the equisetum, its rabbits & cacti in the dune slacks—this was where they had started.

The boat captain said the unmanned boat bore the name Und So Weiter, but the old man wasn’t sure, couldn’t imagine it with that name out to drift to & fro among the briny centuries that stood their posts in the vast salt prairies of the Atlantic. It was too familiar to be true.

He watched his wife at the prow. This last visit was her idea. He shut his eyes to fifty-four years ago, not far from here, the blading of summer rain. She had smiled & run down the beach. He followed, swimming out, catching up with her. The rain dimpled the water, her hair in his mouth, tangled & treading & far out over their heads.

Like now.


The boat jogged in. Tourists lined the marina. Jostling to eye the charter boats unload their catch. The old couple ate at the marina restaurant. They sat outside overlooking the boats with their fried shrimp & coleslaw on paper plates. The thick folders with law-firm lettering were on the table. He tried to talk about David. He would be in his forties now. The man said he thought David would have married Allie, if he had come back.

“I don’t think so,” she said. “She wasn’t good for him.”

“We’d be grandparents now.”

“Stop.” She was shaking her head.


“Please. Just don’t.”

The sun was setting. Not over the water but behind the houses where they couldn’t see.


It had always been that way with David. Even when Palancio visited. Palancio had been on patrol with David. He asked if they wanted to know. His wife had risen & left the room, her hands cupped over her mouth & nose. The man said he wanted to know, but he had to stop Palancio many times to remind him not to leave anything out. He wanted to know everything. He felt he owed that to David.

Palancio said the explosion had made them all deaf & knocked out most of the others. He had rushed in to twist tourniquets around David’s femoral stumps & fill his scrotum full of procoagulant gauze. He tried to stuff the shattered rectum back into his pelvis. Then Bishop was there beside him. Bishop grabbed Palancio’s arm & pointed & Palancio saw that David was dead. Smoke was everywhere. Debris drifted down & everything was silent as snow falling on water.


Morning. Lighthouse Motel. Papers signed, belongings divided, her bags packed & loaded. They sat on the porch drinking a coffee for the road, the distance from one summer to the next when they were children lay dead between them. The wind had blown the night’s rain up to nest in outlying clouds.

In the distance, tassels of campfire smoke angled up from the high dunes. She saw them too. Her chin up, her delicate jawline. The wind raking silver-streaked hair behind her as if sadness hadn’t scaffolded around their hearts, as if loss hadn’t become real enough for wasps to build nests under it. Beyond the tackle shop a string of pelicans flew west over the sound.

“It happens,” she said, picking up her bags.


She waved her hand at him, at the island & the expansive crown of sky encircling it. “Everything.” He wanted to catch up with her. He wanted to tell her what Palancio said about David.


After she drove off, he stood there a long while watching the wind scatter sand down the road, stop, scatter it forth again. It was the way of things to start, to stop, to start again. He wondered if the sunrise had moved over the water to cover that spot where he first kissed her. He went to his own room to pack up, pulled the door shut to the miracle of it all—to the son & wife who left him, the clearing sky, to the old boat blown loose inside a lifetime.  

return to top