August 2002

David Ritchie


David Ritchie is the Vice President of the Washington Poets' Association. His poetry and fiction have been widely published in the U.S. and abroad, including in Mountaineer's Magazine, The Animist, The Paumanok Review, Red River Review, Clay Palm Review, Big City Lit-New York Edition, ComradesUK, and Short Stories Magazine. He lives in the San Juan Islands.
The Yellow Boat    

I have lived three years in this neighborhood on a dead-end street. It has been hard, the long commute to my job, but the rewards are sufficient. A little house, a lawn smaller than a putting green, several large evergreens in the yard from which eagles fall gracefully into the wind and float just over the water, seeing what eagles see.

The house is near the edge of a ragged cliff. Not a high cliff, only about twenty feet or so above the beach. And the beach is small, accessible primarily to those from the few houses in the neighborhood. For fishing, crabbing, or clam digging during a minus tide�but not swimming, the water's too cold.

Most of the people here are retired. Most have lived here long, and have colorful stories. Of change. Of hip replacement surgery. Or how the salmon ran thick, like the plains buffalo in another place a hundred years ago.

Some of the old-timers offer good companionship. They have something to say; they seek, and accept what you have to say. But their talent lies in thinking. Thinking about what you have said. At first it appears they don't follow, but after a few moments, their comments renew the conversation with unusual directions. It is also rewarding that they know when the conversation is finished. They sense when an end has been reached.

Frequently, the finches and song sparrows offer up an opus that rewards attention. However, this was one of those moments of silence.

The air is rich here. Salty, and smells of tidelands. Probably due to our nearness to the Straits of Juan de Fuca.

Yesterday, at dusk, I sat at the top of the stairs that lead down to the beach. The entire time I have lived here, a bright yellow boat has rested on the incline of the back yard of one of the houses. Ivy covered the bow of the boat.

I was surprised to see it in the water, tied to a bright new line, and a small outboard engine on it. It had been cleaned, and looked seaworthy sitting high in the water, as if puffed up with pride.

I looked at the house and there was no activity. But from somewhere in the distance I heard children's voices singing Happy Birthday. I looked again at the bottom of the stairs, and noticed perfectly formed wet footprints, one on each step. Could the children from the birthday party have been treated to a ride?

I sat on the top step until the sun buried itself in Puget Sound. I knew when darkness came, the temperature dropped�in all seasons, so I slipped on the sweater I had with me. I wasn't ready to leave.

The wind picked up, and I could hear the waves nosing the small pebbles on the beach. I could also hear a faint metallic sound as the waves touched the yellow boat.

I thought about the shape of the boat, how stable it looked. It made me feel good to know that the boat was doing what it was meant to do. There is something fulfilling about that knowledge.

I looked back at my house and could see shadows moving in the yellow light. My wife was home. Pushing up from the landing I crossed the street, but before I entered the house, I glanced once more towards the landing and considered the yellow boat in the water. It came to me that I was not yet complete. Not yet doing what I was meant to do.



David Ritchie: Fiction
Copyright � 2002 The Cortland Review Issue 21The Cortland Review