short stories



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Shackleton I
Anne Tucker

We were watching Shackleton’s
last trip on TV and we’d
got to the point where the ship
was finally stuck and pushed
up on a thirty degree
tilt. It had started leaking.
The men unloaded supplies
and set up camp on the ice.

Then it began
first the mast snapped
then the rest of
the boat collapsed
amidst the loud
cracks of timbers
splitting in half.

Then the shelf
above the TV
began to go.
(It was loaded
with box files full
of papers that
Nick kept just in
case.) We didn’t
notice at first
we were too impressed
at the convincing
nature of the
sound effects.

Then there was a
really loud crack
Quick said Nick. If
that goes the whole
thing could explode.

So, in the grey and white light
(even with colour there’s not
a lot in Antarctica)
forming a human chain of
two, we moved box files from the
shelf onto the floor hoping
the splintering noise would soon stop.

Then . . . Look! Nick gasped.

What? Disaster
              Look how
you’re throwing them
down all in a
muddle. Keep them
in their order.

They are. They’re just
on their sides. Keep
(The TV
was worrying me.)

We missed the bit
where the whole ship
like kindling wood
and disappears
under the ice.
And that was the
thing I was most
wanting to see.

Look! said Nick. The shelf’s slipped off.
It’ll just take a couple
of nails to fix it.
I felt
doubtful. With Shackleton’s men
there’d been a ship’s carpenter.

Standing in the
wreckage of the
room, we watched as
they sailed lifeboats
to Elephant
Island then on
to South Georgia,
crossed glaciers to
Stromness Station
in thirty-six
continuous hours,
so as to find
a boat and save
the other men.

Despite it all
he never thrashed
himself about
how he shouldn’t have
done it, regretted
the foolhardy
or careless things,
but just made sure
that in the end
everyone was
brought back safely.

Even with just
a couple of
nails he could
make sure we were
brought back safely.

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