Sigrid Grieg was a whirlwind, a real force of nature. She arranged for a hearing with Coast Guard officials and the matter was settled in a couple of hours. Still, the whole affair left Taggart with a sour feeling in the pit of his stomach. Even so, the entire incident was, oddly enough, hardly the most hard-to-swallow event of his week in Egersund. No, that honor belonged to Eva Forsgård, the woman who had fallen off Time Bandit and who he had rescued – after their little swim with Killer Whales.
He was a little curious when Dina Bauer handed Eva’s contact information over to him, but had thought little about it until Sigrid left in the wee hours after their first meeting. He looked at the number, then at his watch, and decided he’d call her in the morning. And he did call, just before noon the next day. She asked how he was doing, then she wanted to know if she could visit with him on the boat. She had, she said, something she needed to talk to him about.
As it happened Eva Forsgård arrived a few hours after the Norwegian Coast Guard rendered their verdict and freed Time Bandit from her shackles. Henry had felt like celebrating until he saw the woman walking down to the marina; Eva seemed careworn and vaguely depressed – and she was alone. He stepped off the Bandit and helped her up the swim steps, and she accepted his offer of tea. When he came back up to the cockpit he found that she had discovered Clyde, or maybe it was the other way around. She had bent over to say hello and Clyde had promptly sat in front of her and started licking her face.
“Well, that’s a first,” he said as he passed a cup of tea over the pup’s head. “I’ve never seen him take to someone like this before.”
“He wasn’t here when I was aboard last month, was he?”
“No. He found me in Bergen.”
“He found you?”
“Yes. He was alone, wandering the streets. That’s how he found me.”
“Do you? Excellent!”
“I keep forgetting…you are the comedian.”
“I hope you’ll pardon me saying so, but it sure looks like you could use a comedian right about now.”
She nodded. “You are right. I could.”
“Okay, look. I’m not a mind reader. Please come right out and tell what’s the matter.”
She looked away for a moment, at least until Clyde licked her on the chin again, then she smiled and rubbed the pup’s neck for a moment. “You are a good boy, I can tell already,” she said, and Clyde promptly laid down and rolled over, presenting his belly.
“That’s amazing,”Taggart said.
“When they lay down in front of you like that they want their belly rubbed. It’s like the ultimate sign of acceptance.” Eva began rubbing Clyde’s belly and the old boy groaned, and this caused taggart to smile. “Man, have you made a friend today,” he added.
“I could use a new friend, Henry.”
He heard the words, felt the pain behind them. “What’s happened?”
“Peter has left me.”
“I think because we, you and I, made love after the encounter.”
“But how could he possibly know that?”
“Because I am pregnant, and it turns out that Peter cannot have babies.”
Taggart scratched the tip of his nose and blinked a few times as he reacted to the news. “And you’re saying that I’m, like, the father, right?”
“I don’t know what to say.”
“Anything positive would be greatly appreciated.”
“Well hell, better late than never, darlin’!” he said, standing up and grinning like a madman. “Goddam!” he screamed at the top of his voice. “I’m gonna be a dad! Fuckin’-A! Alright!”
“You are not angry?”
“Angry? Are you kidding me? Damn, woman, stand up and hug me! Fast!”
And she did, too.
The three of them walked up to the Thai restaurant for some soup (and sliced steak) and he let her talk and talk. Peter had been grievously offended by the whole affair, she told him, then he had asked that she make arrangements to live someplace else. The problem was therefore quite simple. She wanted to see how Henry felt about the baby before she decided what to do about it.
“What do you mean, what to do about it?”
“It is still time. I could terminate this now with little risk of harm to myself.”
“Well, yeah, but the kid might not like it so much.”
She nodded. “True, but I am not so sure I want to raise a child by myself. I know that may be considered selfish, but…”
“But it is your decision. And I understand.”
She nodded. “What was most important to me was your reaction. What you want. Because I have always thought that the father should help choose in a situation like this.”
“You do know that I am ill, right?”
“No? You are with illness?”
“Yes, very much. Cancer.”
“You are being treated, correct?”
He shrugged. “A little, but mainly to prolong my life a little.”
“A little? what does that mean?”
“It means I hope to make it to Christmas.”
He could see it in her eyes, on her face. As in: Balloon, meet Hatpin.
Her eyes turned red first, then the skin over her nose went through the visible spectrum to crimson. Her left eye began twitching, then the left margins of her lips. Tears repressed gave way to a sudden, deep gulping-sob, and he realized that not once since his diagnosis had anyone reacted quite like this, but the other patrons in the restaurant looked at him like he was Satan incarnate, which somehow only made the moment that much more confusing. Then Clyde got in on the act and stood with his front paws on her lap – and the real slobber-fest got underway.
There was nothing he could do now so he sat back and waited for Clyde to finish, then he paid the bill and helped her out of her seat. Once she was out in the fresh air she calmed a little and Clyde walked along pressed into her thigh – as if he alone was capable of holding her up, of helping her face the gales of human folly.
Once back onboard Taggart ran below and put on his favorite Sinatra-Jobim CD, then he dashed topsides and held her up – until she felt him dancing. She put one hand around his waist, the other on his shoulder, then she leaned into him, her face on his chest…and there they danced around the deck under their very own dome of starlight, just a little bit of stardust ready to fuse in the night.
Clyde looked at them and smiled at the unavoidable consequences of being human. Oh, how he loved life that night.
“What was that song you sang to last night?” she asked as they lay together the next morning.
“Dindi, I think.”
“I could have danced all night,” she sang, smiling to a tune all her own.
“Ah. My Fair Lady. And yes, you are indeed.”
He rolled over and kissed her again. “I’ve always wanted to do that,” he whispered.
“A little moonlight serenade all my own. To dance the night away on the foredeck with the most beautiful woman in the universe right there in my arms.”
“I wish you weren’t joking with me now,” she sighed, still smiling.
“I’ll let you in on a little secret,” he whispered in her ear. “I’m not.”
She kissed him. Again and again and in all the right places. “What will become of us, I wonder?” she asked.
He waved his hand over the bed and laid back, content. “Stardust, darlin’. We go on to infinity through the night.”
“Is it really so simple?”
“Clyde? What do you think?”
The pup jumped up on the berth, his tail wagging.
“I know that look, Clyde. You ready to go for a walk?”
That got two barks.
“Yup. Better get your clothes on, darlin’. Nature’s calling in the worst way imaginable.”
He snapped the lead onto Clyde’s collar and led him up the companionway steps, then across the aft deck to the steps, and he saw the little VW sedan just then.
Right behind Time Bandit.
Britt behind the wheel.
And then Eva came up the steps and into the full light of day.
He stood, transfixed. Suddenly unsure of himself and of his place in this muddy little corner of the universe. But there was nothing to do now: he let Clyde follow the path of least resistance and simply went along for the ride. He heard a car door open and close and watched Clyde as he went from tree to tree, spreading his scent as he made his way along his anointed rounds. Clyde circled once and squatted and Taggart looked up at the sky, watched clouds racing along and that was where he wanted to be in that moment. Free as a bird to dance among the clouds…
They were waiting for him when he and Clyde returned. He walked right past them, took Clyde below and put kibble in his bowl, then he turned to face the music.
“So, what brings you here today?” he said to Britt.
“Henry, Eva and I have already spoken about her situation…”
“Her pregnancy, Henry. There is, however, one thing we did not get a chance to talk about.”
“I too am pregnant, Henry. And you, too, are the father.”
Taggart tried to smile. He tried to think of some kind of pithy comment that would help him evade the essence of the moment, but for once he came up dry.
“You didn’t, by any chance,” Britt continued, “screw my mother, too? Please, Henry, tell me that you did not do this, because I’m not sure I would know how to understand this.”
He stood there – mute and motionless – trying to understand the hostility in her voice. “You’re going to have my baby?” he just managed to say before his eyes began filling with tears. “Really?”
She nodded. “Yes, I am having your baby, my poor, dear Henry.”
“And you,” he said, now looking directly at Eva, “you’re going to have my baby, too?”
“Yes, Henry. This is the truth.”
“Well, well, well…don’t that beat all. I go sixty some-odd years firing blanks and then all of a sudden I’m shootin’ bullseyes.” He looked up at the sky and grinned. “Hey, Dad! Grandkids! You got that? Two of ‘em coming right down the chute!”
He walked over and scooped them up, held them both as close as could be, under the circumstances, anyway.
Clyde chose that moment to amble up the companionway steps, and the first thing he saw was an additional woman wrapped around Henry and that probably confused the old boy. In any event, Clyde walked up to Henry and lifted a leg.
Taggart had heard the tikki-tik of Clyde’s claws on the steps so knew he was standing there. He did not, however, expect the stream of hot piss running down his legs and into his shoes.
“Thank you, Clyde. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate that.”
He was sitting in the Oncology waiting room, waiting.
A nurse called his name and took him back to Dr. Bauers office.
Once there, he waited some more.
And then Dina came. Lovely, furious Dina.
“I’m surprised to see you, Mr. Taggart.”
“Oh, are you?”
“I am. I thought you might have fled directly to Paris.”
“Sorry to disappoint you.”
“So, what can I do for you today?”
“Well, it appears that I’m going to be a father. So, I’d like a little more life, please.”
“I see. Just like that. Please, Doctor Bauer, I want to live.”
“Something like that, yes.”
She laughed, turned away from him as she shook her head. “How very small you are, Henry Taggart. And here I thought you were content to joke your way through the few remaining breaths of your life, but no! Life has finally come to you, hasn’t it, Henry Taggart? And only now do you want to live? When before…?”
“Can you help me, Dina?”
“Of course I can help you, Henry. I’m hopelessly and helplessly in love with you, you stupid fool, but I’ve told you that a hundred times already. And I can’t do anything now but help you. I’ve been away from you for a week and I feel myself dying a little more with each passing moment. So yes, Henry Taggart, I will do everything I can to help you live. To help you see your children, to hold them and love them.”
He was too stunned to breathe, to even blink an eye, though he did start crying.
She came to him, kissed away his tears.
“There’s just one little problem, my dearest Henry. In order to buy you a little more life, I am going to have to kill you just a little…”
© 2020 adrian leverkühn | abw | this is a work of fiction, pure and simple; the next chapter will drop in a week or so.