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"I don't." Nat spoke the words before he realized how much they revealed. "I mean, what's this supposed to be, a basketball team? A bridge game?" (That was better—bridge. Why couldn't he have thought of bridge first?) "I mean, it's against my undemocratic principles to do anything that needs more than three people. Like you might as well be wearing sweat shirts with numbers on the back." He couldn't stop. "Hey, did I ever tell you about my great vision? There we are, on the playing field, man, with numbers on our backs, sacrificing our giblets in some lousy game, and we trot back to the locker room to change, only all of a sudden you realize that we aren't wearing shirts at all. I mean, like the numbers are on our skin."
Dyce was staring at him. Nat had known from the beginning that his tone was wrong, but he was always unable to stop himself. He had done exactly what he didn't want to do, called attention to himself as an outsider, the first time that he was invited aboard as a working partner. "Peculiar," that was the word Dyce would use for him, and he was that—small, although he was 15, and a stranger to his brother besides, since Dyce was away each winter, first at boarding school and now at college, while Nat himself was shipped off to camp each summer.
"Get the sails on." The order came from Samuelson. Glad to escape, Nat walked forward with the jib, the bow heaving up and down under his feet. Occasionally he was smacked by an out-of-rhythm wave, like a boxer taking an uppercut on the chin. Once forward of the mast, where he could not hear voices from the cockpit, Nat was happy. One could be lonelier on a boat than anywhere but the grave, and that was what he wanted—to be alive and awake and yet alone, away from voices. He hated words as only a wordy person can, his own most of all. But this was fine. The supposed silence of eternity must be what he was hearing now—not silence but a roar of wind, howling from nowhere into nothing, as galaxies rush past each other, the sum of all noises jumbled together into one, just as light is every color made indistinguishable.
Dyce finished attaching the mainsail. He braced his legs and pulled on the outhaul, to flatten the foot of the sail, and when he was done Samuelson plucked the sail's rope like a guitarist to check its tension, but said nothing.
For a moment, while Nat was still on deck attaching the jib, Dyce ducked into the cabin and took something from a drawer.
"Tape on the jib sheets," said Samuelson.
"Nothing." Dyce wound the roll of tape in his hand around the shackle joining the jib sheets to the sail, the way that he would have taped a prizefighter's hand. It was something that they did only when the wind, slicing past the metal shrouds, let out a low whistle, which meant that it was blowing 15 knots or better. Each wind has its own sound; this one from the northeast had the drawn-out wail of keening women.
Ten minutes later both sails were hoisted. Samuelson stood at the tiller, one hand on the mainsheet. Nat was taking care of the jib, while Dyce moved forward to unfasten the mooring line and stand at the bow with it, cradling it in his arms so that it would not scrape the side of the boat. He stood there, and for the first time—at least that he could remember—Nat really saw his brother; saw him walk aft, still holding the mooring line as if the deck hadn't suddenly risen sharply under him, slanting up from the water on his side and down toward the mainsail on the other; saw him—a 19-year-old boy, still without his foul-weather clothes so that his red knit shirt, already soaked with spray, was turning dark in patches as if soaked with blood—walking along the deck toward the cockpit (the distance was less than 10 feet) with his legs braced apart, like the eternal hero. There was nothing brave about him. There was no point in trying to learn from him, Nat realized, because Dyce's ease came from something more basic than bravery. It came from innocence. He simply didn't know, at that instant anyway, that destruction existed. As the mainsail filled, Dyce dropped the mooring line and jumped into the cockpit. The boat headed out of the harbor, wallowing at first and then suddenly heeling as it felt the first gusts of wind over the open water.