So, while working on Deep End I started work on a new story, a sailing story, of course. I don’t like working on two stories at once – which is why I usually ending up doing just that – but this is a work-in-progress, too, and unfinished (boo-hiss). Still, have fun. I’ll finish this before Deep End, I guess.
The title? A song, of course. I like Sinatra’s version, but there are dozens out there, including a nice one by Queen Latifah (oh, try her rendering of Poetry Man).
So… Pour yourself a Drambuie and settle in, put on some music and have a read.
Corcovado | Quiet Nights of Quiet Stars
She was gone now. Gone just now, and he was alone in their house, their home, and memories seemed to push in on him.
Twenty-three years together. Gone, down in flames, an assumed destiny reduced to the lowest common denominator by depositions and faultless recriminations. Contrived recriminations, he reminded himself. False memories, misplaced motives.
He heard it first, through a grapevine he’d never known existed, that she was having an affair. Young guy. Some guy who had time on his hands…time enough to take care of her liquid dreams. First, a quiet confrontation, then an equally quiet agreement, and once arrived at it was over – there was nothing left to say, little left to do.
Or…was there? Like…what comes next?
He moved his belongings down to the marina, moved onto the little boat they had sailed on weekends – together. It was big enough, he told himself, to hold onto the things left, the things worth holding onto.
He went to work two days after he moved aboard, drove out to SeaTac, walked to the dispatch office, picked up and scanned through the preflight briefing for the leg to KSLC. He read the met synopsis, checked off the squawks and signed the fuel load-out, then walked through the quiet terminal to the security line. He checked his watch – 4:20 in the morning – while he shuffled through the crew line, then, when he was through, he walked out to the gate and onto the old 757.
All the lights were off – save a few in the galley that cast oblique little pools of blue and amber where the Jetway met the doorway, and he grinned at other memories. How long had it been, he wondered, since he had been the first to board? How long ago had he worn three stripes on his sleeves?
He went to the cockpit and reached into the darkness, feeling for the switch on the overhead panel that would turn on the dome light, but it was second nature now – and had been…for fifteen years. He had to admit…this confined little space was home, his real home. Barbara had never understood that, not really, and had never been willing to share him with this other world. Even if she was proud, in a way, of his calling, she hated him for this one chaste passion.
He sat and started flipping switches, activating electrical buses and checking ground power status, then he started entering data in the old girl’s nav system. He heard a couple of flight attendants come aboard, listened to their careless banter – because they assumed they were the first aboard this morning – and he smiled when he heard one of them notice there were lights on in the cockpit.
A knock on the door.
“Captain? You here already?”
He turned, looked at Marcy Stewart and smiled. “Yup. That seems to be the case.”
“Can I get you some coffee, Jim?”
“No thanks, darlin’,” he said. He liked Marcy, had been to her wedding two summers ago and, because her father had recently passed and he had walked her down the aisle, given her away as best he could.
“We heard about Barbara,” she said, walking into the cockpit just a little. “I’m so sorry, Jim.”
He nodded, turned back to the panel and squeezed his eyes shut for a moment – then he felt her standing right behind his seat, her hand on his shoulder.
“You okay?” she asked.
“Yeah, I’m copacetic.”
“How many we got this morning?”
“Looks full. Sorry. No rest for the wicked.”
“Oh…sure. A little one?”
“Comin’ right up.”
He watched the fuel boss supervising the truck for a moment, then heard his FO walk through the galley on his way up…
“So, it’s true,” Will Eberling said as he came in and hung up his coat. “How long you been here?”
“Half hour, maybe.”
“Leave anything for me to do?”
He almost laughed. “Maybe. I hear the aft head portside is clogged. Why don’t you go do some of that plumber shit…”
Eberling ignored that one, contorted his way into the right seat and ran through his procedures, and even managed to set up his FMS in less than ten minutes. “Ready to hit the bricks?” Eberling said when it was time to do their walk-around down on the ramp.
“Starting to rain a little,” he said as he made his way to the galley. It was cold out, too, like not quite 40 degrees yet, and it was still snowing like crazy in Salt Lake. He made it down to the concrete and walked to the number one engine, confirmed oil and hydraulic pressures were good, then he walked around the gears and tires, giving them a practiced look over. When he was finished he walked over to the fuel boss and took the chit, looked it over once and signed it.
Eberling was waiting for him at the metal stairway, looking southeast. Mount Rainier was barely visible – just – in the dim, early morning light, and he stopped and looked into the shades of gray for a while, then they walked up to the vestibule that connected the old girl to this earth.
Marcy was waiting for him, a glass of orange juice in hand when he came back to the pools of light.
“You sure you don’t want something hot?” she asked, looking at the water running off his rain-coat, and his nose.
He took the juice and downed it, shook his head. “Maybe before we shut the door?”
“Got it,” she said.
He noticed the way she looked at Eberling just then. Kind of a “keep an eye on him this morning” look.
“There are no secrets between crew members,” he remembered one of his training captains telling him once – almost thirty years before. Just the opposite of life in the Navy, he’d had to remind himself. Everything was different – again.
Yet there’d been one constant all through his life so far: Barbara. And Ted, he had to remind himself.
She’d been by his side since their second year together, at school. She’d stuck with him when he’d decided to go into the Navy after graduation, and she’d visited while he struggled through OCS, and he couldn’t have finished without her, he knew. She was his future even then, and they knew it. They got married after he finished up at Pensacola, and when they moved to Pearl she seemed to love him all the more for his calling.
But…things change, don’t they? People change, too.
Eberling was calling out the pre-start checklist now, and he woke up the old girl with her old, familiar routines, got her ready for another day in the air. He was on automatic pilot too, and he knew it…going through all the old, easy motions. He didn’t have to think about what he was doing now; all these motions were in deepest muscle-memory. His fingers found switches without any need to look, because every little thing in this cockpit had it’s own sound and feel.
“Yaw dampers – ”
“One and two, check…”
“IRS – ALIGN to NAV…”
“One, check…two…and three…”
He watched the pushback truck line up, felt the slightest jolt as they mated – then he was talking to the ground boss…
“Clear to start One, Captain…”
Eberling finished the switch from ground power to internal buses while he kept his hand on the tiller, then the truck was free…
“Delta 217, clear to taxi Bravo to one-six left. You’re number two behind a Scandinavian 340, contact tower one-nineteen-nine. Good day.”
“217 to left and nineteen-nine,” he said – and suddenly, in that moment, he knew he’d be okay. All the weight from the past couple of days slipped from his shoulders and he took a deep breath, shook his head.
“You okay, Jim?” Eberling said – a little too quietly.
“Yup. Five by five.” He watched the taxiway lights slip by – in an order he understood all too well – and he braked when they were still about a hundred yards behind the A340 – while Eberling called out the last items on the pre-takeoff checklist.
He watched the -340 turn onto the active, it’s drooping wings heavy with fuel – then it’s engines ran up and she lumbered down the runway.
“217, taxi to position and hold.”
He turned onto the runway, lined up on the centerline, flipped off the taxi-lights, turned on the wing lights…
“217, clear for takeoff, contact departure one twenty decimal four for a Summa One departure.”
“217, 120.4, Summa Four, roger.”
He advanced the throttles to 40%N1 then cut them to idle for a moment, turned on the auto-throttle and the flight director, then engaged the auto-pilot…and the old girl eased down the runway for a few seconds – until she transitioned to full take-off power – then she screamed down the runway and leapt into the sky.
“Positive rate,” he called out, and Eberling raised the gears, then: “One-sixty, slats two. One seven five…clean the wing…”
He watched the autopilot track in on the Summa intersection, then as it made the transition to the Baker City VOR…
He didn’t remember much about that day, only the feeling of normalcy that seemed to come for him so gently, so quietly. He remembered having dinner with Marcy that night, at some raucous place in Malibu. How she’d held his hand after, telling him that it would be alright soon.
“It already is, Marcy.”
She’d nodded once, then looked at him long and hard. “Divorce is like death, Jim. You’ll grieve…”
“No, I won’t. She was cheating on me, Marcy. I won’t grieve over that. I can’t…”
Then she had just nodded her head again. Slowly. Knowingly. Just like Barbara might have…
And, of course, it hadn’t been quite that simple…because at points both lawyers were trying to run up the hours…but the thing about it was – he didn’t want a fight, and neither did Barbara. She was willing to give him the house and the boat, but then he’d asked “Where the devil will you live? That guy’s apartment?”
And so…he’d let her have the house, because, he told her, he knew she loved it so.
And when she broke into tears and ran into his arms he’d held onto her, instinctively, protectively – just as he had for the past thirty years – then he’d kissed her on top of her head and slipped free, that one last time. He signed some papers a few weeks later and it was a done deal, and somehow it was like the last thirty years had never really happened.
Altair was inscribed on the boat’s navy blue stern…which was how his son found it that morning. He’d moved the boat from Shilshole Bay Marina to Lake Union a few weeks before, and only remembered to let Ted know the night before, before he boarded his overnight flight in Boston for the trip home. His own flight got in a half hour after Ted’s, and by the time he made it to the dock Ted was already lounging in the cockpit.
“Ah…the prodigal son returns, but – my God…you look just like Jesus! When’s the last time you went to a barbershop…?”
“Hey, Dad. How’s it hangin’?”
“Still down to my knees.”
“Yeah…but does it still work?” Ted quipped as he hopped down to the dock and hugged his ‘old man.’ “Well, at least you still look like you could…”
“You might, too, someday, if we could only get you out of diapers.”
“Get your stuff stowed?”
“Yup. You sure you want me to take the aft cabin?”
“Yeah, I like it up forward. Where I put my stuff when…”
“You really got three weeks off?”
“Almost four. I don’t have to report back until June 28th, and man-o-man, am I looking forward to some downtime.”
“So? Where we headed?”
“Feel like hitting Desolation Sound?” He watched his son’s eyes light up like a little kid’s and they both smiled, then he looked around the deck. “Got everything you need?”
“I think so, yeah.”
“Did you call your mom? Let her know you’re in…?”
The change that came over his son looked just like a fat summer’s cloud racing across a hot August prairie – bright sunshine to cool, lingering shadow in a heartbeat, then the heat again. Ted was still sorting through his anger, trying to understand her sudden, final betrayal, but he had yet to reconcile with her – said he never would. He had been content to let it go at that while Ted was so far away, but now that he was “home” he was going to have to do something about it. Barbara was still fragile where Ted was concerned.
“No,” was Ted’s final stony, sullen reply.
“Okay.” Which seemed to take the wind out of his son’s sails. “You wanna grab the bowlines while I warm up the motor?”
A few minutes later he backed out of his slip into Lake Union, and he let Ted take the helm while he tidied up the deck, making Altair ready for sea –
– but first – they’d have to transit Ballard Locks, and Ted had never tackled them before.
So he ran the lines needed while Ted steered down-channel, then he took the wheel when the lock’s entry signal turned green –
“When we get lined-up in there, toss your lines up to the lock-keeper on the dock. He’ll tie us off – our job is to let out line as the water drops and we fall, keeping us off the wall – and the boats around us. It gets pretty turbulent, so brace yourself.”
A half hour later they were running through Shilshole Bay – leaving Seattle in their wake – when the sun broke through early morning, low-scudding cumulus.
“You bring any beer?” his son asked.
“Diet Dr Pepper and chicken salad sammies today.”
“But…I thought it was like against the Law of the Sea to leave port without a case of Budweiser.”
“Yup, that’s probably true.”
“Sorry, Dude. I’m just not into that stuff.”
“Got any new books, at least?”
“Jeez, Dad…a month without beer…and no books? You going for the priesthood or something?”
“No. One in the family will be enough.”
Ted looked away. “What makes you say that?” he said a while later.
“Jesuit school, Jesuit college all those theology classes. Or maybe I don’t know you that well.”
“You’re the only person who ever got me, Dad.”
“So…seminary school is next on your horizon?”
“I think so, yeah. But…”
“What about med school?”
“Yeah, that too.”
“Still no girlfriend?”
And again, Ted turned away, lost, trying to find the right words. “I was kinda hoping to try that this summer.”
“Try – what?”
“The whole sex thing. Girls, that kinda thing.”
“Oh,” he said, grinning at the irony. “No girls in Beantown?”
“Just hasn’t been right.”
“I see. Would you grab me a DDP?”
“Sure. Want a sandwich?”
“Nope, not yet.”
He watched his boy amble down the companionway and come back up with four Diet Dr Peppers, and they both downed one in a fast gulp, then opened their second and sipped that one slowly.
“What about that gal from Rhode Island? Didn’t work out?”
Ted shook his head. “She was weird, like she was looking for someone to be her daddy.”
He laughed. “I know the type.”
“No…a couple of stews I’ve known…”
“No, not that. It’s more like I’m a, well, a Father Confessor to a lot of the girls. When they get in trouble it seems they always come to me.”
“Abusive boyfriends, husbands. Unwanted pregnancies. That kind of thing. I guess I have that kind of face.”
“You always have.”
“As long as I can remember. You remember Pete Baker?”
“The kid with eyes like a smallmouth bass? Used to sleep over weekends?”
“Yup. He thought you were God Almighty Himself. You’d come in from a flight in your uniform and all he wanted to do was stay up all night talking airplanes…”
“So? What are you getting at?”
“Remember when he broke his leg? Playing football?”
“Yeah…we went to see him at the hospital.”
“Yeah. All he wanted was to hear you tell him everything would be alright. Didn’t matter what his mom said. To him, well, you were his dad.”
“You didn’t know that, did you? You have no idea how you affect people, none at all. I think that’s what’s so hard to take about you.”
“Hard to take?”
“Yeah. It’s like you’re this high priest, the High Priest of Boeing.”
He laughed at that – for quite a while. “Of Boeing. I like that.”
“Yeah? Well, it’s true. You’ve always had that effect on people. Half the kids from school who came over hoped they’d get a chance to talk to you…”
“I think we need to stop off for some beer.”
“See? There’s a method to my madness.”
They docked in Friday Harbor that night, and though the sun was still up when Altair entered the little harbor, once the boat was tied-off in the tiny marina they decided to head below and grab some sleep. It was just past two in the morning when he woke up – at his customary time – and headed topside to look things over.
Altair was a chunky forty-five feet long, broad-beamed with an enclosed center cockpit that provided better-than-decent shelter from the often drizzly weather on Puget Sound. The tradeoff with this design was simple enough to understand, however, because while it kept the sun and the wind and the rain out, he had lost the stars, and his most beloved star of all – Altair.
Old habits die hardest, he grumbled as he stumbled around the deck in the dark. He woke up at least once every night and to check the dock-lines – more often when the weather was wild – and he held onto stanchions and lifelines as he made his way forward, stubbing a toe once on a cleat and trying not to curse.
“You up already?” he heard Ted say, and as his eyes adapted to the dark he spied his son sitting on the bow pulpit.
“Every morning at two, come rain or shine.”
“You know…that’s not normal.”
“It is…if you have to be in the cockpit by four.”
“Maybe that’s why Mom always slept ‘til noon. Or…maybe it was the bourbon.”
“It wasn’t easy for her, you know.”
“She knew what she was signing up for, Pops. You were her meal ticket, her free ride.”
“She’s your mother, Ted, and I’m not sure she deserves that.”
“You always went too easy on her.”
“The booze. The fucking around.”
“Don’t talk like that.”
“Jeez, Dad…she’d been cheating on you since I was in middle school.”
“And your point is?”
“My point? Well, when you were gone she was either stone drunk and passed out by the time I got home from school, or…”
“Ya know, Ted, it’s water under the bridge. I don’t want to hear it and you don’t need to live there. It’s over, and it seems to me a little forgiveness is in order – eh, Padre?”
He stood in the silence that followed, looking down at the stars reflecting off the water, searching for Altair.
“What about you, Pops? Did you fuck around?”
“Figures. You’re the most saintly soul I’ve ever known. Too bad you’re an atheist.”
“I am not an atheist.”
“Oh, come on, Pops. The only time you’ve been in church was for a wedding or a funeral…”
“What does church have to do with God?”
They laughed at that one, one of his favorite lines, but he knew in his heart he might be wrong about all that stuff.
“I spend a lot of time in church now,” Ted added. “With the Fathers.”
“That sense of community is a powerful thing, son.”
“Is that what attracts you to the idea?”
“Maybe a little, but it’s the idea that there’s some purpose to all this, that maybe things happen for reasons we can never really fully understand.”
“My father was the same way. Said the only religious experience he’d ever had in his life was when he climbed a mountain over in Switzerland.”
“Sound like hypoxia to me.”
“Yup, and I have the SAT scores to prove it, too.”
“You got your brains from my dad, and your mother. Man, she was a real rocket scientist.”
“Until Jack Daniels came calling, anyway.”
“I guess we all have our crosses to bear.”
“You know what her’s is?”
“No, not really. A hunch, but she would never open up about it.”
“What’s your hunch?”
He sighed, shook his head. “You know what? Maybe you should ask her someday.”
“You’re just not going to speak ill of her, are you?”
“You still love her?”
“Jesus, Dad. Why…?”
“Why? Oh, I guess it has something to do with standing before God and making a promise to that effect.”
“There are no buts, kiddo. A promise is a promise, even if the other person can’t keep up their end of the bargain. You’re only as good as your word, and don’t you ever forget that.”
“I don’t imagine you’ll let me.”
“I won’t always be around, Ted. That’s something you’d do well to remember, too.”
“You and your mother need to clear the air, come to terms.”
“Is she sick?”
“Not that I know of, but…”
“I’m not ready for that, Dad.”
They heard it then…a disturbance in the water…a rippling in the air, and they turned and looked down into the inky starscape, saw a sea otter swimming on it’s back, looking up at them as it circled lazily under the bow pulpit.
“I’ll be…” he said.
“I thought these guys were extinct,” Ted whispered.
“Not quite. I see ‘em every now and then, even in the lake.”
“Damn…he seems almost tame.”
“Not likely. More like brazen confidence. They don’t fear us anymore, I guess.”
“Did they hunt them for their pelts?”
“Yup. They’re kinda cute, ya know?”
“Kind of? I don’t know about you, but I’d like one as a pet.”
“Yeah? Well, aside from being aquatic mammals, they’re also wild. I don’t think that’s a such a good combination, even for a dorm room, but go ahead – ask her.”
“Hey, Paco, she’s laying on her back…see any relevant hardware?”
“When did you start calling me Paco? I was still a spud, right?”
“Oh, when we went down to Mazatlán that Christmas. You were, let’s see, four? You couldn’t eat too many tacos, and, well, Paco rhymes with…”
“Gee, that sounds original, Dad.”
He looked up into the night sky, found Altair in an instant and felt suddenly reassured that it was still there, and that struck him as odd. Had his life changed so much, been so thoroughly disrupted that now he felt unsure of even the stars? Then images of Ted eating tacos in a Mexican village filled his mind’s eye…
“You had to be there, I guess, as a parent. You stuffed those things in so fast…your cheeks were so puffed-out…you were a sight. You had your first beer then, too.”
“I – what?”
“Well, you don’t drink the water down there…”
“I remember…the Aztec two-step…”
“And then you bit into a huge jalapeño. Your face turned beet red and you started to tear up, and I had a bottle of Carta Blanca in hand. You reached up and grabbed it, downed about three-quarters of that bottle in one go…”
“And I’ve been madly in love with beer ever since.”
“I guess you thought it saved your life.”
“It probably did, ya know? Hallelujah, and praise the Lord!”
“Milk does a better job, so does Coke.”
“Thank God you drank beer those days.”
“Well, too late. There she goes,” he said as the otter rolled over and disappeared beneath the still waters.
“Damn. And I was really hoping…”
“So, you wanna get moving?”
“Now? It’s still kinda dark out, Pops.”
“Track’s laid in on the GPS…no problemo.”
“Well, sure; I’m still on east-coast time, so I’m up for the day.”
“Okay…I’ll fire up the diesel. You better go below and stow your gear…”
“I know the drill, Dad.”
Ten minutes later they were motoring out of the little harbor, north towards Little Flattop Island – and Canadian waters – and still there was no sign the sun was ready to put in an appearance. He sat behind the wheel, looking at chart symbology as Altair motored through the various channels between all the big and little islands that formed the way north, and then he heard Ted down below fixing coffee and warming croissants.
“You still do the Nutella and orange marmalade thing?” his boy, his “Paco,” called out over the rumbling diesel, and he shot a thumbs-up back at him. A few minutes later they were eating in the rumbling silence, the only sound the diesel working down below, but soon enough an apricot-salmon sky appeared over the mountains to the east, and he wondered what the day would bring.
“So, we putting into Vancouver tonight?” Ted asked.
“Yeah. Nanaimo is still kind of dead.”
“Suits me. Is Nancy’s still around?”
“Yeah, think so. Some traditions are still too strong for time to kill.” Nancy’s was THE place to meet and eat on the Sound, literally. It wasn’t called Desolation Sound without reason, but it helped the food was truly good. “You wanna steer for a while? Time to drain the main vein…”
“What? No autopilot? No flight director with auto-land capability?”
He shook his head while he flipped on the autopilot, then walked to the aft rail and pulled down his shorts just enough to fire a stream into their wake, his knees braced against the rail as he looked up at the fading stars. Altair was gone now, disappeared beneath the southern horizon, and he felt that old familiar tinge of sadness – when he heard Ted walking aft, by his side, and soon draining his vein into the sea, too.
He took the cut between Deer Harbor and Jones Island, adjusting his course on the chart-plotter and executing the change, then he cycled the radar, saw there was still no traffic on the water…but then he saw Sucia Island ahead, and Echo Bay. Probably the worst weekend of their lives lived in those returns…
“Echo Bay?” Ted asked, pointing at the screen.
“Yup.” And he saw his boy shrink from the memory. Barbara, drinking more than usual that weekend, decided it was time to shred her son to pieces, and with her razor sharp tongue had belittled and berated him while he’d been out on the water in one of their kayaks. He’d looked on as Ted dove off the bow and swam ashore, so paddled in to see what had happened.
Ted was sitting on the rocky beach, knees pulled up to his chest, tears falling from reddened eyes – trembling like a leaf – again.
They’d sat and talked until the sun went down, then he’d gone back to get another kayak to bring back to the beach – and he noticed Barbara wasn’t in the cockpit. When they both got back to the boat she still wasn’t there so he’d gone below – only to find Barbara passed out, only this time with an empty bottle of Valium in hand.
She’d been carried out by the Coast Guard that night, airlifted to Bellingham. Stomach pumped, three long days and nights in the hospital there, then back home. Ted a total wreck by that point too, but nothing compared to Barbara…
And here it was again. All those feelings tied to this place.
“I know it still hurts,” he said, “and I guess it always will…”
“I don’t know why you think I should forgive her.”
“Because of human frailty, son. Nobody’s perfect…”
“That’s a laugh, Pops. She’s the meanest human being that ever lived.”
“She wasn’t always that way, Ted.”
“Oh? What changed her?”
“Lots of things, I think, but first among them was, well, me.”
“Yeah. When we started to drift apart maybe I could’ve…”
“Dad…stop. You can’t take the blame for who she is, all the things she did. She’s a crazy narcissist, maybe she’s even a goddamn psychopath, but all you did was fall for her, once upon a time, but you don’t have to carry that around for the rest of your life. YOU need to move on, YOU need to find someone else – while you’re still young enough.”
“You think so, huh?”
“Fuck yeah, you old goat.”
“So…you wanna get laid this summer?”
“You said you wanted to try the whole girl thing this summer. What’d you have in mind? Falling in love, the whole nine yards, or just getting your rocks off?”
“I’d like to, well, both, maybe.”
“Has this got something to do with the whole priesthood thing?”
“So, you’re really serious about this seminary thing?”
“But…what if you meet some girl this summer, and you fall in love? Then what?”
“Then that whole thing wasn’t for me.”
“Okay. Then what?”
“I don’t know, Dad. Maybe…like…take one thing at a time?”
“Maybe, but if being a priest is what you really want to do, well, maybe you should just turn away from these things. It might just fill you with all kinds of regret later down the road.”
“Father Murphy talked to me about that, ya know?”
“Oh, how is the old goat?”
“Fine. He sends his regards, by the way.”
“Hard to believe we both had him as a prof.”
“Yeah…those Jesuits…they seem to hang on the longest. He turned eighty last year.”
“And still looks like he’s fifty, I bet.”
“All that clean living.”
“Yeah, right. Those guys love their vino, that much I’ll say.”
“So…a girlfriend. You want to try a one night stand first? Vancouver is probably a target-rich environment.”
“Isn’t that line out of Top Gun?”
“Top Gun was right out of real life, Paco. Art imitates life, remember?”
“You mean, you guys really talked that way…?”
“Sorry? Why are you always apologizing?”
“I don’t know…kinda feels like the thing to do. So. Vancouver? We goin’ on a pussy-hunt?”
“Jeez, Dad, you sound like Trump…”
“You mean, I take it, that Trump sounds like ninety percent of every other white-Anglo-Saxon-male in this country? Man, what a double standard that guy has to live up to… Ya know, I heard that W was at a birthday party down in Texas, like before he was governor, and he was drunk as hell and walked up to the honoree, a woman who had just turned fifty. He asked: “Gee, does it feel the same to fuck after fifty as it did before?”
“Yeah, I heard that one. Did you know he was arrested in Maine, for driving while intoxicated…?”
“Yup, and did you hear he assaulted the trooper who arrested him?”
“Yup. Kinda makes me think there’s a double standard at play here, don’t you think?” Ted asked.
“Oh? How so?”
“Well, Clinton gets a BJ in the oval office and gets impeached, while W skated on all that stuff.”
“W had smarter people around him. Politics is the art of not getting caught.”
“Man, have we sunk so low?”
“We? What do you mean? There’ve been politicians for thousands of years, of one stripe or another. All this crap is nothing new, and all of which seems like a good way of you avoiding the question. Do you want to get laid tonight?”
“So, just like that…you can get me laid tonight?”
“No. That’s up to you.”
“Hey, Paco, you need to remember this: girls like sex too. Got it? You act like a Neanderthal and you’ll never get anything, but take it easy, be yourself and then let nature take its course.”
“I’m scared around girls.”
“Yeah? That’s been programmed into you by millions of years of evolution. You SHOULD be scared of ‘em, Paco, because once they sink their fangs into you, you’re doomed.”
Ted laughed, a nervous laughter full of expectation and insecurity, then: “Is that what Mom did to you?”
“Exactly. Didn’t I ever show you the bite marks?”
“I’d say the trick, given the biology of the situation, Ted, is to not fall in love. At your age you’re programmed to fall in love, it’s a biologic imperative. The drive impairs your thinking, too, makes you say silly shit and do even sillier shit. Like marry a gal you hardly know, promise to spend your life with her…”
“You mean, it all comes down to testosterone?”
“Pretty much, yeah.”
“And that’s what happened to you?”
“I don’t think I’m any different than any other red-blooded male out there, Paco. I say stupid shit under the influence of either testosterone or tequila. Or, as the case may be, both testosterone and tequila. You mother got me at a Cinco de Mayo thing over by the commons.”
“Got a couple shots of tequila into me, showed me some thigh. I was a goner after that.”
“You make it sound so simple…”
“Falling in love IS simple, Ted. You just gotta let it happen. You’ll know when it does, too. Take my word for it.”
“And, if I went for the priesthood…?”
“That’s a calling, Ted. In the purest sense of the word, and you’ve always been interested in this stuff so I’m not all that surprised.”
“You’re not? It sure surprised me…”
He looked at the chart-plotter again, noted they were abeam the island now and he checked the depth under the keel, then watched as the autopilot changed course to 315 degrees – about thirty miles to the next course change – and already he could see jets angling in for their approach to Vancouver International. How many times had he shot the same approach, he wondered? How different everything looked from up there.
“Want a DDP?” Ted asked, and he nodded.
He swept the horizon while his boy was below, and he saw a Coast Guard cutter on radar – then visually just as Ted came up from below.
“I think we’re going to have company,” he said, pointing at the display, then at the white hull arcing through a turn in their direction.
“You got any dead bodies stowed below?”
“Two or three, why?”
They watched in silence as the cutter drew near, near enough to see half a dozen-or-so men looking at them through binoculars from the bridge.
“I thought you have one of those stickers?”
“Yeah, still do, but that just allows me to clear-in without having to go to the Customs Dock in Seattle.”
“What are they looking for?”
“Drugs. Terrorists. Horny college students. You know…the usual.”
One of the men on the bridge-deck waved at them and the cutter changed course towards Bellingham, and he waved back. “Well, we’re in Canadian waters now, or will be in a few minutes. Guess it wasn’t worth the hassle.”
“When will we get to Vancouver?”
“Oh, about ten hours,” he said as he popped the top to the Dr Pepper. “I think the wind will pick up in about two hours, so if you want anything hot to eat, now’s the time to do it.”
“You got bacon and eggs down there?”
“Stove still work the same way?”
“Yup, it does.”
“How many eggs? Still do three, over easy?”
“Okay, comin’ right up, Master.”
After ‘growing up’ together with Altair, there’s was an easy routine. Ted knew where everything was, how everything worked, even how to break a few non-essential items, too, but he knew his way around the boat almost as well as his father did. And soon enough, the smells coming out of the galley hit all the right buttons and he began to feel hungry – as they skirted along the Saturna Islands.
He watched the water closely as the sun poked up beyond Mt Baker, and he thought he could see Garibaldi’s crown beyond Vancouver as the first puffs of breeze filled in. They’d be able to make sail within an hour or so, he thought. Then he wondered where he could take his son to get laid in Vancouver.
And how long had it been, he wondered, since he’d had any?
They tied-up at the Coal Harbour Marina an hour before the sun slipped under the horizon, and after he showered he walked up to the Harbor Master’s office and talked to a few guys there while he waited for Ted. The locals recommended a few places overlooking the marina and once Ted arrived – off they went.
Loud music and watered down drinks seemed to be the order of the day, and though there were a few womenfolk around nothing seemed to call out to either of them so they left after a few minutes. They walked to another place that happened to have a deck overlooking Altair, and they took a table on the deck overlooking the marina – about fifty feet from the boat – and a waitress came to take their drink order.
“Dark rum collins for me,” he said. “Ted? Name your poison.”
“The same,” Ted said – cooly.
“I’ll need to see some ID, sir,” the waitress said.
“He’s my son.”
“Doesn’t matter, sir.”
“How about a ginger ale,” Ted sighed. “Maybe with the cherry on the side?”
The girl grinned. “What do you want?”
“A beer. I’d kill for a cold beer.”
“Been out on the water,” she asked.
“Two days,” Ted said. “Coming up from Seattle.”
“Oh? Where are you headed?”
“Desolation Sound,” Ted added. “Been there?”
She smiled then walked off to grab their drinks.
“She’s kinda cute,” he said.
“Kinda?” Ted added. “Man, she’s hot.”
“Sounds like an Aussie accent.”
“Is that what it is?”
She came back a minute later with his drinks, a ginger ale and an ice-cold Moosehead. She put the beer down away from Ted and put the soda down in front of him.
“You from Australia?” Ted asked.
“Melbourne. Been there?”
“Not yet. You been there, Dad?”
“Yup. Once or twice.”
“My dad’s a pilot,” Ted sighed. “He’s been everywhere.”
The girl turned on him then, curious. “Yeah? You fly for an airline?”
“Delta,” he said.
“You fly to Australia?”
“I’ve been down there. Sydney once, Melbourne a few times, but not on duty. When we had a run to Hawaii from Seattle, I did that for a while. These days it’s mainly LA and San Francisco, sometimes Salt Lake or Cincinnati. What are you doing here?”
“Spending the summer here, then headed to McGill.”
“I’m at Boston College,” Ted added.
“Oh? What year?”
“I’ll graduate next spring.”
“What are you studying?”
“Really? Me too.”
He smiled when he saw Ted’s reaction. “So,” he added, “you didn’t answer. Been to Desolation Sound?”
“No, I haven’t, but then again I’ve only been here a few weeks.”
“Done much sailing?” Ted asked.
“No,” the girl said, then she just walked off.
“Too fast, kiddo. Ignore her when she comes around next time.”
“Right. We gonna have dinner?”
“You want to stay put, or move on?”
“Stay. There’s something about her, Dad.”
“Yes, there is. Interesting type, that one.”
“For me, Dad. Not you…”
And he had to laugh at that. “Don’t worry, Paco. I’m not looking.”
“You could’ve fooled me.”
“Just trying to back your hand.”
“Okay…well, the menu looks good.”
When she came back to take their order Ted didn’t even look up at her.
“Maybe you could find some sort of middle ground,” he said.
“What?” Ted said, confused. “You said to ignore her.”
“Give her a smile next time. Make eye contact.”
“Jeez, Dad. Maybe you should be a priest…?”
“You’re right, Paco. Just be yourself…”
“Right. Nervous and unsure of myself. That’s a winning combination, every time.”
“Probably better than ignoring her.”
“Now he tells me…”
She came back with their salads a few minutes later.
“So, what’s in Desolation Sound?” she asked.
“Killer whales, sea otters – and Nancy’s.”
“Bakery. Best cinnamon rolls in creation.”
“You wanna come with us?” Ted asked – with a straight face.
“Would you like to come with us?”
“For how long?”
“How long you got?”
“Let me see,” the girl said before she disappeared back into the restaurant.
“Hey, you said to just be me.”
“You are direct, I will say that.”
“You think she’ll come?”
“Well, she just got here, but she’s cute as hell so the manager is probably hitting on her. She’s away from home for the first time, maybe trying to earn a few buck before school starts but just figuring out that with the cost of living here she’s barely going to be treading water. Then there are the visa problems…”
“Jeez, Dad. What are you – like some kind of clairvoyant?”
“Nope, but I have been around the block a few times.”
“So, what do you think?”
“Don’t be too surprised if she says yes.”
She was different the next time she came out, when she dropped off their dinners. Not so distant, her smile full of curiosity, her eyes ready for the next adventure.
“She’s coming,” he said. “Mark my words.”
“You think so?”
The next time she came by Ted pointed out the blue-hulled boat across the way: “See that one? Altair on the stern?”
“On her bum?” Ted added, helpfully.
“We’re here tonight, leaving in the morning around eight. If you feel like coming along, you know where we’ll be.”
He watched the girl looking at his boat, wondering what was going through her mind, wondering what sort of calculus a girl made at a time like this. Unknown versus an unknown-known, an adventure versus a slow-motion train wreck.
If what he supposed was indeed going on.
But then the girl nodded her head and moved off again.
“Well?” Ted asked.
And he shrugged, but maybe he smiled just a little, though he thought he already knew the score. “Just have to wait and see,” he added – knowingly.
“I knew it. She’s coming…”
And again, he only smiled, yet he wondered why he thought he knew the answer. Jaded, perhaps? Getting a little too cynical about things? Or…simply judging other people through the prism of his life with Barbara…?
“Ya know,” he sighed, “wouldn’t surprise me either way.”
“That’s kind of a…”
“A cop-out? Yeah, I guess it is.”
“What’s wrong, Pops?”
“I think I need a change of pace, Paco. A real change of pace. I’m getting close to sixty years old, you know? I can retire next year…in fact, I think they want to push some of us old-timers into early retirement. We’re getting expensive, and a lot of us still have pension obligations the company will owe us. All these new guys? Mainly 410Ks, matching contributions, that stuff…”
“How long could you fly, Dad?”
“Well, a few more years, like four, but I could matriculate over to the training academy, teach there, do check-rides…”
“What did you used to call those guys? The Silver Eagles?”
“Could you do that?”
“I could, but I’d have to move to the east coast.”
“Yikes. You wouldn’t…?”
“I used to think so. Now, I’m not so sure…”
“Dad! Leave Seattle? You’ve lived here, what…twenty-two years?”
“Yup. Year you were born. It would be hard, have to give up the boat, that whole thing.”
Ted shook his head. “That’s not you, and you know it.”
“What do you think you’re gonna do, Paco. I mean, really…getting laid is one thing, but…”
“Dad, I’m not sure I’m cut out to be a priest…”
“What? That’s a big change…when did you start feeling this way?”
“Oh, I don’t know. It’s like the more science I take the more incongruent religion and science become. Two competing worldviews, I guess, but one feels more and more like a child’s fairytale to me.”
“You think medicine’s the answer?”
Ted nodded his head.
“Why now? Just exposure to new ideas?”
“Maybe. But sometimes,” his son added, pausing to take a deep breath, “it just feels like growing up.”
“Ah. So, religion is childish?”
“I didn’t say that.”
“Oh? What did you say?”
“I’m not sure I want to spend my entire life cloaked in a mystery that, well, there’s nothing about religion grounded in fact, is there?”
He shook his head. “You can’t confuse fact and faith, son. You have faith, then that becomes bedrock; if you don’t, well, it’s easy to turn and walk away.”
“But it’s not always so easy, is it? I mean…”
“I know what you mean. That’s why I’ll never deny the existence of God, and why I can’t go to church. I have my doubts about the whole thing, but I don’t have the courage of my convictions so here I sit, still sitting on the fence, looking at life go by and wondering what all the commotion is about.”
“What about Mom?”
“I think, in a way, the question drove her to drink.”
He laughed a little, inside, at his son’s sincere expression. “I don’t know, Ted. Look at the Irish…they brought Christianity to the British Isles, and then they turned around and invented whiskey. Talk about cause and effect…”
“Is that true?”
“Hell, I don’t know. One of the Fathers told us that in a history class…but then again, he was Irish…”
Ted shook his head. “Why do you think she drinks, Dad?”
“Because she hurts, son. She drinks to make it all go away because she doesn’t have the courage of her own convictions.”
“What? How so?”
“Because she has no faith, either in God or in herself. She always turned to anyone who’d offer to ease her pain…”
“You mean, like, buy her a drink?”
He nodded, but, in his mind’s eye he remembered coming home early more than once and finding her and another man in the throes.
“What is it, Dad? What are you thinking?”
“About her, what?”
He shook his head. “I don’t want to go there, son.”
Ted shook his head too. “I know. I came home from school more than once…”
“Ted, please. Just stop. I don’t want…we neither one need to spend any more time there than we already have, do we?”
“No, sir. Question?”
“What do you think? Would I be a better priest than a physician?”
“Wow, now there’s a question.” He looked out at the night, looked up at the stars. “Maybe they’re not as far apart as you think?”
“Hmm? Why do you say that?”
“Well, they’re both grounded in a kind of rigorous curiosity, and at the same time they’re both concerned with helping people find answers about themselves, maybe even their truest natures.”
The boy nodded his head slowly, but for the first time he saw something odd in his son’s eyes. A man’s eyes. Thoughtful, yet full of understanding.
“Anyway, I doubt you’ll ever be able to turn away from the Church, not completely. Maybe you’ll just turn out like a lot of the rest of us…you’ll go once a week and leave those mysteries to someone else.”
He shrugged. “What I think really doesn’t matter, does it? You know, in your heart, what the answer to that is, and you don’t need all my baggage cluttering up the floor…”
“Maybe, but I’d like to know what you think.”
“Well, of course, I’d like to see you find your way to happiness. I think medicine would…well, I think you’ve got the right temperament for medicine. You’ve always been a kind of scientist, even when you were in Sunday school. You’ve always asked the hard questions, the kind of questions your teachers couldn’t answer, not effectively, anyway. Their easy answers always seemed to…”
“They pissed me off. They still do.”
“The answers never change, Dad. Someone is senselessly killed and there’s only one answer. It’s all a part of God’s mysterious plan, or we can never really know why…”
“Which presupposes there’s a why out there.”
“Exactly. Which means an order, a purpose to all this, which is comforting…”
“So, what do you tell an old man when you find out he has something like pancreatic cancer? That he’s going to die? Do you tell him the facts, turn him loose to find comfort in senseless emptiness?”
“I’m not sure I believe in the whole heaven and hell thing anymore, Dad.”
“Then you just answered your question, Ted. Case closed. Do you want dessert?”
They laughed at that and were still giggling when the girl came by and asked if they wanted something sweet to finish off their meal. She looked puzzled when they started laughing again…
He slept late that morning, didn’t get up ‘til three-thirty. He showered and put on his running shoes, then went topsides and filled the water tanks before he went for his run. There was a huge, forested park across the little inlet and he stretched first, then took off, as always sure running was the most stupid form of exercise ever invented. After fifteen minutes he was sure running was the greatest thing ever, and after forty minutes he was wrapped in the familiar warmth of his runner’s high. He slowed as he returned to the little marina, then walked it out for a few minutes – looking at his watch only once as he took in a few more really deep breaths.
He saw her on the dock just then, sitting on a dock-box, a large duffel on the planks by her feet – and he smiled.
When he walked up she looked up, saw him and smiled.
“Sorry about the hour,” she said.
“You brought everything, I see. Burned all your bridges, did you?”
She nodded – but she turned away, too. “Yup, looks that way.”
“You sure about this?”
She looked him in the eye then. “Yes. You’re a good man. I can tell that much just by looking.”
She laughed at that, and he did too. “It’s your son I’m not so sure of…?”
“Ted? Oh, he’s harmless. Confused as hell, but harmless.”
“No spoilers, young lady. Oh, by the way, my name is Jim. Yours?”
“Tracy. Tracy Singleton.”
“Well, Tracy, I hate to ask, but do you have your passport handy?”
That seemed to take her back a little…
“We may be boarded by the Coast Guard…in fact, odds are we will be more than once. They’ll check, and as it’s my boat it’s my responsibility.”
“So, you’re a pilot? I mean, really?” she said as she pulled out her passport and handed it to him, hardly taking her eyes off him as he looked over her passport.
He looked up at her then, sizing up her words as a record of her experience so far. “Yup. Really.”
“Can I see your pilot’s license, then?”
He laughed at that. “Sure. You wanna come up, or wait here?”
“I think I’ll wait here.”
He nodded then hopped aboard, went below for his wallet – and he found Ted stumbling out of the aft head, rubbing his eyes. “Oh. You’re up,” he groaned.
“So is Tracy.”
“Tracy. The gal you’re going to marry.”
“Better put some clothes on, Paco,” he added, on his way to get his wallet. He went back out a minute later, stepped down to the swim platform on the stern and handed his license over to the girl – who looked duly impressed.
“So, no-foolin’, eh? You’re not a pretender?”
“I take it you’ve seen your fair share?”
“That’s all there seems to be lurking about these days…if you know what I mean?”
As if the word ‘lurking’ wasn’t enough, there was the look in her eyes: distrustful, alert, lonely. Distant. The literal opposite of Barbara, in other words. Where Barbara had always been reaching out, this girl had turned inward at some point. Her good looks had probably invited too much-unwanted attention…
“I suppose it’s always been that way, Tracy. You ready to come on up, or having second thoughts?”
She handed her duffel over, then looked at his outstretched hand before she took it.
He saw it took an effort on her part, then he watched her looking at all the stuff that made Altair work.
“Don’t worry,” he said. “You can just sit back and watch…”
“Could you teach me?”
“Sure…but Ted’s a better teacher than I ever was…”
“I doubt that,” the girl said, looking him in the eye.
“Well, let me show you around down below.”
“Do I have my own room?”
“Yes. It’s small, but…”
“Oh, that okay.”
He led her down the companionway, showed her the galley and the head, then led her to the tiny cabin under the cockpit. “Well, here it is…”
“You weren’t kidding,” she sighed.
“It’s kind of a storeroom that happens to have a bunk,” Ted said, now standing behind his father. “If it bothers you, we could switch places.”
“No. I’ll be fine here,” the girl said.
Yes, he thought, you will be.
(c) 2017 | adrian leverkühn | abw | just a little bit of story-tellin’…