I watched as they slowly lowered the coffin into the grave, tears streaming down my face. I was glad that I wore the veil; no one else could see how much I hurt. Daddy, why did you leave me? He'd always been there for me, strong and resilient. Always ready with a hug, an encouraging word, and often the perfect solution to whatever problem was plaguing me.
I didn't wear any eye makeup either, and that was good, because the mascara would have run down my face, a dead giveaway of how sorry I was for myself. With no brothers, it fell to me, as the oldest daughter, to execute the family tradition ... to be the first crush a carnation over the casket. God! I don't think I can do this! At least it wasn't raining. That was a constant hazard in the spring.
Pearl stood at the head of the grave, waiting for me to do my duty. It felt out of place, inappropriate for her to be standing there where Mom would be, were she alive. We never were great friends, Pearl and I. I suppose I had been somewhat resentful. It seemed to me that she had filled in behind Mom so easily, displacing her memory in my dad's heart. She had never been unkind to me, though, or to my sisters; and maybe it wasn't a coincidence that Dad rejoined the living when she came along.
I walked to the grave, and crushed my carnation, letting the petals fall on the casket, and I turned to join Pearl at the head of the grave. My sisters followed me, filing by the grave, dropping their petals into that abyss that would soon swallow my father's mortal remains. They and their husbands stopped to give and collect embraces, before leaving to resume their own lives.
Dad had few friends, but those that lived were here to wish him farewell. Most of the people attending were relatives, my friends, and my sisters' friends. Each one stopped to say a few words of sympathy and encouragement, and to offer help if needed. Good people. Would my children get as much support if it were me, instead of my Dad in that grave? I couldn't say.
The last of the mourners had gone, and the interment crew was waiting for Pearl and me to leave, so that they could finish their work. I turned to her, and saw the pain of loss in her face. It's the second time for her. I should be more sympathetic. We reached for each other simultaneously, hugging and crying out our mutual misery.
When we had both regained some equilibrium, she stood back slightly and said, "Carol, would you please come over to the house? I have something that your Dad asked me to give to you."
"What is it?" I asked, surprised.
"All I can tell you is that it's a sealed envelope. He made me promise, on the direst of oaths, that I wouldn't open it. I have no idea what's inside."
Curious, I nodded my agreement and declared, "I'll have to clear it with Karl, but I'm sure it'll be okay."
"One more thing," Pearl said. "He asked that you open it alone. No witnesses."
"That might be more difficult. If I send Karl and the kids to get ice cream, could I get a ride with you?"
Pearl nodded her assent, so I walked to the car where my husband and children waited. Karl and I had had another big fight on the way to the cemetery, and he'd stayed in the car, sulking, through the entire ceremony. The kids had had enough of the funeral at the chapel, and didn't really feel like standing around an open grave for half an hour.
"Karl, I need to make sure that Pearl is going to be all right. How about taking Kelly and Abigail to the DQ for awhile? You can pick me up at Dad's place afterwards."
My contentious offspring looked pleased with this turn of events, but Karl just got grumpier. He didn't fight it, however. He just started the car and drove away. I turned away and went to join Pearl in her car.
When we arrived at her place... Dad's place! ... she indicated that I should follow her into Dad's study. She extracted a large, sealed brown envelope from the desk that dominated the room, and handed it to me.
"If you want, you can open it here," she said. "I'll leave, so you can have some privacy. Take as long as you need." With that, Pearl turned and left the room, closing the door behind her.
I sat in Dad's office chair, and opened the envelope. Inside I found another envelope, also sealed, and a letter. I started to read.
I know that this might seem odd to you, but I assure you that it is necessary.
I'm leaving Undine to you. Of my children, only you ever showed an interest in her. It was never in the cards for Pearl to own her. I've already told her, so you needn't worry about her being unpleasantly surprised.
In the other envelope, you'll find the title and all the keys. You'll observe that title is already in your name. I made the transfer as a gift, so that there wouldn't be any questions about it.
There is a secret drawer under Undine's nav station. It's not hard to open, but it's not obvious either. Once aboard, look in there, and you'll find my log book. You must find it and read it alone, at least the first time. After that you can decide for yourself who should be allowed to see it, and when.
Please destroy this note, or you'll run the risk of someone else finding the log before you can. I love you with all my heart.
I re-folded the note, and slipped it back into the large envelope, then I opened the other envelope and examined the title. Sure enough, it listed my name as the owner, as of just a little more than a year ago. I wonder how the others are going to take this... We hadn't yet read the will, and Dad didn't own much outside the boat.
That wasn't my problem, though. Undine was mine, and everyone would just have to deal with it. The more I thought about it, the more pleased I was with that outcome. I loved Dad, and this was a way I could keep his memory alive for me and for my children.
Maybe they'll come to love her as I do... I put the title and its envelope back into the large envelope, and stowed it in my handbag. By the time Karl and the children arrived to collect me, I had a plan.
"Have you lost your mind?" Karl demanded. "I can't just arbitrarily decide to take a vacation. The timing just isn't good. We have three new major design contracts, and we're behind on the work we already had. If I try to cop out now, the other partners will hand me my head!"
"That is just so much crap!" I spat back. "Except for the funeral, you haven't taken a day off in five years! You're a stranger to your children, you never sit down to a meal with us, and we hardly ever go to bed at the same time. It's been weeks since you even woke me up for sex! Is your work more important to you than your family?"
"That's not fair," he protested. "I work hard, just so you and the kids can have a decent lifestyle. Whether I enjoyed my work has never counted, just whether it improved our financial and social position."
"You just don't get it, do you?" I yelled. "It's been years since we had a money problem, and I don't care about social position. Your family needs you, not just your income! I need you too! Not just a money tree."
"You want more than I have left to give," he protested, "all these years of work have left me zero energy to deal with your emotional crises." He stopped and picked up his coat.
"If you walk out that door tonight," I threatened, "don't bother coming back. This won't be your home anymore."
He threw the coat down and held out both hands, palms up. "What do you want from me? I love you, but I just can't seem to satisfy you!" he shouted angrily.
I told him. He balked. He protested. He complained. But in the end, he gave in.
"I can't believe this!" Kelly exclaimed. "You want to ruin my social life, just to spend my entire summer with a bunch of people who could really care less if I lived or died. No thanks!"
"Two things," I replied. "First, you are wrong about your family. We may be dysfunctional, but your sister, your father and I do love you. Furthermore, your social life notwithstanding, this family is exploding, and you have just as much responsibility to help try and fix it as anyone else here.
"Second, if you think you have an option in this, you're sadly mistaken. I don't need your permission to do this, but you do need mine to do anything else. Do we understand each other?"
"Yeah," he sneered, "I understand. You're pulling the same I'm the boss crap that Dad does when he can't come up with a better reason to make us do something. I understand perfectly, and it'll work just about as well."
"Threats of disobedience won't work with me, young man," I responded angrily. "I can still kick your ass and lock you up in your room. If you doubt it, just try me!"
For a moment, it seemed he just might, but his instinct for self-preservation kicked in. He stomped off to his room and slammed the door behind him. That went well.
"But Mom! I want to go to cheer camp this year!" My daughter was still trying her best to be blonde, despite the overwhelming physical evidence of her brunettehood.
"There will be at least four different cheer camp sessions over the summer, " I replied. "I checked. I'm sure we can get you into one intime for you to finish camp before the auditions start."
"But all my friends are taking the first session! If I do a later one, I won't know anybody in the camp, and I'll miss out on other things we were going to do together! Who will I hang out with, when we're not practicing?"
"That little group of twits you call friends is little more than a clique of bitchy little snobs," I replied. "Not one of them ever lifted a hand to help anyone, unless it bought her an advantage. You'll be a better person for not spending as much time with them." Her face fell. "Besides, if they aren't around to run interference, maybe you'll meet some nice people in one of the other camps." She began to pout. "Furthermore," I pointed out, "going to a later camp gives you an advantage at the auditions. After all, you'll have had more recent practice with the routines."
Abigail thought about that for a moment, the grimly said, "Okay, I'll do it, but I still don't like it." Having accepted her fate, she went out to play. That was almost a victory!
Undine was berthed at a dockominium near Palatka. Dad hated paying rent on a slip, so his solution was to buy one. Technically, all he bought was the RTU - right to use - but that's all condominium ownership really is, isn't it? As long as he kept the association dues paid-up, he effectively owned the slip. He could even sell it to someone else, which brings me to the point.
School had let out for the summer only three days before I arrived at the dock office with my sullen family in tow, and waited impatiently for someone to answer the bell. When the clerk finally showed up, I introduced myself, and, since I had not notified them I was coming, I was shocked to find out that they were expecting me.
Some six months earlier, my father had prepaid the association fees for the next five years, and had added my name to the deed, as joint tenant with survivorship rights. No one else was listed as an owner.
The clerk gave me the combination to the gated parking area near the docks, and the keys to the dockbox, saying "Now if there's anything we can do to make your visit more pleasant, please let us know..."
I briefly considered asking if they had a safe place I could stow my family, just so I would have some microscopic chance of enjoying myself, but in an exhibition of superhuman self-control, I refrained.
We parked the car, and I convinced everyone that unloading immediately might not be a good idea. We needed to inspect the boat first, and do any cleaning up and repairs that might be necessary before cluttering it up with our stuff. It didn't improve anyone's mood, but they all seemed to accept the sense of it.
There wasn't really that much to do, we just needed to wash down the decks, make up the bunks, and inventory the provisions. Karl and I took the forward cabin, since it had the V-berth, and Kelly and Abi were each assigned a berth under opposite sides of the cockpit. Each of us had space in a locker, near our assigned berth, to stow our personal gear.
Once we were settled in, I demonstrated for the family that we still had a lot of the modern conveniences while we were tied to the dock.
"But didn't you say we were going to spend a lot of time at anchor?" Kelly huffed.
"Yes, I did," I agreed, "but Undine is special. She's equipped to generate electricity from sunlight, as well as wind and water currents. Usually at least one of those will provide enough power to meet our minimum needs. For emergencies, we also have a diesel-powered genset. We won't be able to run everything at anchor that we are able to use at the dock, but we'll have enough power to stay reasonably comfortable."
That conversation piqued Karl's interest. As an electrical engineer, he had to know how the ship's power systems worked. I showed him the shore power connections, both on the dock and on the boat; then the battery banks and the inverter/charger that converts power both ways (i.e., 120VAC to 12VDC and back); finally the distribution panel and ships lighting systems. There was even a special, surge-protected circuit for the ship's navigational computer.
"Carol, will we be staying here for, say, as long as three days?" He asked anxiously.
"Yes," I nodded, "the plan is to spend about a week in these parts, while we acclimate to the boat. Tomorrow, though, the sailing instructors arrive. We won't be at dock all day, but we'll be back each evening until we head up the coast."
He gave a satisfied grunt, and pointing at the ship's computer he asked, "Can you fire that thing up? I'd like to get some more information about the boat's systems." Flabbergasted, I did as he requested, and a few minutes later he was happily surfing the internet via the wireless connection provided by the dock association.
I went topside, leaving my family to explore the interior of Undine. I got out my cell phone, and called Pearl to tell her everything I had discovered about the dock. She seemed unsurprised.
"Your father and I had many, many discussions about Undine, after he became too ill to sail," Pearl told her. "He made it very clear that she, and everything attached to her, would belong to you. I have no problem with that." She paused. "We had several good years together. More than we expected. We made each other happy, and he left me well cared-for. I don't begrudge his desire for you to have her.
"I dearly love to be on the water, but more as a passenger than as a sailor. Your father knew that, and he knew that if he hadn't given Undine to you, it would have been sold to liquidate his estate. I wouldn't have had any choice. I'm glad he did it this way. Maybe you'll invite an old lady along for a sail someday." I could hear the smile in her voice.
"You know it!" I told her. We continued to talk about other matters for awhile, before we said goodbye.
"Give my love to Karl and the children," she said. "And Carol? Don't push them too hard. A gentle nudge sometimes works better than a shove." Then she hung up. I hope she's right!
I went below to prepare dinner, and as I passed the nav station, I saw Karl, happily banging away at the keyboard.
"What's up?" I asked.
"I found a source for a complete set of drawings for the boat," he beamed. "I just entered an order. They're coming by FedEx, and should be here in a day or two."
It had been years since I'd seen him that happy about working "around the house," so to speak, and I was glad he found something about the boat that interested him.
Just as I turned into the galley and began to assemble what I needed, I heard him shut the nav computer down, and very shortly thereafter, he walked up behind me and wrapped me in his arms, resting his hands on my belly. Wow! This hasn't happened in a while! It felt good.
I turned my head enough to kiss him on the cheek. With a smile I turned back to my work as he nuzzled my neck. You are going to get so lucky tonight.
The kids were in bed, probably not asleep, but so what? Karl was puttering around, securing the hatches and stuff, so I decided to make the most of the opportunity to get ready for him. I hadn't expected him to show any interest, so I didn't pack any of my "funny underwear," just a few frilly things that I like to wear anyway. I took a shower and used a little perfume in strategic locations, then slipped into the best (read sexiest) panty-and-bra set I had with me.
I took up my station on the V-berth, striking what I hoped was a "sexy" pose, as I heard Karl approach. The look on his face as he parted the curtain was priceless.
"Why are you dressed like that?" he stammered.
"I should think that would be obvious," I replied, sweetly, "I'm horny, and I hope you are too, because I expect you to fuck my brains out." His face fell.
"The kids are still awake," he objected, "and these curtains are pretty thin."
"So?" I challenged, "They know the facts of life. They recognize their own existence, so they know we do too. Besides, as much as it might offend their teenage sensibilities, knowing that we love each other can only help make them feel more secure. Now get in here and be my man!"
His shoulders slumped. I hadn't expected that. He did come through the curtain and stripped down to his boxer shorts and tee, but he stopped there. With a big sigh, he said "Honey, I have to tell you something."
My heart stopped. "There's someone else?" I blurted, in a panic.
"No, no," he waved off my concern, "In some ways, that would be easier to deal with, at least for me." He sighed again and lay back on the V-berth, his hands behind his head. "I can't get it up anymore. That's the reason we haven't made love in so long."
I was dumbfounded. I never knew he had a problem. He'd always performed very well, up to the point where he stopped trying.
"How do you know?"
"It's not like a guy just suddenly can't do it, you know," he replied.
"It just gets more and more difficult to achieve an erection, then one day you know, you've just had your last piece of ass. Mine was the last time we made love." he looked at me meaningfully.
"Nonsense," I rebuked him. "Get out of those clothes. You've just been under a lot of stress, and it's high time we got rid of some of it. Impotence provides it's own feedback; it's a self-fulfilling prophecy."
He didn't want to cooperate, but I finally got him undressed. His eyes showed me real desire, but the part that has to work, in order for us to make love, wasn't cooperating at all ... you can't push a rope. On the other hand, I was not without resources and experience. I could damn well pull a rope, and if you pull it just so (and maybe hold your mouth just right - so to speak... ), it sometimes turns into a steel rod!
I had at least three pieces of equipment that were well able to pull that rope, and I put them all to use. Not long afterward, we found that rod, and put it to good use as well. We ultimately fell asleep wrapped up in each other, like the lovers we used to be.
I was up early the next morning, preparing breakfast from the stores Dad had left on board, while my mutinous crew slept in. Just as I was about to wake everyone up, Karl came stumbling into the salon.
"Sleep well?" I asked.
"Out like a light," he said grumpily, "but now I'm all stove up!"
"You'll get used to the V-berth," I told him, "and then you'll sleep like a baby."
"Right now I feel like a baby who's been crawling across a busy street!"
"Well, how about rousting the troops? Breakfast in 5 minutes."
He headed aft to do as I asked, and I began dishing the meal. When he and the children were settled around the table, I set out their plates, already dished. That got me some funny looks.
"You do things differently aboard a boat," I explained. "We can't have large bowls of hot food slopping around while we're underway, or stopped in rolly anchorage." Everyone's eyes got really big, as I told them that we would be sharing galley duties, and that meals would be served on time, whether or not we were underway. Everyone would have to pitch in.
"You'll also have to get used to being on watch, too," I stated. "The person on watch is responsible for the safety of the entire crew, especially if we're underway. Everyone will have a turn." Karl looked at me, aghast, while Abi just said "Cool!"
"You mean you would trust me?" Kelly demanded.
"You bet," I said. "And I would expect you to do everything in your power to keep the rest of us safe. That means you would be responsible for navigating safely through busy waters, avoiding lee shores and other hazards, while making headway toward our destination. Our lives would be in your hands." He looked uncomfortable with the idea.
I was a little worried about Karl. He looked a little sick. "But none of us have ever sailed before!" he finally exploded.
"Not to worry," I told them, "In about thirty minutes, a couple of professional sailing instructors are going to be here, to help us learn to take Undine where we want her to go. We'll do the ground school course during the evenings, while we're here, and by the end of the week you'll know as much as most folks who set out on their first voyage."
They didn't seem reassured.
"Look," I said, "we're only going as far as Norfolk. We' probably won't ever be out of site of land. In fact, for most of the trip we'll be in the Intracoastal Waterway, with land on both sides of us. Our biggest job will be to avoid being run down by barges and bigger boats!"
"As if that weren't enough!" Karl grumbled.
"It is enough," I admitted, "and the danger is real, but if we all act sensibly, and follow a few safety rules, we'll be fine. Now finish up. The instructors will be here soon."
The sailing instructors were a hugely successful investment. As experts, they commanded so much more authority than I could have, especially considering the complete hostility everyone held toward learning anything from me!
In the week we spent in the vicinity of Palatka, my rebellious teens and sulky husband actually became a halfway decent crew, at least for sailing inland waters.
I had purchased a number of cruising guides, and on our last night at dock, we held a family caucus, to negotiate a float plan.
"I want to make Norfolk by Independence Day," I told my family. "That's far enough to go, on our first cruise, and we won't be so far north that we can't make it back here before school starts."
What ensued more closely resembled a brawl more than an enthusiastic discussion, as everyone jockeyed for some advantage in choosing destinations. Funny, no one but me was concerned about routes.
Of course, after thoroughly reviewing the guides, everyone had a list, different from everyone else (naturally!), of places where we should stop and absorb the local "culture." I tried the make the point that such sojourns would be short, few and far between, but I don't think anyone believed that their preferred ports of call would be cut from the itinerary.
We did end up with a workable float plan. We would follow the St. Johns north to the Atlantic, then taking the only open-ocean leg of the trip, we would skip Georgia entirely, re-entering the Intracoastal Waterway in the vicinity of Beaufort, South Carolina. We would proceed northward on "The Ditch" into the Albemarle Sound, making our way through the Sound and then through the Dismal Swamp, and ultimately into Norfolk, at which point the plan called for reversing course and returning "home."
We were midway up the Georgia coast, and it was my turn to be on watch again. For this leg of the trip we staggered the watches, six on, six off, Karl and I on opposites. Kelly and Abi took watches that overlapped Karl and I each of us by three hours.