[Henry’s story seems to commanding a wee more attention right now, so if you don’t mind I’ll walk along that road for a while longer. Ah, music matters, right? And one of my girls had a few pups a couple of weeks ago (I named them Huey, Dewey and Louie – after you know who), and here’s a picture taken yesterday – kind of, if you will, nose to nose.
Anyway, here’s the next snippet…]
“You do know you’re a goddamn lunatic!” Mike said as he helped Henry down the ramp to the boat. “You trying to get yourself all dead, or what?”
“Yeah, right. I just wanted to see how far down into the sewer my fellow human beings have sunk.”
“Really? So you had to fucking…hit me?”
“Why’d you let ‘em have at Anton like that, Mike? That wasn’t part of the plan, at least not that I recall…”
Mike tried to laugh that one away, and almost pulled it off, too. “Hey, the best laid plans, if you know what I mean. Anyway, I guess we got what we were after. Anton’s got papers now. He’s legal. That’s what matters, right?”
“Did a doc check him out?” Henry asked, still pissed off.
“I don’t think so, at least not after that airedale knocked him around. They did check us both for radiation exposure when we first got to Paris.”
“Pretty bad, but nothing lethal. You’re probably shedding some in your pee, so we may need to flush the holding tanks at some point.”
Henry shook his head as he watched Anton climb aboard – slowly, almost painfully – and another wave of anger came over him.
“Where was Clyde hanging out?” Mike asked, changing the subject.
“No idea. He just showed up at dinner one evening while I was with Tracy.”
“The California Girl.”
“You said she’s a shrink?”
“Yup. Too bad for you, eh Mike?”
“Kinda dark out right now, but from what I could see she looks kind of cute.”
“Wait’ll you see her tomorrow then tell me what you think,” Henry sighed. “And I’m pretty sure she could knock the snot out of you if she wanted, so tread carefully.”
“No shit? Now that’s interesting…a shrink with a mean streak.”
“Not mean, Mike, just tough as nails. She left California more than a year ago. Went down through the canal then up to Florida, then on to Carolina before she crossed to the Azores. She ain’t the passive wallflower type, if you get my drift.”
“Shut up, you’re making me horny.”
“Go for it, Amigo; I can’t wait to see the results. Navy still paying your medical insurance?”
Mike laughed as he climbed aboard, then he helped Henry up onto deck before heading to the cockpit. Henry saw Tracy poking her head up Karma’s companionway and motioned her to come over, and a minute later she joined the three of them in Time Bandit’s cockpit.
“Anton? This is Tracy. I met her last night and she’s heading to Paris too, so she’ll be traveling with us all the way to the city.”
“Pleased to meet you,” the Russian said, extending a hand.
She smiled warmly and took his hand: “You’re the fighter pilot Henry told me about?”
“Da, but that last week. This week I learn painting. Flowers maybe sound pretty good now.”
“Well, Paris is the right place for that,” she said, laughing with him. “Henry, could you turn on some lights, please?”
Henry flipped a couple of switches and the cockpit was bathed in bright halogen light; Tracy leaned forward and looked at Anton’s face. “Mind of I look at those bruises?” she asked gently.
“No, please, I not hurt.”
“Mind if I look anyway?”
Anton shrugged and Tracy got to work. “What were you hit with?” she asked as she palpated the bone around Anton’s right eye, making him wince.
“I think it was a Beretta,” Mike sighed, looking down at his sneakers right about then.
“Jesus H Christ,” Henry muttered. “Well, don’t that just figure.”
“Hey, got papers so all good, right?” Anton grinned.
Henry shook his head conspiratorially and looked away. “Anton, why don’t you hang with me tomorrow and Mike can help you through the locks, if that’s okay with you, Tracy,” Henry said as he switched off the lights.
“Sure, I’d love the help.”
Clyde growled, a long, low, guttural sound that raised the hackles on the back of Taggart’s neck, and he followed the pups eyes until his own came to rest on a shadow about a hundred yards away, though still up on the upper quay.
“What is it?” Mike asked.
“One of yours, I reckon. Keeping tabs on us, I assume.” Henry looked at Anton, then at Tracy. “Why don’t we carry on down below?” he said quietly – but Mike pointed at his ears – then at the boat. His meaning was clear enough, too: the boat had been bugged again. “Tracy? Mike can show you where all the medical supplies are located. I’m going to take my nighttime meds now, then I’ll put on some coffee. Anyone feel like an Irish coffee before turning in?”
Everyone did, it seemed.
“Oh yeah, before I forget,” Tracy said, taking command of the moment. “The tide will be optimal at 0625, so up at 0545 latest.”
Mike and Anton looked from Tracy to Henry and then back to Tracy, not quite sure what to think about this changing of the guard. “That sounds about right,” Henry replied. “We can still get about eight hours sleep even with coffee.”
“I put on water, Genry. Go take medicine.”
“Good to have you back on board, Anton,” Henry said, smiling. “Sorry about all the bullshit.”
Anton shrugged then stepped into the galley and got to work; Tracy followed Henry to the aft cabin and sat on the bed while he sorted through his medications. “Henry, this boat is beyond fantastic. I hate to even think what she cost.”
“Yeah, me too. That was a carbon fiber mast, by the way, and there’s kevlar in the hull. My biggest concern is what all that fucking radiation did to the laminates, because hull insurance doesn’t cover acts of war.”
“Crap…I didn’t think about that – or I’d have never left the Azores.”
“We were about 15 miles off the breakwater at Rotterdam when the bomb hit, so call it 25 miles from ground zero. I think it was a low yield tactical nuke so no alpha radiation at that range, and the prevailing winds were westerly so fallout was minimal, but we probably took a pretty big hit of neutron radiation.”
“I suppose you have iodine tabs?”
“I think so, yeah, but I’m not sure what dose we need, or…”
“And the net is still down.”
“Right. No such things as books anymore, so you understand the dimensions of that problem.”
“You ever think the internet is one giant rabbit hole?”
“Oh, not often. Maybe two or three times a day.”
She laughed at that. “It has been a blessing – and a curse.”
“Odd choice of words, Tracy, all things considered.”
She turned a little red at that. “You should have been a shrink, Hank.”
Henry blinked hard and shook his head as images of Claire in the hospital filled his mind, because he heard her saying exactly the same words – and as Tracy’s voice was almost identical to the one in his memory he quickly found himself choking back tears…
“What is it, Henry?”
“Just…you sound just like Claire, and it’s all coming back to me now.”
She stood and came to him, put her arms around him and held on tight, then she gently spun him around until he was facing her. “What about me? I’m not Claire, Henry…”
She leaned-in and kissed him, an eyes closed, deep lingering kind of thing, and he felt a little weak in the knees when she ran her fingers along the nape of his neck – if only because everything still felt like Claire. Exactly like Claire. And all the time this was going down, he knew he couldn’t tell Tracy anything about such feelings, and because of that internal conflict the pain of his denial was becoming almost unbearable.
When she pulled away she looked into his eyes, only to shake her head and take a step back. “I shouldn’t have done that, Henry,” she whispered. “I’m so sorry.”
He took her hands in his and pulled her back into his arms. “Don’t be sorry, darlin’, ‘cause I wouldn’t have missed that for the world.”
She laughed a little, but the story was there in her eyes: “Too weird for you?” she asked.
“Hey kid, even when I’m wrong I’m right.”
“…and stops my mind from wondering, I think you’re going to say next?” she added.
“You know it, kid.”
“What are you thinking right now, Hank?”
He stood on the precipice and looked into the abyss, then took a step into the void: “Time. I wish I had more to give you.”
“We have what we have, Hank, and that only makes each moment more precious.”
He nodded understanding. “How ‘bout one step at a time?”
“Sounds safe, maybe even a little cautious. Sure you want to play with time like that?”
He smiled. “I’m not sure about a whole lot right now, Tracy. Only that your eyes are hypnotic, and they’re taking me someplace I never thought I’d go again.”
“Is that a bad thing?”
He shook his head. “No, actually. It’s really kind of wonderful.”
“Wonderful is good, Hank.”
“Coffee ready!” Anton called out from the galley. “Genry! Where you hide whiskey?”
“Come on,” Henry sighed. “We’d better do this.”
“Okay, if you say so.”
He lay still in the dark, looking up through the open hatch just overhead, watching stars drift by.
She was by his side, her face resting on his chest, her fingers drawing lazy circles on his chest.
‘It should be Claire with me here right now…’
And the thoughts kept coming, rippling through the night sky like fireballs that just wouldn’t die-out and fade-away.
‘How close did we come to making a girl just like you?’
‘But we didn’t.’
‘All that happened fifty years ago, didn’t it?’
‘Is this a second chance?’
‘Is this just wrong?’
Her breathing slowed a little, the little arcs she drew grew smaller and smaller, then he heard sleep come for her. He turned his head a little and her hair crashed through his thoughts.
‘You even smell like her.’
‘How is that even possible?’
‘I can’t do this. I can’t do this to you. I can’t do this to your mother.’
‘How can I not do this?’
‘This is the circle closing. The circle we started, Claire – you and I – the story we never got to finish.’
Wavelets lapped against the hull, a hollow sound that obscured all the other life out there in the darkness.
‘You are the ocean, aren’t you? How could you be anything else?’
‘Is that what brought us together? The ocean? The womb of what was, the first circle?’
‘Are you with me now, or are you here to close the circle?’
Anton cast off the spring-lines and Henry slipped the transmission into forward, hit the port bow thruster and watched the dock slip away.
‘This is it,’ he sighed inwardly, ‘the last leg of a journey Dad and I started – once upon a time…’
He turned and watched Mike cast of Karma’s lines, watched Tracy push the tiller hard over, and the old Westsail eased into the current and came up alongside his stern. A minute later there she was, just a few feet away. She looked his way and smiled at him and suddenly everything felt full of promise.
Fenders were pulled and stowed, lines coiled and readied for use again. Henry set the course on the autopilot and watched as Karma settled in off his starboard quarter, and he was grateful there still didn’t appear to be any traffic out on the water – at least not yet, anyway.
A little more than thirty miles to Caudebec-en-Caux, and they’d tie off there for the night. Visit the cathedral, have a quiet dinner then walk among the fallen leaves. Talk about all the impossible things they’d never get to do together, in a perverse way doing to her what Claire had done to him – because how else could he complete this journey without dying?
The chartplotter flickered and came alive, the GPS constellation suddenly going fully active again, then his phone chirped.
A text. From Dina.
“WHERE ARE YOU?” she wanted to know.
“Just leaving LeHavre, headed for Paris. You?”
“Home? I thought this was home?”
“I asked Pinky to bring us back. She understood my reasons.”
“Rolf is angry at me. He wants to be there with you.”
“You’ll have to do what you think best. So will he.”
“Do you know where my daughter is?”
“Will you let me know if you find out?”
He waited a while but she had apparently had enough so he put his phone back in the cradle.
Another chirp on the phone.
“My GPS is back online!” Tracy wrote. “Hallelujah!”
“You know, for an atheist you sure wallow in florid evangelical imagery an awful lot.”
“Sorry. Are you on AP?”
“I am now, yes.”
“What’s your speed?”
“Boat speed seven, speed over ground about four.”
“Could you slow down a little? I’m pushing pretty hard to keep up with you.”
He smiled at the unintended imagery. “Yup, can do.”
“I think I love you, Henry.”
“Let me know when you know for sure.”
“And I think I love you too.”
“Oh, P.S., but I think Mike is an asshole.”
“You ain’t the only one, darlin’.”
He throttled back about a knot – then the phone chirped again. Rolf this time.
“Can I call you now?” the boy asked.
He texted his new number and hit send; a few seconds later his phone started ringing.
“Yo. What’s up with you and your grandmother?”
“She has gone crazy, I think. I mean crazy crazy, Henry, and not some bullshit anger thing.”
“I want to come there.”
“Okay. I’ll be up there later this week, after I get the boat settled in Paris.”
“I didn’t want to miss this part of the trip, Henry. I feel like I have let you down.”
“Not your fault, son.”
“I still feel bad.”
“Understood. Don’t let the feeling get you down. I’ll be there as soon as I can figure out the transportation.”
“So you’ll call me then?”
“Okay. I love you, Henry. In case anything happens, I want to be sure you know that.”
“I love you too, Amigo.”
Silence again. Phone back in the cradle.
“You want coffee?” Anton asked, his head popping up the companionway.
“Maybe one of those cans of Ensure.”
“What kind. Got chocolate and some kind of brown stuff.”
“The brown stuff. Sounds intriguing.”
“I take your word. How far we go today?”
“Looks like 33 miles to go, maybe four knots over the ground so call it eight hours and change.”
“Autopilot steer now?”
“Okay. We talk now? Is okay?”
“I have new friend who got small airplane. Maybe range enough to fly Bergen one stop. Six seats. Is enough?”
“Who is this friend?”
“French Air Force. We talk, maybe can help.”
“Okay. We’ll talk to him when we get to Paris. Now, what about you? What are your plans?”
“Not him. She. And she give idea about way I can fly here. Air cargo, Middle East. Good money, maybe good idea.”
“Okay. What can I do to help?”
“If I can, yes.”
“You good man, Genry.”
Taggart grinned, but he looked away, too.
“What about boy? He come back? Why go Bergen?”
Henry nodded. “Yeah.”
“And Dina? She not coming?”
And Henry shrugged. “I doubt it, but you never can tell where women are concerned.”
“Ah, woman easy understandable, Genry. Want love, that all.”
“Your wife was that way?”
“Until she get sick, then love real important. More important than anything. Then my daughter, she want love after husband leave. Her kids too. Hard to in Air Force, but had to or else big trouble. Thing is, if feel love, very easy to give, easy to share. If love not real, then impossible. Oh, before forget, dog got bad gas. I mean real bad – like dead skunk.”
“He needs some fiber and a t-bone steak. He probably needs to get laid, too.”
Anton nodded. “Dog eat too much fish, oily, shit smell bad mean not good. Get laid not a problem though.”
“Okay, go get brown can now. Need something else?”
“No, that’ll do it.” Henry watched Anton drop back down the hatch then turned to the radio and pulled up the BBC World Service, not quite sure what to expect these days.
Caudebec-en-Caux was another one of those places. The little cathedral in the center of the village held precious memories – of his parents, yes – but also of Claire and Edith together. One Christmas when both families met up in Paris – and when Claire was in her French phase – they’d all made the trip up to Honfleur by train, stopping at Caudebec-en-Caux on the return trip.
Claire had been in love with cathedrals then. Taking pictures with her Nikkormat then pulling out a sketchbook and making quick drawings because, she said, someday she was going to make huge paintings of everything she loved about them. Just like Monet, she’d said with a smile. With that smile.
Only those somedays never came, and in the fading afternoon light he wondered what had become of her sketches and photographs. In a box somewhere, perhaps? Or in a landfill somewhere with all of her other hopes and dreams. He was pretty sure he could remember exactly where she’d stood, and when he closed his eyes he could see her standing there in almost the same light. Like Paris, the afternoon light in this part of France was a little pinkish, and when that light hit the old stone building something about the feel seemed to almost defy time.
He led Tracy and Anton and Mike inside and let them find the light as it streamed through rows of stained glass, the pinks and blues and ambers on the stones adrift like ripples on a quiet little pond – and he assumed still holding onto secret memories God only knew. He walked over to the organ’s pipes, marveling at their four spires framing the massive stained-glass circle beyond, and he could feel Claire’s awe even as Tracy walked past in her aunt’s unseen footsteps.
Then she turned to face him.
“Claire was here, wasn’t she?”
He was cast in stone now. Resolutely still, his eyes cast in cold glass, his thoughts lost inside a kaleidoscope of kinetic eddies as he drifted from one time to the other. Claire here, now Tracy. The same eyes, the same voice, everything coming full circle over and over again.
He felt her standing in front of him, felt her wiping tears from his face, then kissing his hands. Anton was staring at him, and Mike, and then a priest was there.
“Perhaps it is a trick of the light,” the priest said.
“Have you ever seen this before?” Tracy asked.
“Once. Many years ago,” the old priest sighed. “Do you know why he cries so?”
“He’s been here before,” Tracy replied. “With someone very special, before she passed.”
“So he is talking with her again,” the father said. “We should leave them in silence.”
“He mentioned something happened at a little chapel in Honfleur,” Mike said to Tracy after they moved to the nave. “Do you know anything about that?”
She shook her head.
“He say very important,” Anton added. “We go Christmas Eve. He take us.”
Tracy turned and looked at Anton, then to Henry still standing before the pipes, the priest standing just out of reach. More people had gathered to look at Henry now, and a few seemed quite agitated at the sight.
After all, it wasn’t every day you saw someone that seemed to be aglow with all the colors of the glass…
© 2020 adrian leverkühn | abw | this is a work of fiction, pure and simple; the next element will drop as soon as the muse cooperates.