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The Gulf of Maine lay easily beneath the mail boat's keel, passing gentle swells below the vessel like a mother's soothing stroke upon a baby's back. This was misery to me. The slow rise up, the slow sink down, the laborious roll to one side at the crest of every swell, the inevitable correction back the other way as the boat slipped toward the trough beyond --- all of it had worked upon my stomach without mercy.
I groaned. "How much longer?"
"Ain't far now, hon," replied the big woman at the wheel.
We had been at this all morning, doing only eight knots because of the impossibly dense fog that contained us --- me and the woman and one other passenger, a man in a vaguely martial khaki vest that seemed to contradict his baby face and the look of perpetual astonishment behind his thick eyeglass lenses. The man chattered on and on, a bottomless source of useless knowledge, unaffected by the little vessel's endless rolling. He spoke to the woman about ancient boatbuilding techniques, the rules of cribbage, internal combustion engines, and of course the weather. He said the fog was thicker and more widespread than usual because of a strange temperature pattern in the area, with daily highs a full ten degrees above normal while the seawater remained as cold as ever. He said the damp warm air moving slowly over the frigid sea caused the mist to rise. He said this was called "advection fog," although I considered it affliction fog since he simply would not stop talking.
The woman at the wheel sat on a cushioned swivel seat, swaying easily with the mail boat's ceaseless roll. There must have been some kind of autopilot in operation because the red and callused hands at rest upon her broad lap never moved. A foghorn sounded every minute or two. The lonely moan seemed to emphasize our isolation. Sometimes I looked up to see the woman's eyes flicking between the formless wall of white before us and the black screen of the radar, where a green line slowly made its rounds, picking out a distant blip here and there but mostly undisturbed. I felt the vibration of the engine rising through the soles of my shoes. Slouching helplessly on a hard bench in the deckhouse, back pressed against the wall, I closed my eyes. My head nodded with the awful motion. I breathed through my mouth to avoid the sickening smell of diesel and the faint odor of the contents of my stomach.
I had already thrown up twice. The first time came too suddenly. I made a mess of my wool sweater and blue jeans. Desperately embarrassed in spite of my wretched condition, I did my best to clean my clothing with freshwater in the tiny restroom below deck and then returned above to suffer. The second time had come with enough warning to allow me to stumble to the stern's safety rail, where I clung for fifteen minutes as the Gulf of Maine streamed by. I then reentered the cabin to collapse onto the bench beside the owlish passenger, and suffer.
At least the man and woman had the good sense not to try to draw me into their conversation. Occasionally I focused on a strangely disconnected splash as the bow caught a bit of ocean unawares, but mostly I remained deep inside myself, seeking out a place where nausea did not exist, willing it to grow and push away the queasiness. By way of a distraction, I thought back to how this awful journey started, back in Dallas, with a ringing telephone.
Sitting in my little office cubicle, at first I had been fascinated by the man's strange Yankee accent; then slowly I began to realize what his exotic speech might mean, and I made myself take notes, going through the motions as if it were just another business call, asking about expenses, trying to work out the exact figure it would take to ship the body home.
Excerpted from WINTER HAVEN © Copyright 2017 by Athol Dickson. Reprinted with permission by Bethany House. All rights reserved.
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