I have never much enjoyed sea travel.
Call it a weak stomach if you will; I prefer to think of it as a strong affinity for solid ground. Just the thought of spending two weeks on a boat rocking back and forth in the ocean is enough to make me feel nauseated. I have often hoped someone would invent a mode of transportation that will take us across the sea faster and with less of an assault on my stomach. You would think someone would have done it by now. After all, who could possibly enjoy spendings weeks out on the open sea?
Actually, I know the answer to that question.
My father was one such man. I grew up the daughter of a sailor, constantly wishing him well on another journey out on the ocean. I remember clinging to the skirt of my mother, waving goodbye, wondering where Daddy was going and when he would come back.
As a young child, I never truly grasped the contradictory beauty and terror the open sea possesses. I could not fully comprehend the uncertainty of that kind of life.
The last time I saw my father was ten years ago. I was sixteen. I have often wondered what happened to him, what happened to the ship that day it set sail for Vip.
The sky was overcast, pillowy clouds blocking the sun’s bright rays. As I walked with my father to the docks that morning, his face was bright. I could sense his excitement about the journey ahead.
“It’s a good day for sailing. I can feel it,” he said.
“Do you think so?”
“I do.” He smiled at me. “You’ve turned into such a beauty, my dear.” His hand brushed my cheek; a tear appeared at the corner of his eye. “You look just like your mother did at that age. I met her when she was sixteen, you know.”
“I know, father,” I said, smiling. He blinked back the tear and kept walking. He missed her, I knew; the pain was always more evident on the days he left for sea.
“We shouldn’t be in Vip long. I expect our stop there will be a week or two at most. I should return before the summer truly begins.”
“Will you see the Vipper while you’re there?”
“I doubt it, my love. He’s a busy man. It’s unlikely he’d have time for a group of lowly sailors.”
“Now I don’t think that’s true, father.” I grabbed his arm and hooked mine into his elbow. “You’re much more than a group of lowly sailors. And from everything I’ve heard the Vipper is a wonderful man who loves all the lovely things in this world. Why shouldn’t he like to sit and share a meal with a group of men who have seen, heard, and experienced more than most people ever will in their lifetime?”
“Put that way, you make being a sailor sound far more interesting than it is.”
By the time we reached the docks, the loading of the ship was nearly complete. The other sailors rushed to and fro, stacking boxes in the most efficient manner possible. Loading a ship is a precarious business. There is a delicate balance between too much cargo and not enough. Father and his fellow sailors understood that well.
He set his bag down and turned to give me a hug.
“I love you, my dear. I always will.”
“I know, father. I love you, too.” He pulled me into his chest. The thick scent of pine and fish, mingled with the sea salt spray from the docks calmed my heart. That was the smell of my father.
“I’ll see you before the summer.”
He picked up his bag and walked onto the ship. When he turned to wave goodbye, I waved back and smiled, doing my best to hold back tears. I couldn’t help but fear every time his ship set sail. As a child, I always thought it was a given he would come back. But now? Now I knew the truth. I knew every time he got on board he put his life in danger. Every wave from the docks might be the last time I saw my father again.
I walked back from the docks alone that afternoon. The air had turned cold and I wrapped my shawl tighter around my shoulders. It didn’t feel like a good day for sailing.
That was the last time I saw my father. His ship didn’t return a few weeks later, as he promised. We never learned what happened to them — did they make it to Vip? Were they ambushed on their return? Did a storm overtake them? Are they still alive, lost at sea, wondering if they’ll ever find their way home again?
I come back to the docks every year on this day. I look out at the ocean and watch its frothy waves move the ships up and down, to and fro. I smell the fish and the salt and the pine from the trees nearby and think of my father. I smile, thinking that perhaps he did have his meal with the Vipper of Vip.
Today is not like that day ten years ago. Today, the sun is shining. The breeze feels delicate, like a velvety kiss on your cheek. Today is the perfect day to start a voyage. Today is a day father would have returned home.
I feel a tug on my skirt and look down into the eyes of my son — the eyes of my father. I pick him up and kiss his cheek.
“Tell me about grandpa, mommy,” he says and nuzzles his head into my shoulder as we walk home from the docks. “Tell me about his ship.”
“Well, my dear, he went on a ship to see the Vipper, the Vipper of Vip…”
Sarah Anne Hayes is a storyteller, and a lover of classic literature, big mugs, and diva-esque sunglasses. She is an avid people water, a connoisseur of baked goods, a collector of beautiful scarves (current collection stands at 29), and always has nail polish on her toes. She hails from the DC metro area where she can be found dancing in grocery store aisles, singing in the kitchen, or scribbling in notebooks at Starbucks. In addition to writing, Sarah is a print and hand-lettering designer with a love for hand written notes, inspirational sayings, and all things lovely in this world. She blogs over at sarahannehayes.com and you can read her other ramblings on Twitter @sarahannehayes.