Writing Prompt #2: Paper Sails

“Sailboat,” she said, as if it made a difference. And she pointed at the lake.

Peter followed her hand, his vision resting upon a white sailboat cruising softly on the water. Its bow splashed down, the mast swaggering after a few bounces off the oncoming waves. Peter’s sullen expression made Sandra turn away from him, but Peter kept his eye on the boat.

The struggle continues, he thought.

They were the only two in the park that day—Sandra and him. Save, perhaps, for a small fluttering bag, and an empty stroller firmly pressed against a fence outlining the New Haven Jets’ baseball field.

“Smile sometimes, Peter. God, it wouldn’t hurt to just smile sometimes.” She was standing on a wooden dock, leaning against the banister. Her foot was propped on the bottom rail, arms folded over the top, appearing too relaxed for what she wanted to say. Peter, meanwhile, was sitting across from her on a bench, purple-bleached eyelids, mouth full of marbles.

“Don’t go to Jason’s again. I don’t want you over there….I know what you do,” Sandra said.

Paper sailboats were all the rage when Peter was ten. When he was twelve. You made them, used wax as a sealant and floated them along the shore, being careful not to sail them too far out lest they got lost in the waves that, as far as he knew, were the equivalent of one-hundred foot waves to the small vessels.

Fragile was a word that came to mind often. One could break a paper ship looking at it, let alone sailing it. How many were sunken at the bottom of the pond in his hometown, like Nazi gold lost at sea? A few hundred maybe, maybe more.

“Peter,” Sandra said, her breath stammering with the congestion of a flu. “Peter, I’m going to leave you if go there again.”

Peter rubbed his arm, rubbed the bruises; his thin hands gliding over the crook, the lines, the blood. He hadn’t known Sandra knew, but what difference did it make? His girlfriend was not his mother.

“I’m not into trouble,” he said. Paper sailboats raced in his head.

“I’m watching you die.”

Watching a paper sailboat burn is different from watching it drown. When it drowns it becomes soggy, like over-cooked ramen; sometimes, they just aren’t sealed right. They lie on the surface of the water, absorbing the tide, becoming bigger, or they just bat the shore slowly, playing rhythm for an invisible band.

When you burn them on the beach….it becomes a show. The wax fights the fire for some time, holding out against the flames: black smoke rises into the air. Then it vanishes in your hand, becoming fragments of dark ash. When you burn them you see excitement, otherwise it’s a slow death at the hands of the lake.