I left the rewrite in quite a dramatic place last time. Harry was finally moved to point of confession, and had just made it known that he was directly responsible for the death of Oscar’s son. I’ve taken another look at the sequence that follows in my original rendition, and I think it’s pretty good, however there is a change that I’ll be making to it.
Specifically I’ve realized that I don’t really provide a moment of silence for the audience to empathize with Oscar. Rather than flood them with descriptions of what is happening and what everyone is feeling, I want to be very sparse with my adjectives, creating a space for the reader to fill in their own feelings. Let’s give it a try and see how it goes.
If the storm still raged outside Oscar couldn’t say. Either the wind had actually gone silent and the waves had dissipated and the lightning had ceased flashing, or else he had just stopped hearing and seeing all these things. All that he could perceive were the words of Harry’s continued confession.
“I undid his safety line, Oscar. I–I don’t know how I could have, but I did. Somehow in all my blundering I pulled it up along with the other knots… I–I killed him!”
Oscar’s eyes flowed steady streams. His mouth was open but silent. His whole body heaved as it expelled the last of the air from his lungs. He gripped the wheel by only the very edges of his fingertips, his hands twitching on the cusp of letting go.
“And then I didn’t tell you the truth about it all, Oscar. I let you believe your son was lost because of his own mistake, but it was mine…. I undid the wrong lifeline that day, Oscar, and fifteen years later I’m still waiting for someone else to untie mine because I’m too much a coward to do it myself… So why don’t you let me go now and make for the shore?”
Well, there we go, the story has made through its climax! My one lingering thought is that there may be too many interruptions in Harry’s speech to talk about the storm raging and Oscar losing his grip. Or maybe it’s a good thing, blending his heartbreaking words and the pounding of the sea into one. At the end of finishing this draft I’ll take another look at this segment in the context of the entire story to decide.
Now, in my original take I had the beam from the lighthouse fall on Oscar’s eye almost immediately. And as it did he realized that he had subconsciously placed his hand over the button to cut the line to Harry’s boat. But I don’t want this to be an accidental thing anymore, I want him to actually grapple with the decision.
I want to handle this delicately, though, I don’t want the moment to feel like drama for the sake of drama, and I don’t want to make Oscar into a villain. So I’m going to have him wanting to cut the line, but struggling because he can’t convince himself that he would be doing it with a noble heart. He’ll try to tell himself that he has already done his duty, but he will know that these are justifications, and that pushing the button would in reality be an act of vengeance. I’ll give it a shot now and see what I think.
The Inner Struggle)
Oscar’s heart beat heavily inside him. Beat like it would tear him right in two. The pounding of his heart was matched by the pounding of the waves against his boat. They buffeted his vessel where they would and he did nothing to stop it.
He dropped his gaze to the controls before him. There, on the left, was the button to release the line from his boom. He could press it, and it would finally cut this cord that bound him to Harry. And there wouldn’t be anything wrong in pressing it. Just as Harry had said, they couldn’t survive this together, so he may save what he could: himself. Any other sailor would do the same. No one would say he hadn’t done his duty. He had tried, he had really tried. But there had to be a limit! There had to be a point where he had done all that he could and it just didn’t work and he could let it go now. At some point he had to cut off this weight that dragged him down.
Oscar rested his palm on the control panel, fingers stretching in the direction of the button, but his arm refused to extend enough to let them reach it.
Because no matter how justified he might be to cut off this rescue on paper, there simply was no way for him to press that button that wasn’t vengeful. There was no way to separate his emotions from the action, to be able to say in his heart that it was a calculated matter of procedure, and that it had no malice behind it. There would be a malice. The act would not be innocent, because he could not do it from an honorable heart.
Besides—Oscar looked out at the black horizon—what did it matter anymore? It was already too late. Whatever life had remained in him was already expired into the storm. The struggle had taken all that he had, and there was no more desire to find his way out of this place.
And as Oscar stared into that void, welcoming oblivion, a strange discoloration appeared in the dark before him. It was a patch of black that grew lighter and lighter, yellower and warmer, larger and larger. Or rather its edges grew larger, but it center grew smaller and more focused. And then, all at once, it pierced through the storm and became a shining light. A light that was tearing through mist and dark and night to fill Oscar’s eye.
“Sam?” he croaked.
Well, there’s the new material and I think I like it! Though the thought did occur to me that this story could branch off to end in a very different way from my original version. I could write it so that Oscar cuts ties with Harry, watches the man sink to his doom behind him, and just as Harry’s prow descends beneath the waves Oscar sees the light. And now this light would not be a beacon of saving grace, but the hard lantern of condemnation!
There’s definitely a strong and deep emotion to that, but I believe the catharsis of redemption is both more powerful and more worthy. Perhaps I didn’t lean into that theme of redemption as strongly as I should have with my last iteration, but this time around I’ll try to do it justice. Come back next week as we dive into that!