Excerpt from Voyage of the Frog
- Grades: 6–8
About this book
David Alspeth stopped at the locked gate, felt in his hands the weight of the small box which he could not stand to see yet, looked down on the sailboat, and tried not to cry.
She was twenty-two feet long, with a two-foot wooden bowsprit sticking from her nose, a stainless steel pulpit above it. Her mast and boom were made of wood, kept in good shape and varnished to a high sheen. And she had stainless steel lifelines all around and a small cabin in the middle with two plastic portholes on each side.
She was old, designed by a man named Schock and made in the mid-sixties, so old her fiberglass hull had lost its shine and had a faintly sanded, opaque look to it, although the original color—a robin's egg blue—still shone in the California sun. She had been made before they fully understood fiberglass and learned they could make it thin, so her hull was a full half inch thick, and somehow it made her look stout—tough and short and low and punchy and stout.
Across her stern was a wooden plaque an on it was hand carved FROG.
David ran his hand over his face. The Frog, he thought—and she's mine. I'm fourteen years old and I've got my own sailboat, my own complete sailboat and I would give everything, all that I am, to not have it. He looked out across the small marina that comprised most of the Ventura harbor.
There was a stiffening breeze kicking up the waves beyond the breakwaters and he smiled thinking of what his uncle Owen called waves.
"Lumps," he used to say when they were getting ready to go out and the wind was blowing the sea around. "The ocean is full of lumps..."
And there it was—used to say. His uncle Owen didn't say anything now. Not anymore. His uncle didn't say anything now. Not anymore. His uncle Owen was dead. Oh God, he thought—this just stinks. It just stinks to have it be this way. He cradled the wooden box in one hand and pulled a plastic card out of his back pocket and looked at it.
It was a Ventura marina lock card made out to Owen Alspeth. He put the card in the slot next to the gate, heard the lock click, pulled the gate open. The tide was out and the walkway sloped down at a steep angle so that he had to hold the handrail to keep from trotting forward.
At the bottom the dock was flat, and he walked to the slip holding the Frog. She wasn't locked. Owen didn't believe in locks, didn't believe in anything that held or confined things.
"If they're going to steal something the lock won't stop them," he'd said. And nobody had ever stolen from him, though other boats in the marina had been hit several times. Didn't believe in locks or chains or tying things down. Ahh, David thought and he shook his head and tried to shake his grief, the memory of the whole stinking mess pouring back into his thoughts.
Owen had felt a backache and gone to the doctor on a Monday morning and by Tuesday he knew he was going to die, knew that the cancer he had would kill him, that they could do nothing. Nothing for him. Again David controlled the tears. Down the dock a bit an older man stared at him for a moment, then turned away.
It had spread so fast. The cancer—so incredibly fast. A week after he'd gone into the hospital they had found more tumors in his brain and Owen called David in to visit him. David had wanted to go sooner but while they were running tests Owen had asked him to wait. David's parents—Owen was his father's brother—were taking turns staying with him in the hospital. His mother had been there when David came the first time, and Owen had asked her to leave.
David hated hospitals, and it was worse when he saw Owen lying in bed. He looked weak, caved in, dead already, dead and done, and when David saw him he was overwhelmed with the change. His uncle's cheeks were sunken and his whole face was cast in a gray that somehow looked even and flat. And the smell from him was a mixture of alcohol and urine and feces—David had heard his mother say that the tumor in his spine kept him from controlling himself from the waist down.
Instantly, without a single thought that it was coming, David threw up, and of course that made it al the more horrible. Owen, his Owen who was so close, his Owen who had taken him out sailing so many times and who always kept himself so neat that when the wind blew his hair didn't move, his own sweet uncle Owen—and he couldn't see him without throwing up, making a mess all over the floor. To make it still worse Owen laughed. A skull laugh.
"Some smell isn't it?"
And David thought, What can I say? What words can come out now to make this all right? And of course nothing came and he stood there with the mess on his shirt and the floor, looking but trying not to stare, hurting and trying not to breathe, and he was taken by such a roar of hate that it made his vision blur even more than the tears.
There had to be somebody to hit for this, he thought—there had to be some damn enemy to hit for this, this stinking death thing that was in the room.
"They think I might make two more weeks," Owen said, shrugging, his bony shoulders like two hooks. Tubes seemed to be poked into him in many places and they rattled when he moved. "I doubt I'll make a week but who am I to know?"
David shook his head—angry jerks. "Don't talk like that, dammit. Things happen. People make it. There are things they can do. There are always things they can do..."
But they both knew that the doctors could do nothing, could take nothing more from him nor add anything to him to save him.
"All they can do now is keep me drugged up and comfortable." Owen looked past David, out the window at the hills in back of Ventura. The smog-haze was thickening and the rolling, brush-covered hills were bathed in yellow muck. "I want you to have the Frog."
Another violent shake. "No. I can't take her. Not like this, not this way. You love that boat, you live for it..." David trailed off, paused, finished lamely. "I just can't. It wouldn't be right."