Donald R. Fletcher, author
We were not there when the explosion happened. A matter of hours either way, before or after, and we might have been. Plainly, it was not our time.
Of course, I’m not from Beirut; but I had been there for two good years, teaching English language and literature at AUB, the American University of Beirut.
I was with my girlfriend. She was not one of my students; I met her at an online mixer. Her parents were there for an extended vacation, having rented a villa right on the coast, a few miles north. We had just decided to get informally engaged, and, as it turned out, she loves boats and sailing as much as I do.
So, we made a plan for an exploring cruise around Cyprus. I knew about a vessel that I could charter—a beautiful, schooner-rigged two-master. There were quarters below the foredeck for the owner, who acted as skipper, and two deckhands to work the sails; which left a sumptuous cabin aft for Carrie and me. The owner, after he checked me out, assured me that I could be skipper. He would just go along as first mate.
Carrie’s parents clearly had reservations about our projected cruise, even while assuring us that they—neither one of them—had any interest in joining us and bobbing around in such a cockle-shell, as they labeled the charter sailboat. But Carrie was as keen as I was for the adventure.
I was on the foredeck, looking aft, watching Carrie at the wheel and thinking how she was a very competent sailor, and watching, too, as the hills above Beirut were diminishing, becoming dimmer in the sea-haze, when suddenly there was a flash, crinkling the horizon in my vision. Moments later, a larger flash and the sky above it momentarily went white, as seen from seven or eight miles at sea, where we must have been. Then, after several seconds, came a shock wave of air that caught at our sails and threw the boat over steeply, driving the prow into the water, but just that once.
I jumped down into the cockpit to join Carrie, as we stared aft, at the dwindled shoreline. A straight black column of smoke was forming, mounting into the clear air.
“Oh, Dave, what was that?” Carrie gasped.
“A huge explosion,” I said. “It must have smashed the port. Your parents—”
“No; they would be safe. My mom, as you know, didn’t even want to see us off. She wanted Dad to take her straight back to their rented place up the coast. I’m sure—I’m going to be sure—that’s where they are.”
Then the owner, our cruise master, was beside us, looking distraught, as we stared at the black smoke in the sky.
“Sir,” he blurted out, “will you put the helm around? My home and the homes of my men are there in the city...”
Author Notes: At Age 101, after publishing 9 books, Don Fletcher is writing flash fiction and short prose pieces.