>”He’ll do it,” said the father, Quincy, hoisting up his life jacket to ear-grazing heights. “For sure he’ll do it.” Quincy Erlenmeyer gave off the air of a man far more comfortable making the short trips of everyday life—couch to fridge, bed to bathroom—than the epic adventures he was currently prescribing his son.
Local TV stations had made their way down to the pier, a place usually reserved for quiet and contemplative fishing, but which now was the staring point of something, seemingly, quite heroic. It was when the really shiny vans began arriving that the buzz (as more than one veteran cameraman remarked to another) really started to happen. These were vans with real satellite dishes anchored atop them, actual to-space-and-back-again receivers, circus-large and scary. Reporters rolled out of the shiny vans, famous ones, journalists who had shed a job title and become a name, their reassuring, familiar faces rapidly filling the tiny dock.
Quincy Erlenmeyer beamed. Backlights and reflective umbrellas shot up around him. When all the necessary station intros had been filmed, he began to repeat his speech. All those whirring, focusing lenses eyed him with matte stares. He brought both thumbs up to where his lapel would usually be, and hooked them behind the little bits of rope that threaded through the reflective plastic of his life jacket. He made sure to keep his feet absolutely still. He still hadn’t learned to completely trust the ever-sloping deck of a boat.
“A few years ago,” he began, “my wife and I lived ourselves a happy life.” Quincy winked to where his wife would be in the crowd had she been here at all. “We thought ourselves lucky in our lives. Me, a successful financing business. Mae, my wife, her embroidery.”
A seagull screeched past, tottering sideways against the stiff breeze, wings folded back like meat hooks. It passed over the crowd, and its shadow seemed to linger, a dark spot against so many light, careful heads.
“Up until then, the most exciting thing to happen to us was the birth of our only son, Kit.” Quincy glanced back at his son, who sat against the mainsail, his expression hidden behind reflective sunglasses. “Well,” said Quincy, “one day, not long after Kit was born, we were watching the news, and on comes this report about a young guy—Austrian I think—who had become the youngest person to sail single-handed around the world. To circumnavigate it. And I turned right there and then to Mae and said, ‘This guy on the TV, he’s 16. All he’s got to do is stay below-decks and play computer games for a few months, and then bang! Easy. World record.’ Mae gave me this look—and I’ll never forget it—this look, like Well, what are we going to do about it, Quincy?“
The deck lurched suddenly, in a swell, and Quincy’s left leg somehow slid around behind him. Nearly cursing, but not quite, he managed to steady himself with his right arm against the safety railing that ran the perimeter of the boat. A camera flash went off somewhere, Quincy spinning his head around to try and catch it. He cleared his throat as authoritatively as he could; his left thumb had remained tucked securely in his life jacket, which was something. Once he regained his footing, he went on: “So I decided, then and there, that we should train Kit to sail. Not that either of us, Mae or me, had ever sailed, but once we set our minds to something, it’s hard to persuade us otherwise.” Quincy turned to his son. “Isn’t that right, Kit m’boy?”
Kit seemed nonplussed. His coolness was one of his basic traits. Quincy was proud his son had brought his game face, this of all days. Kit scratched his fingers lazily against the sailboat’s deck. Quincy knew his son just wanted to get on with it. He decided to cut to the chase—the real story, the action. “Anyway, folks,” he said, sweeping an arm theatrically across the bay, “here we are now. With Kit ready to hit the open seas!”
Sensing the speech was over, the reporters moved closer, huddling up on the thin jetty, treading carefully on the gap-filled planks. “Mr Erlenmeyer,” said one, with distinguished hair, grey wires streaked against black like plant roots in soil, “Don’t you think your son is, despite the record attempt, a little too young?“
To Quincy’s ears, the reporter sounded slightly pained as he spoke. Perhaps, Quincy thought, the reporter had a young son, keen on sailing. A record forever out of reach. “Records,” quipped Quincy, “are made not only to be broken, but to be fixed again and shut again tight behind you.”
“But surely this is unsafe at least,” said another reporter, a lady with a tan stripe across her forehead, “and negligent at most. Criminal at the very worst.” She spoke her last sentence in a near-hush, so that when Quincy leaned in to hear her, his indignity at the ready, the seagull took him completely by surprise.
That grey shadow, that instant of one bird blocking the sun, was enough for Quincy to lose footing completely and—his thumbs locked in place at his chest—allow himself no brace against the fast approaching safety bar. He flipped neatly over it, entering the water like an upside-down scuba diver—one foot extended, arms pressed to his chest.
The reporters, the cameramen, the figures in flak jackets holding camera cables—no one moved. As the reporting, as it was, continued, and the satellites on the shiny vans sent pictures of the after-accident straight into space and back again, the young boy sitting on the deck of the boat began to cry.
And somewhere beyond the sea breeze, beyond the fruity tang of hairspray and concealer, beyond the choking fug of van exhaust, came a familiar stench.
One single soiled nappy.