“Do you have a snow shovel?” Tracy asked as she watched snow accumulating on the deck of her Westsail.
“I do, but only one. I think we’d better go grab a couple more,” Henry replied as he picked up a handful of the white stuff, rolling it over in his hands.
“It wet, heavy,” Anton added. “Heavy enough to hurt boat?” he wondered aloud.
“It won’t help anything, Anton,” Henry said as he went to the garage and got his shovel out from behind the Zodiac. “Keeping the decks clear will keep hundreds of pounds off the waterline, and keep deck fittings from getting ice under them.”
“I wasn’t expecting this,” Tracy sighed. “Somehow sailing and shoveling snow don’t go together.”
“Yeah, well,” Henry smirked as he handed the shovel to Tracy, “whipped cream and sex don’t really go together either, but that doesn’t stop some people from trying.”
“Leave it to you,” Mike snarked, “to think of that at a time like this.”
“Whipped cream? Really?” Anton said dreamily.
They found three sturdy plastic shovels at a BP station, and after that the group took a taxi into Rouen for dinner.
The city was empty, the streets looked like something out of a ghost town in an old western, but their taxi driver knew a place that was open and desperate for cash paying customers. The food was actually pretty good, too, and Henry asked their driver to join them when he said he hadn’t eaten in two days.
“What’s going on?” Tracy asked. “Why haven’t you eaten?”
“When the power went out everything closed; businesses, stores…everything. People and markets without ice lost all their meat, and even generators didn’t work so no one was spared. And of course nobody is getting paid now, which is just one part of the larger problem, because there’s also still no food in the markets, and the water treatment plant isn’t working so there’s no water. People are taking water from the river but they’re getting sick, and farmers are watching over their herds to keep people from poaching, but already several people have been hurt.”
“Jesus…” she sighed.
“The owner of this place is an old friend. His family has a farm near the coast so at least he has a supply of fresh food. And thank you so much for inviting me to join you. It is very much appreciated.”
“Do you have family here?” Nodding and his eyes now full of concern, Henry asked the driver while they looked over the meager, handwritten menus.
“My son and daughter, yes, they are at home. My wife was on business in Italy when the electricity went out. I finally talked to her today.”
“Have your kids eaten?”
The driver shook his head, then looked away.
“Order something for them,” Henry said. “We’ll drop it off on the way back to the boat.”
The driver, a man fast growing old before his time, wiped away a tear. “It is strange how fast things have come apart, at how inept our governments have been in their response to these things.”
“People like low taxes,” Mike said. “You can’t have low taxes and effective government.”
“Maybe not,” the Frenchman sighed. “Empty promises, I suppose.”
Dinner was a success with roast goose featured, served with a soufflé redolent of mushrooms and spinach. Everyone agreed the chocolate tart and coffee was the best they’d ever had.
Anton helped the driver carry meals up to a small apartment, and while standing there on the street a good three inches of snow coated the old Mercedes; by the time they made it back out to the marina several feet of snow had piled-up on both decks, and Henry just shook his head when he found Time Bandits’ cockpit literally awash with deep, sloppy slush.
“Let’s do Karma first, all of us together, then we can hit Bandit,” Henry said.
“You go take medicine,” Anton grinned. “Don’t worry. We wait for you before start.”
“Thanks,” Henry said. “I think.”
It took an hour to clear both boats, yet by the time they finished clearing off Time Bandits, Tracy’s Westsail already had another foot piled up. “That no good, Genry,” Anton sighed.
Henry looked at the adjacent parking lot and did a double take when he realized that the few cars still parked out there had disappeared – now buried under what looked like two meters of the heavy snow – then everyone flinched when what sounded like a rifle shot pierced the night.
Everyone turned toward the sound just in time to see an old oak falling into the river, and the rest of night was punctuated by an endless volley of falling trees. And the worst of the storm wasn’t supposed to hit until mid-morning.
Exhausted after two days – and nights – shoveling snow, Henry turned to the BBC World Service to see if there was any good news on the horizon.
The storm had pulverized the Iberian peninsula before winding up for the main event. Now most of central and northern France were buried, literally buried under meters of snow, but not content to simply inundate France, the storm had meandered slowly over Belgium and Holland, wrecking relief efforts underway in Amsterdam and Rotterdam before heading north and east towards Norway and the Baltic. Even southeast England had been hit, and hard, with London seeing over two meters of snow falling in two days. No one, the BBC announcer stated, had any records of a similar storm on file.
Yet the worst was, apparently, yet to come – because the forecast for the next several days included daytime temperatures reaching into the high-70sF, so the likelihood of life-threatening floods happening was increasing by the hour.
“So,” Henry said to everyone gathered in the cockpit, “the water level will most likely rise significantly, and with that the current will increase exponentially. Also, there will be a ton of debris in the water.”
“What you thinking, Genry?”
“Anton, I’d like you and Mike to stay here for a few days and let Tracy take me into Paris, to the oncologist Dina has lined up for me. I’ve called and she’ll see me the day after tomorrow, early in the morning. There’s a train running tomorrow morning, and a return train the day after the appointment, and I don’t want to put this off any longer.”
“What about airplane and Bergen,” Anton asked.
“Let me think about that,” Henry sighed. “Maybe by early next week the weather will cooperate?”
Anton nodded. “Pilot friend can come here while gone?”
“Sure, I don’t see why not…?”
“Okay, I stay. Anyway, she bring whipping cream.”
The oncologist, a woman about Tracy’s age, quickly ran through the latest lab reports with Henry, but they contained little in the way of good news. She wanted to put him in a room overnight and start him up on chemo again, but he simply refused.
“Can’t we just do another transfusion?” he asked. “I’m not looking for a cure.”
“You do know that with these new mRNA therapies, a cure is not out of reach?”
“Yes. The same technology that enabled the rapid response to the pandemic is being used to make new therapies for oncology. It is a very hopeful development, but we may not see an agent for a year. Putting you on chemo now could buy enough time to get you there. Interested?”
“I don’t know what to think,” Henry sighed. “Maybe this, maybe that, and maybe I could go through extended chemo and perhaps nothing would come of all the waiting.”
“But,” Tracy said, “what if it does? How does twenty years of extra life added to the clock sound?”
“Mr. Taggart,” the oncologist said, “everyone understands there are no guarantees where these things are concerned, but at least there is a chance. Why not take it?”
“Because I tried a brief course of chemo in Norway and I was not responding well. My counts went crazy…”
“I have seen these reports,” Dr. Montard replied. “I would not use the same agents, and with you here in the city I could very closely monitor your progress. I see this as a win-win situation, and I hope you do too.”
Henry Taggart knew this was one of those moments. A split second when the universe kind of stopped and all kinds of unexpected impulses might run through his mind, so he took a deep breath and stood, then walked over to a window with an impressive view of the city beyond the glass. He had never seen her with so much snow…
“God, I love this city,” he sighed as he scanned the streets below. ‘Maybe this is what drew me here,’ he thought as he struggled to understand the moment. “Maybe all along I was meant to come here, right to this office, to this moment…’
He turned and looked at Tracy, at all the possibilities waiting out there on the far side of the torture this new physician proposed. Tracy and Rolf, making a run for the South Pacific on Time Bandits? Isn’t that what he’d do with time like that? With Dina writing herself out of the equation, didn’t coming full circle mean the way ahead would include a journey with Tracy and Rolf by his side?
He turned to look at Montard. At her eyes, her face, and at her soul.
“Realistically, doctor, what are the chances this mRNA technology will come to the rescue?”
“Realistically? There is a trial underway at Philadelphia Children’s and the initial results are so far very promising. So, and I hate to say this, but we may be able to answer this question within weeks. If their results…”
“Dr. Montard,” Tracy said, “what about getting Henry into the trial? Is it too late?”
Montard looked at her laptop, then she shrugged. “I can see. At least I can try…”
Something swelled in Henry’s soul, something akin to hope, something he hadn’t felt in months, and he turned back to the glass. And there was the snow covered city again, only this time his reflection was there too, and he could see the hope in the stranger’s eyes.
“I have to move the boat from Rouen to the Arsenal,” Henry said. “I’ll also need to go to Norway for a few hours, but I’ll start chemo after I return.”
Tracy burst into tears and ran to him, fell into his arms.
“I didn’t expect tears,” he whispered into her ear, “but…”
“No buts, Henry. I love you, and that’s all I can say right now.”
Montard let them have their moment, then she interrupted Henry. “Before you go, I think we should give you some platelets.”
“Come with me, please.”
The power was back in Paris, lights were on and businesses open for customers, and as it was Friday crowds were surging in the late afternoon – life returning to normal once again.
“I feel alive, Tracy. Maybe for the first time in months. Like when spring comes and trees start to bud…that kind of alive.”
“I can’t even imagine what you must be feeling.”
“Tahiti. That was the first thing I thought of. With you and Rolf, maybe even with Anton. Sailing from here to Tahiti.”
“What do mean you, okay?”
“Okay. Sounds fun. Let’s do it. How about that?”
He took her hand in his. He felt like skipping down the sidewalk. He was hungry – and he was in Paris!
His first night back, and it was the first of December. He had made it, he thought, and despite the odds, too.
“You feel light,” Tracy said, beaming.
“I feel like light,” he sighed. “Like photons unbound, free to race across the universe!”
“And where would you go, Henry?”
“To that patisserie across the street! For something sweet!”
“I’m sweet, aren’t I?”
“You are indeed, but I have a feeling some people might not understand if I eat you out here on the street.”
He charged into the pastry shop and picked out a few random bits of goodness, and he asked for a couple of cups of coffee too, then they sat by a window and waited while people strolled by in the pink afternoon sunlight.
“If I’d just come from the sun,” he said…
“Speaking as a photon, you mean?”
“Yes, of course. If I’d just arrived I’d want it to be right here, right here in the heart of Paris. I can’t imagine traveling all that way and landing in the sea or, heaven forbid, Iowa.”
Their coffee came and he picked at something loaded with chocolate, then he sipped coffee lost in thought. “Why does everything taste better here?” he asked, looking about the place and at the people queuing up to buy their daily bread.
“Maybe it’s the light!” she said, smiling.
“I hate to bring this up, but we’re going to need to find a room.”
“Yeah,” Henry said, grinning, “I reckon so.”
“I’m surprised you haven’t already booked one.”
“What makes you so sure I haven’t?”
She nodded – slowly. “One room, or two?”
“I’ll never tell.”
His phone chirped and he fished the thing out of his pocket and looked at the display: an incoming text from Dina – again in ALL CAPS.
“JUST HEARD FROM MONTARD. GOOD NEWS!”
He put the phone back in his pocket, involuntarily shivering as he did.
“You feeling cold?” Tracy asked.
“Suddenly, yes. Like a stalker just reappeared. Holding a pair of scissors overhead, about to strike.”
“Dina?” Tracy asked with a sigh, and when he nodded she shrugged. “Well, so much for privacy laws in France.”
“Dina was my original oncologist.”
He nodded. “I think she moved in on me once she figured out I was screwing her daughter.”
“Things really got weird after her daughter turned out to be pregnant.”
“Which really made things ticklish when I knocked up another girl a few weeks later.”
Tracy said not a word; she simply stood and walked out of the shop. Once out on the sidewalk she looked towards les Invalides and stomped off in that direction, yet for some reason Taggart thought of Napoleon’s tomb – and he smiled at the thought, like he had smiled at the idea of the sun’s photons striking Paris. Then he burst out laughing before he noticed clouds moving in again.
“And now it looks like rain,” he sighed, then he stood and walked off after her.
© 2020 adrian leverkühn | abw | this is a work of fiction, pure and simple; the next element will drop as soon as the muse cooperates.