Perhaps This is Fiction

Perhaps: the Story of a Fallen Mast

Perhaps you carry your toolbag down to the marina on a perfect Cape Cod July morning, your right fingers curled around the familiar canvas handles. The bag’s weight is counterbalanced by a large circle of wire hanging in the crease of your left shoulder. When the wire is uncoiled, it will become, you hope, a perfect-length headstay.

Perhaps you wish to be playing hooky on this shimmery Friday. Out on the water in your own boat, on your own time, instead of fixing the mistakes of a customer who couldn’t avoid running into a bridge last weekend. A customer who absolutely has to go sailing again tomorrow, who will pay extra to make that happen.

Perhaps you climb aboard the sailboat without any sense of doom, thinking only of the tools you need to carry aloft with you.

Perhaps you step through the triangle of bosun’s chair, settle onto the wood seat, nod to the assistant who hoists you skyward. Your destination: forty feet off the deck, the very top of this shiny mast.

Perhaps you admire the muscular tan of your forearms as they pull you up, up, up, to where backstay and shrouds attach, to where that spare halyard leads down to the deck holding the mast forward, until you can replace it with the hopefully perfect-length headstay now dangling beneath you.

Perhaps you wrap your legs around the thick aluminum tube, gripping it as tight as last night when you wrapped your arms around a woman you think you might marry. Before you reach beneath the chair to grab the dangling wire, you get a quick thumbs up from the guy on deck who has tied off your halyard.

Perhaps you place a fresh stainless cotter pin between your lips as if it were a cold metallic cigarette, so it will be handy when you need it.

Perhaps you have already lined up the headstay with the mast tang—ready to drop the clevis pin into place—when a small boat wake washes through the marina, tugging the boat against her dock lines.

Perhaps you feel the mast shift, and grip it tighter with your thighs and ankles.

Perhaps the temporary halyard tying the mast forward has stretched overnight. Just a little, but just enough.

Perhaps the mast ends at the deck, in a round step that will not restrict the long thin section once it starts to move away from vertical.

Perhaps as you clutch the mast so safe and secure with your strong legs, it falls.

Perhaps most of you lands not on the long wooden hard dock you’d walked down, and not on the equally hard finger pier at right angles to it, and not on the hard fiberglass deck of the boat tied up in the slip across the dock—but in the tiny triangle of water in between all three.

Perhaps the owner of that neighbor boat is ready with his knife to cut you free from the tangled web of lines. And then somehow this tiny man finds the strength to drag your dripping-wet body out of the water and onto the finger pier.

Perhaps another man you’ll never meet again happens to be walking along the harbor, carrying nothing but his combat experience. He stops just long enough to casually stuff a rag into the hole in your head where it hit the dock railing.

Perhaps your assistant, the one who pulled you up the mast, continues CPR long after everyone else gives you up as dead, until the ambulance arrives.

Perhaps a helicopter flies you straight and true to a head trauma center, without waiting for your insurance information. But that same helicopter pauses long enough to scoop up a woman calling herself your wife.

Perhaps a sharp-eyed X-ray technician spots the strange dark line balanced on the top of your lung, and convinces the doctors to fish out that stainless cotter pin you’d gasped in just as you started to fall.

Perhaps you wake up, wondering how you came to be in this falsely lit, white and sterile room. Wondering why the back of your head feels dented. Wondering what day it is.

Perhaps the woman you will marry is the first thing you see, and she takes your hand and explains everything you don’t remember.

Perhaps the hole in your head, which hurts like hell, closes up, leaving behind a nasty scar that will never grow hair again.

Perhaps you just don’t care about a slightly lazy eye that the docs say will improve with therapy.

Perhaps you go back to work.

Perhaps you marry, bring up two boys and two girls. Enjoy another forty summers of bright July days.

And perhaps—

You will never, ever, EVER, climb another mast.