Charles found the boat stuck in the sand, after a storm pushed it ashore. The hull solid enough to float. No one came up through the waves calling for it. The way the boy saw it, the boat now belonged to him.
Grandfather slept upstairs. He would learn too late that the boy had fled the island in the night with only a single oar. The moon above to guide him. The clouds flowed away and the night-sky turned and the stars fell over the horizon. The boat drifted. In the darkest hours, Charles put the oar down and slept in fits of cold and splashes of saltwater.
In the morning the sun warmed the boy and woke him. He lay in the bottom, and everywhere he looked, sky, nothing but sky. The boat rocked from side to side, staying in one place. He could feel it. He realized too late that the tide had pushed him back ashore.
Charles sat up and looked around for any signs of his grandfather. A thin line, a clean beach with sand as white as salt. The sand made him think of white foam on the peaks of waves and white seagulls diving at his head and the white pages in books he used to read by candlelight. The words, like sand, pulled out in the tide, slipping out of his mind as soon as they’d been deposited there. He’d put the book back on the shelf where others like it as heavy as bricks kept the wall from falling down. Grandfather was angry as hell when he found out.
Books were meant to be shared, but grandfather kept them under lock and key. He was nothing more than an evil tyrant. His house, his rules, and no room for error. The boy was done with him. Charles jumped out of the boat onto the soft beach and ran up to the treeline.
–Hello, he called and nobody answered.
Inside the trees he found boards nailed together and some tied with twine. A leaning roof. Shallow indentation on a floor woven of leaves, the resting place about his size, and sand everywhere. The shelter hadn’t been used in a decade, he guessed, although he had no way of measuring the ways and means of how time passed here.
He climbed a tree and knocked down a coconut and split it open on a rock outside the shelter. Nearby were similar discarded coconut shells, all looking like they’d been split open a week ago. Or a day. Or less. Somewhere he heard the sounds of wild animals. They were watching him.
He cried. It wasn’t enough to run away from home. He opened up his arms to hug the sky, but there was nothing there to fill his soul.
The boy followed a path away from the shelter and through the trees. He crossed a shallow stream where minnows darted between strands of moss hanging from the roots of trees. Here the earth was soft and cold in his hands when he picked it up and broke it apart.
On a rock the size of a house the boy stretched out in the afternoon and slept. In the night he awoke. Sounds filtered by nature, muffled and obscure, fed his mind with pictures of home, of books and candlelight.
Above the rock, the night sky. Stars formed mazes that he followed with his eyes. He tried talking to them but they only drifted away. The moon pointed at a pond nearby, a circular glow much like it on the surface. Fish darted in patterns down below, telling him he needed to go home. He grabbed a stone and tossed it in the water, disturbing them and sending them far and wide. Let them be lost, like he was.
By mid-morning Charles woke to the sounds of children playing. He followed the trail and found them in the backyard. That’s when he realized the boat had only circled around to the far side of the island.
He stood at the edge of the treeline and watched, undiscovered. Grandfather stood by the house, looking in his direction, not seeing him, not seeing anything. His face was all wrong. Uncle offered him a plate of food and he refused to eat.
–How long’s he been like this? Uncle asked.
–Since the car accident, Grandfather said. He won’t talk to anyone since his mother and father passed away.
–What will you do?
–What else can I do? Learn to pray?
Rain fell and the children ran inside the house. Grandfather waited only a moment before following them in. Charles went in when no one was looking and climbed into his bed and wrapped himself in blankets. He was discovered an hour later and given hot chocolate.
The boat soon washed away in a storm. It drifted, flooded, then sank into the ocean. The one oar remained on the beach. Charles found it a week later when he walked down the path behind the house to explore. Sitting on the white sand, he pretended to row, always moving in circles, never getting far from home.
Up the beach, he saw his grandfather waiting for him. Charles stood and approached the old man. A book was offered to him and he felt the cover, the title, the name, discovering that it had been written by his father.
Hand in hand, they went home. The oar was forgotten, the book left behind. But whenever he needed it, Charles would return to the shelter to read more pages. Grandfather waited each time for him to come back. He knew the boy was going somewhere he had to be, in his mind, in his heart, somewhere over there, on his side of the island.