Sailing Paper Boats

For the Indie Ink Writing Challenge this week, Mare challenged me with “It’s hard to believe it’s already been a year since it happened”, which is a very timely challenge, as this week was exactly one year since my father died of brain cancer.

The salty breeze blew as the girl carried a cardboard box toward the lake. She was escorted on either side by two women, one older, and one younger, and there was a sense of purpose in her step that loaned gravity to the box. Poking out the top were the harsh lines of triangles in a multitude of colors, glossy and firm.

The younger girl was crying. Tears streamed down her face as her long blonde hair whipped across her cheeks in the wind, sticking in places where the damp salt penetrated. She reached up and brushed it away, but the slow stream of warmth from her eyes continued like an elegant waterfall.

The older lady held her chin high. Her eyes were wild, like the colours of the sky as it began to fill with the dying embers of the day. Her crisp white shirt gave her a polished and professional appearance, at odds with the natural beauty of the surrounds. Those who knew her could see the signs of the immense stress of the situation, but a lifetime of caring for others facing similar circumstances kicked her actions into auto-pilot, and she smiled through the pain.

A small group was gathered on the wooden jetty over the lake, as if witnessing some sort of ritual, a rite. The wind blew stronger, and as it gusted, the sounds of birds filled the air – chorusing the fading sun.

The girl with the box reached the end of the jetty, and took off her thick winter stockings. Despite the cold, she lowered herself down the steel ladder into the black briney water, the colour of deep space and equally mysterious. They were only a few meters from shore, and from this vantage could see right across the bay to the other side of the lake, where tiny houses began to turn on lights in their even smaller windows. Surely it would take all day to swim that far, and at least an hour’s sailing?

“Ahhh it’s freezing!” the girl said, her cheeks ruddy in the wind.
“How are we going to do this? Does someone want to pass them to me?” she said, gesturing toward the paper boats in the box, while holding on to the steel ladder with the other hand so that she wouldn’t fall in the water. Her question gave away the spontaneous nature of the event.

“I’ll pass them to you,” said the older lady. The blonde girl was standing with her arms wrapped around herself in a hug. On the shore, the last glowing warmth hit the land, highlighting the bare Jacaranda tree and the verandah. “This is exactly what he would have wanted,” the girl on the ladder said, taking the first boat in her hand, and holding the eyes of the older woman, who looked like her mother, so striking was the resemblance.”Yes, I think he would have liked this,” she replied, smiling and frowning at the same time.

The boat traveled through the air to the water, where it sat high up on the surface, bobbing expectantly. The girl gave it a little push, and it began to sail, solo, into an unknown future. Soon it was joined by another, then another. A line formed when a fourth entered the water, and the second boat tipped on its side but continued to float. They spread out, forced by unseen currents and eddies.

“They might end up in the channel and go right out to sea!” said the mother-woman wistfully. “That would be nice,” she added, passing another boat carefully. “Yep, they might. Who knows where they’ll end up? Some might cruise to the island and make a landing there, only to sail again with the next tide,” said the girl as she prodded the paper boat in her hands forward.

One after another, the fleet set sail. “What are we up to now?” said the girl, eyeing the box contents. “Well, there’s only 5 to go. So we’ve sailed 50. That’s most of his life,” she said. “Here you go. We could say this one is his early years, just going off to school, or it could be the last few years we spent together, the holidays to the islands, or out fishing, depending on which way you look at it” she said, pausing to gaze out toward the middle of the lake, and biting her lip as if trying to concentrate very hard, or to remain stoic.

“Last one,” she said, passing a white boat into the hands of the girl. “I guess this one’s both birth and death. Happiness and sadness. Joy and grief. The full circle,” she placed the glossy paper boat in the girl’s hand. The girl spun on the ladder and sent it sailing, salty tears running off her nose as she leaned forwards, joining the huge pool of tears they’d already cried, as big as a lake and as deep.

“We love you Dad,” she mouthed, wiping her nose with her skirt, and watching as a seagull swooped down to inspect one of their creations.

The jetty fell silent, entranced, watching as the boats floated away. “It’s hard to believe that a year’s already passed,” someone said, words blowing on the wind, scattering over the waves through the huge blue expanse.


I challenged Jen O with “Listen to your heart: You are standing outside a room but can clearly hear what is happening within. You cannot enter the room”.


10 thoughts on “Sailing Paper Boats

  1. Thank you ADL. It’s a difficult time, but it’s surprising how the world seems to provide you with exactly what you need to process grief. I unexpectedly picked up a wonderful novel “Indelible Ink” by Fiona McGregor, which deals with death in the most incredibly life affirming way, and then this writing challenge. It’s uncanny.

    • Thanks for stopping by Jen. It was hard to share anything else given the timing of the prompt really! Nothing else would come forth, so I surrendered to a fictionalized account of a personal experience.

  2. This was a great piece. I’m sorry for your loss, but I’m glad you have writing to help you work through your emotions (trust me, I understand, as my mother passed away two years ago)

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