The Mud on the Bottom of the River,

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(short story)

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Page 4

James wondered if he'd been there for Sean, when he needed him most. They were old friends, who went back for years. They both seemed to be closer than ever, as well as speaking less than ever. As if they didn't need to be part of each other's failures or successes, yet their friendship had endured. Sean had never come back to Boston, perhaps it really did have too many memories, and too many demons to face back there. James knew the full story of what happened to Sean, yet looking back at their couldn't really explain how he'd helped Sean through it, or even if he'd been able to see the failure coming. James wondered if Sean even asked for help back then, or somehow managed to get through it on his own. In the end it didn't matter. Sean didn't look to his past failures; he simply went on, keeping only mementos of his past.

James pulled the ring from his pocket and simply stared at it deeply for a moment in the glistening lights and the jingling of the casino. James had the ring; all Sean had was this old boat. So, sitting in that casino bar, James slid the ring across the bar and traded the engagement ring for a sailboat, sight unseen.

Upon return from the trip, James didn't feel any better. In fact he felt worse being back in the apartment. His house seemed so empty, he didn't even know where to sleep anymore. Being alone brought out his old bad habits, for all his years at seminary. The semester had ended and all the students he might have mentored had just gone home. He figured the ones who stuck around, well they were being counseled by the fellowship, and he couldn't go there that was where his fiancé would have already told everyone how much he had failed.. He didn't go out anymore, for fear or seeing someone he knew, and having to explain, again what had happened, how he had failed. He found comfort in drinking, in watching TV, and simply gazing out the window towards the street. He wandered around aimlessly sometimes, wondering if this is just another night where he should have a stiff nightcap and fall asleep on the sofa, watching TV. Or head to the guest room, where he'd placed the heavy down comforter which was reassuringly heavy and warm, yet it provided no comfort for him. Most of the time, begrudgingly he head into the place he'd called his bedroom for all those years, with the unmade bed, with the flannel sheets, and a thin cotton blanket. There was part of him that welcomed the darkness, the bareness, and the emptiness.

Resignedly, the following month James left Boston and moved back to San Francisco, his home, the place where he'd grown up. The place where it seemed like he had more friends who knew him for who he was before he'd gone out to the east coast, rather than the person he was in the presence of her. Moving back to San Francisco didn't please his parents all that much. Although they loved seeing him and having him around, he was no longer the same person. Here was this broken, melancholy fellow who was constantly bemoaning his life, and berating himself by a single failure. And plus he had this boat out there, which they were deathly afraid he was going to fall overboard and drown, or get lost at sea.

The boat wasn't in poor shape. It was definitely seaworthy, but it didn't turn any heads in the marina, where there were scores of larger and flashier boats. James had never owned anything like it, sure in his days at MIT he'd been taught the basics of sailing. Learning how to tack and gybe the little tech dinghies in the water. Back then sailing was just something he thought he'd try. The river basin was small, and it was hard to get into much trouble. The wind was slow, although a bit gusty, and shifty, it rarely ever blew past 10 or 15 knots. This was the same basin where Sean's ring lay, buried under the grime and sludge, expelled from the city over years and years.

But sailing the boat was cathartic, although he took a few lessons, and the boat was rigged to be sailed single-handed. James spent a great deal of his time there, even sleeping on the boat in the marina. While most of the boats sat in the marina for months before moving, James had his out every week, if not every day.

Many times he'd see the marine forecast for rough seas, and yet simply go out anyways, put the mainsail on the first reefing point and simply struggle against the wind and the tiller. To him It was a challenge. The winds of the bay were always high, but his boat, although small and slow, was stable enough.

But the boat also scared him. It reminded him of his frailty, Again and again, it proved that he was not the master of the wind and the seas. A boat requires constant maintenance, thus showing James it's own frailties and failings as well.

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