SAILING IN THE LIVING WORLD
Lluvia slowly motored up the left bank of the river. “We’ll put some distance between us and the college, and then we’ll sail. There’s a nice wind blowing upstream.”
The sky was overcast with thick gray clouds. Moisture was in the air. The sun was in hiding. Time went by. Abby began to calm down. The murmuring had receded far away, barely to be heard at all. Yet it was still there.
The prospect of sailing began to interest Abby. She had been longing to try it for months, and now examined the mast and the boom with the sail wrapped around it, lying almost under their feet. Lluvia noticed Abby’s attention start to perk up. Keeping one hand on the outboard motor, she lifted the boom and began to draw it back over the stern of the boat. Abby got the idea and helped slide it out from under the benches. Lluvia told her how to clamp the boom and the sail to the mast.
“We’ll raise the sail going into the wind. It’s safer and easier.” She made a U-turn and suddenly the boat was headed downstream. “Pull on that rope. It’s called the halyard.” The rope was attached to a pulley at the top of the mast. Abby slowly raised the sail, which fluttered in the wind. “Okay, take that rope. It’s called the sheet. Let the sail out slowly on the left side, that’s where the wind will catch it.”
Lluvia quickly removed the motor and slid a wooden tiller into place. She looked carefully ahead and behind, and then made a slow U-turn into the middle of the river. “Let the boom out little by little.” Suddenly the wind filled the sail. “More, more. Keep going!” Soon the sail was out at right angles to the boat. Lluvia guided the boat up the left side of the river. The boat rocked against the rolling water, splashing up over the bow.
Abby was thrilled. They made very slow progress, but moving against the current it felt as though they were going fast. Everything suddenly seemed alive, as if they were part of a new world.
“Does this boat have a name?” she asked.
“This boat is brand new. We just finished it a week ago. I’ve been waiting to name it, and paint my logo and decorations. Think of a name.”
“How about ‘the world is alive’?”
“Very nice, but too long.”
“’The Living World’?”
“Mmmm... not a normal name, but... maybe. In fact, yes, that’s it!”
Lluvia was enthusiastic. “It’s the Living World! Our Living World.” “This is fun. I feel so much better.”
“Thank God. I saw you struggle. Want to talk about it?” “Not now, not yet. Maybe later.”
“I’ll make a deal,” Lluvia offered. “I’ll give you a long sailing lesson, teach you everything. And then you talk about it.”
“How long will it take us to get back to Middletown?” “As long as you like.”
“Really? What if I want it to take a very long time?” “No problem. All the better.”
“It’s a deal.”
“Yes, I promise. You’ll help me.”
“Okay, Let’s start. First, I think we should wear life jackets. I have to
teach you the difference between jibing and coming about.” She grabbed two orange vests from a storage compartment in the bow, and they fastened them with Velcro. “Now,” Lluvia went on, “notice that the wind is gusting, and blowing on our backs, and the sail is out wide on the left side. We make at least some progress against the current, and don’t have to tack back and forth across the river the way we would if the wind were coming at our faces.”
“I’m not sure I understand.”
“You’ll get it once you actually see it. Mmm... let’s say a boat is coming downstream right at us. Of course, they’re supposed to stay in the middle of the river, but maybe they’re trying to pass somebody. So, we have to get out of the way. We can’t turn sharp to the left because we’ll run into the bank. No choice but to turn right. Watch what happens.”
Lluvia looked up and back, and then slowly turned right toward the middle of the river. “Pull in the sail a bit once you see it start to flutter. They call it luffing.” The Living World was now heading at a 45 degree angle to the opposite bank, the sail still on the left side, pulled closer to the boat. As they drew near the bank, Lluvia said, “Now watch this. Let’s say we have to turn left. And pull your head down low. Very low.” She turned sharply back across the river.
“Pull in the sheet! Duck! More, more!” Suddenly the wind at their backs caught the sail and sent the boom flying over their heads to the right-hand side. The jolt tipped the boat dangerously on its side, and almost tore the sheet from Abby’s hands.
“That’s called a jibe,” Lluvia told her. “Lesson number one.”
Almost three hours went by. During the last hour Abby was sailing the Living World, and loving it. Lluvia talked non-stop. No disasters occurred.
“I’m starving,” Lluvia said. “We’re almost at Half Moon. We’ll tie up at the dock on the park side. I’d better show you how to safely slow down to dock.” She hugged the left side of the river, and soon they approached a pier with empty spaces. “We’ve got to time this right. Get ready to lower the sail and pull in the boom.”
Abby took the rope holding the sail to the top of the mast off the cleat.
“Get ready... ready... Now!”
She let go of the rope and pulled the sail to the deck. The Living World quickly lost headway against the current, but they were near the shore and the wind was behind them. They slowly drifted into the dock. Abby held it off with her hands, and then stepped off with the bow rope, and tied it to the cleat. Lluvia used an oar to bring the stern to the dock.
“Success!” she shouted. An attendant came trotting up. “Oh, it’s you, Lluvia. “Everything okay?”
“We’re good. I hope Brenda’s is still open.”
“Great. Let’s go, Abby.”
Abby was still sitting in the boat, feeling no desire to mix with
people. “Oh, I think I’ll just stay here. I’m not very hungry, just bring me something.”
Lluvia gave her a long look and nodded, and then walked ashore. Abby moped alone in the boat. How am I going to describe my problem to Lluvia? Should I even try? It’s so strange and complicated. Should Lluvia know about the mapstick? Well, she actually knows already. She’s trustworthy and discreet, and I really need somebody. It’s all too crazy, too much for me. I think I’m going crazy.
Abby stared out at the water. Sailing today I actually started to feel happy. Like a normal person, part of the living world. I’ve got to do this more often. I’ve got to trust Lluvia.
Abby sat in a daze for what seemed like a long time. Eventually Lluvia returned holding a full paper bag with both hands. “Best tamales in the universe! Coffee! Potato squash chips, lots of them. Apple cider. Come on, take this bag, we’ll eat in the boat.” She handed the bag to Abby and stepped down. “I’m going to hand out stuff and you’re going to eat. It’s mandatory. I’m the captain.”
“Oh my...” Abby began to smell the hot food. “Oh, there’s so much of it. And I owe you money!”
“No! I’m the captain and you’re the crew. I give the orders. Start with some cider and a cheese tamale. Munch on these delicious chips.”
The tamales were fresh and hot, each one wrapped in corn husks. Abby began to pick at the food. Lluvia had finished two tamales and a large handful of chips while Abby was just getting started.
“Hmm, this is good,” Abby said softly. “I’m starting to get hungry.”
Lluvia waited silently and patiently. Abby looked away, out at the river flowing by. She was wondering: Where do I even start to tell this story? I can’t say a word. But I can eat!
“Finish that second tamale,” Lluvia ordered. “It’s mandatory. Once you’re finished, I’m going to tell you something important. If you want to hear it, eat!”
Abby stuffed herself and then leaned back against the mast. They sat close together in the thin boat. Lluvia spoke in a low voice: “Since you can’t talk, I’m going to tell you your own story. If I start to get it wrong, interrupt me, and add details I’m leaving out. Got it?”
“You’re going to tell me my story? We haven’t seen each other in years. But... I really hope you can. I’ve got to hear this.”
“You know,” began Lluvia, “I’ve been following your recent career, and I’ve got lots of sources. Plus, I remember you very well, back when I was River Girl and you were... who? Come on, say it.”
“I was... Ghost Girl.” Abby was almost in tears. To have Lluvia back as a friend, someone who knew much of her secret life, almost made her sob with joy. She felt relieved of part of her burden. Lluvia clearly had a plan for this conversation, and continued:
“In the story, River Girl spent a lot of time...where?”
“Well, lots of places. She had a whole team of people on the river. They had a hide-out on an island in the wetland. They explored, and they showed up with a fleet of boats in emergencies. Other young warriors would join them to help people and deal with problems. I was just thinking about that today. You remember, when I spoke to the crowd, and promised an armada for the U.N. conferences?”
Lluvia was smiling. “I sure do remember! That’s my idea. You picked it up out of thin air. I’ve been preparing people from River City to Fisher’s Island, all across the wetland and up to Northern State University. We have an organization with no name. People with boats love my idea, and now it’s your idea too. We’re a team.”
“But what do I do on this team?”
“Ah! That’s where your story comes in.”
“Well, go ahead. Tell it.”
“Okay. But you’ll have to answer questions... like, tell me: Where
was the Ghost Girl from? Where did she spend time?”
“Sonny was just asking me. She was from everywhere.”
“And her mother was...?”
“The Good Fairy.”
“And the Good Fairy spent a lot of time... where?”
“She could go everywhere. She could fly, and knew what was
happening all over. Animals were her spies. She could zoom into a situation just in the nick of time.”
“And the Ghost Girl did what?”
“She learned from the Good Fairy. But the Ghost Girl could never do all the things that the Good Fairy could do.”
“But still, the Ghost Girl had special talents. She could even do things the Good Fairly couldn’t do.”
“Really? I don’t remember that.”
“The Good Fairy had a special wand with a magical light at the tip. And the Ghost Girl had a wand too.”
“Mmm... that’s interesting. She did have a sort of wand, more like a staff, and it had a light too. It’s strange I had forgotten that.”
“But you just remembered recently because...?”
“The mapstick. The wand wasn’t so big, but... yes, it was very similar.”
“And the Ghost Girl’s wand had special powers too, right?”
Abby was getting all choked up. She looked away, trying to control herself.
Luvia gave her a careful look. “I’m starting to hit the problem, right?”
Abby gave a sob, or a moan, and tears fell. “This is too hard. It’s scary.”
“Okay, just one more question. These special powers... Where did the Ghost Girl use them?”
“Oh! The wand shone in the dark. At night! And...” Abby sobbed again. “Underground. Especially underground.”
“Tell me about the underground.”
“It was a secret from most people. They were afraid, so the Ghost Girl was queen of the underworld. She could go places nobody else could go. She could travel here and there with no one knowing. And she could find out things, enter the dream dimension, foretell the future, and contact other powers, both good and bad. And she could help to heal people, at least sometimes. People go lost down there, like in a dream, and the Ghost Girl could find them. She even...” Tears streamed down her face. “She even found herself.”
Abby could no longer speak. She put her face in her hands. The attendant called from the dock. “Everything okay?”
“It’s good to cry sometimes,” Lluvia replied. She pulled a bandana from the tiny storage compartment and gave it to Abby. “Dry your eyes. Drink cider. You’ll see your way more clearly now.”
After a few minutes Abby said, “I’m remembering things in a flood. I don’t know why I couldn’t think of them before.”
“You remember things when you need them.”
“Mmmm... how did you get to be so smart?”
“I’ve always been smart. I should say...’we’ve always been smart’.
And now we have to use it.” “I’m trying.”
“I can see you’ve got this tiger by the tail. Want to tell me any more?”
“The voices. Babbling from the underworld. What are they? Before I only heard them underground, but lately I hear them almost anywhere. I feel like I’ve got to track them down or they’ll drive me crazy.”
“Do you think you can do it? Track them down?”
“I’m pretty sure I can, but I’m afraid. Wendy warned me not to.” “Really? What did she say?”
“Something about having a full plate for that day. Not to spoil it by
adding anything. And there’s an ancient rhyme that goes with the voices. A line goes: Very few have found the way, from the stream of ghosts to the light of day.”
“Hmm... very few. Very few is not none. And Wendy didn’t say no. It sounds like... at least she implied, that your day would come.”
“Yes, I think so. That’s why I’m a mess. I have to confront this... whatever it is, tonight. As soon as it’s dark.”
“Do you know the way?”
“Not really. I mean I know a little bit, but not enough. The mapstick puts a map of the underworld in my mind, but the place I’ll have to go isn’t on the map. I know the direction, but then it just dissolves, vanishes. It’s in the underworld somewhere, but it’s off the chart.”
“I have the feeling you know what you’re going to do. Here, take this coffee. It’s good.”
They sat sipping strong, bitter coffee, from small paper cups. The day was darkening and the clouds were more threatening. The wind had picked up, and was knocking them against the pier. Lluvia tied a couple of pontoons to protect the boat. Looking downstream there was nothing but darkness. The sky upstream had a bit of pale light left from the day.
Abby remembered a song of Wendy’s. “A few times when I’m sad or afraid, I remember Wendy singing this song.”
“Well...” Lluvia said impatiently. “Go on. I want to hear it too.” Abby sang softly:
Time has flown by
like the wind in the trees
Who knows where it comes from
Where it’s going you can’t see
“I like it,” Lluvia said. “Give me on more verse. Maybe it will tell us something.”
When you were a child
It seems like yesterday The years have gone by Like an afternoon at play
“Yes, time is flying by. We’ve got to outrun this storm coming up behind us. The tide is coming in with the storm. We’ll make good time.”
“Tide all the way up here in Half Moon?”
“Yeah, tide all the way to the wetland. It comes up the river, makes it flow slower. Take your rope off the cleat, here we go.”
Lluvia sailed the Living World, and Abby sat and thought and dreamed. The wind was stronger. The voices were a low murmur. She felt more confident, and was less afraid. Keeping watch for obstacles in the river kept her on the alert. Lluvia knew every inch of the river, so Abby didn’t worry about rocks or sandbars.
“So, where do you want to get off?” A bit of rain was in the air. “Same place. Near the cemetery.”
In a few minutes Lluvia said, “Coming ashore, sail down. Take it off
the mast and we’ll roll it up on the boom. The storm will be powerful, I won’t risk the run by night.”
“You can stay in my cottage,” Abby said, despite her misgivings about having Lluvia seen by stalkers.
“No. I’ll be at the West Isle in less than an hour. I have the motor, the tide, and the wind.”
Abby put on her backpack. The Living World slid up the mud just before the bridge. It was practically dark. Lluvia followed Abby onto the shore, gave her a long hug, and stepped back into the boat.
“Next time you’re in Rivergate I’ve got a special present for you. You can guess what it is. Now push me off.”
The boat drifted downstream. Suddenly the low sound of the motor began, and the Living World disappeared into the night.