Short Story · Father’s Day

By Matías Busch

Translated by Victoria Pehl Smith


Ten small boats with their white sails advance on the quiet water. We are sailing with my daughter, shit, glory to God, praised be his name, what more could a sailor want than that his kids share his love of the sea, of the wind in the sails and riding the waves with water under the keel. The small beginner’s boats are like nutshells, in which my adult ass has been squashed. Above me a single sail swollen by the wind and there’s no way I can move, although it doesn’t matter because my daughter is at the helm.

—This is marvelous, Auro —I tell her. Even in my best dreams I never sailed with my daughter.

She smiles, but does not look at me. A lock of hair lies across her face and from the prow I no longer see the girl, being at the helm makes her a lot more like a woman. Aurora, daughter of a tiger, adjusts the line as she looks at the sail, drifting and luffing as the occasion warrants and I can’t help but admire her and take delight in that sailor’s task. Behind us, sailing in the channel, other parents, other children, other stories and other ways of fitting two people into a boat made for a child. Lautaro’s father put his son in the prow and took command of the helm. Lautaro seems bored.

To the right of the channel is the concrete breakwater that makes me uneasy The boat advances slowly and when we go out into the open river the wind appears in all its force and pushes us, we list to one side. Aurora adjusts the line and, hooking her ankles in the harness attached to the bottom of the little boat, she hangs her body out over the waves, the boat rights itself and shoots ahead. Ten years old and she already does it like an expert, with her thermal socks, her neoprene booties and her pink life vest. She has a bright red polka dot headband tied over her forehead that shows which team we’re on. They also gave me a red headband that I put in my pocket. Lautaro’s father is one of the greens and he wears his headband as if he were a fucking bear hunter. Lautauro wears his just like his dad.

At the first turn, our problems begin. Coming about, Aurora tries to get us to move but I tell her that there’s no way because my mobility is restricted. But my daughter wrinkles her nose, imitating the sour expression of her mother, and with the same black eyes repeats that we have to switch sides. The instructor told them that the helmsperson has to be opposite the sail. Nowhere do I see the instructor, a blonde in a Zodiac with her hair in a bun and wearing mirrored sunglasses. This doesn’t matter to Aurora, who wants to do everything well, period. In order to do so, she takes a little step that manages to make us list and we’re just about to fall in the water. Aurora returns to her place, she sits on the bottom of the boat with tears in her eyes and I explain to her that it’s a special day for us, Father’s Day. For that reason she has to carry a crew that weighs almost one hundred kilos, when she has only sailed alone before, and therefore she should make some concessions that the instructor will most certainly understand. But Aurora is no longer looking at the sail, not even at the waves, rather she is looking downwards at the little ghost that lives in the bottom of the boat that needs to be watered by her heavy tears. Meanwhile, Lautaro’s boat passes us and I see that their strategy has its advantages. Putting the father’s weight at the helm, the boat sails straighter and better. Lautaro doesn’t seem as bored now that he’s passing us.

I have to say, there are some attitudes that really piss me off. I met Lautaro’s father on land when he was choosing the best boat and a new sail. Meanwhile, I, in my naiveté, helped Aurora with the knots. I realized that for some, life is a damned race, even when it’s during Father’s Day games. I thought about those parents who project their successes through their children, and those who see a Messi in each child in order to salvage their own frustrations. I believed it to be a sickness of troglodyte soccer parents and that we sailors would be exempt from it. I believed this because for me, those of us who have the necessary sensitivity to propel ourselves by the wind are a breed apart. It’s obvious that there are differences. And now, when Lautaro and his father pass us, I think about changing places with my daughter, moving to the helm in order not to give up any more advantages. But Aurora’s weepy eyes stop me. I see sail number one gradually recede into the distance. I see more and more water between us and the little boat with the bright green headbands.

We reach a spot where the Zodiac is waiting for us. The instructor has thrown two orange spheres into the water and shouts an explanation of the game. You have to sail back and forth between the two buoys until she throws a yellow Frisbee into the water. You have to pick it up and pass it to someone from the same fleet, and then the last guy throws it to the Zodiac. I prepare myself for action, I turn my bottom in its receptacle in order to remain facedown and be able to put my arm over the gunwale. I grip the paddle.

We sail from buoy to buoy and Aurora no longer cares if she’s sometimes on the same side as the sail. She only has eyes for the Zodiac where the yellow Frisbee is. I study our fleet, the red one: there’s a little girl sailing with her grandfather, there are two parents I know from the adult regattas, there’s another that always likes to grill. Among our rivals is the treasurer of the club and a little boy who lost his father to cancer and is sailing with his mother. Then there are Lautaro and his father who are doing something weird while stopped near one of the buoys. I watch as we pass them. Lautaro is in the stern trying to use his little body as a counterweight because his father is on the mast tugging at a line. He’s trying to trim the sail, to make it less full. The guy is a maniac.

And the Frisbee flies far away towards the side from where the wind is coming. Some try to reach it by sailing, but we are going at it directly, with me violently rowing. I tell Auroro to help me by moving the rudder back and forth. Our boat moves forward, the sterile sail fluttering. I look to both sides and we have the advantage. Those who are under sail are moving lazily to the right or left, according to their strategy. Others imitate ours and are following us rowing. The Frisbee can be clearly seen on the water’s surface. I double my effort with the paddle until a certain point when I feel a jolt. Lautaro yells at his father that they’ve crashed. The boats are stuck together and cannot move forward. I try to separate them with the paddle. Then I sense that we’re going backwards. Lautaro’s father’s smiling face is watching me from about a meter away and he says:

—This is fair, right? —while he pushes our boat backwards and propels his forward.

But his doesn’t manage to get away. I use the oar to hook it and bring it around violently. The boats bump each other again, Lautaro’s boat looses its rudder with the blow and someone yells. I brace my two hands on the other boat and with all my weight I tip it enough so that it takes on water. Lautaro’s father smacks me, grabs my wrist, embedding my watch in my skin. I have the paddle in my other hand, I raise it, and suddenly Lautaro’s father’s mouth is bleeding, he cannot believe it and releases my hand to touch his split lip. I raise the paddle again, the boat moves, I lose balance and the second blow falls between his shoulder and neck. Now the boats separate, I feel a sharp pain in my elbow, Lautaro’s father is hugging his son. Lautaro grabs his hand, he has a smashed finger that’s bleeding.

But we are free, we have the helm and we’ve taken on a bit of water. With just a few paddle strokes, I reach the Frisbee, I take it out of the water and I give it to Aurora so she can throw it, but she doesn’t want it. Right then I realize that I fucked up, again. The Zodiac is far away, they don’t see us very well, but they know that something is wrong. The other boats approach, but there is too much silence. The kids are not laughing. There is blood, Lautaro’s white boat makes it obvious that there’s blood. I throw the Frisbee far and hang my head. I cover my face. I really fucked up. I think about Aurora’s mother, what it cost me to change days so I could be with my daughter on Father’s Day. And now I seriously fucked up.

After what seems to me like an eternity, the yelling starts again, though they are farther off. There are two boats that are not following the wild race for the Frisbee, one of the greens and one of the reds. The Zodiac with the instructor comes over to ours first. Aurora calls her, yelling: “Naty, Naty,” and Natalia hears her and pulls up along side.
—I want to get off —Aurora tells her.
—You want to get off?
—Yes, I don’t want to play any more.
—Why not, princess, why don’t you want to play any more?

I intervene then, I tell the instructor that Aurora’s father got too involved in the game. At times he gets a little violent, I tell her, and that’s why she wants to get off.

Then Natalia convinces my daughter to continue with me. She suggests to Aurora that we stop playing for a bit and sail from buoy to buy until the others finish. Aurora accepts and the Zodiac leaves. Natalia hasn’t the slightest idea what she’s going to find in Lautaro and his father’s half-sunken boat, she can’t even imagine it. But I try to distract myself, I help Aurora with the sail, we head for the orange buoy and it’s no longer the same riding with water under the keel. My daughter sails, turned inward, without showing me what she is thinking. We sail on a beam reach. I feel the breeze on my face. But I hear shouting off to my right and I make the mistake of looking. The boats of the green fleet string together two consecutive throws of the Frisbee and a dad throws it into the air. A curved flight deposits it in front of us. Twenty meters separate us from them, the entire fleet is coming toward us. I hear the shouts and I am dazzled. In front of us in the water there is a yellow Frisbee. I grasp the paddle and nothing else matters. Our boat advances and before arriving, I lean half of my body out. I skewer the buoy with the paddle and I have it in my power. Then I look at Aurora who is not longer celebrating. I already know, I think, she wants to get off again, she wants to go with her instructor, she’s fed up with her father. Then I stand up and hug the mast. The boat lists, the parents and children watch me from the other boats. I throw the Frisbee with all my might. The parabola is magnificent and it’s my wish that that Frisbee never reach the water. During its flight, an afternoon on the river comes to mind, arriving at Colonia on my first sailboat, the Baobab II, the lighthouse on Farrallón Island to the west, a young girl with black eyes enthusiastically at the helm while I heat water on the portable stove for mate. Aurora was not there, she was a dream cradled in the soft waves. A dream that now hears from the splashing sound how the Frisbee ended its flight, and asks me to let her get off, like her mother did before.