The Captain is Sad

I don’t have dreams anymore, the Captain thought, I think too much. He watches things from the outside. His hair comes up around his smile.

The Captain wants to write love poems. But he can’t do it because love fell at his feet and didn’t get up.

His wife died of poison years ago under the old regime, one of many deaths that went out with the tide. The Captain kept her cough, and a picture of her in a gift shop.

His daughter works in film far away. He has a grandson with blue eyes and blond hair, something the Captain can’t fathom. The child is like a wave far out on the ocean that never arrives on shore. His daughter tells him of the reality television show she now works for, and it only makes him sad. It feels very far from reality.

When his wife was alive, she predicted the weather for him, every day, and she was never wrong, not once. One might doubt the veracity of this, but she knew the weather the Captain needed and called it into being.

The Captain’s wife is buried by the sea. The waves never cease. The basalt headstone reads: “I’m facing nothing but water and I love it.” She’d said that to him once, years ago, and he’d always remembered it as the most beautiful thing he ever heard. It strikes him as interminably sad that he has already heard the most beautiful words of his life, and they were already so long ago.

His daughter tells the Captain he must take up new hobbies, so he joined the communist party and a writer’s group, both of which he saw advertised in the free town newspaper. He stopped going to the communist party meetings after just one; he could no longer identify with such radical banality, though he admired it, but really he just wanted peace. He is still officially a member of the party after he gave them twenty dollars. The writing group, on the other hand, was too peaceful. They meet in the early evening once a month upstairs of a local restaurant, everyone in their sixties, everyone having only one glass of wine and wanting to get home before the night becomes too dark.

The Captain often feels the night is too dark. But then again, where he lives in the country, wasn’t the night indeed supposed to be so dark, and wouldn’t it be even sadder if it wasn’t? The Captain couldn’t help but admire the night for its ability to intimidate him.

Sometimes the Captain sits for extended periods of time in the one café in town that has decent espresso and watches people. Most of the time he finds people too dressed up for life and wonders who they are made up for. Maybe reality television? The thought of people getting dressed up so that millions of people could belittle them, and then feel sorry for them sometimes makes him laugh, but also, of course, sad. The captain, while nursing his macchiato, most loves when small children accompany their parents into the café, barely able to toddle on their own, but nonetheless try to grab all the mugs and bags of coffee for sale around the café. He loves how these children wreak havoc with their curiosity, and how everyone immediately forgives them for their messes. The Captain is glad he doesn’t have to clean up the messes, and yet, he rather wishes he could follow around such little people, hovering in the background and simply be the one person whose job it is to clean up a little person’s messes. This would keep him indeed busy. It might even make him less sad.

But the Captain only wants this job in the abstract. The reality, and sheer exhaustion, of this job would, indeed, probably be the end of him. He’s too old. And, after all this time, time laced with love and success and heartbreak and crushing loss, the Captain is left with, what, he wonders. What indeed is he left with?

Not much. The intonation of this is as if he’d run into a former high school classmate of fifty-some years ago, whom he hasn’t seen or spoken to once in the interim, and who asks him, so, what have you been up to?

What other answer is possible? The Captain thinks about rain in winter and how depressing it is. Why doesn’t it just snow already? That’s what he is left with: the weather. And what a thing to be left with. Everybody’s left with the weather; it’s everybody’s legacy. Now that is truly depressing. Or at least it should be. But for some reason, it lightens him. There’s nothing special about him; he’s in the same lot as everybody, and you know what, the Captain thought, everybody’s sad. And if they’re not now, they will be soon.

The Captain, riding the wave of this sadness, books an airplane ticket to visit his daughter. They are busy, of course, they always are, but he just does it. What the heck? The thought of him arriving and everybody being happy for a very short while before getting cranky and stressed out, and what would they do with grandpa? All that makes him only a little sad, but also happy enough.

As the Captain’s plane breaks through the clouds headed west on a week day morning, he thinks, I could write a poem about this, and then show it to all my old writing-buddy friends when we next meet. But, naw, he doesn’t feel like it. In all the brilliance of that sunlit and hopeful expanse of clouds, could he indeed still be sad? Of course he can, and it finally feels good. He closes his eyes.

***

Jefferson Navicky was born in Chicago, and grew up in Southeastern Ohio. He is the author of The Paper Coast (Spuyten Duyvil), and his work has been published in SmokeLong Quarterly, Quickfiction, Hobart, Tarpaulin Sky, and Fairy Tale Review. He works as the archivist for the Maine Women Writers Collection, teaches English at Southern Maine Community College, and lives in Freeport, Maine with his wife, Sarah, and their puppy, Olive. He has received a Maine Arts Commission Good Idea Grant, and a Maine Literary Award for Drama.

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