*Note from the editor: Although this story may seem long, take a moment and allow yourself to sit back with a cup of tea, or whatever tickles your fancy, in the complete dark, with nothing but you and this story, indulge yourself in the softness and power of the world created- trust me.*
It was all surreal. I passed her, she passed me. We were going very fast, but time seemed to slow. Her red hair ever so lightly fluttering in the wind. She smiled, and I returned the favor. I put up my hand and waved, and so did she. Her deep blue eyes sparkled. As suddenly as we’d met, we parted. She disappeared off behind me, and I behind her. The wind in our sails pulled us apart, and far from one another.
Until the next day, she was burnt into my mind. When I closed my eyes that night, I saw her. When I started to dream, she was there. Every time I would try to get a good look at her, something would happen. She always remained a blur to me.
That very morning, I had rented a boat from Bernard, a man that I knew quite well; I’d rent his boats every summer. It was a small sailboat. I would sail to let my mind wander and think. I was not expecting what I found. The sky was blue, not a cloud in sight. The wind blew enough to make me move, but not too much as to make it uncomfortable. The turquoise sea stretched before me, like the life waiting for my arrival. This life I’d never wanted. As my boat gently swayed with the small waves, I looked about, suddenly remembering these seas. There was only one other boat on the sea. I set sail to go to it. The other boat seemed to have noticed, and started sailing towards me too. Then the moment happened.
I sat there, disturbed for the five minutes that followed. I was trying to imprint her face into my memory. It’s funny how a face I’d never seen before felt so familiar. I tried to put my finger on the memory, tried to recall some instance where I may have seen it; but none came to mind. I turned my body to look back at her, but she was already far away. When I finally turned home to the beach, she’d already returned her boat and left. Bernard walked towards me.
“You went one hour over-time out there!”
“I’m sorry Bernard, I lost track of time…”
“Listen kid, it’s alright this time, but if ever the owner of this club’s around, you may have trouble…”
Bernard was an older fellow, a man of the sea. He had bright blue eyes, that seemed to shine through his old age. When he looked at you, it sometimes felt like he would look through your being and into your soul. He gave me that look, and eyed me ever so slightly sadly.
“Hey Bernard,” I was about to ask him about the girl I’d seen, but then, decided against it.
“Thanks for that.”
“For what? Oh, the extra hour? Don’t worry about it.”
As I headed home that night, everywhere I looked I saw her deep, blue eyes, looking at me. In reflections on the shop windows, on advertisements, anywhere I looked. It was already getting dark, and as I walked through town alone, I felt a cold chill run through me. I was still wet from the sailing and a cool wind was blowing.
Once I got to the bottom of my apartment building, I unlocked the main door and slowly walked up the three floors to my small apartment. I turned the key and pushed open the old wooden door. I was back home, in this home meant only for one. Being nineteen was not what I’d expected it to be.
In my dreams, there she was, on that boat. Calling me. I wanted to turn my boat back and see her, but my arms were stuck in place. I continued moving away, and I felt her slip through my fingers like sand.
As I made my way down to the sailing club, I was thinking about trying to approach that girl. I went through various different ways of talking to her, but every time I felt dissatisfied with the result.
“Hey Bernard, I’ll take the same boat as yesterday.”
“Hey, hum, sorry, someone just took it out…” He pointed towards a girl sailing a little way off.
“Could I have the boat she used yesterday?” I asked, my eyes still glued to her.
“How did you know she’d already sailed here?”
“I came across her yesterday.”
“Ohh, I see,” he laughed and patted my back, “you’re trying to score huh?”
“No,” my gaze broke off from her and back to Bernard, “just getting even.”
I pushed the boat out to the sea and tried to catch up with her, but she kept slipping away. Every time I thought I’d get to see her again up close, to say hi, she’d turn or accelerate. She was good. After two hours of chasing her around, we both headed back to the beach. Her boat hit the sand with a gentle thud, shortly before mine did.
“You’re a hard woman to catch. You did take my boat.”
“I didn’t see your name written on it though, how was I to know?” She looked back at me innocently and smiled, “hey, my name is Marla. You?” She extended her hand. I took it. She was tall and slender, her skin was pale. Small freckles cautiously made their appearance on her cheeks.
“Logan, my name is Logan.” Our hands parted, “I saw you yesterday, and I wanted to say hi…”
“You doing anything afterwards?”
“Well, if you’d like, come with me, we can talk then, first let’s return these boats!”
Once we’d pushed up the boats, we walked on the sand, no particular place to go.
“So where do you live?”
“I live here,” she answered, “you’d be surprised how different it is once the summer is over and all the tourists leave. Some come back for Christmas, but otherwise… And you? What about your whereabouts?”
“Oh, I don’t live here. Not even in this country,” I told her where I lived, and she was surprised, “it’s a lot nicer here… I did miss this city.”
We stopped at the end of the beach. From then on there were big rocks sticking up out of the sea, with smaller rocks nestled between them.
“So where do we go now?” I asked.
“Come on, follow me. I come up here all the time. It’s where I go when I need some alone time.”
I followed her up and onto the rocks. After a minute or so of labored walking, she stopped on a big flat rock. The rock gave a nice view of the beach, the city and the sea. I looked out and sighed. The sheer immensity of it all seemed to dwarf me.
“So what’s it like where you live?” she asked
“Hot. And humid. It’s really uncomfortable. The air isn’t nice to breathe either.” I turned to look at her. “You’re quite lucky to live here.” She smiled and then turned away from me to gaze at the sea.
“See? This is why I love sailing. The thought of exploring and conquering this great vast ocean… That’s why I’ve been sailing since I was nine. How long how have you been sailing for?”
“Oh, I’d say,” I stopped to think, “about six years? You’re a lot better than me. That’s for sure.”
“Well, I don’t know, you did catch up to me a few times today.”
For some reason, I felt happy and content during the few hours that followed. We both laughed a lot, and for the first time in my life I felt funny and snarky.
“I notice you have an AC/DC shirt on. You like ‘em?”
“Yeah, I love them. I know you’re going to start asking me if I know all these other rock bands and my answer is that I probably do; however I can never recall their names so I may not recognize them.”
“I was just going to ask you whether you knew Led Zep or not!”
“Of course I know them! I really like them too.”
She told me she played the guitar and sang. I asked her to sing, and her voice was beautiful. It didn’t last long though, moments later she broke up into laughter.
“I’m sorry, I’m often uncomfortable doing this kind of thing around people I don’t know really well. The first time I ever sang in public was during a gig my school had set up for me and my band. I completely screwed up, my throat seized up and my voice sang out of pitch… I really hate doing stuff like that in public.”
“Well, the first time I performed a gig was at this bar. I was playing guitar, and suddenly, anxiety caught up on me and I screwed up the rhythm and the beat. I was almost prevented from ever paying there again.”
“Oh, you also play guitar? Are you any good?”
“Without meaning to brag, I’m actually pretty good. I also play bass and the piano.”
“I have a friend, he’s basically a piano virtuoso. When we were fifteen, he went off to be a student of one of the world’s greatest pianists. Sometimes he just whips out these pieces, his fingers are flying, he's hitting all these keys at the same time," She started miming the playing and mimicking the sound of the piano, “and I just stand there amazed,” she continued. “When you see people like that, it makes you really want to know how to play these instruments well..."
"Too bad I'm crap at piano, because I agree, sometimes I wish I'd put more effort into it... Then I could play it proudly. Most I know is 'Moonlight Sonata.’” She laughed and looked at me in the eyes. Her dark blue eyes were like an ocean. I thought I saw in them a ship ride one of the big waves, before crashing back down and breaking, shattering.
After a long silence she said, “That’s also very good.”
We both simultaneously turned away to gaze out onto the sea, as if it were some confidant to which we’d retreat for advice.
“What hobbies do you undertake?" she asked suddenly, snapping her head towards me.
“Oh, I run and swim mostly. I’m not good at team sports… Never actually really good in a team unless I’m the boss and they do things the way I want them to.” I looked down to the ground between my legs.
“You know, my teachers would say the exact same thing! You know Bernard?” I nodded. “Well, he would always get pissed at me; I teach sailing classes to people during the year as a side job. Anyway, he’d get pissed at me for being too bossy. When I started to pay attention to it, I realized I’d say stuff like ‘pull the rudder a little, no that's too much, push, argh, just try and target that tree... No the other one…’"
"Yeah, that's exactly my problem, I can't stand having someone else do something if I know I can do it better!”
The sun went down before we got up and we parted ways.
As I walked home through the illuminated city, I thought of her. I wasn’t sure whether or not I loved her, but I did know I wanted her in my life. I wanted to know more about her. I’d have to act fast though, I was leaving at the end of the week. I closed my eyes momentarily and saw her red hair waver in the wind as her boat glided past mine. I let out a long sigh and stopped in my tracks. I was home.
I unlocked the front door, and closed it behind me; leaving it unlocked. I must have been hoping in vain that she’d followed me home and was going to come up to visit me. I walked up the three floors to the old wooden door that separated my home from the outside world. I pushed it open and walked in. I took off my clothes and stepped into the shower and turned the water on. I cranked it up to the highest temperature, not minding the boiling water that seared my skin. I stood there under the pouring water for twenty minutes. I turned off the water, but remained standing there, soaked, for another ten. My mind was blank. I finally got out of the shower and put my pyjamas on. I turned off the lights and went to bed right after, without having had my dinner.
As I lay in the darkness, my head was turning, bustled by all my thoughts and questions. Did she really like me? Or was she just being polite? Was she coming back tomorrow? Or was I never going to see her again? And did I love her?…
My alarm clock went off. I groaned and pulled myself out of bed. My stomach was knotting and turning. I felt like throwing up; even though I hadn’t eaten recently. I opened up my fridge and pulled out a milk carton. It was practically empty.
As I sat at my small table eating my half-dry cereal, I realized I wasn’t eating out of hunger, but rather just out of habit. In fact, I wasn’t actually hungry, even though my stomach argued the opposite. I got up and threw away the cereal in my bowl, never minding it being half full.
She got to the sailing club just as I pushed my boat off to sea. Though I’d realized she arrived, I showed no sign of it. She didn’t call my name, she was obviously uninterested, I thought. I pushed my boat out, away from her, hopped onto it, pulled my sails and darted away. On the sea, I saw her sailboat. It was sailing on the other side of the bay. There were these old remnants of a medieval city off to the left of the coast, which was mainly beach, and a small peninsula jutting out towards the right. The zone in which we sailed l was between these two landmarks. I did not try and chase her as I’d done the previous days, but I kept my eyes locked onto her boat.
When I returned to the beach, I turned around to face the sea, and I saw she was starting to come back too. Something inside wanted for me to take my time and even stay afterwards for her. I pushed my boat up, returned the life jacket and sails, took my bag and sat on the beach waiting for her. But then, as she neared the coast, I got up and turned back, not being able to confront her again, afraid of what it may entail. I left the club, my fists jammed down my pockets and my eyes fixed to my feet. Bernard looked at me, worried, but then was distracted by Marla, who was asking him to help her with the boat.
A cold wind blew as I walked home, full of regret. I should have gone over to her. I should have waited. Now she’ll think I don’t care, when all I think about is her! I looked into the big window of a shoe store, and saw my reflection. Next to me I saw a redheaded girl, and my heart skipped a beat. When I turned to look, I realized it was just a person I’d never seen before. As I continued on my way home, I’d look around expectantly, hoping to see her. But then I was home. I stood there, in front of the small, bleak building in which I was currently residing. I sighed and walked in.
I sat by the window looking out at the small city. In my head, I was replaying the day before with her when she had told me:
“Well, tomorrow night, I’m going off to this concert with a few of my friends. Well actually, we’ll going to this beach right next to it. I don’t want to pay for the tickets!” She said jokingly.
“Oh, who’s playing?”
“No clue, but it’s some reggae concert. Arg, and I still haven’t figured out with whom I’ll go…” She scratched her head and looked away.
I got up, out of my chair and dragged a comb across my head. I checked myself in the mirror and ran out the door. I jogged as fast as I could, but then stopped, aware of how sweaty I’d become if I continued. As I speed walked through the town to the concert’s location, I looked around at every single face, hoping I’d see her. Many times, my heart froze as I thought I saw her; but never did. Once I’d gotten to the concert, I saw that there were two beaches. One on either side of the stage, which was walled off so no one but those seated could see it. I scanned the crowd on the first beach, looking for her. I did not notice her. I moved on to the second beach and did the same. Still, there was no sign of her. Saddened, and let down, I walked over and sunk down into a bench. I could hear the music from the concert, but I wasn’t listening to it. I closed my eyes, so no one would see the tears and indulged into my reverie until the concert was long over.
I opened my eyes. It was 2:07 in the morning. I sleepily got off the bench and started to make my way home. Whilst I walked, I tried to recall what it was I’d been dreaming about. All I knew was that it had made me sad.
When I finally found my way home, it was almost three. I clumsily opened the door to my apartment, dropping my keys on the floor in the process. I’d probably woken half the building as the sound echoed through the staircase. Once in my apartment, I sadly gazed at the small, unlovable living space I called my home. Tears mounting in my eyes, I dropped down onto my bed, still fully dressed. I was taken away into dark and depressing dreams, of which I could never truly recall the content, but always the essence.
After waking up uncomfortably dressed in my clothes, I went out to buy milk and dinner. My usual grocery store had been closed, so I’d gone to another one, about ten minutes away. It was a rather bleak and boring morning, until I saw Marla. I was in line for the cashier, behind an elderly couple, and out the glass front doors of the store I saw her walk by. By the time I’d decided to leave the store to see her, pushing the couple aside, I found that she’d disappeared. Let down, I walked back in. The couple scowled at me, so I said sorry.
“I’m so sorry, it’s just that—I saw—I saw someone I liked outside, and I just needed to see… I’m sorry, I don’t know, I just…” The old man’s expression changed into a sort of understanding and comprehensive look.
“Was it a girl?”
“Yeah…” I looked away.
“Well,” he turned to look into his wife’s eyes, “I guess that’s alright. I still recall when I first met my lovely wife,” he looked at me, “It was at one of those big parties they used to have,” he gestured with his hands, “I had talked to her that night, but then didn’t see her again for two months. That is, until I caught up with her outside a train station. Had it not been for how unique she is, I would not have spotted her…” His wife looked up at him lovingly, “some girls, some girls are just worth it… And in chasing her, I must have pushed and shoved more people aside in a day than a football player does in an entire career. Is that girl worth it?” I smiled out of the corner of my mouth, and looked down dreamily.
“Then go get her. Maybe not this time, but next time, ignore the world around you, and catch her.”
When I got down at the sailing club, I was fifteen minutes early.
“Hey Bernard, how are ya?”
“I’ve seen better days, but I’m good, I’m good. You’re early.”
“Yeah, I know. Didn’t have much else to do so decided to come down.”
We talked for a short while, and then I asked,
“Pardon me if I’m being rude or overstepping my limits, but given your age, what are your thoughts on life?” Just as he opened his mouth to answer, Marla walked in behind him and placed a hand on his shoulder,
“Oh, stop that, he’s not that old…” she said amused.
“Did I ask your opinion?” He inquired jokingly, turning his face towards her, “this young gentleman was asking me a very interesting and philosophical question…”
“Yeah, I thought you hated that. At least that’s what you told me every time I ever asked you anything deep and philosophical,” she mused playfully.
“Hey Marla,” I said, waving my hand in a very awkward fashion. She looked up at me and smiled. Her blue eyes radiating.
“Marla, you know this young man I suppose?” Started Bernard.
“Yeah, we talked a few days back.”
“Good, then you know that he’s completely retarded.” He finished, winking at me, “nah, just kidding. He’s a good kid.”
“I’m nineteen now, I’m not a kid any longer.” I pointed out.
“Well, as an answer to your earlier question, in the scope of my long and fruitful life, with the perspective I now have,” he was going on, faking a presumptuous attitude, “you are still a child!”
I was pushing my boat into the water at the same time as Marla.
“I’ll race you to those rocks out there,” challenged Marla, nodding in the rocks’ direction.
“You can try…” I said, looking over to her.
All day, the sun shone bright in a blue cloudless sky. We were both alone on the sea, the sea that stretched out as far as we could see. I was alone in the world with her. We sailed side by side most of the time, trying to figure out who could sail fastest.
“Having trouble keeping up, slow poke?” She shouted out as she passed me.
“You’re stealing my wind, of course I am!” She threw her head back in laughter and sharply turned her boat. I watched her glide away to me for a few seconds, then turned myself and went after her.
Time went by without my noticing, and we’d both been sailing for over two hours and a half. I called out to her and notified her I was going home. She hurried back with me. We both felt guilty as our boats hit the shore. Bernard was there, waiting for us.
“Please don’t do this to me again, you’re really killing me. I don’t need this stress,” he said half-jokingly. He was talking about the overtime, and so I excused myself. He’d already warned me about that.
After having pushed the boats back up and gotten my stuff together, I went up to Marla who’d been waiting for me outside the club.
“Well, see you Marla. I have some errands to run before I go home.”
“See you, slow poke,” she replied playfully. She got up onto her tiptoes and kissed me on the cheek, “see you tomorrow.”
As I ran my errands, my mind could not focus on anything else but her. When I went to bed, I kept seeing her in the back of my eyelids. When I fell asleep, it was into a world of bliss, and not of horror and sadness.
The next day, I got down to the sailing club ten minutes late. I hadn’t woken up when my alarm clock had rang, and my boss had talked to me for fifteen minutes after my work to explain to me the importance of being on time. Marla was nowhere to be seen, and I felt my heart sink a little in my chest. I just stood there, at the club’s entrance.
“You intend to go in at all? If not, that’s alright, I’ll just wait here too.”
I turned around and it was Marla, she was smiling from the corner of her mouth.
“Oh hey, sorry, I was just thinking…”
“Nothing to be sorry about. Come on, let’s go, we’re already pretty late.”
When we stepped into the small room that gave off to the changing rooms, I saw Bernard talk to another man, one of my age.
“Hey Alex,” said Marla, “I didn’t forget you Bernard, don’t worry.” She waved at both of them then walked off to put down her belongings in the changing room.
“I don’t believe you’ve met. Alex, this is Logan. Logan, this is Alex,” announced Bernard.
“Hey Alex,” I said, smiling.
“Hey Wolverine,” he replied, smiling even wider.
Marla stepped out of the changing rooms and started to walk over to us.
“Marla, I’d like to talk to you for a second.” Bernard gestured her into a small room to the side, it was the reception.
Alex and I walked out into the sunlight and onto the beach behind the boats.
“So what do you think of Marla?” Alex asked me.
“What do you mean? She’s very nice, I like her a lot.”
“Well, I’ve been friends with her quite a while now. When I first met her, I was sixteen. I was madly in love, I can assure you,” he looked over to me, “Wow, did she friendzone me big time.”
“Okay,” I acknowledged uncomfortably, “why do you tell me this?”
“Haha, I dunno,” he bit his lip then blurted out, “she has a crush on you.”
“Hum, okay, thanks I guess?” I looked away, I was now incredibly uncomfortable.
“Hey Marla,” Alex shouted over to her as she was walking out of the room, “what do you think of this fine male specimen?”
She looked at him with death in her eyes, and then turned around and walked back in, called by Bernard.
“Thanks for making things awkward with her.”
“My pleasure,” he said smiling.
“You’re the kind of friend that’s a really good one and all; but that will be an ass and put his friends in awkward positions anytime he can, right?”
“Sounds about right to me, yeah.” He turned to look at me.
“Yeah, I also have a friend like that. Do you too? I mean, how does it work for you guys? Being the asshole friend, do you have some other friend that’s also an asshole?” He laughed and said,
“You know what? I really like you. Come on, let’s go take a boat and go sailing.”
Alex was a lot of fun. I don't think I’ve laughed quite as much or in the same way with anyone else. However, the entire time, Marla haunted my mind. My eyes would frequently briefly shoot back to the beach, looking for Marla’s silhouette. That day, my boat floated lonely upon the great expanse that was the sea. A small white spec on an infinite weave of dark blue.
Our boat was halted by the sand with the usual thud. I jumped off and took my lifejacket with.
“Yo, where you goin’?”
“I’m just putting away my lifejacket.” I was actually doing this as a cover. I wanted to see if Marla was still there. I quickly glanced into the small room. She was nowhere to be seen.
“Maybe she’s just in the changing rooms…” I thought to myself.
I got back down to where the boat lay, washed up, like a dead whale.
“Come on, on three…”
We pulled the boat up and proceeded to take down the sails. Once done, we stood there, in the small room.
“Well, nice meeting you, Alex.” I pronounced extending my hand.
“Haha, you too, Logan. Give Marla my regards, I’m leaving tonight, going back to see my parents.” He announced with fake pride. He leaned over to me and whispered, “I need money.”
I laughed and we shook hands. Alex left and I never saw him again in my life. I didn’t even know his last name.
Bernard walked over to me.
“So, young man, how are things going?”
“Oh, so I’m not a kid anymore?”
“No, you never were… From the day I met you…” He looked up at the sky thoughtfully. “Oh crap!” He suddenly shouted out.
“I didn’t close anything on my boat, and it’s going to rain!” I looked up. A storm was brewing.
“Wait, hang on a second. You live on a boat?” He looked at me with his usual look. He was amused, and I could feel something snarky coming my way.
“Oh, I dunno, that’s a little odd. Well, to be honest though, coming from you, that's no surprise.”
“Yeah, well, tell me,” he was now sincere, “is it really so much worse than living in a small one person apartment your entire life?” He looked at me, I was uneasy, how did he know of this? I’d never told him I lived in one. “Cos’ that’s what my life would be otherwise.” I looked down, brewing over it. I thought of selling that apartment. The only reason it was mine was because it’d belonged to an uncle who died a few years back.
“No, it’s not any worse… In fact I think it’s better,” I looked at him, “I live in a small one-person apartment and I hate it. You’re absolutely right…”
“Let me tell ya something kid, life is dull if you can’t learn to let go of some things and try something new. Some things don’t belong in people’s lives, but they keep them. Why? Because they’re afraid of change. They are afraid of letting go. Same goes for marriage. Some people marry young, when their hearts are still on fire, expecting it to last all their lives. Then, as time drags on, their hearts grow cold. They slowly drift apart, but they stay together. Why? Because it’s always been this way, because they’re afraid of change. Some people buy and eat the same canned soup, every day. Do they like it? Hell no. Why do they do it? Because, they have no idea what else to eat, they are afraid of trying out new foods. So my lesson to you is, don’t be afraid of the future. Don’t be afraid of change. Some things were never meant to be, some things were made to be discovered. And most importantly, don’t look back with watering eyes. The past is the same as the present, just different. The past was once the present, just as the present will someday be the past. No, things were not better then. Just different. Don’t learn the hard way like I did. Will you remember that, kid?” He asked on a lighter tone, messing up my hair.
“Yeah, I’ll try, you were talking for a while there,” I said, pushing his hands away and off of my hair, “just one things though, didn’t you say I wasn’t a kid?”
I was sitting in a chair, in my small apartment. I looked about it and wondered why I still owned it. I sighed, and picked up the phone. For a second, I sat there, frozen, the phone to my ear but nothing dialed, thinking. Was I going to regret this decision?
I dialed the number and waited for my agent to pick up.
“Hello, yes, it’s me. Listen, I want to sell this apartment.”
I explained to him what I wanted to do, and he suggested I swing by his office next morning to do the paperwork.
“Do you have things you’d like to move?” He asked.
“No, not really to be honest…”
That night, when I lay in bed, waiting for sleep to come, I looked up at the ceiling. Paint was starting to peel off. I wasn’t going to miss this place, yet, something in me was still saddened. I’d come here almost every summer for the past four years. It was the last remnant of my uncle, who passed away two years ago. He was like a second father to me; even though the rest of my family hated him. Could I really just toss the last thing left of him like this? Then I thought of the life I was going to have to undertake. I was paying the rent with my own money, and I couldn’t afford to go to university and pay for this flat. In the middle of my thoughts, I fell asleep.
When I woke up the next morning, I was decided on selling the apartment.
I walked out of the housing office. As I started to walk home, I thought of Marla. Then it dawned on me. I was leaving in two days, and unless I did anything, they’d be the two last times I’d see her. My heart squeezed up. I didn’t want to sell the apartment anymore. But it was too late. I walked the rest of the way home with a heavy heart.
When I got to the sailing club, Bernard was the only one there.
“Look at these monstrosities, Logan…” He was pointing at two new boats that had presumably just been brought over.
“What’s wrong with them?”
“They were delivered this morning. I took one out; guess what? It wouldn’t move if it’s life depended on it.”
“Why’d you buy it then?”
“I didn’t… This isn’t my club anymore. Now there’s a man in a suit that makes all these decisions. They have a big masterplan for all this; transforming it and all. They call it a ’10-year Maximum Investment Plan’, or as I call it ‘Shit-selling Money Machine.’”
“Well, what can I say? The world moves on, not necessarily in the right direction, but it moves on.”
“Yeah, well, when they first bought this club from me, I was only made aware of the benefits: better care for the boats, more boats… All these things related to money. They didn’t tell me they were going to suck the soul out of this… I’ve had this club since I was forty six.”
“Judging by how you talk about it, you must be at least one hundred and five…”
“Everything in this world… Like the government, like the banks, like these businesses… They’re all like boats.” He started miming it out. “If you pull on the sail, you have to push the rudder. Pull the rudder, and you let go of the sail. They give you something, they take something else away. It’s not about making people happy, it’s about making money.”
“Well, I’m sorry to say this to you, but has it ever really been any different?”
“Nah, not as long as I can recall.”
“You can’t recall much anyhow,” Marla pronounced as she walked up into view, “you’re senile.”
“Very funny. She’s funny ain’t she?” He said, turning towards me and pointing at her.
Marla leaned over to me and gave me a kiss on the cheek, “so what exactly were you saying? I just caught those last few words.”
“Why don’t I get a kiss? If I get a kiss, I might tell you.”
“Guess I’ll have to remain in the dark about that forevermore.”
She put down her things and came back over.
“Hey Marla, check out these brand new pieces of shit.”
“You tried one?”
“Hell yeah, you think I said that just cos’ I felt like it?”
“You usually do when you say anything.” She smiled and then muttered, “can’t they at least consult us before buying these things?”
“Yeah, and I got more good news for you. Those boats you and Logan been riding? They’re gonna sell them this fall. I guess all good things must pass...”
“What a shame, I liked them alot.” I said, speaking for the first time since Marla showed up. I was trying to think of something funny and snarky to say, but only came up with that.
“We all did,” Marla answered, turning to look at me, “you wanna come sail with me today?”
Setting the boat up and then pushing it at sea took half the time it usually did. During the first five minutes out at sea, neither one of us said a word. In a rash movement, she turned to me and asked,
“How do you get your gigs? Like, how do you find bars that need a band?”
“Well, it depends. I used to know a guy who’d been playing gigs in all these different bars forever, and he first set me up, but then, once you’re part of the community, you just start getting invited to different bars because they heard of you. Unfortunately, I’ll have to start all over again now that I’m moving off to somewhere else for university.”
“Oh, okay. I’ve been thinking of performing again. It’s been two years since I last did.”
“I wished I could see you play sometime.”
She laughed, “you wouldn’t want to, trust me.”
“Well, just in case, mind if I ask for your phone number?” I pulled out a pen from my pocket and got ready to write on my arm. She laughed and asked,
“Who brings a pen on a boat?”
“Well, it seems I do.”
“How long were you waiting for this opportunity?”
“Hum,” I feigned thinking very hard, “since I first met you?”
She laughed and leaned over to me and awkwardly wrapped one arm around my shoulder.
“I’d hug you, but I’m steering our boat right now.”
“It’s alright, all I need’s your number for the moment.”
“Okay, so my number is,” she leaned over to watch me write it, “721 42 26, got it? Great!”
After a short silence in which she seemed thoughtful, she said:
“You know, maybe we could someday play together. Imagine that.”
I did, and I saw ourselves, up on a stage. She was singing, and I stood there, playing the guitar, looking over at her lovingly. She turned her head towards me and smiled. Her dark blue eyes, shining ever so brightly in the bright stage lights. The song was over, and she walked up to me and kissed me.
Before I knew it, we were back at the beach, the two hours long gone.
“Well, it was nice sailing with you this time, and not against you.”
“Yes, yes it was.” She smiled, “anyway, I gotta go, I’ll see you ‘round.” She waved and I waved back.
Bernard walked up, behind me.
“I saw you had some pretty good wind this afternoon.”
“Yeah, didn’t notice it very much though. Tell me,” I spun to face him, “do you have a wife or kids?”
“I had a wife,” he said, looking through me. It seemed he was taking a walk down memory lane, “yeah, I used to have one… She was wonderful, queen of them all. But, I couldn’t ride her wild horses very long. What had started out as fun and interesting was becoming monotonous and tiresome. We were married a few years, long enough to have two children. I had to raise them, even before we divorced. But, you see, I realized it was time to let go. We burned bright, yes we did… But a fire that bright can only burn so long. I decided to let her go, before her fire would consume me and my children. I still sometimes talk to her. But it’s different now. That it is…” he looked past me a little while, and then snapped back to reality. “Anyway, take care son, don’t throw your life away chasing a dream that can never come true. Sometime, there are dreams alive, but they don’t come true the way you’d like them to. Some dreams are meant to stay dreams.”
“Thanks for the advice Bernard, second day in a row that I’ve had a serious conversation with you. This must be a record! What’s happening? Where’s all your snark gone? Did it grow old and die?”
“I don’t know, but you’ll find yourself buried with it if you keep this up.”
“Good to see you’re still you, I’ll be seeing you.”
“You know, it’s funny you should mention my kids. I’m seeing them next week.”
“Well that’s great!”
“I don’t quite know what to do though,” he darkened, “I haven’t seen them in so long…”
“Well, if I can be of any assistance tell me, until then, I need to fly. See you tomorrow!”
I walked out of the club and back to my home. Once I got there, I just stood before the building a few minutes, taking in it’s blandness one last time. I actually kind of liked it, for the first time since I started coming here, I appreciated it’s bleak, beige walls and actually liked it. Funny how you only start appreciating things once you know they won’t be yours anymore. As I walked up the old, squeaking stairs, I breathed in the antique smelling air. I was going to miss this place after all.
I sat down on my bed, and pulled the notepad on which I kept phone numbers. I checked my forearm for the number, but then froze. The water must have washed the ink away, for all I could discern was a 2 and a 4. I frantically started scribbling down possible numbers: was it 621 44 56? Or could it possibly be 625 42 86? I was almost sure it started and ended with 6. I found myself calling all the numbers I wrote, often calling a number that did not exist, or from time to time ending up with an overworked housewife cooking dinner for her nine toddlers.
After dialing phone numbers for half an hour, I sighed and proceeded to sluggishly make dinner for myself. Tired and disheartened, I looked out the window while eating. The sky was growing dark and cloudy. It seemed a storm was brewing. I finished my meal silently and tossed the dishes into the sink, not bothering myself with their cleaning. I changed and lay in my bed. I could not bring myself to sleep, and checked the time every hour, hoping the night was coming to a close. At last, my heavy eyelids closed. It was 4:47.
Next morning, the wind howled outside my small window. I was too tired to do anything, and took a nap at 11:00. When I awoke, I realized I should have been at the sailing club fifteen minutes ago. I scrambled out of bed, changed my shirt, grabbed my shoes and rushed out of the house. When I got to the club, I was forty five minutes late. Bernard was standing on the beach, alone, watching the waves violently crash before his feet.
“Hey Bernard, is Marla here?” He turned to look at me.
“Oh, hey. You just missed her, she waited half an hour with me. She was waiting for you but you didn’t show. She left a little while back.” Something in his voice and eyes didn’t feel right. I didn’t pay attention to it though.
“Shit! Do you know where she went?”
“I dunno, do I know where you go once you leave?”
I ran off back to the road above the club. I looked for her and called her name, but the wind was blowing much too loud for anything to be heard. I ran down the street looking for her, but did not find anything. I had hit rock bottom. I walked back to Bernard, my feet too heavy to be lifted above the rocks on the beach.
“Well, she’s gone.” I solemnly announced.
“Yeah, I thought I was noticing chemistry between you two…”
We stood there, like two fools, before the loud, thundering waves. The waves would rise and rise and rise, until it looked like they could reach no higher, before they would be violently pulled back down, crashing onto the beach before our feet. Over and over and over again. Forever destined to do so. I sighed and said,
“Isn’t it ironic? I mean, the both of us standing here? Like the fools we are? Who would have known… You took the sea as your new wife, and well, the sea gave me what could have been mine. And here we are…”
“Well, I don’t know what to say… The sea, it brings out feelings… I just need to be alone right now, Logan. I’m sorry. I’m seeing my kids again for the first time in twelve years tomorrow… I’m sorry…” He looked at me, and I saw pain in his eyes.
I walked off, onto the beach. I let my feet wander, as I had nowhere to go. Didn’t want to go home, but didn’t want to stay in that place either. I stopped. I’d reached a bunch of rocks. I looked up. This was where we’d gone, what seems like a lifetime ago. I walked up those rocks, and felt cold water splash onto my feet through the cracks in the rocks. I got to the flat rock where we’d sat earlier that week. I looked out at the storm, sitting, where I’d so peacefully sat not long ago. No one was out. I saw a small figure, still standing there on the beach. It was Bernard. I understood him. I also needed some time alone. As I looked out, that once blue sea was now black as ink. The cloudless sky above, now shrouded with storm. I sat there for a long time, my mind blank, my heart like lead. I could see Marla again, up there, on the rocks, with me. I heard her voice in my ears. But when I looked over to where she had been sitting, I found no one. The dark sky above soon engulfed me and the city in darkness.
When I left for home, it was already 3:00. I never said goodbye to Bernard, he was still standing there, before the sea. As I headed home, rain started to pour. I sighed, and thought of the life that now stood before me.
Years went on, but I never forgot her. In my heart and mind, there still was a small part of me that thought of her. I dreamt of her sometimes, dreamt of that time, now so distant. What had she become? I sometimes lay in bed at night wondering what a life together might have been. And I kept seeing those eyes, those eyes that had foretold my own doom. Those dark, blue, eyes. Yet somehow, they also shone with a light I have never seen since.
I had never returned to that small town where we’d met, afraid of opening old wounds. But those old wounds would never heal if I didn’t go back. I rented the same small apartment I’d rented all those years ago. When I landed in the cramped airport, I walked out and inhaled the air that tasted so unique there.
As I walked down to my apartment building, I looked around. The avenues reminded me of all the things that had happened. I saw an old shoe store, that seemed vaguely familiar. There was a big sticker stuck on the window saying:
“Closed; For Sale”
I walked on past. I was going down the small street leading to my apartment building. My feet automatically stopped, remembering the way. Had they not, I would not have recognized the building. That once small, bleak three-story apartment building was now a big shiny 15 story tower with glass windows and a fancy entrance. Full of nostalgia, I walked up to the glass front doors. I slowly pushed them open, and a desk clerk asked what apartment I was staying in.
“I haven’t seen you before. Do you live here?”
“Yes,” I said, distracted and looking around, “I rented an apartment on the third floor…”
“Okay… Well, then take these stairs…” She looked at me funny as I slowly made my way up the once battered and used stairs, that were now shiny and clean with a red carpet going down the center. My footsteps were muffled, and I no longer heard the small yelps of complaint coming from the stairs as I walked up them. Once I got to the third floor, I stopped and looked at the door. What had once been an old, beaten down wooden door was now of ornate oak and marble that stood at almost twice my height. As I looked up, I reached for the keys in my pocket. I fumbled for them and they fell down onto the floor. I braced myself for the usual echo, but instead heard nothing. Not even the crash of the keys to the floor. Like a little, startled kid, I slowly and carefully picked up the keys and unlocked the door. As I glanced inside, what had once been an unlikable, small, uncomfortable one-person apartment, was now a big, beautiful and luxurious two-person home. I put down the keys on a small table and sunk down into the king-sized, two person bed. I wondered, what else had changed?
I stepped out into the sun, still a little stunned by the change my old apartment had gone through. I walked down to the sailing club I’d gone to all those years ago. My heart squeezed as I thought of running into Marla, and I went through a dozen different ways of approaching her. But when I got there, instead of a small shack and a few boats, there now was a big complex with dozens of different boat types, and a crowd of impersonal people running back and forth, doing this and that. I stood at the entrance, that went from an old gate with a sign on top of it to big blue doors with small windows carved into them. I stood there, right in front of it, under the sheer pressure of all the memories flooding back to me. I felt someone tap my shoulder. My heart froze. Marla. I spun around wildly, only to see a young man ask me if I was going to go in. I sighed and answered I was before pushing the door open. What had been a small room, was now a huge hall, with awards, and pictures of people. The small cubicle that had once been a tattered reception was now a big desk, with three different lines leading up to it. I looked about. When I saw the changing rooms, I was dragged back to when I was young, and Marla strolled out of it, smiling at me:
“Come on, slow poke, you comin’?”
Instead, I saw a bunch of thirteen year old girls rush out after being called by their instructor. I turned around on myself, absorbing my surroundings. In a corner, away from everything else, there hung a small picture of an older man. I walked to it. And there, I saw Bernard. His years written out underneath. He died two years ago. Guilt built up in my chest. His pale, blue and lively eyes, were still looking out at me, like they used to. I felt them look through me, at my life and what I’d done. I looked at Bernard, for some sort of acknowledgement. There he was, smiling. Happy. How fitting. That man, who lived on a boat, who pretended to hate society, who criticized what they were doing to this club he helped build. How fitting. I smiled, a little sad in my heart. I spent an hour there, inspecting everything. Bernard had been the only thing I’d recognized, the only thing that hadn’t changed. Everything else of sentimental value had been destroyed and transformed. I left the club with a heavy heart. There hadn’t been Marla, Bernard had passed away, and there was nothing left onto which I could hold on. I walked back home.
That night, I went out. Whether it be because I had nothing to eat or do at home, or because the city called me, I left. My feet led me, and I found myself running. I did not know where, until I stopped, aware of how much I had sweat. I found I going back to the concert. Memories came pouring like rain in a storm, and I was lifted up, off my feet into an inferno of emotion and memory. Where the stage had once been, there now was a small restaurant.
“Jazz On The Beach”
I walked into it and was seated at a table. I looked around, shaken by the change. Around me were teenagers and young adults, coming here like I would have once. As I looked, my heart froze. A ball of tears rose up in my throat. There was Marla, sitting alone at a table in front of me. The world seemed to move away, around us. She was looking at me. All the memories came flooding back. She was even more wonderful and perfect than I’d imagined her. Her red hair flowing down off of her shoulders and behind her. I thought of going over, and talking to her. Going over, and finding out what she’d become. Going over, and living out the life I’d fantasized about. But no. This was of a past life. It was time to move on, as Bernard had once told me to. I’d never listened to him, wrapped up in my life, in my youth. But now, now that I was here, I truly realized what he’d meant all along. I looked at her right in the eyes, they still sparkled as they’d once had. I smiled out of the corner of my mouth, and so did she. She raised her glass to me, and I to her. I drank it down and set it back onto the table. Almost regretfully, I left a tip, got up and slowly walked away. I never turned back.