Previous Challenge Entry (Level 4 – Masters)
Topic: GATHERING (07/14/16)
TITLE: Who Knows
By Yvonne Blake
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How long is long? How long is the step from home to who-knows-where?
He trotted down the path through the pines. The sunbaked needles were soft underfoot, reminding him of when he and Thomas camped by themselves for the first time—far enough from the house to feel alone, but close enough to see the kitchen light. Thomas barked at every nighttime creature, especially at the sound of approaching footsteps. The sound of Papa’s voice both relieved and comforted him.
The path sloped down a steep hill, where he had once lost control of his bicycle and scraped his leg. The scar was still there. The trail emptied onto the rocky shore. Sometimes the waves barely moved, swaying back and forth upon the sand. Today they acted like unruly children, chasing each other before the wind. They smashed and crashed upon the rocks, sending spit and foam into the air. A sea gull squawked as it swooped to capture an unprotected crab.
Jacques crunched across the shells and sand, stooping occasionally to pick up an interesting razor clam or a striped periwinkle snail. A spot of green caught his eye, and he held a polished piece of sea glass to the sun before dropping it into his pocket. It made him think of Gramère. She had a whole jar of sea glass—blues and greens and golds. He had loved sitting on her lap as a boy when she told him stories of pirates and mermaids and sailors who launched their ships off to unknown worlds—not returning home for a long, long time.
How long is long?
He reached the boat shed and dragged the long bateau into the restless water. Positioning himself on the middle seat, he clasped both oars and pulled against the waves. Once away from shore, Jacques settled into a steady, familiar stroke that propelled the wooden boat across the surface toward a small island. Papa had taught him the ways of the sea, the creatures to eat and the dangers to fear. He often said, “The ocean brings life, but it can also bring death.”
The hull scraped upon the island beach, and Jacques secured it to an exposed root. He scrambled up the bank, waded through the wind-tossed ferns, and hurried past two stunted spruce trees to a boulder on the eastern side. Stopping to gather a mouthful of ripened blueberries, he shimmied his way to its top. Sweeping off the broken clam shells, dropped by feeding sea gulls, he lay on his back in the warm sun.
This was where he could be alone, to sort through the conflicting thoughts of childhood imagination and dreams of his future. This was where he stopped thinking Michelle was a silly, giggly girl. This was where he wondered if Thomas was in heaven with Grampère. He sure hoped so. It only seemed right to be here today, before tomorrow took him far away for who-knows-how-long.
How long is long?
A hundred thoughts and memories gathered in Jacques’ mind as the sun crept down the sky. Perhaps he knew the tide was going out; perhaps he didn’t care. But when he roused and stretched his lanky legs, the bateau lay stranded high on shore, far from the receding water. In the gathering shadows of twilight, Jacques smiled. He had learned that there was nothing to do but to wait for the tide’s return.
The waves swayed back and forth upon the sand. He skipped a stone across the quieted inlet. It bounced six times. A light glimmered from the kitchen window, and he knew Mum was watching. Building a small fire, to show her all was well, he lay back against the feathery ferns and waited for the stars. Grampère had taught him their places and names—Orion, Sirius, Arcturus, Polaris . . . which would always show him the way from who-knows-where to home.
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