Title: Let Go
Word Count 851
Disclaimer Not mine
That which was appropriate for the people, was not done with officers. Archie's belongings were not to be auctioned. It was assumed that his family did not need the money. In fact this was true. And it was unseemly to drag his belongings into public view.
At first no one wanted to think Archie was dead. His departure seemed so unfinished somehow. The kind pity had seared Horatio in those first weeks. He wanted to flail and scream at every face turned his way. And no one, seeing his face, had the balls to say 'Kennedy is dead.' So nobody touched Archie's things.
Captain Pellew must have written to the Kennedy family. He must have said something, perhaps there was an appropriate Naval phrase for 'your beloved youngest son floated away in an open boat, because he was ill, and nobody cared enough to watch over him.' In any case, the letters for Archie stopped coming.
And in time, it was understood, in berthing, that Horatio Hornblower had two sea-chests. One was his own, with his own name on it, in brass nailheads. The other was smaller, but finer. It had an inscription picked out in flowing gold --- A.J.W. Kennedy. The second one was never opened publicly.
Horatio knew the contents. He knew every stocking, and book, and every pair of underdrawers. He did not need to look in the chest. But, he had taken for his own, one thing that belonged in it.
He did not think that the others in berthing knew about the shirt. It had still smelled of Archie, the first night. The cloth had been rough, just this rough, the linen had rasped Archie's chest, his back, and all the sweet underneath of him. Archie's own hands had tucked the tails of the shirt into trousers, of a morning, and he had covered it with his waistcoat and jacket, and gone out faultless, into the day.
Horatio had dragged the shirt into his hammock, that first night, and held it to his face. The smell of Archie had gone with him into his sleep. He had dreamed of Archie laughing, and the sun on their backs, and the meadow all around. He had awakened to find that he had wept in his sleep. His face was sticky with tears and snot. He was sticky and wet South of there too. He must have-- in his sleep. Well. That happened sometimes. Whatever they may have heard, the others would pretend not to notice.
He rolled the shirt right up with his blanket, when he stowed his hammock. And there it had stayed. There it had stayed, all the past year. Night after night, Horatio had held it to his face, he had unfolded it in the dark, into something like the shape of Archie. He had put it beneath him sometimes and rubbed against it, frantic in the dark. He had draped it over himself, and tried to remember the warm weight, and the living breath.
The year rolled itself around to November again. The shirt was filthy now, and worn smooth. It had holes in it, the seams were splitting. It only smelled like Horatio. He was fairly certain the others knew. He was beyond caring. Let them infer what they would. Nothing could be proved. There was nothing in the Articles about sleeping with a shipmates shirt. Jeofferey Mittens certainly knew. He liked Archie's shirt too. He was almost the size of a cannon-ball now. (He had come to rather resemble Cleveland.) but Horatio let him in. He had loved Archie too-- he kneaded his paws in the shirt sometimes and purred.
It was a year ago today. The Papillon. If Horatio were going to let go, today would be the most symmetrical day to do it. He could cast the shirt into the sea. He could say good-bye. The ache of grief would grow less acute then, perhaps. Horatio closed his hands around his mug. He waited for his coffee to work its magic. He imagined the shirt, floating a moment on the water's surface, and slowly darkening and sinking. It could take the pain of the whole bloody year with it. Maybe Horatio would be left with only the good. Not that he would ever love again. Not that he would ever touch anyone – no. He had tried to picture sometimes, another body against his, another inside him. No. Thinking of it was like a sharp stick to the eye.
Still, if he was to let go, today was the day. It had pattern, symmetry. The berthing was empty. Now was the time. No one would ask. Whatever they thought, they would not ask.
He picked the shirt up, held the cuff against his lips. After a year the tears still came, so easily. No. Nobody could make him. There was nothing in the Articles against weeping. Nobody to see him but a gray cat. Maybe someday. Not today. He rolled the shirt up with his hammock. He stowed it away properly.