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Matthew Summers-Sparks

The Mystery of the Disappearing Boat

Mark opened the drawer in the upstairs landing, where the family kept scissors, string, coupons, and tape. The drawer was in the desk where his father Grady had arranged short stacks of manila folders and loose papers, one of which read How to Sell Your Boat.

Mark picked up the paper. He yelled, "Youíre not selling the boat are you, Dad?" Grady was upstairs.

Grady had purchased the second-hand boat the previous July. The boat was eighteen feet long and had room for the entire family, but it sat in the garage since the evening he brought it home. Unlike birthday or Christmas gifts, the boat was something Grady picked out with the family. It was both a surprise and a sacrifice: Grady got terrible motion sickness. Twenty-five years ago, on his and Charlotteís honeymoon in the Bahamas, Grady got carsick, airsick, and, on several occasions, seasick.

Grady yelled a response to Mark: "No one seems interested in using it."

No one in the family seemed interested in the boat at allóeveryone was home on the July Fourth afternoon and pursued their own interests, none of which concerned the boat. Mark grabbed the scissors from the drawer, and then walked toward the ringing telephone that hung beside the desk. He picked up the receiver and said "Hello."

The caller, a man Grady worked with, mistook Markís voice for his fatherís. The callerís voice was of a much higher register. He said that he was calling about the signs Grady had posted about the boat in the company commissary, and was Grady there?

"Hold on a minute," Mark said. He cupped his hand over the receiver and then looked at the staircase. Mark heard the floorboards give slightly as Grady walked across his bedroom floor. The papers in the manila folders stood perfectly still. Mark leaned against the kitchen table and he heard his sisters talk about fireworks in the dining room. Mark put the phone back to his ear and heard the man clear his throat. Mark looked at the stairs again. The boat, his fatherís gift to the family, was inadequate.

Mark told the man on the phone, "My dadís not here right now."

The man seemed disappointed. "I guess Iíll just see him on Monday."

"Okay," Mark said. Then, just before the man hung up, Mark asked, "So what do you want to do with the boat?"

The man on the telephone cleared his throat. "Take it out to the lake," he said. "Maybe kick back a few beers with the old lady, and do some fishing." The man paused. "Maybe Iíll take the grandkids out now and again."

"I see."

"You like the boat?" asked the man.

"Yes." Mark liked the boat. He appreciated it.

"You sorry to see it go?" the man asked.

"Yes."

"Whyís Grady selling it?"

"He doesnít use it." Mark paused and then added, "No one uses it."

"Is there something wrong with it?"

"No. No one really has time." Mark took a quick breath.

"Whatís wrong with it?" the man asked.

"Nothing. Itís real nice." He heard his sisters laugh; he heard nothing upstairs. He could explain it all easily, by saying something like, It wouldnít be any fun or perhaps The problem is itís no fun being with Dad.

But he said nothing and held onto the silence too long.

The man on the other end of the conversation cleared his throat and then said the boat sure sounded real nice. He then added, "Be sure to tell him that Woodson called."

"Let me get a piece of paper," said Mark. He picked up a piece of notepaper from near the telephone cradle. He wrote "Woodson," promised heíd let Grady know, then hung up the telephone and jammed the paper into his pocket and swore to forget about it all.


Matthew Summers-Sparks' writing has appeared in several magazines, anthologies and newspapers, including the New York Times, McSweeney's, Pindeldyboz and Creative Nonfiction.

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