Emery sat alone on the rocks and watched the gulls peck over the remains
of his supper. From where he sat he could see across the harbor to the small
strip of beach where he had unloaded his boat from his truck early that
morning. It had been a long day, and he relaxed as the sun retreated.
His boat now lay below him, pulled up onto the rocks and away from the
beating of the surf. It was a long, slender kayak made of fiberglass and
plastic, and it was very swift and strong. Emery was very proud of his boat.
He had even named it, but since grown men didn't talk of such things he had
kept the name to himself. Alone now, he spoke the secret name of his kayak and
found it sweet-tasting. His voice startled the gulls, and they beat their
wings a few stuttering flaps.
Emery stood and turned in a slow circle so that he could take in the
entire island. It wasn't much, really...just a few broken rocks and a narrow
strip of grass and brush littered with the leavings of uncounted seagulls. The
wind from the sea was ice-cold, and it whipped about the island and stirred up
the stinks of rotten fish and of guano. But the island sat squarely in the
middle of the harbor, and Emery relished the view and named the sights in his
There by the breakwater at the mouth of the harbor was Eastern Point,
where the mansions sat well apart from each other and the long docks fingered
out from the million-dollar boathouses. Over there the channel buoys led north
to Gloucester, where warehouses, boatyards, and piers stacked with crab pots
crowded one another. And across the harbor to the west he could make out
Manchester-By-The-Sea, which he had never visited. After his eyes had taken in
all of these sights, they lingered on what lay to the south. Emery stood for a
long moment and admired the open ocean.
This is a good place, he decided. It is a good place. Men have come here
and known their own minds, or have discovered them. Here there are three
elements. There is the sky which leads us, there is the wind which drives us,
and there is the water which carries us. There are no illusions or
pretensions. This is the center. And thinking these things, Emery knew that
this would be as good a place as any for him to decide.
And so he brushed the dirt from the seat of his pants and scrambled down
the few yards to his kayak. He quickly stowed his thermos and his bag in a
compartment in the stern of the boat. He eased his boat into the water, being
very careful of the surf and the rocks, and within a few moments he was
stroking south across the harbor.
A quartering wind came up into his face and slowed him. It flung salt
spray into the right side of his face, and occasionally the chop would soak his
right hand as he dipped his paddle. He knew that his kayak would want to
weathercock broadside into the wind, and so to compensate he paddled more on
his left side than on his right. The muscles of his left shoulder grew tired,
and the cold stiffened them into tight aching bands. The lights from the
mansions on Eastern Point shone on his sore shoulder as they slipped by.
An hour passed as Emery fought the wind for headway. It's a good fight,
he decided...one that hasn't changed in the memory of man. On the one hand the
three elements (as he now named them), and on the other hand a man's will
alone. No recourse to any mercy or fair play; only the force of the wind
against the will of the man. Cold water was the consequence of the failure of
will, and to fail in will was to die. Emery again tasted the secret name of
his kayak and decided that it was still a sweet thing.
Emery reached the narrow finger of breakwater after ninety minutes' work.
It was very nearly dark, and he was tired. He noted the time and remembered
that the tide would be going out strongly now. He rested for a few minutes,
sitting still in his boat and looking up at the small lighthouse on the end of
The winking point of light reminded Emery of his brother, and the weak
threads of his self-control frayed and snapped. They had carried his brother
out of the canyon after three days of frustration, because the log which had
trapped his brother's kayak was well below the angry surface of the floodwater.
All of the attempts with rope and hooks had failed to bring him up.
Eventually the waters had receded just enough and the strong men in their
wetsuits had pulled his brother free. They had left his boat where it was
They couldn't even bring him home on his shield, Emery thought. He
watched the darkness stalk the open ocean to his south while his tears mingled
with the salty spray on the deck of his kayak. From nothing, into nothing, he
remembered, and he sat hunched over with his sore shoulders shaking.
Eventually the changing of the wind roused Emery from himself, and as he
felt it push at his back from the north, he wondered what he should do. The
ocean invited him. He knew that he could be well out to sea by morning with
the help of the wind and the tide. He straightened his shoulders. Why, he
could be twenty-five or thirty miles out by sunrise, and if he were lucky he
might have the whales for company. By this time tomorrow evening he would be
halfway to wherever he was headed, and the sunrise after that...who knew? What
a story that would make! What wonder that would cause!
And then Emery remembered his secret. He remembered the name of his boat.
And because Emery was strong, because Emery was a man, he wiped his eyes dry
and he looked back over his shoulder to the beach where his truck was parked.
But as he paddled back to the beach, once again fighting the wind for headway,
the name of his boat tasted very bitter indeed.