Photo by Jarrett Fifield on Unsplash

FLASH Fiction Challenge 100 – Day 21

Winter was the only season we could be together. During the spring and summers, Shaila trained and crewed on the Waving Wanda. Skippered by Janelle Rochelle, who had hopes of winning America’s Cup with an all-female crew for only the second time ever.

During the autumn months, I take care of my mother. She has a little house in picturesque northern Vermont. I have three siblings. All three of us can do our jobs remotely. So we simply divided the mom-sitting year equally between the four of us. We each get a season. Mom and I both enjoy autumn the most, so they awarded me fall as my season. The changing of the leaves, especially during fall in New England, is just the best; mom and I take walks through the woods behind her home every day.

Shaila would spend the fall months in Boulder – doing her actual job, the one she did for money, and that didn’t allow for her to work remotely. Then, in the winters, she would fly to Vermont. She would spend a couple of days with mom and me, then she and I would fly to Taos, to our winter home.

We had inherited a fairly spacious earthship from her parents. Our winters there were the best; the nights were cold, the days brisk but sunny. But the night sky is what drew us to make this dwelling our winter home. We rented out the adobe, partially underground house the other months of the year – to tourists, family members, or friends.

In the winters, we would sleep late, drink coffee on the roof, then we’d usually go for a 5-mile trail run. Come back, possibly make love, shower together. Typically, at that point, I would go to my study (if our satellite internet link was up) and write for several hours. I can work offline, but I’m so paranoid about losing any work that I much prefer to be online, where I can make numerous backups of my writing in the cloud. Shaila would tend to the earthship greenhouse. Harvest whatever we would eat later in the day for dinner. We were on our own for lunches. I usually just made a smoothie, so I didn’t have to interrupt my flow state of writing. If any shopping needed doing, Shaila would drive into the tiny village a few miles down the dusty, rocky road, buy some steaks, beer, wine, anything else we might need. The property we inherited is rather sizable, and I always feel like an eccentric, reclusive, wealthy millionaire when I get out of our jeep to unlock the privacy fence on our long twisting driveway – which is nearly two miles long. I am not a millionaire. Nor am I an eccentric recluse, I hope. Shaila would probably disagree.

Our life is simple here. We eat wholesome food, get plenty of fresh air, exercise, and time alone together to catch each other up on our years. We email, or talk over the phone of course when apart, but the time in our earthship grounds us to each other. It re-syncs our commitment to health and the other.

Some nights we’ll push the guest bedroom bed out onto the roof deck and sleep bundled under several comforters and a blanket of twinkling stars. The air is cold to breathe, but there’s nothing like waking in the middle of the night, looking up at the sky after the moon has set, and just being filled with awe at the faint points of light coming from millions of stars. Each photon of light had traveled millions of light-years to reach our planet, to find us on our rustic deck.

When we first traveled here, over 15 years ago, we stayed here with her parents. It was a little cozy here with the four of us and her parents’ three dogs, but it was fine. When I looked at her parents, I thought (and hoped) I saw a preview of where Shaila and I would be when we reached our sixties. Retired, content, healthy, and happy. What more can one ask?

‘ … sleep bundled under several comforters and a blanket of twinkling stars.’

I hear Shaila end her phone call. I couldn’t hear what the conversation was about specifically, but she’d mentioned after our run this morning that she was going to talk with Janelle. We’d been hearing rumors about some shake-up in the crew roster was in the making. One of Shaila’s crewmates, Tina, was resigning after an unexpected pregnancy.

I’m sitting on our roof. The sun won’t set for several more hours yet, but tonight the moon is new, the sky will be dark and the views will be breathtaking. On our first trip here, we’d watched the sunset and enjoyed the night sky with her parents. I looked up at one point and remarked that I thought it was cloudy. Gregg, Shaila’s dad, quietly chuckled at me.

“A lot of folks see that and assume those are clouds. Look closer, Keith. See how they aren’t moving? No, what you’re seeing there is the Milky Way,” her father had said.

I was stunned. When you get away from the city lights, you can see the Milky Way. After that, I pestered Shaila to get her folks to invite us back. I wanted more. I wanted a life embedded in, centered around those stars, that sky.

Also, and I’m pretty sure Shaila has forgotten this, but there’s a meteor shower tonight. She doesn’t follow such things. I’m the astronomy nerd in the family.

I’m sipping my martini when she joins me on the roof.

She doesn’t speak right away. That means one of two things. She has either good news or bad news. I hope for the former.

“Good news?” I say.

“Hm? Oh yeah, that? Janelle offered me a different position. No big deal, but it’s just the best position ever!” she says.

“So she made you helmsman? Well, it’s about time!”

I’m teasing her. She knows it, but she makes a goofy face at me anyway.

A lot of folks think helmsman is the penultimate position. Janelle was the skipper. It was her money, her boat, and she was an exceptionally talented sailor to boot. While many felt the helmsman was the superior position, my wife had always considered tactician as the most desirable job on a racing yacht. Much of what happens on the boat is physical. But the tactician was the one ultimately responsible for the boat’s position on the course. And boat position was everything to Shaila. If you had position, if you could read the ever-changing wind patterns, you could increase your lead if you were ahead or gain on the leader if you were behind. I loved hearing my wife talk about the mental component of sailing.

“Guess again,” she says, clinking her glass against mine.

“Tactician? Shaila Renee, you did it! I’m so proud of you!”

“I’ve got a lot of studying to do. I just got ordered a half dozen books online. I am so excited, I do hope you will make it to the cup next year.”

“I’ve already cleared it with everyone. I will be there, sweetheart. Scout’s honor,” I say as I make the cheesiest three-finger salute one could imagine.

“Thanks. Your support means everything to me.” She stands behind me and hugs my neck before sitting in the Adirondack chair next to mine.

“How may I help?”

“Just keep doing you, I guess.”

No, that’s not enough. Not with the additional pressures of being the Winona’s new tactician. I press her just a little.

“You’ll be doing Bronski’s course, I assume, online? Through the winter?”

“That’s the plan, Stan.”

“Look, Shaila, is it? We’ve been married for 17 years. This is embarrassing to point out, but my name is KEITH!

She laughs the laugh I always associate with the stars, each peal of laughter like a ray of starlight.

“Jerry said that course was pretty intense. It took him three months of six to seven hours of studying each day,” I remind her.

“Sounds about right,” she says as she surveys our western landscape.

“What do you say, for the next three months, or until you’ve completed the course, I take over all meal preparation?”

Normally, we alternated nights, but she was undertaking a lot by stepping into Tactician Tina’s shoes.

“You want to make me fat on your mushroom risotto? Is that your plan here, mister?”

“Ha! My risotto is calorie-free… ” I start.

“… just as long as you don’t swallow it!” she finishes.

We lean into each other and kiss.


“You got a deal,” she says. “But maybe only once a week with the risotto?”

“Deal,” I say.

We sit back in our chairs and wait for the sun to set.

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