Ed. note: The Block Island Yacht Club created the Short Story Contest several years ago as an opportunity for seniors and juniors attending the Block Island School to write creatively about the island. The format is that the opening paragraph, created by the BIYC, must be used for all entries, but then the writer can let their imagination run free. The contestants are given a time frame to submit their stories which must be fiction. We have a panel of three judges who are anonymous to each other and to the students, as well. The judges are given the stories not knowing who wrote them and they rank them to determine the winner. This year the contest was delayed due to the pandemic, but it did take place in the same format as it has every year.
This is the winning entry by Ruby Crawford.
Evan ran down the bulkhead stairs into the basement, turning on the light, he tried to imagine all the things they would need. Looking around he saw a few of them, extra lifejackets, a sail bag containing a new sail, still unused, and a few tools — just in case. Next he called Al to ask him about the provisioning trip to the B.I.G. He had a firm timeline in his mind, they would leave at noon on the favorable tide of the following Saturday for their first attempt to find Mr. Todd’s lost memories.
Mr. Todd taught sailing lessons during the summer months on Block Island for more than 50 years before he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. Everyone who knew him loved him. Mr. Todd was the type of man that helped others without expecting something in return, strived to make his community a better place, and lived his life to the absolute fullest. There are still times when all the memories of what his life once was come rushing back to him and those few minutes, hours, or even days of clarity are both the best and worst times of his life. He gets to be himself again, but then he is reminded of the horrible, incurable condition he lives with and that realization destroys him every time.
Evan and Al are Mr. Todd’s grandchildren. Over the past couple of years they have worked hard to try to help their grandfather, raising money for his medication, visiting him regularly, and working to help him remember his life before Alzheimer’s. They tell Mr. Todd the exciting stories he used to share with them about his life as a sailor in hopes they will trigger his memory.
One day when Evan and Al were visiting their grandfather, Al got an idea. He said to Evan “What if we take Grandpa sailing again? It’s been years since he last went.” “Are you crazy?” Evan replied. “Grandpa doesn’t even know who we are half the time, what if he gets nervous and has an episode?”
Al pondered this possible disaster but decided that it was worth the risk. He explained his reasoning to Evan saying, “I get that it is risky, but don’t you think it’s worth it if doing this could bring back grandpa’s memories? We can take him back to all his favorite places he used to sail to. He spent most of his life out on the water, there was nothing he loved more than sailing.”
After going back and forth for almost an hour the boys decided that they were going to do it. They would bring Mr. Todd sailing, taking him to each place he had told them stories about as kids until something clicked in their grandfather’s scattered mind. They thought “If that won’t trigger something in his brain that could retrieve his lost memories, what will?”
Saturday, June 11, 1989
It was noon, time to set sail. Al and Evan had collected everything they would need including Mr. Todd. He was having a good day, not lucid, but content. The conditions were perfect. The midday light brightened the sea, allowing it to appear that calming, clear blue seen in postcards. There was a gentle breeze, capable of getting them where they wanted to go yet mild enough not to worry their grandfather. “This will work,” said Al. “I really hope you’re right,” Even responded, as he untied the last rope connecting them to the rickety old floating dock where they kept their sailboat.
As they cruised through the harbor, bound for the open water, Al could see that Evan was finally beginning to relax. He loved sailing, it calmed him and connected him to his grandfather who he often felt he was no longer close with. The boys had decided their first destination would be the red buoy to the left of the cut. Mr. Todd used to tell them stories about anchoring next to the buoy to fish because many creatures were attracted to the foreign structure that floated above them.
When they arrived at their destination, they noticed no change in the state of their grandfather. He hadn’t said a word the whole way there, just staring off into the distance with a blank expression on his face. Al tried to hand Mr. Todd a fishing pole, but he made no effort to take it from him.
“This obviously isn’t going to work,” exclaimed Evan, an annoyed and defeated look glued to his face.
“Give this a chance,” replied Al. “We both knew it was unlikely this would work right away, just be patient and don’t give up so easily. I know the old Grandpa is still in there.”
Hours passed and they still hadn’t made any progress in triggering Mr. Todd’s memories. Feeling tired from the dangerously hot June sun beating down on them, and a bit defeated from their lack of success, Al and Evan decided to anchor closer to shore so they could go for a swim. As they jumped off the bow of the boat into the cool and refreshing water, Mr. Todd spoke. “The current is changing,” he said, and began to turn the boat to prevent them from dragging the anchor. There were jagged rocks scattered throughout that area of the Block Island Sound, and the boat was dangerously close to drifting into them. The boys watched in shock as their grandfather effortlessly maneuvered the boat. He hadn’t been able to captain a sailboat in years. Evan began to laugh in astonishment. “He remembers!” exclaimed Al. The boys swam back to the boat thrashing with excitement.
“What are you two fools doing?” yelled Mr. Todd. “There isn’t gonna be any fishing to do if you don’t quit making all that noise.”
“Grandpa?” said Evan. “Do you know who I am?”
“Of course I know who you are,” replied Mr. Todd. “You’re my lazy first mate, now get back up here we have a long day ahead of us.” Evan’s heart sank and the happiness and excitement left his face, replaced with heartbreak. “We knew this might happen,” said Al. Mr. Todd would often get confused, unsure of where he was or he was. His mind would come back to him at times, but stuck 20 years in the past, and this was one of those times.
Evan and Al, still a little shaken up, decided to move on to their next destination, Whale Rock. Whale Rock is a giant boulder off the coast of Black Rock Beach. It is barely visible when it breaks the surface of the water. Mr. Todd always told them never to sail too close to the rock during the day and to always steer clear of it when night sailing. As they approached the area where whale rock lay, the expression on their grandfather’s face changed from indifference to fear and anguish. He began to shake his head rapidly, burying his face in the palms of his hands. He was crying, then sobbing. The boys didn’t know what to do.
“Help him!” yelled Evan, as Al rushed to Mr. Todd’s side, begging him to talk to them. “What’s wrong Grandpa?” asked Al, his voice shaky and coated with fear.
“This is where I lost her,” whispered Mr. Todd.
“Lost who?” asked Evan, and then he remembered. Evan and Al’s parents had told them the story only once, briefly and reluctantly. Their grandmother who they never got the chance to meet had drowned when they were very young. Her name was Sarah. She was thrown overboard when she and their grandpa got caught in a storm while sailing. Her body was found washed up on Whale Rock a week later.
“I want to be with her!” screamed Mr. Todd, now hyperventilating and barely able to speak. Before Evan or Al could stop him he dived over the edge of the sailboat. The boys watched in terror as his body disappeared beneath the surface. Al dove in after him. He managed to pull his grandfather above water, but he was fighting him.
Mr. Todd was screaming “No! Stop! Let me go!” Evan didn’t know what to do. He was frozen and could do nothing but stare at his brother as he tried desperately to save their Grandfather’s life. Al was a strong young man, but his grandfather was still much bigger and capable of overpowering him. Al was struggling to stay above the surface, taking in mouthfuls of ocean water, unable to gain control of his grandfather. He was about to give up when something swam past him, brushing up against his legs. It felt like a fish, but much larger. Then a fin broke the surface, and then another. The boys heard a large splash behind them and whipped around to see what it was. There was a pod of dolphins surrounding their boat. Mr. Todd stopped fighting Al and gazed at the creatures in amazement.
“It’s her,” he whispered, “It’s my Sarah.” As her name left his lips his body went limp and his eyes rolled back. Evan helped Al get Mr. Todd into the boat and they headed for shore.
“Is..is he dead?” asked Evan.
“Not yet,” replied Al.
Mr. Todd woke up in a hospital bed the next day, he had suffered a heart attack. “He’s lucid,” said one of the nurses as Evan and Al entered the room.
“How are my favorite grandsons?” said Mr. Todd. A single tear fell from Evan’s face as he knelt down by his Grandfather’s side. “I remember everything,” said Mr. Todd. “I’m so sorry for what I put you boys through. I guess I just lost control when I saw the rock. I will never forget the day they found your grandmother and told me that she was dead. But you know what? You boys got to meet her yesterday.”
“What do you mean, grandpa” asked Al.
“Dolphins were her favorite animal,” replied Mr. Todd. “When they surrounded us yesterday and saved me from taking my own life, a mistake the two of you would have never forgiven me for, I knew that it was her. She gave me another chance at life and I am going to take it. I know that I have Alzeihmer’s, boys, and I am fully aware that my mind may deceive me and turn to static on a screen once again, but I need the two of you to promise me something before that happens.”
“Anything,” said Evan.
‘Whatever you need,” replied Al.
Mr. Todd struggled to get the words out, his voice broke as he whispered: “Promise me that no matter what happens to me, you boys will stop taking on the burdens of my disease and go live your lives. Do amazing things. Do everything that I never got the chance to do, and if you won’t do it for yourselves, do it for me.”
“We promise,” replied Evan and Al.
Those were the last words Evan and Al said to their grandfather. He died at 10:38 that night, but that was okay. He had found his lost memories.