The Last One

by Mike Hemming

Out of the morning mist she appears, a still sinister, low black shape. As she does, two men get out of a car and walk to the waters edge. Both are in uniform, the oldest put her in commission and fought a war in her. Then he returned at the end of his career to make her last cruise and decommission her. Retired now, he puts on his uniform once more to say goodbye. All the boats he served on are decommissioned and gone now.

The younger man, his son, qualified on her and sailed on her for 4 years before returning to civilian life. He too wears his uniform for one last goodbye.

They both watch silently as she slips by, headed down river to the sea one last time. From this distance softened by the low fog she looks well cared for like she was when they sailed her. The man-years they and others spent on her are over now and will only be memories fading away. Father and son salute for the others as she passes abreast of them. The black hull moves on and fades back into the mists of her last journey. Slipping quietly through calm glassy water, she becomes a black ghost of steel.

The father and son hold their salutes as she fades from black to gray to gone in the mist. The tugs mournful foghorn is the last evidence they hear of her. Dropping their arms and turning away, they both catch the sadness in each other’s eyes. But as they walk side by side, without words, smiles and twinkles return to their eyes. A memory of shipmates and of times good and bad, but mostly good, return. Memories of her steel, strong and true, that protected her men from the dangers of the deep oceans and her country's enemies. Memories that remind them how much they owe this deep-sea lady.

Because these men and others remember her, she will not yet die. Because men loved her, she became more than steel, she became alive to them. Because men loved her, will she ever fade completely from men’s hearts?