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Defiance
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Winter 1997

Defiance

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"OK, Johnny," Anton said. And Johnny stepped onto the bridge and stood by the engine telegraph. Anton went out on the wing. "Stop the engine," he said loudly. Johnny rang up "stop." The bell clanged in the engine room. The engine stopped. Defiance kept moving slowly forward to the stern of the Mary D. "Bring the wheel over and back her down slow!" Anton said. Johnny rang up "slow astern" and spun the wheel hard left. The boat vibrated, her forward motion stopped, and she began to back down. The water swirled under her bow. "Stop the engine!" Anton ordered. Johnny and the chief carried out the motions, and Defiance slowly came to rest against the pilings.

Quietly, the men began tying up the boat. Anton stood silently on the bridge wing watching the crew and stealing glances toward Pete's car. Louisa sat alone in the front seat.

Pete, looping the bow line over the dock cleat, looked up and caught Anton's eye. He nodded toward the car. Anton hesitated, wiped his face with his hands, then descended the bridge ladder. His knees gave way and he had to grip the handrails. His mouth was dry. Shuffling by the crew without seeing them, he went aft to the opening in the rail and stepped onto the dock. It was solid and ungiving beneath him. He swayed toward the car with his head hanging down on his chest and his right hand gripping his left upper arm. Anton stopped, his gaze fixed on his wife.

Louisa stared at him as she opened the door and pulled herself out. She was dressed in a simple, gray coat and brown slacks. Her dark hair was pulled into a bun. Her clean, shiny face was blank, and she looked at Anton with searching eyes.

Anton took a single step toward her and stopped again. He opened his mouth to speak, but instead of words, there rose up, from deep inside, an overpowering cry. He could not hold it back and it frightened him.

Anton reached for Louisa. Tears filled her eyes as she acknowledged the truth. She shook her head and opened her arms for him. They clung to each other, he filled with great wracking sobs, she holding him and crying softly, "No! No!"

In the dark morning hours, Defiance lay slack at her lines. The auxiliary engine murmured steadily, and the galley lights reflected through the storm window leaving a shimmering patch on the water. Inside, Johnny and the chief talked over the repairs and supplies needed for the next trip.

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