The Carriage Driver³ – The Man at the Seaside
Chris was fifty-three. He was a man who knew the reference of a ½ pint, pint and a fifth. He amused himself thinking that related to the end of the month, the middle of the month, the beginning of the month. Reflecting on his life, he thought he lost his innocence, his virginity if you will, to the Merchant Marines when he long ago left the land.
He no longer thought of land like most people. The deck of a ship had a roll to it. A ship rumbled with a deep diesel life, with which land could not compete. The sea was clean then and rust quietly ate away at civilization.
Now, he sat here, in the dark, on the rocks by the sea. He knew the lumps below the skin of his arms and back and buttocks were not natural. The heat and the work and the sun had made him crusty. Love had evaded him and that added to his grizzled appearance. Women with innocence in their hearts do not fall in love with men hardened by their lot.
He thought about the back alley in Bahir De Caraquez, in Ecuador, where the man with the knife overestimated his drunkenness. He knew that he left his attacker dead in that filthy alley. He returned to his ship, stitched his own wounds and never returned to Ecuador.
In his shirt pocket was the printout of the information the doctors had diagnosed. But, he knew before he saw the doctor that this was more trouble than he could handle.
He lit a cigarette, inhaled deeply and thought about the time he spent with Jacinta in a little port named Aracaju in Brazil. She had made him happy. So, happy he had missed his ship and stayed, engulfed in this tropical illusion, as long as his money held out before being forced to catch another. Of course he promised to return, and she promised to wait. Neither kept their promise.
He took the printout out of his pocket and put the burning tip of his cigarette to it. It burned slowly at first then engulfed the paper. Just like my life, he thought, Up in a flash. He let slip the edge of the paper where it rolled along the rocks, trying to get to the sea.
There was a quick hiss as he flicked the cigarette into the water. Reaching down, he undid the heavy laces of his work boots and took them off. He removed his socks, stood and walked into the water.
He used the path of a moonbeam as a guide. He still had his strength. He was from the breed of men that felt strength was the most important thing a man could have. He knew seaports and shanty songs. He spent time with tough women, and drank bad whiskey. The sharp knife on his belt could be used for shaving. The cold Atlantic washed the tears from his face.
The voice that he heard was that of Jacinta. Follow me, she called. His arms cut through the water knowing that his mind was playing a trick on him. Follow me, he heard. He stopped swimming, pushing water around, he listened. He inhaled deeply and slipped beneath the water.
The darkness, for some reason made him feel safe. The sea embraced him. He exhaled the last of life. A small stream of bubbles marked his passing. A group of Summer Flounder escorted him as he drifted in the gloom.
There was no flash of light. No face of God, to welcome him. A mermaid approached, circling him. She had the face of Jacinta. Follow me, she hooked a finger and swam slowly away. He followed.
He kicked hard. More deliberate, stronger, than he remembered from just a moment ago. She reached a ship, lying on its side and ducked inside a hole in her side. Chris noted the name painted on the side, Equipoise. He swam into the gap the mermaid had taken, but did not see her.
There were a group of men around a table eating. A galley hand carrying a tray spotted Chris and set the tray down. “Who are you? We have not had a visitor in sixty long years.” The men around the table looked up at him. One stood and walked toward him.
“We were sunk, in ‘42 carrying cargo from Panama to New York. What brings you here?”
Chris was taken aback. “This can’t be heaven.”
The men laughed, a chorus went up. “No, not heaven. But nearly as good, not hell, as far as we can tell.”
The galley hand had fetched a cup of coffee. “Plenty of coffee here, a big part of our cargo was coffee.”
A man at the table said, “Next time out we are going to haul only rum.” Again the men laughed.
“Come sit down with us.” He led Chris to the table. “Tell us, what is the news of the war?”
Chris spotted the mermaid lying in a bunk above the men. Her chin was resting on the palm of her hand. The last bit of water was dripping from her tail.
“Oh, don’t mind her.” The man closest to him said. “She brings us fish and when she is here we keep the sharks away.”
Chris ran his fingers down his arm. Then he reached around to his back. The lumps were gone. This was some kind of new beginning. “This is not heaven.”
“We are men of the sea. We trusted in our skills, we know the strength of the winds and the unforgiving upheaval of waves. We led a turbulent life. We all knew of the commandments, but we also knew the temptations. The temptations were more frequent.”
“Don’t forget the torpedo. A torpedo put that hole in our side and turned us with severe force. We did not know much about praying. The night we settled in here we were all willing to learn. It must be the same with you.”
Chris sat and took a drink of the coffee he was handed. The coffee tasted like a cross between diesel oil and coffee just like he was used to. “I remember once we were at the Port of Iquitos in Peru. Our cargo was shoes. The mermaid raised her eyebrows. We heard, though a stevedore that the women in the bars would be very appreciative of receiving new shoes. So, each man smuggled a pair of women’s shoes off the ship to use in trade. Our plans did not work out as smoothly as we had hoped. By the end of the night all the shoes were on the counter. The men who happened to smuggle the right size and the right style were rewarded. The rest of us smuggled shoes back on board.”
The men and even the mermaid laughed. They all settled in. There were new stories to hear, and there was now a reason to retell many of the old stories.
Griffin and Nuelle had taken one of their night walks. When their schedule allowed, in the quiet of the night Griffin would use a bridle and he and Nuelle would take their walk and be fed by the strength and power of the Atlantic. The raging mass of the sea fortified them. It helped them in their perspective and made their choices more palatable.
In the dark they stood quietly. They both watched as this man sitting by the seaside made his final choice. The choice of tossing in the hand dealt him. The hand he played out as well as possible in the big game. Griffin watched the strength which the man pulled himself along the moonlit path and wondered.
balance of forces or interest
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