the children eagerly prepared their small boats to race down the river. the air tasted crisp and lovely, laughter and excitement so tangible it was in every breath the children took in.
simon was the expert on all things boats. almost everyone had multiple boats, backups were always safe to have and all children took boat racing very seriously. the children would usually name their boats after their very hopes and dreams.
rafe had “Valiant Viper” painted in bold letters on each side of his boat. he had grown up on books of knights and obsessed over all things snakes. he wanted to be courageous and crafty, and so he was such. Valiant Viper floated down the river quickly and speedily and got scratched up half the time. however it would win a few races here and there because of how boldly it took new shortcuts at breakneck speed.
sally named hers “The Rose”. it was elegant and sleek and floated gracefully. The Rose would always sail at a brisk but safe pace but it had a knack for finding swift currents and quick breezes. The Rose managed to pick up one or two victories.
and these were considered names that were quite original. children loved names that would be named for the very best. repeating names was considered a grave sin. children often fought over the rights to a name. the feud between little tom and sam had lasted at least a month when sam decided to be a little snot and name his new boat “Sam Swiftest” after he already knew tom had just painted his boat “Tom Swift” to be clever. and even to this day, sam took extra delight in pronouncing “swift-est” with extra care whenever his boat bested tom’s in speed.
however simon’s “Jenny” was the greatest envy of all the children. it was painted was such care, you couldn’t even see the strokes. after all, they were only children. even if they were as careful and as patient as they could be, the uneven paint strokes on their boats was still visible. none of them knew that simon had hoarded his allowance and skipped out on buying sodas and candies to pay a professional to paint his Jenny. he had named her after his sweetheart and Jenny was such a speedy little boat. kids would gather around simon and watch him with a hawk’s eye, hoping to catch onto how he won so often with so little exertion. but he was a natural, gifted for the sport. and they could not hope to mimic him.
“who was first?” children would ask excitedly.
“oh Jenny of course, but just wait until you hear about how Valiant Viper stole second away from The Rose! he was a mere coupla seconds away from the finish line when The Rose swooped in from outta nowhere!”
and so it was such, Jenny would always have a solid hold on first place and the children stopped begrudging simon for his wins and took this as something that will always be as they scampered and strained for close seconds.
but as the children grew, change lurked nearby.
simon fell into a passionate affair with his sweetheart and spent less time on his precious Jenny. he used to be constantly checking for signs of wearing, rips in the sails, or rust. but he began to neglect Jenny. however Jenny stayed faithful and steadily scored win after win. and so she was taken for granted by simon himself.
then one day simon’s sweetheart broke his heart. the very heart that had been driving Jenny to victories. and so, Jenny broke as well.
Jenny started fell behind. the others were shocked. first place was suddenly left open for the taking and they quickly overcame their surprise. there victory was! how evasive it used to be and now it was right there for the taking. they surged ahead in excitement. while Jenny slowly fell behind.
simon no longer took pleasure in racing, but it was all he had ever known. all he was ever good at. what would he even do if he stopped? so he continued. rust began to settle on Jenny, he quickly covered it over with paint to hide it. Jenny’s bottom began to wear and he tamped tape on her inside to hold her together. rips began to appear in her sails and he hastily made rough mends with a borrowed sewing kit. racing that used to come so naturally to him began to take its toll.
as they raced, Jenny was not able to score any more victories, but she remained somewhere in the middle of the speeding boats. she became terribly average.
simon didn’t care about how quickly Jenny could make her turns anymore, he barely had it in him to make her set sail. every bit of distance she covered took so much effort out of him. and each race tired him in a way no rest could recover. and Jenny lost speed and fell farther and farther behind until simon grew ashamed. he might not have taken any pleasure in winning anymore but his pride remained and he could not bear to lose so dreadfully.
he learned to train and practice. something he had never had to do before.
he brought Jenny out to the river early in the morning before any of them woke up and practiced making sudden turns, having her float in tight circles or even zigzags to gain complete control over her movements. and he forced Jenny to keep speed. forced himself to deny the sadness that drained at him and practiced smiles in the mirrors.
and still the others whispered, held pity in their eyes when he came around. and simon fell to despair.
they could only talk about how terribly average he had become without realizing how much effort it took him just to be that. they could only talk about what a tragedy it was that Jenny had fallen so far behind when she used to be first. they didn’t see effort, they saw only the result. and it didn’t match up to what it used to be.
simon regretted ever being a victor. now there were expectations of him, expectations he could no longer hope to meet. and so he gave up the race.
he tucked Jenny into the back of his closet and dived into other interests. they were alright. life was alright. but happiness was never quite the same. a quiet sadness tinged the joy till the only sweet he knew was bittersweet.