The Frost Came Early | Scott Burr

The frost came early, and all of the flowers died. The gardeners were out in the morning, and you could hear them cursing in Spanish. Nobody thought that the frost would come and so no one bothered to cover the flowers. By eleven o’clock it was warm again, and you could stand on your balcony without shivering and watch the gardeners replanting the beds. I did that for a while and when I went in I left the door open and lay in bed, listening to them. I don’t speak Spanish, but I enjoyed listening to them.

When I got tired of that I got dressed and then went downstairs. Some of the other kids were already in the café, drinking coffee. I didn’t feel much like sitting with them, but there wasn’t really any way not to. I sat down and ordered coffee, too. I didn’t feel much like drinking it, but it came and so I did. Everyone looked tired and sick and when the food came no one ate very much. They just drank their coffee. There were televisions all around the café, and everyone watched one. All of the televisions showed the same news. I don’t care about the news, but I watched anyway. There was nothing else to do.

After we finished our coffee two of them when to play tennis, and I said I would go with them. I don’t play tennis, so I sat and watched them play. One of my favorite things is to close my eyes during a volley and listen to the sound the ball makes on the rackets. It’s something I used to do when I was a child and my parents played. It’s difficult to explain. But anyway, when the game was over we all walked back together. The two I was with talked, but I didn’t listen to what they were saying. I don’t listen much to people that I’m with. I listen to plenty, but I don’t listen much to that.

When we got back everyone we knew was gone from the café. I went back up to my room and listened to the gardeners working outside. It made me happy that all of the flowers the frost had killed were being removed and new ones put in their place. I ordered lunch and when it came I took it out of the balcony so I could watch the gardeners working.

Then the telephone started ringing. The telephone was in the room, next to the bed. I listened to it ringing. Then, after a while, it stopped. When it stopped I went back to eating. I hadn’t noticed it, but while the phone was ringing I had mashed my fingers right through my sandwich. After I saw that I wasn’t very hungry anymore.

When I went back inside the light was blinking on the telephone that meant that I had a message. I couldn’t remember how to retrieve a message on the hotel phones. I tried to remember for a while, and then I called the front desk. They said that they could play the message for me. So then I listened to the message. It was from my Mother. She wanted to make sure that I was having a good time. I said that I was, but then it kept playing and I remembered that it was just a message.

After that it was time for me to take my pill. I’m supposed to take my pills when I eat, but I hadn’t thought of it until after I was finished. I had them in my shaving kit. I went into the bathroom to get them and because that’s where the faucet and the glasses were. One whole wall of the bathroom was a mirror, and so it was impossible not to see my reflection. It’s always strange to see my reflection. All of the boys went to the same barber and he gave them all the same haircut. It’s a very neat haircut and it looked the same on everyone. There’s only one boy I ever knew who it looked strange on. It looked strange on him because it didn’t fit his personality. It looked fine on everyone else. It only looked strange on me because I wasn’t used to it. From the outside you couldn’t tell that it was strange. After I took my pill I went back out onto the balcony, but the workers were gone. I guess they were eating lunch. With the workers gone there wasn’t much of anything to listen to.

The Proctor met us in the café at dinner. He introduced himself to each of us and then sat down. You could tell right away that some of the kids didn’t like him. I didn’t have much of a feeling about him, one way or the other. He was just the Proctor. After he sat down he went over the rules again. I already knew the rules, but I listened to them anyway. You couldn’t do anything else. But while he was going over the rules our food came and I started eating. I wasn’t trying to be rude, I was just hungry and so I started eating. But the Proctor seemed to take it that I was being rude. Anyway, at least that’s what some of the others said afterward. I didn’t notice it. When he was done going over the rules he led everyone in Bless Us O Lord. He went into it without any warning, and so when he started I had food in my mouth. You’re supposed to say it before every meal, but I usually forget. It doesn’t matter that I forget, because if someone really wants you to say it they make sure everyone says it together. In the dining hall the Priest stands up before every meal and makes everyone say it. You never have to remember, because the Priest is always there.

After the Proctor finished Bless Us O Lord he said he would see us in the morning and he left. He was going to go eat in his room. Once he was gone the others started making jokes about him. Then they told me how classic it was, that I had started eating right in the middle of his speech. I tried to tell them that I hadn’t meant it to be classic, that I was just hungry. They didn’t care, though. After dinner I went back to my room to pack everything and take my pill. I also called the front desk, and asked them to wake me up in the morning. I was happy that I had remembered. But the person at the front desk said that a wake up call had already been arranged for all of the boys by the Proctor. After that there was nothing else to do. I got undressed and got into bed. It wasn’t very late, but there was nothing else to do.

Pretty soon I got up and went to sit out on the balcony. The gardeners were back working, and so I listened to them. They were pulling big sheets of plastic over the flower beds, to protect the new flowers from the frost. I thought how nice it would be, to be one of those flowers. I thought that maybe it would be nice to tend to flowers, too. I tried to imagine what it would be like to be one of the gardeners. I’m not very good at imagining things.

Then, all of a sudden, I remembered that I hadn’t called my Mother back. It was too late by then. I knew that I would hear about it the next time we spoke. Whenever she gets upset my Mother can hardly function. She goes to bed and can hardly stand to see anyone. My Father has to take care of her. She’s upset a lot of the time. I felt sorry; because I knew my not having called would make her upset and so it would make trouble for him. There wasn’t anything to do about it, though.

After I realized there wasn’t anything to do about it I tried to relax. I hadn’t noticed that I was doing it, but while I was thinking about my Parents I had taken big handfuls of my robe and bunched them together. After I noticed I let them go, but I still didn’t feel very relaxed. So instead I tried to imagine being a gardener. I’m not very good at imagining things, and pretty soon I gave up. Then I thought about being a flower, underneath a big sheet of plastic protected from the frost. For some reason it was easier to imagine that. Imagining that I felt relaxed. I went back inside and got into bed. Once I was in bed, it was easy to fall asleep.

Then the phone woke me up. I don’t dream anymore, since I started taking the pills. I never dreamed very much that I could remember, but now with the pills I don’t dream at all. That’s why it seemed like I fell asleep and the phone woke me up, one right after the other. I answered the phone just to make sure that it wasn’t my Mother trying to call again before I left. But it wasn’t my Mother, it was the front desk calling to wake me up. I took a shower and got dressed, and then I took one of my pills from the shaving kit and put it in my pocket. I had to pack up my shaving kit. When that was done I took everything downstairs. All of the other kids were already there. The Proctor was pacing around by the door. He kept checking his watch. None of the others spoke or moved very much. They all had that same sick look they’d had the last morning at breakfast. I had been hoping that we would have breakfast before we left. I was hungry. But then two more boys came in and the Proctor told everyone to get on the bus. There was a bus waiting right outside. I tried to look and see the flowers from my seat, but I couldn’t do it. I should have looked to see if there was any frost on the ground, but I didn’t think to do it when I stepped outside, and from inside the bus you really couldn’t tell.

It took a long time to get to the marina. I had a book I had been reading. It was a book about oceanography. My Parents had given it to me. It was a very thorough book. I used to read more fiction. Now it doesn’t interest me. English used to be my best class. Now it doesn’t seem very interesting. It just seems kind of silly, arguing over who meant what. There’s no way to ever know.

When we got to the boat the Proctor made us all stand in a line along the edge of the dock with our bags next to us. Everyone was allowed one duffel and one personal bag. A few of the boys had more than they were allowed, and the Proctor made them repack. He made them do it right there on the dock. Then he put the bags with the things they were leaving back on the bus. I was happy that I had packed the right number of things. It would have been horrible, to have all of my things spread out over the dock for everyone to see. I was glad that my bags were closed, that nobody could see inside of them. When everyone was finished repacking and the extra bags had been put back on the bus we all got onboard the boat. They took us to our quarters right away. It was one big room with bunk beds. At School my parents had arranged it so I had my own room, but on the boat no one had their own room. Even the Proctor slept in the same room with us. He went around, telling each boy which bunk was his. This was so we would know where to leave our bags. Then we all went back up on deck.

The Captain was waiting for us on deck. The Proctor told us to listen to the Captain and then the Captain started talking. The Captain had a very loud voice. He was talking about the rules onboard the ship. Then he started talking about the jobs everyone would have. Then he told us about what time we would be eating meals and going to sleep. Then he told us the places on the boat we had no business being. After that he welcomed us aboard. While the Captain was talking I wasn’t really listening, so after he was finished I wasn’t sure if there was something I was supposed to be doing, something he had told everyone that I hadn’t heard. I wondered because everyone else headed back below decks like they had somewhere to go and all knew something that I didn’t. I had this feeling I used to get a lot, before I started taking the pills. It was right behind my belly button and it felt like my insides were being squeezed together. It didn’t hurt. I’m not describing it right. But then I followed them and it turned out they were just going back to the bunks to put their things away. I put my things away, too. There were gray metal lockers between all the beds. There was one for each bunk, and there was only room for the things we were allowed to bring. When I saw that I didn’t feel so bad at the Proctor for making the boys unpack on the dock. There was really nothing else to do. The extra things they brought wouldn’t have fit.

I wasn’t sure if the Captain had said something I needed to hear because while he was talking I was thinking about Oysters. I was reading about them on the bus, and was still thinking about them. The Oyster is a bivalve mollusk, which eats by filtering Plankton though its gills. The only other thing it does is hold its shell closed. Not all Oysters produce pearls. In fact, the ones that produce pearls aren’t even of the same family as common Oysters. Most Oysters don’t do anything. They just lay at the bottom of the ocean, eating Plankton. That was their whole life. There were a lot of pictures of them in the book I had.

After everyone put their things away we went up to the mess hall. The mess hall was a lot bigger than I thought it would be. All of the crewmembers were already eating. There were two tables near the wall that the others had left empty. The Proctor told us all to sit down. Then he sent us up to the food line, two at a time. He waited until the two ahead were halfway through before sending the next two. Some of the boys started to complain because it didn’t make much sense. The Proctor didn’t care, though. He sent us up two at a time until we were all through. Then he had us all say Bless Us O Lord. I was one of the last to go through the line, and so I hadn’t started eating yet. Otherwise, I’m sure I would have.

While I was in line getting food I remembered that I hadn’t called my Mother. I thought that it would be all right, because she would call the School and the School would tell her that everyone got on the boat fine. I was certain that the Proctor had to report back. Still, I was sorry I hadn’t called. I knew that she would worry. I guess it didn’t matter, because I knew she would worry all the same, whether I had called or not. Still, I wished that I had called.

I was very hungry, but after I got my food I couldn’t eat. The boat was still moored at the dock, but if you paid attention you could feel it moving. The movement came from the water. They had warned us about it back at School. There were pills you could buy for the motion sickness. They’d even had them on sale at the School bookstore. I hadn’t bought any. I wished that I had. I knew I could have asked one of the other boys, because I lot of them had bought the motion sickness pills. I also knew that I could ask the Proctor. I was sure that he had some. But I didn’t feel like doing either of those things. I felt like going and standing on solid ground. I took my tray and went up on deck. The ramp was still connected, and I walked off and stood on the dock. Standing on the dock I felt much better. I sat down and started eating. Then, someone called my name. Then the Proctor came down the ramp. I stood up, because I thought he was going to hit me. I don’t know why I thought that, because I knew that he couldn’t. The School would have fired him. He came over and knocked the tray out of my hands. He asked me what the hell I thought I was doing. I told him that I was feeling sick and that I came out to stand on solid ground. He said that wasn’t the way it worked. Then he grabbed my arm and started pulling me back up the ramp. When we were back on the boat he told me to stay where I was. Then he went back down the ramp and picked up the tray. It was funny watching him do it, but I didn’t laugh because my arm hurt from where he had grabbed it. Then he came back onboard and told me to go back to my bunk. So I went back below deck. He walked behind me all the way to the bunk room.

Once I was back in my bunk I realized I hadn’t taken my pill. I forgot that I had one in my pocket. I started looking around in my locker for them. I was nervous, because I thought maybe the Proctor wanted me to stay in bed, and would hear me moving around. But then I found my pills and I took one. I took it without any water. When I first started taking them I couldn’t hardly get them down. Now it’s not very hard to take them without water. After I took it I started reading my oceanography book. I couldn’t concentrate though, because I was still hungry. I just lay on my stomach, looking around the room. All the bunks looked the same, and they all had the same kind of duffel bag hanging from the posts. Seeing that made me think about the haircut that all the boys had. Then I started thinking about the one boy who the haircut had looked strange on. I wondered where he was. The School is very hard to get into, because they have such a long tradition. They’re always talking about their tradition, about how the tradition makes the School better than other Schools. Whenever they talk about the tradition, what they’re really talking about is the teaching method they use. The method is named after one of the teachers who developed it. When you first apply they give you a lot of information about how terrific the method is, and how they’re the only School in the country teaching the authentic version. Then, at the end of all of this literature about it, they have a clause about what if the method doesn’t work for you. The clause says that “certain individuals” don’t learn well with the method approach. Every boy who comes to the School reads that clause, and when a boy doesn’t understand something in class they ask him if he wants to be an “individual.” At the School, individual means stupid. But that was this kid, the kid who didn’t look right with the haircut. He was an individual. He didn’t last a semester.

After a while all of the boys came back. I was happy, because I remembered how they’d all said it was classic when I started eating while the Proctor was talking, and I thought maybe they would say it was classic too, that I had gone back onshore. But none of them seemed very interested. They all sat in a cluster around somebody’s bunk, talking. After a while I went back to reading my book. I was reading a very interesting thing about how a reef forms over thousands and thousands of years.

Then, I don’t know why, I had this really funny idea. I thought that I would like to swim around the boat. But I didn’t get up to do it or anything. I just stayed in my bunk. After a while I must have fallen asleep, because I woke up when the Proctor came in. He came in telling everyone to get in bed. Then he said that lights out was in five minutes. He had the Captain with him. The Captain welcomed everyone on board again, and then told everyone to sleep well because we were going to launch in the morning. Then the Captain went out, and everyone started getting in bed.

I tried to read some more, but it was no good. I can’t read when I know they’re going to shut the lights off any minute. Or when my train is pulling into the station soon or when the plane I’m on is going to be landing. Things like that. I read, but I don’t remember any of it afterwards. Anyway pretty soon they shut off the lights. There was a lot of noise for a while and then the others started to fall asleep and it was quiet. I could hear the water against the sides of the boat. It had been there all along, but now it was the only thing to listen to. I thought about laying awake, listening to the workers who were replanting the beds at the hotel. I wondered if there was going to be frost again, and would they cover the flowers, or would they just hope for the best. I figured that they wouldn’t just hope for the best, but I didn’t know. It was too early for frost, so maybe it wouldn’t come again for a while. And then I thought what if it did, and they came out in the morning and all of the new flowers had died. It really bothered me. It was the sort of thing that bothered me, that they always told me not to be bothered by. The flowers are just one example. There have been a million things my Parents have told me to just let go. But I can’t. For some reason, I can’t let go of them. I stay up at night, thinking about them. Lying awake on the boat, I was sad that the new flowers might get killed by the frost. I don’t know why. It doesn’t make any sense.

I woke up because the boat was making a horrible noise. Everybody else was up, too. Somebody asked the Proctor what it was. But the Proctor didn’t have to answer, because one of the other boys did. It was the engines. It was pretty obvious, if you thought about it for a minute. I was glad I hadn’t asked what the noise was.

We all got dressed and went up on deck. We were only a little way off, but I was surprised how fast the dock was moving away. Whenever you see a big ship you always think it’s moving slowly, because you only see it out in the water where there’s nothing to compare it to. Up close to the shore, you could really see how fast the boat moved. We all stood along the railing, watching the shore go away. Then the Proctor said that it was time for breakfast. We all went below deck. The Proctor waiting and then he walked right behind me. I don’t know if he did it on purpose, or if he was just bringing up the rear. I was last in line.

He did the same thing at breakfast that he had done at dinner. It made more sense this time, because we were eating with everyone else on the boat. They were all waiting in line with us. When I brought my food back to the table I bumped into one of the other boys and I knocked his coffee over. Somebody made a joke. They asked me why I didn’t get off the boat now, instead of last night. It was pretty funny. Everybody laughed.

The Proctor had told us all to bring our books to breakfast. We were going to have our first class after breakfast. I remembered him telling us, but somehow I forgot to bring them. I was the only one who forgot. I hadn’t even noticed everyone else carrying them. I thought maybe I could go back after I was finished eating, and nobody would notice. But as soon as I stood up, the Proctor asked me where I was going. I told him that I was going to the bathroom. He said that I was going to get my books, wasn’t I?
I was surprised, because I hadn’t realized that he noticed when I forgot my books. He didn’t seem upset, though, so I nodded. He shook his head, and gave me a look. It’s a look my Father gives me sometimes. It’s a very disappointed look. It’s funny. The Proctor had told me to bring my books, but he was acting like it said something that I forgot them. That I had really showed him who I was. That’s what my Father would say, whenever he made that face. I had really showed him who I was. But it was always about things that I didn’t care about, that weren’t my idea in the first place. I don’t know. It’s just funny, I guess.

I went back and got my books. I couldn’t find my notebook, and I lost some time rummaging around for it. Then, I found it. Then, when I went to leave, the Proctor came in. I thought maybe they had decided to have class in our quarters. But it was just the Proctor. I had my books, and so I held them up so that he would see that I had them, now. But he didn’t make any sign that he had noticed them. He said that he needed to talk to me. He had that very serious expression that people get when they want you to know they aren’t mad anymore, because you’re just an issue and they need to find a way to deal with you, and getting mad it beside the point. He wanted me to know that he needed my help. He couldn’t do all the work alone. There were too many boys. He needed to know that everyone was doing what they should be doing, otherwise he couldn’t give the other boys the attention they deserved. If he had to focus all of his attention on just one boy, then the others would be shortchanged. He said it very matter-of-factly, like we were talking about trading bunks. I said that I wasn’t trying to cause any problems or take attention away from anyone else. I really didn’t want to cause any trouble. Things just kept happening. He nodded, but you could tell that he was just agreeing because he didn’t care what I was saying. He just wanted me to promise to be good and then shut up. It made me mad, because I was good. But I couldn’t even tell him that. He just stood there, waiting for me to agree. So I agreed. I hated doing it, because it was like admitting that before he had asked me to be good I had been trying to give him problems. There’s a legal word of it. It’s called allocution. It was actually pretty clever of him. He made me allocute by promising not to do what I had been doing, like I had been doing it on purpose. For a minute I couldn’t even be mad, because I was so impressed.

But right after that I got really mad. I was walking behind him down the hall, watching the back of his head. I could see the line above his collar where his last haircut had grown out. What I mean is that the hair on the back of his neck was starting to grow out. It wasn’t the hair that made me angry. I don’t really know how to describe it. I guess I was mad that someone with their last haircut growing out like that could talk to me the way the Proctor had. That’s not quite it either, though. It was more like the rest of the Proctor was so official and so put together. Everything about him had the School behind it. Even his face was the School. The hair on the back of his neck was the only thing that wasn’t. It was the only place where, if I’d complained, nobody could have said that I was wrong. Even the School would have been embarrassed by the hair on the back of the Proctor’s neck. I walked behind him, staring at the hair above his collar and hating him. I didn’t notice it, but while I was walking I bunched the cover and the first three pages of my notebook up into a tight ball. The top and the bottom had ripped out of the spiral. When we got back to the mess hall I smoothed them back out. You could still tell what I’d done, though, from the ripped pages.

I didn’t realize until I got back to the mess hall that I hadn’t taken my pill with breakfast. You’re supposed to take them with every meal. I had meant to take it when I went in to get my books, but when the Proctor came in I forgot, and now I couldn’t get up and go back again. So I just sat there, listening to the lesson. But I wasn’t really listening, because I was too distracted by thinking about how I hadn’t taken my pill. I was sure it didn’t matter, because I was just going to take one at lunch anyway. But for some reason I couldn’t stop thinking about it.

The other reason I wasn’t really listening was because the motion of the boat was still making me feel a little bit sick. It was funny, because when I wasn’t thinking about it, it didn’t bother me at all. But after I noticed it, I couldn’t help feeling it. It was really frustrating; because after the way the Proctor talked to me I didn’t want to make things any worse. But I couldn’t help it. The Proctor called on me to answer, and I didn’t even know what question he had asked.

Then, it happened. The Proctor called on me again, but I still hadn’t been listening. I really wasn’t feeling well. He called on me and when I didn’t answer he gave me the same look he’d given me before, that disappointed look. Nobody said anything, because everyone was looking at the Proctor and me. Then, one of the boys said that I was quite an individual. That made a bunch of the other boys laugh. The Proctor glanced at them, but then he went right back to looking at me with that disappointed look. He really wanted me to feel terrible, I guess. I was feeling too sick to feel terrible, though. Then, right as the Proctor was starting to say something, I threw up. I threw up right in the middle of the circle we were all sitting in. All the other boys jumped up out of their chairs. Even the Proctor jumped back.

But I just sat there, still in my chair, throwing up. I was really sick. My body kept trying to throw up, even when I didn’t have anything left in my stomach. Then, that stopped. Everybody was really quiet, because I had kept throwing up after they had all finished yelling and now it didn’t make sense to make a lot of commotion.

Then the Proctor came over. After I finished throwing up I closed my eyes because I was feeling very tired. But the Proctor shook my shoulder, and so I opened my eyes. I followed him back down the hall to our quarters and I got into bed. I tried to explain that it wouldn’t help, that it was the motion of the boat on the water that was making me sick. But when I opened my mouth, nothing came out. I was too tired to figure out how to say it. Then the Proctor left and I fell asleep.

I woke up when everyone came back after lunch. I had slept through lunch, but I wasn’t feeling well enough to eat anyway. The Proctor brought me some motion sickness pills and a sandwich. It was really nice of him. I took one of the pills and ate some of the sandwich. I was feeling a little bit better. Then I took one of my regular pills. I was glad that I had remembered. When I was younger I got so nervous before School on some days that I would get sick. When I was sick, I didn’t have to do anything. They let me stay in bed and watch movies. All they wanted was for me to get better, and all they wanted me to do was stay in bed and rest. Even though I was sick, I remember being happy. I felt a little like that when the Proctor brought me the sandwich.

After lunch everyone went back out again, and I stayed in bed. I wasn’t tired, though. I felt a lot better. I got up and got dressed. Most of my clothes were School uniform clothes. I had to look for a while in my bag until I found some clothes that weren’t. After I was dressed I left the quarters. I knew that everyone would be gone for a while, and that they wouldn’t notice that I had left.

I didn’t go back up toward the mess hall, or up on deck. I went the other way down the hall. I went down a ladder and ended up in the engine room. There was a long catwalk running between the engines. The noise that we hadn’t recognized, but that one of the boys said was the engines, was a lot louder. I went down the catwalk to another ladder, and then I went back up. I came up outside the bridge. I didn’t go in, though. There were a bunch of people standing around, and I knew that they would ask me what I was doing. I went down to another door. Outside of that door was outside. It didn’t go out onto the regular deck, though. It went out onto the upper deck, up where the bridge was. From up there I could see a long way in every direction. There was nothing but ocean. It was cold outside. The wind was blowing hard, and that made it feel cold. I couldn’t tell if the wind was blowing against us, or if it was just that we were moving so fast. Away from land you couldn’t tell how fast you were moving. Seeing the ocean, I started feeling bad again. I didn’t just feel like getting sick, though. It’s hard to explain. I had this strange feeling that I sometimes have. When I have this feeling, the only thing I can do is close my eyes and think really hard about something calm, about something safe and familiar. I thought about the sound the ball made on the rackets, while the boys played tennis. Thinking about that, I felt a little bit better. But when I opened my eyes the ocean was still there, and I started feeling that way again. So I went back inside. Inside I felt a lot better. I was happy that we were on such a big boat, that I could spend the whole time inside and hardly ever have to go up on deck.

Right as I started going down the ladder to the engine room, somebody called out to me. It was one of the Sailors from the bridge. I guess he’d seen me when I walked past the door. I went down another rung but when he called out again I stopped. I didn’t know what would happen to me, but it didn’t seem to matter very much. So I came back up the ladder. It was kind of funny. Once I was standing in front of him, he didn’t really seem to know what to do. I said that I had lost my group, and that I was trying to find my way back onto the deck, because I thought that was where they were. Then I got worried, because I realized he might want to take me where I said I was going, and then I would have to be back on deck. But the Sailor seemed relieved when I talked first. After that I knew I didn’t need to worry, because he thought I was just a lost kid. He told me to go down another ladder at the other end of the hall, and that would take me right there. I started walking down the hall, and then halfway down I turned to make sure he’d gone back into the bridge. Then I went back and went down the ladder into the engine room. Then engine room was hot and I could hear voices somewhere off at the other end.

It was hard to be quiet, walking on the catwalk. The catwalk made a lot of noise when you stepped on it. For some reason I started walking faster and faster. It doesn’t make any sense, but it was like I was trying to get away from the noise. Then pretty soon I was running, and of course the noise was much worse. It echoed around inside the engine room. I couldn’t hear the voices anymore, and I thought probably they had stopped and now whoever had been talking was coming to find me, and yell at me for being in the engine room. Then I stopped running, because I got to the ladder that led up to the hallway by our quarters. I went up fast, because I was worried that whoever had been talking was going to catch up with me. But nobody did.

I came up into the hallway. It was really strange to go from the noisy engine room with people chasing me to the quiet, empty hallway. I thought that maybe everyone had come back while I was away, that the Proctor was looking for me. But when I got back to our quarters it was still empty. I didn’t want to be there alone, so I went down to the mess hall, looking for the rest of the boys. But the mess hall was empty, too. There was one Sailor near the back, mopping the floor. He didn’t see me come in, though. I went past the mess hall and out the door leading onto the deck. I thought it would be fine if I didn’t look at the ocean, if I only looked at the deck and where I was walking. That didn’t do any good, though. Even without looking at it, you could tell the ocean was everywhere. I tried to think about the sound the tennis balls made on the rackets, but it didn’t really help. I couldn’t close my eyes because I was walking and looking for the others, and without closing my eyes I kept seeing the ocean so that the sound of the tennis ball didn’t make any difference.

They weren’t up on the deck, though. I didn’t know where else they would be. I went to the railing and tried to look straight out, only looking at the sky and not looking at the ocean at all, but I couldn’t do it. Then I tried looking just at the ocean. I looked right down from where I was standing. I tried to pick one wave, and watch it until it broke. I couldn’t do that either, though. The waves all changed all the time. They didn’t break, but just went flat and then came up again in a different place. You couldn’t really say that it was even the same wave. It was all the ocean, though. Looking at the ocean like that, I didn’t feel bad at all. All of a sudden, looking at the ocean felt a lot like sitting with my eyes closed, listening to my parents play tennis. No one was looking at me or telling me to do anything. I could just forget that I was even there. It was a big relief. The ocean didn’t care that I was even there.

Then, I sort of slipped. I was kind of leaning over the railing, and I slipped. I wasn’t really leaning over the railing, though. What I was doing was I had climbed over the railing and was leaning out from it, holding on with my hands behind me. After I stopped feeling bad when I looked at the ocean, all of a sudden I wanted to just look at the ocean. I didn’t even want to see the boat where it touched the water. I wanted to see just the ocean, like the boat wasn’t even there. But right away, when I hit the water, I didn’t want to just look at the water anymore. I wanted to be home, I wanted my Mom and Dad and I didn’t want to ever be away from them. I started screaming back at the boat. The boat was moving away pretty fast, though. Away from it, you could really tell how fast it was moving. Plus, they couldn’t hear me over the sound of the engines. I started swimming after them, but it was pretty obvious right away that I wasn’t going to catch them. I wouldn’t have been able to get back up, even if I did. I didn’t know where the ladder was. I kept screaming, though. I wasn’t thinking very clearly.

But then, all of a sudden, the engines stopped. The boat kept moving for a little bit, but then it slowed down and it didn’t really seem to be getting much farther away. Then I heard another engine start. It wasn’t really an engine noise, though. What I mean is the noise wasn’t big enough to be an engine. It was just a motor noise. Then, a little while later, one of the lifeboats from the deck came over to me. I was pretty tired, but when I saw it coming I felt better. The Sailor in the lifeboat pulled up next to me and then pulled me into the boat with him. I lay at the bottom of the boat, feeling cold. The Sailor gave me a blanket, but pretty soon that was wet and so it just made me colder.

Everyone was up on the deck. They pulled the boat up and the Sailor and I got out. The Captain shook the Sailor’s hand. The Proctor did, too. All of the other boys were looking at me. I was feeling really cold by then. Then the Proctor came over. He took me down the hall to our quarters and told me to get some dry clothes and take a shower. I did and when I came out everyone was gone, at dinner. The Proctor was still there, though. He told me that he had already spoken with my Parents, and that arrangements were being made for me to go home. He said that the boat was going into port the next morning, and that I was going to get off and stay at a hotel. I was supposed to talk to my Parents about getting a plane ticket home. I thought he was going to say something else, but he didn’t. He looked at me with the same disappointed look he had given me before, the one my Father always gave me. Then he told me to go eat dinner. I went down to the mess hall and ate dinner. Some of the Sailors had already finished, and I sat at their empty table. I sat with my back to everyone, facing the wall.

The Proctor took me to the hotel. He waited until I checked in, then he left. I went up to my room and sat on the balcony. The hotel was close to the ocean, but I was on the other side. My balcony looked out onto the courtyard. There were men working in the courtyard, trimming the hedges and digging in among the flowers. I thought about the other flowers, at the other hotel. I wondered how they were doing, if the frost had come again. Eventually the frost comes to everything, and there is no more worrying or wondering what will happen. I wondered what would happen to the boat after it was gone. I was glad I was off and that now I was in a room that didn’t face the ocean. I went to the bathroom and took my pill. It was almost dinnertime. I’m supposed to take them with every meal.

——

Scott Burr is a 2005 graduate of the creative writing program at The Colorado College. He is the 2002 winner of the Ebey Novella Contest and the 2004 third-place winner of the Reville Short Fiction Contest. He is also the 2006 winner of the Geauga Park District Foundation Nature Writing Contest. His fiction has been published in the Starover Blue Review and the Bohemia Journal, and his non-fiction work has appeared in Climbing magazine and Urban Climber magazine. He lives and works in Cleveland, Ohio.

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Vagabond City Literary Journal

Founded in 2013, we are a literary journal dedicated to publishing outsider literature. We publish art, poetry, and creative nonfiction from marginalized creators.

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