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Short Fiction: Waiting for Her Ship


"These days, it seems we women would rather romp with a fella than marry,” Patsy said as she smoothed her silhouette in the antique mirror.


Martha bristled at her sister’s bluntness. “Don’t be vulgar, Patsy,” she chided, emptying her suitcase into precise stacks on the faded bedspread. “You’re not in New York and I'm not one of your Sex in the City buddies.”


“Well, sometimes the truth is vulgar, Martha. And what’s New York got to do with it? It’s just as likely here in picturesque Cape May as it is in my fair city,” she pulled her hair up off her neck, preening. Patsy was a tall, solidly built blue-eyed natural blond, her features as bold as her temperament. “Isn’t that even a little bit why you married Steve?"


Martha sat down on the edge of the bed, her shoulders suddenly sagging, her heavy, straight ash hair falling over her slender face. Her sister had a way of striking nerves. It hurt.


“No, Patsy, I married Steve because we loved each other.”


As always, Martha suddenly realized her gaffe and sat down next to her sister, resting a hand on her lap. “I’m sorry. That was really crass, even for me.”


It was just over six months ago that Martha’s husband Steve had come home from work and announced he was leaving for Maine, with or without Martha. After countless conversations that had preceded this latest threat, Martha shrugged indifferently and didn’t say a single word, returning rivetted to her monitor.


She was slack-jawed when Steve packed and left within an hour, returning only in her absence to gather a few more things. Her initial indifference had turned into punitive stony-ness, though inside Martha was terrified at losing Steve.


Even so, they hadn’t talked since, exchanging only a few businesslike emails about essentials.


“I don’t know,” Martha sighed. “I thought I knew what love was. After seven years of marriage, you think you know someone…”she let her voice trail off, then laughed bitterly with the realization, “Boy, does that sound cliché!”


Patsy joined her and for a moment the unbridled peals seemed childlike.


Martha coughed out another faint chuckle, suddenly sober, “Let’s go.”


Patsy gave her sister’s hand one last squeeze. “Let’s leave our cynicism and heartbreak in this room today.”


Martha smiled as she unearthed her wallet from beneath a stack of clothes.


She’d agreed to this weekend with Patsy only because it was a rare opportunity to deepen the fragile connection with her long-estranged sister now that they were both single.


In those moments when the truth wasn’t too painful, Martha could see that her new longing to bond with her sister mostly reflected her desperate need to learn how to be alone, something she’d never experienced and something with which Patsy had always seemed at ease. Until now, the two-year age difference between them had always seemed like a chasm.


When Steve left, Martha had been nothing less than paralyzed with grief and fear. She hadn’t seen it coming, though she should have. Both she and Steve were so self-contained and reserved, that whatever unhappiness Steve had been feeling was concealed beneath a façade of good manners and well established routines.


Thankfully, year-end and then tax season made it possible for her to be absorbed with their accounting practice for nearly six months after Steve left. She ignored the holidays, begging off family events. But with the first signs of summer and the lull it signaled, Martha came apart.


She asked herself whether she had ever really known any genuine emotional discomfort before this. No. She had to admit she’d lived in her tidy, well-managed emotional bubble for years. She was woefully ill-quipped to handle the weight of this blindsiding upwelling of feelings. Friends and family quickly learned not to ask too many questions. She could only answer with vague and pat utterances that left no room for real disclosure…or sadly, the comfort disclosure might elicit.


“It’s hard.”


“It hurts.”


“I’m sad.”


Was all she could muster for the outside world. Inside, her feelings and thoughts were bigger, more complex, more explicit.


I now know what heartsick means; it’s aching so much I feel queasy.


I’m not the victim I appear to be. I had a hand in this.


I didn’t let Steve have a single dream without rewriting the ending to suit my security.


This last thought was the one that haunted her most and she couldn’t confess these feelings to anyone without cracking wide open, she feared. She didn’t know what else could come tumbling out of her and was frightened by the possibility of people knowing what was in her heart. This truth seemed to convict her of other forgotten crimes of omission with Steve. She hadn’t even let him see her heart, never shared the fears his dreams evoked in her. An issue that had been not so much resolved as set aside for the sake of her own safety.


Patsy was at the foot of the stairs chatting with the B&B owners as Martha came down the stairs.


“Martha, our gracious hosts Lena and Tommy are originally from Baltimore. They invited us to join them for dinner tonight.”


Patsy never failed to ferret out common ground with strangers. Martha had found this irritating when she was younger. No sooner would Martha bring a new friend home, than they would be in rapt conversation with Patsy within moments of meeting her. Martha hadn’t ever truly lost a friend to Patsy, but it bugged her nonetheless. At this moment, however, this trait of Patsy’s was a relief. She would gratefully let Patsy keep them entertained and distracted.


“Oh, uhh, that’s great,” Martha stuttered, smiling tentatively.


Patsy reached out to take Martha’s hand without turning from her conversation.


“Lena, Martha’s husband left her,” she said in a false whisper. “We’re kind of here to bind up broken hearts.” She winked.


Martha caught her breath with embarrassment, her face flushing red.


“Hard stuff,” Lena said softly while Tom averted his eyes, murmuring sympathetically.


“Yes.” Martha managed self-consciously.


Patsy waited a moment before tugging at Martha’s hand. “Can we pick anything up for dinner?” she said, rushing them both out the door.


“No, thanks. We’ll be eating around six.”


“Okay, see you then.”


Stepping out into the warm beach breeze, Martha stopped at the foot of the porch stairs, glancing back at the front door to be sure it was closed. “Please don’t tell everybody we meet about Steve and me. It’s really humiliating,” Martha said, her face hot. “Plus, I don’t know if we’re getting a divorce.”


“Sorry,” Patsy said.


“She’s a stranger, Patsy.”


Patsy shrugged, “Sometimes it’s easier…a lot easier…to talk to strangers.”


“Maybe so, Pats, but I’ll decide who and what I want to tell.” Martha’s said in a terse whisper.


Patsy sighed exaggeratedly. “Got it.”


They walked out the garden gate and onto a beautiful tree-lined street, colorful, gingerbread-trimmed Victorians like toy soldiers guarding their path.


“Why don’t we walk around a while, do some shopping and later, we can have tea at that place I told you about?” Patsy sang, totally undisturbed.


“Fine,” Martha said between clenched teeth, less willing to let go of her irritation. Even so, the tension dissolved quickly as they strolled around this maritime Candyland. The confetti colors of the festive, lovingly tended surroundings were uplifting and otherworldly. The sisters wandered from quaint shop, to seaside gallery, to yet another quaint shop for hours, their conversation limited to admiring words murmured over a house, a knick-knack or a pretty dress.


Late in the afternoon, the light danced with the shadows cast by the swaying leaves, Martha and Patsy settled into the white wicker chairs on the fern-covered porch at the teahouse, their tiny table decorated with dainty linens and a bunch of magnolia stems in a chipped enameled pitcher.


“What a day!” Patsy exclaimed once they’d ordered.


“It’s been so fun, Patsy,” Martha said. “I’m really glad I came.”


“Me, too, Martha.” Patsy surveyed their surroundings. “Can you believe this place? We need bonnets.”


“It’s so charming.”


“It is that,” Patsy agreed. “Here comes our tea.”


They were served a pretty china plate full of finger sandwiches and a flowery pot of steaming, aromatic tea. They nibbled in silence for several minutes before Martha spoke.


“It was my fault Steve left, Patsy.” They’d never said more than a few words on the subject since it had happened.


“Your fault?”


“Yes. My fault. I’ve let everybody believe he was a villain, but the truth is, I drove him away.”


“How’s that?” Patsy asked, serious now.


Martha hesitated only for a second before resolving to tell Patsy the truth. “Steve never wanted the accounting business, Patsy. He got his degree because he promised his father he would. He’d always planned to go back to the family business.”


“Boat building?”


“Yes. I talked him out of it. Or I should say, I tried to. In college, the idea of being married to a boat builder from Maine was romantic. But after that visit to his grandparent’s house in Palley’s Cove when we got engaged, it seemed absurd.”


“Why?”


“They lived in a tiny, old cape cod a mile from the water, with a run down, two-story garage in the back where they built and fixed boats. Steve wanted us to live in that musty apartment above it after we got married, so we could save money to put into the business when he took it over. The town had one stop light, a general store that smelled of old fish and a few old shacks on a craggy coastline—nothing like the Martha’s Vineyard I had in mind.”


“Doesn’t sound too bad to me.”


“Well it doesn’t sound that bad to me either. Now. But, ten years ago, I wanted a nice, secure little suburban life. Well, you know how I am. I convinced Steve to put the dream aside until we paid off our school loans.”


“Then what?”


“Then, I convinced him to sell his sailboat to buy a house,” Martha cringed at the memory. “He loved that boat. The whole reason he went to St.Mary’s was so he could sail the Chesapeake. I told him we’d resell the house later and use the profit to make the move to Maine, but I kept putting it off.”


“You’re still here.”


“Yes. Every year there was something else. We got deeper into the accounting business. It got to be all-consuming. The last couple of years, especially, Steve kept trying to pin me down about it, but I just dismissed it. We were too busy. Business was too good.” Martha scoffed in disbelief at her selfishness. “Without Steve at my side, the emptiness of our life became obvious. I was all about the work and the money. I guess it’s kept me from losing my mind these last few months, but I’m so miserable without him, Patsy, and the work is meaningless now…”


“You did make a lot of money,” Patsy smiled sweetly at her sister.


“Yes, we did.”


“Have you tried telling Steve what you’ve been thinking?”


“It’s too late, Patsy. He’s got a whole other life going up there now. I haven’t heard from him at all for a couple of months. I’m just waiting for the divorce papers.”


“Look, it’s 5:30. We’ve gotta get back. Talk more later?”


“Sure. Not really much more to say, though.”


“Oh, yeh, there is, sis.” Patsy said, waving the waitress over.


The B&B’s windows were wide open and they could hear classical music as they walked up the porch steps. Patsy held the screen door open for Martha. “We’re back,” she called out, as though this was their family home.


Lena came out of the kitchen wiping her hands on the apron she was wearing. Tommy was carrying a stack of plates. “Hi, did you guys have fun?” he asked.


“We had a great time,” Martha said.


“We’re eating on the screen porch off the sitting room. 15 minutes?”


“Wonderful, thanks.” Patsy said. “We’ll just go freshen up.”


Upstairs in their room, Patsy put her bags down and pointed to Martha’s. “Wear that sundress you got today. I love it.” she said encouraging.


“Nah.”


“Oh, come on. I’m going to wear something pretty for dinner. So darned frou-frou here, I’m feeling a lot of pressure to blend in.” Patsy joked.


“Right,” Martha rolled her eyes.


Patsy made a sad face.


“OK, Pats,” Martha relented, “Pretty it is.” She slipped the silky yellow tunic over her slender frame, combing her hair into place with her fingers.


Martha's peach sundress made for instant princess, delicate, flowing, with a generous, breezy ruffle at the calf.


The sisters made their way to the well-shaded, screened porch on the side of the house. The long oak table was set in period wear, with painted storm lamps casting a pastel glow on the white damask runner. The four of them chatted easily as they ate the deliciously simple meal. Lena and Tommy recounted how they came to buy the B&B only two years before, fulfilling a lifelong dream they’d shared. The coincidence didn’t escape Martha or Patsy’s notice, and they exchanged meaningful glances as their hosts told their story. Later, over coffee, Tommy spoke.


“There’s a beautiful breeze tonight. Would you two like to join us on a sailboat ride?


It’s close.”


Martha stared at Patsy, who quickly answered for them both. “We’d love to.”


“Let me change,” Martha said.


Patsy grabbed her sister’s arm. “Don’t bother.”


Lena chimed in. “You’re fine. We’ll just go barefoot on deck.”


They set out for the marina on foot, the ocean view surprising them moments later at the end of a quiet, tree-lined street. They crossed the busy waterfront avenue to a small marina. Tommy and Lena waved to a man in a small boathouse on the shoreline, and punched a number into a key pad to access the main pier.


The warm, salty breeze rousing the boat rigging, the water lapping against the boat hulls, sails flapping in the wind, the sea leg feeling of walking on the floating dock…Martha was overwhelmed with bittersweet memories.


“Here we are,” Lena said loudly.


Martha took in the sight before her. A large sailboat with an immaculate teak deck was moored broadside to the dock. Emblazoned on it stern in cobalt script, “Martha, My Love.” She read out loud, perplexed.


She sensed Patsy stepping back from her side.


Steve emerged from the companionway pausing at the top.


“I hope you want to sail away with me,” he said, “or it’s really going to spoil things.”


“Your stuff’s on the boat, sis,” Patsy tapped her on the shoulder.


“Huh?” Martha said, the truth dawning on her. Her three companions wore Cheshire grins.


“I think we fooled her, Steve,” Tommy said laughing.


“We sure did,” Patsy added. “Now go make up, you two. This took a lot of finagling.”


“Steve?” Martha looked back at her husband, who was now standing with a foot on the sailboat’s gunwale, his hand outstretched to Martha.


“Coming aboard, Madam?”


“Yes, Captain!” she yelled, taking his hand. "Yes!"

And he arose and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. Luke 15:20
Reflective Prompts:
  • Do you or your spouse have a dream you've set aside? What is it?

  • What's stopping you from pursuing it?

Take time to plot out 30 days of small steps you can take toward exploring and realizing your dream. It can be as simple as journaling, researching online, or making a phone call, or more ambitious, like taking time daily to work on a business plan.

Prayer:
God, you give us dreams that draw on our God-given gifts to meet the world's needs. If my dream is indeed from You, during this dedicated time, please give me encouragement to pursue it.

This is one of a dozen stories from an unpublished collection entitled, Waterworks: Modern Tales of Redemption & Grace. This is a collection of twelve short inspirational stories for women, including reflective prompts and prayers for spiritual growth. If you loved this, would you please help me raise $7,000 to publish the book?


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