“Old Sailor” is a short story by J. R. Nichols. Click here to read a random post!
The freighter chugged down the river sending its rhythmic vibrations through the metal rail Sophie was hugging. She remembered how she’d once giggled at the vibrations. She could feel them even through the thick rubber soles of her keds and marveled that the very cement she stood upon, so solid and sturdy seeming, could be affected by the engines of the big ship.
“Daddy, it tickles,” she’d said, looking up to see the expression she knew and loved so well on the handsome face of her father. His lips were slightly parted, his brow relaxed, as though the creases of worry were magically ferried away by the passing of the freighter. His eyes seemed to sparkle the same way the waves on the St. Mary’s did as they reflected the sun shining down from a cloudless sky. His long silvery blonde hair lifted with the breeze, and Sophie could almost imagine him at the bow, a ship’s captain hat perched atop his head. Sophie felt a shiver of guilt run through her as she remembered how much she’d hated that hat,hated what it meant – her father leaving port for another months-long adventure.
“I don’t like to leave you,” he would tell her, having scooped her up so they could speak eye to eye, heart to heart, “but I was meant to be a sailor.”
Only once had Sophie dared to say, “but weren’t you meant to be a Daddy?” Once had been enough. Never before had she seen the expression of sadness her remark caused on her father’s face that day. He’d hugged and kissed her, as usual, but had not said another word before grabbing his shore bag and heading out the door.
Never on any of his other trips had Sophie worried so much. She worried he would not come back, that she would not have the opportunity to tell him she was sorry.
But he had returned, even bringing her a gift of a conch shell from some exotic port. Never had Sophie been so relieved, so thankful.
And now she was sorry for the way she’d resented his hat, his trips, his job.
The tumor had changed everything.
Her Father’s hands twisted the metal rail, as though he contemplated jumping over it and swimming out to the freighter. Sophie imagined him doing so, but instead of his body plunging into the still-chilly waters of the St. Marys, she could see it being carried away from her, as a leaf is taken by an autumn breeze. Her Father was merely a shell of the strong sailor he had been when he’d taken his last trip.
Sophie placed a hand on top of her father’s, and did not wipe away the tears that fell.
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