Jacob Have I Loved

What Really Happened to Captain Hiram Wallace

(Jacob Have I Loved by Katherine Paterson)



The floorboards creaked as the boat rode the waves towards Rass Island. Rass Island is a small island located south-east of the shores of Chesapeake bay. I sat in the corner of the cabin near the relatively small porthole. I thought it was peculiar for one to be built-in such a small boat, I guess time has changed and every boat maker in the mainland builds a porthole in every boat now, regardless of its size. I can feel the stares of two glaring women at me, they seem to be coming back from the hospital to get some treatment and medicine for their aging body. The owner of the boat was Captain Billy who is currently above the cabin that I am in, in the top house. Captain Billy insisted that I stay in the lower cabin as the unfriendly weather changed from bad to worse. I had no objections as his son, Otis assisted me down in the room that I reside in presently. But maybe that was a bad choice, the Island of Rass closely held its Methodist values to their heart which means that a man cannot be alone in small room with two helpless women. Well, it’s not like I was going to do anything I just want some rest. It’s mid-April yet the cold frost of winter is still felt deep within my bones, it is taking its toll on me slowly but surely. One of the women bored her eyes into mine with so much intensity that I cannot help but feel like a helpless gazelle watched by a prowling tiger in the tall grass. The difference is that this tiger was so visible that it unnerved me that the woman did not show any restraint towards her actions to me. The woman finally gathered her courage and softened her stare and she attempted to ask a few questions. Her attempts were fruitless as the gusts of wind crescendo-ed and slowly swallowed any sound or inevitable controversies and gossips discussed by the women in the cabin. There is one thing that has not changed in Rass Island, the gossips of old women continued to pester the men that lived in it. Finally, Rass Island came into my view, it seemed like nothing has changed except for the now visible marshlands that replaced the beautiful green grass that surrounded my father’s house.

A few moments after, the boat docked, I waited for the two women to organize their belongings and step out of the cabin before I started with mine.

The scene that transpired as I saw it unfold on the other side of the pothole sent shivers down my back. A dozen families waited by the docks as they watched the two old women wobble out of the boat to concrete land. Their families came and helped them with their luggage and walked away. I, however did not get this quiet privilege as the two other women. As I stepped out of the boat, everyone in the crowd wore a look of bewilderment. Their eyes carefully watched me as I reached over to hold my bags that Otis was handing to me. Even Captain Billy was surprised by the reception building up in the docks. Gradually this puzzled look began to fade away replaced by the soft murmurs coming out of the lips of the women and men, neighbours of each other in Rass.

Summer storms in Rass were always unpredictable. We could always anticipate whether a storm would chip off a piece of the island or just rock the boats enough. My father, Captain Wallace and I were fishing a few miles off the bay’s coast. We both knew that a storm was coming yet we still continued to fish. Times were always quite tough in the seas when a storm was about, but we always managed to tide some in.  The seas were too quiet, no sea gulls circulated our ships and the usual sloshing of fish were non-existent. This was one sign that my father and I ignored. The other was the ominous sky that began to darken as the minutes passed by. Slowly a few drops of rain became a down pour, calm winds turned into gusts and as if it was not bad enough, the clouds raged with thunder and lightning.

“Son, tie up the mass. We might as well wait in the boat and wait for the storm to pass by. It’s unsafe to turn on the engine and fight the waves,” my father said coolly.

Unlike my father, my thoughts were not as calm. My mind was filled with all the wrong things that could happen to us at that time, yet he smoothly tied the knots and secured everything on the boat.  I do not know what is happening or what thoughts my father’s mind held but there was one thing I was sure of, the thoughts that belonged to me. The memories slowly crept into my mind as I heard the booming thunder and saw the flash of light. It was not too long ago that my mother perished in a summer storm just like this one. I guess this was when a waterman became solely a man’s job.

The waves slammed on our boat hard and I saw lightning strike the water about twenty metres away. Just like a key inserted in a locked door, this opened something in my mind. Fear. Adrenaline kicked into my body and I knew that at that time something was wrong. I took the axe from the emergency cabinet in the hidden insert near the front of the boat. I started hacking at the mass of our boat. I was halfway done until my father restrained my arms.

“What are you doing?!” My father yelled, the pouring rain hitting his eyes, “the lightning will not reach us, I just know that it won’t.”

This was not enough to stop me, reassurance does not do me any good I pushed my father off me. One would say that it was too hard because after that my father lay unconscious on the floor as I continued to chop our mass down.

The mass fell in the water. The waves carried our boat and fallen mass farther until I could not see it anymore.

I guess I do not remember much after that, a boat’s horn woke me up. It was however, not my boat’s horn it was someone else’s

“Wake up son, we are here,” my father said.

I got up and saw that our boat was pulled by Horace, our neighbour down the street. I also noticed the commotion at the dock. I thought that the look on our people’s faces were of relief that my father and I survived the storm but it was not. I got off the boat and started walking. With every step I took the quiet whispers turned into loud laughter. I was quite puzzled at first but then I shot a look at my father, he too, wore a look of disappointment. I darted away to our house and packed my stuff. I knew that I had to leave soon. A few minutes later my father opened my door.

“The storm was not bad, and I understand that you were scared, I was too. I did not show it because I knew that something like this might happen but a man of Rass never cuts of his mass unless the mass is destro-”

“It’s alright, I got it, I think I’ll take up the scholarship down in Maryland.”

And with that I ran to the docks waiting for the next boat to come.

A boat horn boomed its way towards me and I suddenly was aware of the present.

“No one came out of the boat with bags and a little furniture unless they do plan to stay for a long time,” a girl with dark hair and cerulean blue eyes whispered to a woman.

I held her stare for a few seconds and I thought to myself, my name is Hiram Wallace and I’m back to good ol’ Rass.



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