Holly and I knew that we’d need a break after our visit with Uncle Ceslo in Verona. So we’d arranged to spend a few days on a resort island off the coast of Italy—just the two of us.
When Ceslo got wind of our plans, it was all we could do to dissuade him from booking the rest of the hotel rooms and brining the entire family along for our romantic vaction within a vacation.
We finally convinced him that we really did want to just spend the time together—just the two of us. In exchange, he extracted a promise to come back for his daughter’s wedding and gave us the name of a rental place on the pier where we could get a good discount on a motorboat and drive ourselves to the resort.
So, luggage in hand, we bid the family arrivederci and headed out to rent a boat from Fiorente e Figlio.
After a bit of searching, we finally found the pier Ceslo had steered us towards. It was small and out of the way. A rather bored young man slouched in a chair, looking out over the ocean.
Once he realized we weren’t boat owners renting pier space from him, he shambled over and asked us what we wanted.
He agreed to rent us a boat, muttering something about, “not many left these days.”
I asked him what he meant and he said that someone had been sneaking onto the pier at night and stealing boats. Fishing boats, motor boats, row boats—it didn’t matter. I asked about nighttime security and he just stared at me.
As we got our luggage onto the rental motorboat, he came over to help us cast off. He asked us to keep an eye out for the missing boats as he hadn’t made it “out that way yet, because of his short fingers.” I could only assume he meant he was short-handed.
It was a beautiful day so we decided to take our time and enjoy each others’ silent company. The water was still and beautiful, the wind played with Holly’s hair in a decidedly pleasant fashion.
We’d been out for forty minutes or so when I noticed something that looked like the outline of a fishing boat in the distance. It didn’t appear to be moving so we swung the boat around and went to take a look.
As we appoached the shore we realized it wasn’t one boat, but many boats of all sizes. Almost all of them were capsized, listing dangerously on the beach. Many had breeched hulls. A few were ghost ships—mere skeletons of rotting beams.
We waded through the surf, pulling our motorboat up onto the beach. As we did so, a sudden wind sprang up at our backs. Turning, we saw an enormous storm bearing down on us.
We ran for the nearest shelter—a fishing boat—and clambered through a gaping hole in its keel. We made it just in time and within minutes we couldn’t hear each other talk over the wailing of the storm.
The ship was surprisingly storm-worthy. In fact, there was evidence of recent repair work having been done. Another hole had been patched and the interior was surprisingly clear.
The storm passed as quickly as it had begun and we climbed out to do some exploring.
The island seemed pretty small, so we set out clockwise, figuring we’d be back at the motorboat in well under an hour.
In the wake of the storm, the beach was covered in detritus. We saw toys, plates, even a few suitcases filled with clothes. Many of the items were mostly buried in the storm-glittered sand.
We also saw more boats, all beached and in various stages of desrepair.
Holly surmised that the storm must have scattered the belongings of some island hermit that lived in one of the boats.
I wasn’t so sure. We did find evidence of some camp fires, but none of the boats looked particularly lived in. And if you were repairing boats, wouldn’t you make sure the one that served as home was secure against storms?
We circled the island without learning much and resumed our trip to the resort.
The next morning found Holly and I sunning ourselves on the resort beach. I wasn’t relaxing, not really. My mind was going over and over the events of the day before.
As I mused, I found I was staring at a peculiar old man sitting in a beach chair a few yards away. He was staring intently at the ocean, occasionally muttering to himself and waving his hands agitatedly.
I shook my head and returned my attention to Holly and started planning our day.
We took a tour, ate lunch at a nice little restaurant, and strolled through a beautiful park. But I wasn’t fully present. My mind kept returning to that old man on the beach and I couldn’t figure out why.
Finally, when we got back to the hotel I asked the concierge if he knew anything about him.
He told me only that he was an eccentric they called Papa and that he had shown up on the island about a year ago.
By dinner, I thought I had a pretty good idea of what had happened to the ships. We were dining on the patio and I saw Papa walk by on the beach below. I excused myself and trotted over to introduce myself.
I returned to dinner knowing I’d be able to relax and enjoy the rest of my stay. Holly, on the other hand, didn’t like to be given things the easy way and redoubled her efforts to figure out what I was pretty sure I already knew.
After a few days we headed back to the mainland. We had one more relative to visit before heading home. As we pulled up to the pier, Tony cam out to tie off the boat to the pier.
I asked him if he’d gotten any help while we were gone. He shook his head and I asked if he thought perhaps his boats had blown away in a storm.
This was met with an explosion of protest. I took a long oar and pushed our boat free of its mooring.
In the cab on the way to the airport, Holly asked me if the old man’s real name was Fiorente. Smart lady—e Figlio is Italian for ‘and son.’ Fiorente had been forcably retired by his son, even though his son had never really paid attention to the business. “Can’t even tie a decent knot,” Papa had told me in broken English.
Holly was missing only the one piece that helped me put it together—I’d seen the exact duplicate of the beach chair Papa was using, half buried in the sand after the storm.