The sun hung in the sky like a life-threatening blood clot, menacing and deep red. The warm waters of the Mediterranean rolled out beneath it in complementing shades of orange and yellow. In the distance the last remaining evidence of land was slowly retreating behind the horizon. The only sound was that of the waves slapping lazily against the wooden skiff.
Carlos was tired. He had been on the water all day and the work and the sun had beaten him, if only for a while. The clouds above him were a light gray. They scattered and diffused what was left of the evening light. He looked to the east and frowned. A bank of dark clouds had suddenly appeared. With them came the promise of a great storm.
He suddenly grew anxious even though his experience taught him there was no need. He set himself to tasks that seemed important and yet were not truly necessary. He checked and rechecked knots that had held for weeks.
He had never faced a true storm before. Once, near Naples, the wind had picked up and rocked his skiff back and forth like a toy boat, but he had not been scared. On another occasion he had made landfall just before a major storm hit. He remembers sitting on a rocky cliff and watching the power of the ocean. He had been glad not to be in it.
Today he would have no choice.
Even though it was not wise, his thoughts wandered and fell on the memory of his father. His childhood had been filled with his father’s tales of sailing and adventure- of storms that he had battled for days at a time with no sleep and little hope. Marlins he had struggled with until the ropes cut like knives, the pain compounded by the salty sea.
But above all, Carlos remembered the scars and on his father’s hands. Scars that served as silent witnesses to the trials he had endured. As his father told his stories the fire they used to keep warm cast shadows that seemed to deepen them, make them greater.
Carlos broke free of his thoughts and looked east again. The storm had grown noticeably larger. Seemingly pregnant with rain, it shifted closer and closer. Lightning struck in the distance in small sparks that belied the storm’s strength. Thunder could be heard, magnified by the waves. And yet it was not its size or girth or power that made it great- it was the awesome sense of inevitability that this thing would come. He quickly set himself back to work lashing nets and bracing the vessel.
He wanted nothing more than to encounter this storm. The outcome would be interesting, but it did not truly concern him. He sensed without exactly knowing that what was critical was the meeting, the age-old conflict. Everything else was mere detail. He glanced down at his smooth hands and back at the approaching storm. He would be ready.
His skiff was fifteen-feet long. He had purchased it from a friend who had inherited a better one from his father. It was old and the wood had been bleached sea-gray, but its maker had done his job well.
A boat of Carlos’ size is an anomaly on the open sea- just big enough for one man to have trouble steering but just small enough to cause concern in a storm. In the chaos of wind and water that is a storm, time spent running to untangle a misplaced rope can easily spell death. He looked up- he would have to hurry now.
The storm was practically upon him. The wind had picked up, and the waves heralded the approach of things to come. At last his work is finished.
As a last thought, he sits and lashes his right arm to the boat. The boat was not only his source of income, but also his refuge. He had been twelve when he first saw a man go overboard in a storm. A sudden gust had lifted him as he was lowering the sail and threw him into the raging sea. The men had called and threw ropes, but to no avail. They found him floating facedown the next day. The fish had already started their grisly work.
He has done all he can. Now there is nothing but his thoughts and the waiting. He cannot help but hear the booming thunder and taste the salt in the whipping wind. It will not be long now.
And then the impossible happens. The storm turns. He watches in disbelief as the massive behemoth shifts and begins to pass to his left. A few sprinkles throw themselves harmlessly against the skiff. Light waves cause the boat to rise and fall rhythmically as the storm passes. He watches the storm for a very long time.
Finally his head falls into his tired hands. He weeps quietly before cursing the passing storm under his breath.