He woke to the sounds of the ancient village coming back to life. No cars. Still no cell phones. Smoke from fireplaces and old kitchen stoves. He heard a horse drawn cart roll by on the quay and smiled as he made his way to the head, but with no one onboard, not even Clyde, he suddenly felt more alone than he ever had in his life.
“But why now?” he said to the stranger in the mirror.
Was it because the last six months had been an aberration? An aberration that had redefined his expectations of what life could be.
“Or just maybe, Dickhead, what might have been?” the stranger in the mirror said.
Had he chosen, he wondered, to follow a path different from his father in a fit of defiance, perhaps even repudiation? Or had he, more likely than not, simply drifted into the loneliness that had defined his life – kind of a default move after Claire and all the emptiness that followed?
The face in the mirror was quiet now, the eyes suddenly empty…almost hollow.
“Or did you never find your soul after that night?”
The face in the mirror smiled a bit at that, but then it turned and walked away.
He walked around the old port until he found a place cooking breakfast, and he marveled at the tastes of things cooked on a simple fire. Croissant baked in a wood fired oven were a revelation. Eggs harvested an hour before they hit the skillet had a flavor he’d never experienced before, and a slice of freshly smoked fish almost brought tears to his eyes. He looked back on a life consumed with factory processed foods and he knew the answer even before the question formed in his mind: the heat had been turned up too slowly, the frog had failed to jump out of the water in time…and suddenly, just when he’d looked up from one more burger and fries grabbed on the run, it was too late.
He saw a woman hop off a boat and walk his way, and when she sat at a table near his he smiled. Not too tall, dirty blond hair, athletic build – very California looking.
“Is that yours?” he asked her as she sat.
“What? The boat?” she replied, in the pure, easy going lilt of a native California Girl. “Yes, it is.”
“I haven’t seen a Westsail in years. You’ve kept her in good shape.”
She nodded. “Almost lost her in that damn storm. Raced in under bare poles, bloody near piled up on the rocks a couple of times.”
“When did you cross?”
“Last April. I left from Oriental.”
“Me too, but from Mystic.”
“Oh? What did you come over on?”
“A Nauticat, but I picked up a Hallberg-Rassy a month ago.”
“Oh? Is that yours tied up over on the quay?”
“So, you’re from Newport Beach, too. Small world,” she sighed. “Where you headed?”
“Paris. The Arsenal.”
“Yup, small world.”
He had to laugh when he heard that.
“What’s so funny about that?” she asked.
“Can’t you hear them?” he replied.
“The cosmic tumblers – falling into place.”
She smiled at that, then for the next hour or so they compared notes on how they might go about getting their masts pulled before heading up the Seine. When it was time to head out and start the day he hesitated, then looked at her one more time.
“Want to grab some dinner tonight?” she asked, her eyes twinkling a little.
“I was about to ask you.”
“He who hesitates is lost,” she said, grinning. “Look, we’re on the same errand, so maybe we can work on this together, maybe finagle a better price in the process.”
“Spoken like a true cruiser.”
They both laughed at that – just as Clyde hove into view, walking across the little bridge over the lock by the carousel – and Taggart stood and whistled once (loudly), causing the old pup to look his way.
And that was all it took. Clyde ran as fast as he could right up to Henry and sat on his feet, looking up expectantly as if to say “I need some salmon, please.”
“He’s yours, I take it?” she asked.
“Yes, and pardon my French but I don’t even know your name.”
“Tracy,” she said, smiling and holding out her right hand.
“Henry,” he said, taking her hand in his. “And this wayward beast is Clyde. He’s been out running with his buddies for a few days – haven’t you, Buddy?”
Clyde barked twice, loudly.
“Uh-oh, I know that bark.”
“Time to find some grass, I take it?” Tracy said, smiling at the pup.
“Yup. There’s a little park right by the boat, too.”
“I’ll meet you there in a few minutes,” she said, then she made her way back to the Westsail.
He turned to Clyde and grinned. “I’m not even gonna ask where you’ve been. I hope she was worth it.”
“Why’d I know you were going to say that?”
They walked back to Time Bandits – without a leash – and Clyde hosed down everything he sniffed, holding the heavy load until he reached the grass, then he cut loose.
“Jesus H Christ, Dude! What have you been eating?”
This followed by a long, low rumble, then a slow, hissing fart – that whistled a little on the closing notes.
“Dude…I don’t know you…” Taggart snarled, as nearby pedestrians began pinching off nostrils while looking his way…before they fled in terror.
They met again for dinner, at the same little bistro he’d taken Mike and Anton the day before, and not quite knowing what else to order he asked for the same thing he’d had yesterday. Tracy followed his lead and asked for the same, though she begged off having wine with her meal, and luckily the owners had enough food to pull it off again.
“So, Tracy from Newport Beach,” he said casually, if only to get the conversation going. “Where’d you go to high school? Harbor High?”
He nodded. “Okay, I gotta ask. Your last name is?”
She grinned. “Tomlin,” – then she saw his face. “What’s the matter?”
“And let me guess,” he said as he tried to catch his breath. “Your mother’s name is Edith.”
“How’d you know that?”
“Does the name Henry Taggart mean anything to you?”
“Hank?” she said, her face turning beet red.
The name hit him like a hammer blow, though he only nodded a little.
“You were with Claire when…”
He looked away, his heart breaking all over again. “I thought you looked a little too familiar,” he sighed. “It’s the eyes, I guess.”
“Six degrees of separation,” she whispered.
“And then a butterfly sneezes in Beijing,” he added.
“Do you believe in coincidences?”
“Me? I believe in the righteousness of tequila and fresh limes. Nothing else much matters.”
“Right,” she said. “Isn’t that called deflection?”
“And what are you? A psychiatrist?”
She simply looked at him – without saying a word – though a slow smile began to spread across her face.
“Oh God, say it ain’t so. Not a GD psychiatrist!” he cried, leaning back in his chair, crossing his arms protectively over his gut while he grinned a little too madly.
“And you’ll never guess who my inspiration was!”
“Don’t tell me…let me guess…how ‘bout my mother.”
She smiled at that, too. “You’re smarter than you look, Hank.”
He nodded. “How is your mother?”
“Okay, all things considered.”
“I heard about the divorce. Ugly.”
“Too much money involved, I guess,” she sighed.
“And so you cut the cord, cast off your lines and beat feet. Why not the Coconut Run? Been there, done that?”
She nodded. “My husband and I, a few years ago.”
She nodded again. “Orange County has the highest divorce stats in the state.”
He laughed at that. “More lawyers in California than there are in the rest of the world.”
“That’s not true,” she scoffed.
And he shook his head. “My dad used to say the state Bar Association Directory was thicker than War and Peace. I laughed once, then he showed it to me. Beat it by a hundred and twenty pages; smaller type, too.”
“I don’t want to get personal, but I talked to my mom from the Azores. She told me you were up in Norway. And that she’d heard you’re pretty sick.”
“If you lived with a dog that farts like Clyde you’d be pretty sick, too.”
Her eyes widened just a bit, then they watered a little, too. “What is it? Cancer?”
“What gave it away? The weight gain, or my rosy complexion?”
“Tracy, I got this thing called a comfort zone…”
She quietly held up her hands in mock-defeat. “Okay Hank, you win this round,” yet her eyes never left his.
Their snails arrived and they were predictably better than wonderful, and so they comfortably retreated a little and talked about sailing – as sailors are wont to do from time to time – and then he brought up Dina and Rolf.
“Where are they?” she asked after he passed along the bare contours of the situation, asking the next, most obvious question.
“They sort of took off after Brugge. I don’t know where they are now.”
“You brought that boat in here by yourself?”
“Oh, no, not really. There were two guys with us.”
“Yup, a real asshole as it turned out, Navy Intelligence, and a Russian fighter pilot we plucked out of the Channel after he took a missile up the tailpipe.”
“That sounds about right. For you, anyway.”
“It’s been a weird summer.”
“Sounds a little like an understatement, Hank.”
“That ain’t the half of it.”
“So, why Paris?” she asked as she picked at her salad.
“It’s got to do with my parents.”
“And Claire, I take it.”
“Yes, and Claire.”
“So, Paris is the end of the line?”
“Yup. I’m getting off the train there.”
“You mind if I hang around for a while?” she asked.
“Do I mind? Are you serious?”
“Look, even if I did, Tracy, going against the whole cosmic tumblers thing seems kind of irresponsible to me. Not to mention stupid.”
“So, you think I’m here for a reason? Is that about it?”
He shrugged. “My temperature gauge has always been stuck about halfway between agnostic and full-blown atheist, so cut me some slack, would you? Truth is, I’m not sure what I think, but I have days – not often, you understand, but every now and then – when I’m smart enough to keep an open mind about the things I don’t understand.”
“What kind of wine is that?”
“A Piesporter. Goes pretty good with salad, by the way.”
“Mind if I have a glass?”
“You can have two…if you twist my arm enough.”
He took Clyde out for a long walk about five the next morning, then he walked over to Karma – the name of Tracy’s Westsail 32 – to see if she was awake yet. The plan was to set off and motor across the mouth of the Seine to LeHavre on slack water – at about 6:15 that morning – and they’d meet up with an outfit that promised to remove their masts over on the old commercial docks. A fuel truck would meet them out there around noon to fill-up both boats, and if all went as planned they’d head upriver and tie-off for the night at a riverfront restaurant that had been recommended to them. He heard her moving about below so took Clyde back to Time Bandits, then he jumped in the shower after he downed his breakfast – a can of Ensure, today – before he checked the weather and the BBC World Service.
He saw lights on across the river, a lot of lights, and surmised that the power was coming back on sooner than expected – a great development – then he saw Tracy in Karma’s cockpit talking on a cell phone. He dashed below and pulled his iPhone out of the charger and powered-up the unit, and as soon as his phone connected to a network his calls, texts, and emails started flowing into their respective folders.
“God…anonymity was kind of nice, ya know?” he said to Clyde – who ‘woofed’ twice. “What? Already?”
Clyde farted. Twice.
“Okay, okay…you win…let’s go!” He hooked-up Clyde’s leash and pocketed his phone then headed for the bushes, and while he waited for Clyde to flush the lines he went through his voicemails, then his texts. Nothing from Dina. Nothing from Eva or Britt.
But one from Rolf.
That had come through sometime during the night.
‘Back in Bergen,’ read the text. ‘Call this number when you can.’ But while the text bubbles around his texts were usually blue or green, this one was pink.
“Not good,” he sighed, pocketing the phone as Tracy walked up.
“Hi there,” she said as she leaned into him, at the same time passing along her phone. “It’s Mom. She wants to talk to you.”
© 2020 adrian leverkühn | abw | this is a work of fiction, pure and simple; the next element will drop as soon as the muse cooperates.