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Spadina Literary Review  —  edition 31 page 04


A king. But a hungry king, and a tired king. He looked at his watch: nearly six o'clock. The tower still ahead, tantalizingly close, but like a mirage. He could see the city, its office towers coppered by the evening sun.

The island that stretches in front of the city beckoned to him. He heard music. He loosened the sails — the wind had picked up and the boat was heeled over a little too much for his liking. His right arm ached from steering. He looked ahead. A few clouds had grouped together, in a shape like the anvil of the blacksmith in Kumba back home. They were grey underneath. Rain, he thought. Thank God for the cabin. Perhaps he would rest and hide from the weather when it came.

When the squall hit, the gust blew the Kirby nearly 30 degrees over on its side. Fonyay hung on to the tiller and the mainsheet, shocked at the ferocity of the storm. He tried to steer but it was useless, the tiller wanted to go its own way, upwind. Panicking, he let go of the mainsheet. The rope spooled through the block, then jammed in a knot. The boat flattened out as the boom swung hard to starboard and the mainsail lost its power. But the jib was still cleated and the squall's power swung the boat into the wind. Fonyay was sitting on the low side when suddenly the boom swung back all the way and struck his forehead, knocking him backwards over the side of the boat.

The cold water shocked him, and caused him to draw a sharp breath as he struggled underwater, his head pounding. His lifejacket quickly inflated and pulled him, choking and gasping, back up to the surface. He flailed and kicked as he sank down and rose again, the lifejacket bringing him back to the surface where wave after wave splashed into his face. The rain bucketed down around him: it seemed the air was filled with water from the rain and spray. He choked and coughed, tried to turn away from the waves, but they broke over his head without warning. The water was freezing. He had no idea the lake could be so cold in August. He tasted blood. He lifted his arm and felt his forehead: there was a large bump which stung when he touched it. He pulled his hand away and looked at it: it was covered in blood.

The wind howled around him. He had no idea where the boat was. The rain descended as a curtain all around him as he trod water as well as he could, trying to keep his head above the waves rolling over him. He spotted the boat about fifty metres ahead, sails flapping uncontrollably. The rain eased. Fonyay thought about trying to float toward the boat, on his back somehow, when the wind shifted direction, swinging round to the north. He watched the little boat pivot round when the wind caught the jib. The boat gathered speed, coming towards him now. He could see the mainsheet was wrapped around the tiller, both sails now filling with air: the boat, as if sailed by a ghost, was drifting back his way.

Fonyay kicked and flailed with all his might through the waves over to the path of the oncoming boat knowing only that he had to get in the way of the boat and grab onto something. The wind picked up, the boat came quickly now, and Fonyay realized he was in danger of being run over by his own boat. He could see the mainsheet dragging in the water on the starboard side. He had one chance.

As the boat passed, Fonyay reached up and tried to grab onto the bow. But it was too high. He tangled himself in the dangling mainsheet. He grasped for any part of the rope he could find and hung on with all his strength as the boat slowed and circled around him, as the cold rain pelted down on him. The wind now came from astern, causing the mainsail to gybe, swinging across the boat, and crashing Fonyay into the side of the boat. His knuckles bled into the lake water.

Fonyay's weight slowed the boat and swung it into the wind, bringing the boat to a stop. The wind eased, the sails flapped, as if trying to shake Fonyay loose from the sheets. He wrapped his body around the ropes and tried to think about how to get back into the boat. He was exhausted, faint with cold and hunger, shivering all over but determined not to let go of the rope. Blood and rain dribbled down his face. He considered climbing into the boat, but its sides seemed too high to climb over. The Kirby tilted toward his side and for a moment Fonyay was afraid it might tip over on top of him.

He hung, suspended in the water, tangled in the ropes, as he pondered his fate, numb and slow with cold. Presently, the rain ceased and the wind died as the squall passed. He could see the top of the CN Tower alight through the evening mist. He kicked weakly to try to swing the boat round, to point it back toward land.

As the boat slowly turned slowly, he could see trees, the shoreline was perhaps two hundred metres away, a rocky point of land, then as the boat gently swung further around, a beach, just as the man had told him. Tears came to his eyes, he wept with joy and exhaustion. He tried to kick the boat toward the beach but he could not summon the energy to move his legs. He wept, and it seemed to him that others wept with him. There were voices, shadows like spirits, a bright white light and he was lifted up high, floating above the boat, suspended between what was and what may be.