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A Man’s Place

For several days, I debated whether to swallow my pride and motor back to Clear Lake. I could tell the broker I’d bought her from to sell her, send me the money, and all this indecision would end. I could walk away with a pregnant wife and find some place to live without the effort and risk of a sailboat. Then we would not be living on a postcard, we would just be married and pregnant, me and a woman I was not in love with, who was not in love with me, with whom I’d struck a deal to be a parent. Without romance between us, the boat, in all its myriad demands and potential for adventure, had taken up the slack in romance. Betsy, more than I, had fallen in love with the idea of raising children on the ocean.

Pride would not allow me to go back where we had started, and quit the boat in front of all those people whose respect I had gained while making it. I decided to take her as far as New Orleans, see how it felt getting there. I would pilot us on the Inland Waterway, a slow cruise in slick calm water, do it the easy way.

I bought charts for the inland passage, took a few days to study the route and read up on rules of the road regarding the tug boats, grain, and fuel barges that used the Inland Waterway thereabouts.

To quit would be a breech of trust. If I did it, I would have a woman on my hands whose beauty and blonde hair entitled her, so she had been taught by the society we lived in, to expect more. Unless it were her idea to sell the boat, I couldn’t quit without a total loss.

Having a yacht for a home, life on a postcard was automatic. If I remained a captain, my pregnant wife would have the romance she needed, and so would I. Much as I craved children, the thought of giving up Mysterion made fatherhood look like prison. For escape I needed romance too.

The Inland Waterway was calm and smooth and like a mirror. Running east, early in the morning, speed seven knots, a little faster than you comfortably walk. Planning to average sixty miles each day, and reach New Orleans in about a week, give or take.

Strange things happen to a man with a pregnant wife. Everyone recognizes the comedy of it: the overly concerned male, confused and mystified, bouncing around a calm, focused female listening inside herself to the subtle, tectonic shifts of her anatomy.

A woman naturally knows where to step next. Nature whispers to her in a language incomprehensible to a man. It is as though she has been abducted by the evolving, aquatic creature swimming in her belly. As if the interior woman you will never really know is reflected, not visible directly, but glowing where you can see her, and be mesmerized by her. You glimpse creation, embodied and tangible.

You will either devote yourself, be elevated in self-sacrifice, or you might grow chicken feathers and call yourself a rooster, keep your distance and call it “a man’s place”. You can always dash off to hunt money. Finding plenty of it you can offer cash, precious stones, domestic help, whatever buys you the distance needed to convince you that you’re real man.

Or you will lose yourself entirely as I did, be confined, kept waiting, in a state of constant readiness, whether necessary or not.

I was blinded by the glow to all endeavor and other purpose; my only object became the comfort and security of the creature my seed had produced. I was Mr. Mom before dirty diapers were available to change.

I drove the boat while Betsy slept. The waking world had only a minor toehold on her. She prepared breakfast, made sure I was fed, disappeared below and slept, lulled by the rhythm of the diesel engine.

She woke in time to feed me lunch, retired for another nap, sleeping like a log till late afternoon. She came on deck with the flag of her hair swinging in the Texas heat. She glowed, beatific; listening to her belly, she often kept one hand on the baby, her right arm akimbo, the palm of her right hand covering the place where the growing baby swam. She protected it, probably unconsciously remembering several years ago the funeral of her still born son. I never mentioned my fear that the embryo, or fetus, had been damaged by the sound waves of passing freight ships that night in Port Bolivar. I resolved that if the baby had been affected, I would take it as it came. I didn’t worry as much as I thought I might. Betsy didn’t talk much. She watched me manage the yacht. I was motivated and flattered by her trust. I aimed to be good enough to measure up.

I had to compensate when the boat malfunctioned. I made mistakes in navigating shallow water. You could not go perfectly in a sailboat from point A to point B. There was nothing to be ashamed of, and I kept learning, getting better at single-handing Mysterion. I would not let her lift a finger on deck. I kept pretending to have prior knowledge of the difficulties as they came, as though I maintained full control. Betsy believed I did.

Her part was to keep her hand on her womb and listen to the baby. My part was to transport her in secure comfort, keep the vessel in easy water. I let her sleep as much as she would.