2 Kinds of Shipwrecks


Reading a book on famous Great Lakes Shipwrecks in the sparse light from above that doesn't cover her reading area at all, Sheila looks out the window to the sinking sun over the ground which all looks blue. She stretches, blinks. Her mother has cancer and she's taking the plane home to visit her in Hancock County Hospital. She hasn't heard the details yet—it's all very new, apparently—but that it is somewhere in her mother's stomach, working its way either in or out.
      She doesn't really know much about cancer except the name itself often means death, from what she's heard or read, though her friends have been reassuring her that it's very often treatable, and her brother at home has said that he's not worried. Though she knows better. He was elongating his vowels too much when they were talking—under all his "don't worrys" and hilarious anecdotes, there was a well of calm nervousness that echoed his words—dark and so clear.
     The magazines on this flight were all useless, so she asked the man sitting next to her for a book—any book—to read, since he had a stack. She said she was dyslexic. He was obliging. He had a mustache which needed trimming.
     She's read halfway through the shipwrecks book, though she can't decide if it's actually interesting or not. She suspects not, but keeps reading because it's getting dark outside and she's trying to avoid thinking about what she might find when she gets home—her mother hooked up to machines with floating needles and green electronic readout screens. Sheila's seen these before and they're almost scarier than the illness itself. Science has found ways to transform the body into data, she remembers thinking, seeing the EKG on her grandmother ping and ping again, and then, out of the room on the linoleum hallway floor, she was told it had finally dropped to nothing. There was a dullness in the air that felt like it had substance itself. Death, reported by computer, backed up by printouts. Her grandmother's collection of last moments stored on magnetic tape, hard disk, or optical media. Everything being fed into machines, blood circulating through filters and pneumatic pumps, and back into the body.
     Exactly the kind of contemplation she's been trying to avoid, she says. Her voice surprises her. She gets back to reading about the wreck of the Three Brothers:

The Three Brothers met her fate on September 27th, 1911 while hauling $4200 worth of hardwood from Boyne City to Chicago. Just out of Boyne City, the vessel began to leak more than usual due to heavy weather and the water soon overwhelmed her pumps. The water quickly rose to a level of eight feet, flooding her hold and coal bunkers, which forced the firemen to fuel her with kerosene to keep her steam up. In this condition, Captain Sam Christopher chose to run her ashore on South Manitou Island. At full steam, the Three Brothers plowed ashore 200 yards east of the lifesaving station. Upon impact, she split her bow open and knocked her pilot house loose. However, her bow was still in 15 ft. of water, and she was in nearly 50 ft. of water aft. The waves began to scatter her deckload of lumber and she was soon spotted by Captain Kent and the crew of the lifesaving station who took off Captain Christopher and his 13 crewmen. The weather was such that the men chose to leave many of their personal effects on the ship. The crew lodged with the lifesavers until they were taken off by the wrecking tug Favorite. The Favorite was unable to dislodge the vessel from the beach and she was judged to be beyond salvage value. Some hardware was removed from the Three Brothers, but when salvagers returned for her boilers the next year she was already under water.

There are two kinds of shipwrecks, she thinks to herself, offers up one thought that spins like a coin on a hardwood floor: ones you leave, and ones you don't. As she passes over Traverse City and the land falls away behind her, yielding to the wide expanse of Lake Michigan, Sheila thinks of her mother and everything that lies ahead, looks up from the pages in front of her, stretches out, suspended above the choppy water that from up here looks solid as a table.