It is forbidden to despair

This is a reblog of Anita Diamant‘s beautiful peace.

July 11, 2016 by Anita Diamant

“It is forbidden to despair,” said Rabbi Nachman of Bratslav, a 19th century Hasidic teacher who suffered from depression. I imagine him pounding his fist on a table in a dimly lit room, shouting those words to his demons.

Fifty years ago, TV screens flickered with images of policemen unleashing dogs on peaceful civil rights leaders and demonstrators, who were also brutalized, imprisoned and murdered. Forty years ago, Black Power movement leaders posed with guns and spoke of self-defense; white America panicked and had the “justice system” systematically and brutally get rid of them.

People said:
“What is this country coming to?”
“Why can’t we just be civil?”
“There will always be prejudice.”

Then the boys burned their draft cards to protest an unjust war, the girls refused to sit down and let them men take care of (mess up) things, the gays refused to climb into the back of a police van.

People said:
“There is no respect for anything anymore.”
“Our children are lost.”
That chaos turned the world upside down and a lot of things got better. Not easier, but better.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. went to jail, his home was bombed and his family was targeted. But he never stopped preaching about his dream. He could not afford despair, which is the thing that paralyzes hope, imprisons the soul, and does not set anyone free.

I am not going kumbaya. I am not naïve. The day after the Dallas shootings, I watched the governor of Texas talk about Texas exceptionalism, its way of life and its values (open carry, anyone?). He waved the state flag and told Dallas, “We’ll get past this.” As if “this” was a hurricane or a flood, for which there is no explanation. As if you could just clean up the blood and pretend not to know that the cause of that unnatural disaster was the wages of despair taken to a toxic extreme.

People say:
“If they keep on killing us, why not kill and be killed for a cause?”
“The NRA will never be defeated.”
There are no “two sides” to this story. Despair can be given no ground.

Listen to the voices of black women and black men telling the truth of their lives on every possible stage — virtual, viral, and face-to-face. Writing, blogging and reporting with passion and intelligence, anger and resolve, black men and black women are also making music and poetry that howls with pain and calls out injustice. White allies (we are legion) are with them, aching, marching and speaking out. We will not stand down, either.

“It is forbidden to despair” are fighting words.

If I were to get a tattoo (and that’s never gonna happen) I would make the message visible, so I would have to explain why despair is the great enemy that must be resisted at every turn.

It is forbidden to sit in the dark, to cluck your tongue and shake your head and say, woe is me.

After every setback and loss, Dr. King rose up. And as he predicted, even after they murdered him (with a gun), the dream did not die. Justice, justice we shall pursue.

Think of Rabbi Nachman, shouting at his demons, “I am forbidden to despair.”

Hope is a muscle. Optimism is a muscle. We’d better get in shape because we have a lot to do and long way to go.

Anita Diamant

anita

Thunder Dog’s Last Ghost Dance

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Thunder Dog—mad man of the Blue Mesa—had not been seen in seven days. When on the morning after the eighth night he stumbled into town, the people of Pueblo Blue took notice. Dragging a buffalo hide behind him he sent red dust rising, the trailing pelt masking his foot prints with the tracks of its wide sweeping folds. As he walked towards the village well, Thunder Dog sucked his empty gums, his blind eyes fixed on the cloudless sky. His feet alone felt for the worn path to water. Thunder Dog had been born in the rainy season in the year of the bad snow but he could no longer put a date to the event and thus had lost his age. With his tangled silver braids hanging down his bony sides, his age, some thought, could lay anywhere between 70 and 100 years.

Thunder Dog was half man, half ghost: the only undeniable evidence of his continued existence was his strong voice and distinctive scent. When he spoke the people of the mesa listened, and when the wind caught his tall thin form it lofted the scent of long ago camp fires, crushed sage, and faraway grasslands. He wore a red Hopi shirt, a gift from the village, and an ancient pair of buckskin breaches with the symbols of his tribe stitched into the legs. His feet were bare and callused to the thickness of a hoof. Besides his tattered appearance and fragrant scent, Thunder Dog had a gift: he was a story teller. The moment he had quenched his thirst at the village well he lifted his hands for peace, his voice calling out to anyone who would listen.

“I am a Human Being come from across the world and I have seen many strange and terrible things,” he began, stepping backward onto his old buffalo hide like an itinerant preacher stepping onto his soapbox. “I am Thunder Dog, called Many Horses in the Sioux Nation, and I have fought the devils in many lands.” He paused here in respect to his declaration. Little feet came to listen. Thunder Dog folded his long legs beneath himself and sat upon the hide. “I was born in the year of the great snow. I saw Conquering Bear fall, I fought Custer at Little Big Horn, I learned the Ghost Dance from Kicking Bear and Short Bull, and saw the killing at Wounded Knee. I knew the land when the Buffalo were many.”

By now Thunder Dog could hear the movement of children sneaking close to touch the buffalo hide. Such a huge brown beast had not been seen near the high plateaus in many decades. Thunder Dog felt the shadow of a form pass between himself and the sun and raised his hands again to speak.

“In the times before evil we ate the buffalo, we made our clothes from the buffalo and we covered our teepees with their thick hides. What is a teepee you will ask? It is not a pueblo made of mud and planted like a tree upon the earth. No, it is a moveable home of hide and pine that smells of sweet grass, earth, and the scent of roasting buffalo meat. That was how we lived then. The teepee and the grass lands were our home.” Thunder Dog looked again in the direction of the sky and was quiet. He felt a tug on his braid, heard a giggle, but said nothing.

Behind shuttered windows women passed shuttles through looms, ground maize to meal, and poured water from jar to pot as they listened. Whether they listened out of interest or respect did not matter. What mattered was that the stories were told, that his people were remembered. Another child pulled his braid.

“You have lived here for all my life Sioux Uncle. Why don’t you cut your hair like a Hopi man?” The child asked, coming to sit beside him. Thunder Dog raised his hands for peace and answered only when the giggling stopped.

“How would Wakan Tanka know me as a Human Being cast as I am among Corn Mother’s people? How would he hear my words? How would he hear my prayers? If I forget myself I will forget my people. If I let their stories die, they die with me.”

“Sioux Nation is still strong in the north, Uncle. You should go home maybe?” A boy shouldered his hoe and walked towards the maize field.

“My village is dead,” Thunder Dog called after him, “and I will die among strangers. Believe me, I am the last Sioux of the Piney Wood and I will tell you my stories.”

Thunder Dog’s stories grew and changed like the seasons. Sometimes his friends were ambushed by monsters, sometimes they fought in the open like braves. Sometimes they fought Custer, and sometimes they fell at Wounded Knee. Either way the children listened, grew quiet, and saw what the blind man had seen.

“How did an old Sioux warrior come to live on the pueblo?” Father Francis of the Church of the Immaculate Heart asked, his eyes fixed on the old man. The young priest had come to buy blankets to sell in the mission shop but was more interested in the old man’s talk.

“Some kind of mix up at the Bureau of Indian Affairs,” Mildred Corn Daughter told him, folding a blanket as she spoke. “Bad papers can get an Indian in a lot of trouble.” The priest only nodded.

The people of Pueblo Blue had accepted the old Sioux with his bad papers but his shifting stories of war, monsters and devils were far harder to accept. For one thing he could not be old enough to remember the first battle of the Sioux Wars. So they made up their own stories of how Thunder Dog had come to be among them. Some told tales of how he was prospecting for gold in the Superstition Mountains when he was caught off his rez. Others said he was a scout left for dead in the desert by a band of robbers. One man claimed he was a runaway rebel chief hiding from government agents. Whatever he was, he was stuck in Arizona. The pueblo was small and poor but they had enough food for an old mouth. Besides, the villagers were grateful to Thunder Dog, for his roving blind eyes and wild hair kept the Spanish and the government men away. As the tallest and loudest madman on the pueblo, Thunder Dog had a reputation in the other villages for a dark kind of magic that only the truly mad can know. Because he was feared, no sheep or burro were stolen by Navajo and there was peace among neighbors.

The priest continued to watch Thunder Dog with interest. He’d been warned to watch out for the crazed Sioux, but being Catholic he had a vested interest in devils. “Thunder Dog’s mind is a mess of spider webs. Follow one thread and you’ll find a thousand others, all wandering, lost, wandering like his stories,” Mildred Corn Daughter added, bringing a new pile of blankets to the table. The priest nodded, but asked no more.

In the red dirt of the village center Thunder Dog sat, his face turned to the sun, his mind at ease. He had told the story of his brother’s death in the Mormon Cow War. No one would forget that story and so his brother’s memory would live on. Thunder Dog ran his fingers rhythmically over the thinning fleece of the buffalo hide. Here and there a shadow passed across his skin, stopping the sun’s warmth for only a moment. When one shadow lingered long, Thunder Dog raised his hands, smelling a bowl of rabbit, beans, and corn meal.

“Eat, Uncle,” Maria Walks Far said. Her shadow, broad and womanly, cast a coolness Thunder Dog could not mistake.

“You are like Yellow Feather, my last wife: generous, thoughtful and round as a summer woman.” He reached out a hand towards her but caught only the breeze from the hem of her skirt.

“I thought your wife was called Annie Red Moon,” A boy asked, rolling a small stone through a pattern cut into the dirt. Thunder Dog shook his head and frowned. Setting his bowl in his lap he raised his hands for silence though only the boy remained in attendance.

“Annie Red Moon was my first wife. She was lean like a hard winter but bore many sons. Annie Red Moon was a gift wife from a northern tribe. She could cut down a hundred lodge pole pines, raise a village of teepees and bear two sons all between sunrise and sunset. And though she ate and ate she never grew fat like Yellow Feather. No, never has such a woman walked the earth before or since.” Thunder Dog shook his head, his matted braids swinging into his bowl. His old hands rose again, this time to cover his face. “I see them as they were. Though they are no more than dust now, they live on in here.” Thunder Dog struck his bony chest, the force of the blow making a hollow thumping sound. “But who will remember?”

“I will remember.” The boy struck his chest as Thunder Dog had. “I will remember their names.” Thunder Dog nodded his thanks, memorizing the soft pitch of the boy’s voice, the sweet scent of youth rising up around him.

When Thunder Dog raised his bowl again it was spiced with the peppery flavor of black ants. Thunder Dog smiled to himself. The boy would remember and the others as well. Yellow Feather and Annie Red Moon would live on in their memories, be woven into their stories, and would not die the second death of the forgotten.

The wind shifted as the day grew cool with coming night. Father Francis loaded the last of the blankets onto his mule, glancing occasionally at the Sioux. Thunder Dog lifted his eyes and stared blindly at him. The scent on the breeze troubled Thunder Dog. It wasn’t of corn or sweat or dust, but of a sweet smoke, more rich with oil than a desert flower. When the scent became a shadow, Thunder Dog reached for his knife.

“What are you?” he asked the shadow who came to sit on a low adobe wall beside him.

“Don’t you know me?” The shadow asked in Father Francis’s voice. “I come here to buy blankets.”

“What is that scent?” Thunder dog pointed at the shadow. It laughed.

“Incense I suppose. But never mind that. I heard you say you have fought many devils! Tell me, are your devils red and scaled or do they wear white skin and uniforms?”
Thunder Dog did not relax his grip on the knife. Though he’d lost his blade in the great surrender he felt the shadow of the weapon where it hung heavily at his side.

“I have no story for the likes of you. You are not a Human Being.”

“But I am as much a human being as you are.”

“Then you are half ghost. My stories are for the living.”

“How did you come to live among the Hopi?” The priest persisted. Thunder Dog rose to his feet, towering over the incense scented shadow. He drew his great knife and held it out before him. In his mind’s eye he saw late summer sun glint off the blade.

“I have spoken white man. Be warned.”

The priest laughed at Thunder Dog, his rolling laughter echoing off the pueblo into the distant canyons. “Your hand is as empty as your stories, old man,” the priest said. “You have fought no devils.”

Long after the priest had gone and the sun had set Thunder Dog remained in the village center. He listened as windows were covered, fires crackled, and people spoke in hushed tones, yet he did not seek shelter. In the seven days spent in the desert, Thunder Dog had eaten very little. He’d walked night and day praying for a vision that would help all Human Beings. The vision Wakan Tanka sent was of Grey Fox crying in a lightning storm. Grey Fox was wise. He was a messenger sent from Wakan Tanka and yet Thunder Dog felt his faith slip. Was he still a Human Being? Did Wakan Tanka hear his prayers? Had he dreamed up Grey Fox in his madness or had he really had a vision? A deep well of grief overtook him. He had fought so many battles, protected so many villages, and yet the white men still came, still took, only now they also laughed. Thunder Dog felt his age hanging on his bones, the cold chill of the night stealing into his chest, rattling his soul. I have lived so long and come so far but for what? Raising his blind eyes starward he prayed again for a way to help all Human Beings find peace.

Short Bull and Kicking Bear had brought the Ghost Dance to the Lakota Sioux in the belief that it would cover the white people with earth, raising the Human Beings high above the world. Lost brothers and sisters from all tribes would live again and the buffalo would return to the plains. Thunder Dog, once called Many Horses, had danced the Ghost Dance. He’d prayed to Wakan Tanka for the unity of all Human Beings but the white man still came and the tribes were divided.

Thunder Dog rose stiffly from his buffalo hide. He shook the dust from its well-worn folds and swung it over his shoulders. Lifting his hands palm up, he prayed to Wakan Tanka for answers. A slow shivering chill ran up his legs, numbing his connection with Maja Earth Mother. I need more time to understand, he prayed, stomping his feet to restore feeling. In his heart he heard the battle song of Crazy Horse rise until it was a whisper on his lips. Wakan Tanka, the great mystery is unfathomable, unknowable; who am I to question my vision? And yet doubt remained. Slowly and with great respect he let the song rise from his lips into a chant, the words moving his feet into a rhythmic dance.

As his voice grew, Pueblo Blue listened. Doors opened and the people watched the lone dancer singing in his native tongue. One man got his drum, another his flute. Thunder Dog, once called Many Horses, was dancing and his voice called to them all. They came with masks and with rattles, ankle bells, trumpets, and rasps. They danced and sang with Sioux Uncle late into the night.

When Thunder Dog’s legs could no longer hold him, when his hands could no longer grasp the buffalo hide he wore across his shoulders, the old Sioux leaned against the adobe wall of Pueblo Blue, and listened to Corn Mother’s people. They chanted Crazy Horse’s song even though they did not know the language. They did it for Thunder Dog, for his lost people, and because no Human Being should dance alone. As they danced the air grew thick with clouds. When the first rain drops fell Corn Mother’s children rejoiced with loud cries of gratitude, for the summer had been long and dry. The dancing grew wilder, more energetic, more filled with life. In the rumble of the coming storm, Thunder Dog heard a young brave call out in the voice of Grey Fox, screeching the, “HOWWW. . . HOWWW. . . HOWWW,” of the silver dog. Thunder Dog raised his hands to Wakan Tanka in gratitude as rain drops, like salty tears, washed down his face.

“I have seen the vision, Wakan Tanka. Grey Fox leads me into the storm. I will follow him. I will not die among strangers. Here, all my story will be told.” Thunder Dog pulled the buffalo hide closer around his shoulders, and with the last of his fading strength he rejoined the dance.

The University of Washington Anthology

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I’m very proud to tell you that my short story, Thunder Dog’s Last Ghost Dance, is included in this years University of Washington anthology. Sadly, it is the last year the University will be sponsoring the anthology. Hopefully they’ll reconsider. The cover art is by my good friend, the fabulous Seattle artist Urban Soule. You can find her at Urbansoule.com. She kindly allowed us to use this painting for the cover free of charge. Click here to purchase a copy for only $3.55. Maybe if we sell enough books they will continue to support the anthology.

Blessings to you all,

E E Orme

When Henry Beeped

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Henry BEEPED, the digital sound echoed through the pool deck so perfectly that the swimmer before him dove, a perfect arch of girl slicing through the water, streamlined, rising without breath into a free and furious stroke. The official raised his hand, the whistle blew as understanding dawned and the girl was removed, ejected, disqualified from her race. Henry had BEEPED, not the starter so the race was done.

“Not Cool!” a mother yelled, striding toward him, the sobbing rejectee running on wet feet to her coach. Henry felt the weight, the reality, the price of having counted down the time to start too quickly, of anticipating the buzzer, making its sound so perfect-yet imperfect because it fell in the wrong second, the before second, the quiet second when all the deck was still.

“I didn’t mean…”

“Not Cool” the mother repeated while his team mates glared.

“I didn’t mean. I was just…” but he couldn’t explain the counting or the sounds that happen in his head, the perfect rhythm of the world living in synch inside his mind to surface in involuntary noises; digital-analogue-mimicry rising from his cords without permission. So he stood, the girl cried, the team glared and the meet went on.

“Swimmers take your marks!” the starter called, “Ready-set-BEEP!” It was the free, the hundred meter free, not the fly or the back or the breast. Definitely not the breast. Henry dove, a perfect arch of boy rising, springing, slicing into streamline perfection to break not with arms extended cutting the water with the tearing strike of free but the prayerful, elbows bent motion of breast. Rise, plunge, rise plunge as swimmers past in blurs of speed. Rise, plunge, rise plunge, hands prayerful, extending, parting, colliding again into prayer.

Coaches yelled, the official raised his hand, parents shook their heads embarrassed by the boy whose actions no one could account for, understand, fathom. At one minute, fourth-two seconds, the whole pool waited as the last swimmer returned, focused fully on doing the wrong stroke, the punishing stroke, the prayerful stroke that cannot make amends for a girl’s tears or the accidental BEEP!

The Bittersweet

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When I first held my baby I could already see the man he would become, tall, kind and strong. I saw our lives laid out before me; joined at the hip for years before being severed by age and distance. I felt the rush of bittersweet love, the love that says I see you right now and I love you right now because right now is all there is. I’ve watched him grow for thirteen years and loved every bit of it. He is a magical wonder, a joy in this world and his enthusiasm for life and living astounds me. What must it be like to be so purely in love with being? What must it be like to just exist where you stand without the bittersweet pull that says; this too shall pass, shall end, will fade into the shadows of time.

I’ve long watched happy people and wondered what it would be like to be happy while secretly hating the fakers for their fake joy; their grief hidden behind a fraudulent smile. Why lie, why fake, why smile when it isn’t real. To act out anything other than what you feel is to tell your soul it’s wrong to hurt, to grieve, to question or be real. Feeling isn’t wrong, it can’t be a mistake, it just is.

The bittersweet of living isn’t something everyone experiences. This universal view of our lives as tiny fragments of a greater whole is something reserved for just a few of us. So why? I wish I knew. Maybe the bittersweet perspective is born of hard history, singular loneliness, or pain so intense that to see the world as you once did no longer seems possible.

Among you stand the walking wounded, riddled with emotional bullet holes patched over with plastic smiles and empty pleasantry. It’s our jobs to heal one another, to be real and open in our kindness. It’s our job to see the pain and ask, “How are things going. No really, how are you?” and if they’re not ready to put aside the “happy” even for a moment it’s our job to be willing to wait.

P.S. If Thanksgiving tomorrow feels like a warzone you have to slog through then go to the beach, order pizza, have a beer and find a happy that feels real for you.

A Tuscaloosa Morning

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Where were you when I called last night? Where were you when I had to go out in the chilly darkness cause the wood box was empty again. Right now I’d like to flick your red pick-up truck off the landscape like some miserable bloodsucking insect. Fat and shiny, it winds its way over the bumps and dips of our Tuscaloosa farm land, its old motor ripping up the morning like sheet lightning in August.

“Y’all sit down and be still now.” Four pairs of eyes look up, questioning. “Go on now. Jemima, put Pudding in her high chair. Cecilia, Rose, get to your places. You’re Daddy on the drive.” I stoke the fire with fresh logs still cold from the wood shed; iced sap sizzles to steam as the fire licks the wood alight.

The stove is warming up quick but not quick enough to warm the room or fill it with the soothing scent of oven hot bread and fresh coffee.

“Y’all be quiet when Daddy comes in. Be respectful.” Cecilia and Rose nod but Jemima looks away. Only Pudding makes a sound, a high sweet baby sound all happy innocence.

Feet walk on porch boards; old wood creaks under a heavy weight. The screen door squeaks to life, calling on the front door hinges to answer it in low grinding tones.

“What y’all doing up so early?” My husband casts long shadows. His shoulders fill the doorway.

“We’re up on time. It’s not us that’s early, it’s others that be running late.”

“No Ma’am! Not late but right on time, on time for breakfast anyhow. Isn’t that right Pudding?”

My baby smiles real big. Her sweet brown eyes flash all kind of sunshine into the shadowy kitchen. I smell the bread begin to warm in the oven, see the butter melt in the fry pan. A touch of a finger to hot tin tells me the coffee pot is part way to percolating.

“The truck running smooth?”

“Smooth as ever,” my husband smiles.

Jemima flashes me a worried look from where she sits at the table. Ignoring her, I crack six eggs into the hot butter, scrambling the yokes into the whites. Better some kind of man than no man at all, my grandma whispers in memory, bidding me to tread careful. Yah…but if it weren’t for me our little ones would’ve been as cold as corpses in a snow drift last night.

“Any trouble on the road?”

“Not one bit.”

“Well that’s fine!”

I bite my lip, scrap the eggs onto six different plates, tear chunks of bread off the loaf and listen for the coffee pot to sing. The room smells all full of breakfast, the scent hangs heavy over the stink of cigar smoke, bourbon and cheap Woolworths’ perfume. Jemima takes two plates to the table, the first for her Daddy the second for Cecilia. My girl knows her manners but watching her wait on him makes me sad. When she comes back to the stove we take the last four plates to the table together.

“You see any of them Carlson boys last night?” I place a bit of cooled egg on Puddings tongue and watch her chew.

“Maybe I did, maybe I didn’t. What’s it to you Lizbeth?”

“Only that they’re mama was poorly. I was only asking on account of her. Seems a shame a fine woman like that working so hard all her life only to raise up six of the worst men that ever walked God’s earth.” I shake my head. “And that Meme Carlson…they say she’s turned out worse than the lot of them! Mrs. Haylee says she’s nothing but a two penny wh…”

“And how would you know how she’s turned out?” My man interrupts. “Not like you look her way at church or any other place. All you do is listen to gossip and slander and that just ain’t Christian. If you want to know how she does you should go on over and see for yourself.”

“Now why would I do that when I’ve got others to do it for me?” I take another piece of egg off Pudding’s plate and place it on her tongue. Looking around the table I see she’s the only one eating. Behind me the coffee percolates, its slow whine building into a scream. Rising, I take a mug out of the cupboard, fill it with coffee and walk to my husband. His shadow falls at my feet, cast by the sunlight pouring in from the living room window. It’s a big shadow that grows bigger when he rises to his feet.

“I’m tired.” Looking me up and down he turns to go.

“No sir, I’m tired.” I set my foot onto his shadow, pinning him to where he stands. “I’m tired of chopping and hauling my own firewood. I’m tired of milking cows you don’t make time to feed. I’m tired of tending and mending and cleaning for a man who can’t be bothered to come home when he’s needed. Jesus knows I’ve done my chores.”

Out of instinct my body tenses, my muscles contract, hardening in preparation for a strike. Looking hard into my husband’s eyes I see a mean light shine but Pudding giggles and the meanness goes out of him. With a defeated sigh he slumps back down into his chair. Jemima hushes my baby, pushing clumpy eggs into her open mouth.

“No Jemima, you let that baby girl laugh.” My husband looks down the table at his littlest girl. “You let her feel happy for as long as she can. It’s a sad damn dirty thing to stop a body from feeling glad.” Picking up his coffee he looks at me like I’m the last nail in his coffin, “and by the by Lizbeth…Meme Carlson had the good manners to ask after you. She says she hopes you’re doing fine.”

Sailors Blood

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I wish I could stay on this boat forever, Sabela inhaled the sea air, watching the Channel Islands pass one after the other. To the east, Los Angeles, faded and was lost from sight. The sail snapped taut, filled to bursting with wind, its triangular shape glowing stark white against a Pacific blue sky. A salty sea spray kissed her lips as overhead the cry of a seagull added texture to the scene.

“Hey sexy chica. Come take the helm.” Jay waived her away from the forward bow.

“I’ve only read about yacht sailing, Jay. I’ve never actually steered one.” Sabela’s voice was lost in the western breeze, stolen by the cry of a gull, made inconsequential by the bored look on Jay’s face.

“It’s not like you can hit anything. There is nothing out here. Just keep the sail to starboard and we’ll be on course.” Jay stepped from the station, freeing the yacht. The helm turned with the movement of the rudder, its jerky motion chaotic. Wrestling it under control, Sabela felt the pull of the water and the motion of each wave that moved the rudder, dragging at the helm. “It’s a fucking yacht not a loose hog in your abuela’s garden, Puta. You don’t need to jump on it.” Sabela tried not to blush at his words. Puta, the word echoed in her head. I’m not a whore. Looking starboard she bit her lip and checked the sail. Why did he call me that? Jay disappeared below deck. They were friends, had been friends ever since the first time he’d walked into the bar and ordered a whisky. He must have been joking.

Alone at the helm, Sabela breathed in the sea air, feeling her body relax, her worry fade. The smooth black wheel moved in a genteel dance in her hands, making her feel connected, rhythmic and vital in a way she’d always dreamed. I want this… The statement came from somewhere deep inside her, rising solidly in her mind like absolute truth.

“I want this…” the words were real, as real as the thought.

“Want what?” Jay stepped out of the hatch with a whisky in his hand.

“This!” Sabela smiled at the blue waters.

Her smile faded when Jay walked up behind her, his hips pressing into her backside.

“And I want this, Puta.”

“I’m not a whore, Jay. I’m here as your friend.” Sabela pushed him away. “It’s not cute to call me that. Besides, I’m Portuguese not Spanish so don’t call me chica either.”

“Portuguese, Spanish, Latina, it all adds up to Mexican vajayjay in my book.” Jay kissed her neck, his hands sliding around her waist.

“Well Jay, your book is fucked up! You said you’d take me out on your yacht, nothing else.” Pinned to the helm, Sabela could smell Jay’s breath, a composition of rotting gums, marijuana and whisky. She turned her head to catch the sea breeze, her left elbow coming up under his chin. She felt him stumble back, his bad scent leaving with him. “I’m not a whore, Jay.” Her words followed him as he wobbled drunkenly back below deck. He was being persistent but working a bar had taught her how to deal with drunk aggressive men.

The yacht lifted and plunged softly under her feet. Glancing at the compass it read south by southwest. Looking up she checked that the boom held hard to starboard. In the ensuing peace the joy of a full sail returned to her, lifting her heart the way the wind lifted her black hair. Even if Jay was being an ass she wasn’t going to let him ruin this day.

“I don’t think you quiet understand your situation, Sabela.” He’d snuck back silently. The blow landed at the back of her head, knocking her into the helm. Her eyesight blurred, white lights flashing across her vision. She felt the yacht jerk again, the helm fighting to list the yacht portside. Sabela sank to her knees, the boom swinging erratically overhead. “Like I said…Puta, your tan ass was invited on this boat ride for one reason. May not be the reason you planned on but…shit happens.” Sabela felt herself lifted, her body turned towards the scent of whisky, gingivitis and Mary-fucking-Jane. His breath filled her nostrils, making her retch.

“My tan ass…has made other plans.” Lifting her fist she landed a weak swing into bad teeth. Jay stumbled back, his eyes alight with rage. He swung at her again but missed, his fist connecting with the rear hatch. “You said we were coming out here to sail!” Sabela’s voice and body rose as the yacht pitched, sending her stumbling into the guardrail. Jay came stumbling after, fists raised, landing a second punch to her forehead. His body collided with hers against the thin cable. The yacht bucked and turned. Overhead the boom jibbed to full portside, pitching Jay down the guardrail when the vessel tacked right. Sabela ran to the helm, cranking the yacht into a hard left.

“You fucking Mexican?” Jay stood clutching the cable rail, his drunken face reflecting a dawning uncertainty.

“I told you, I’m fucking Portuguese…” Jay stepped towards her, but the violent starboard tack pitched him overboard. …and I told you, I came out here to sail! In the ever growing distance, Sabela watched Jay vanish silently under a swell.