Passegiatta Pt. 06byAdrian Leverkuhn©
07 July 1943 2320 hours
He was floating now. Of that much he was sure.
He knew he had been asleep for what felt like hours, but might have been minutes, or days. He simply had no point of reference anymore, only the sensation of floating. But his back was sore, he knew that much, and after his head cleared he reached down to find what was causing the pain. He felt a huge coil of damp rope against the damp wooden hull planks. The rope was slick with sea-snot but still as hard as a rock.
'Yes, that's it. Oh . . . pain . . . move . . . my God! What is that smell?'
He wrinkled his nose; this darkness was rich with gut-twisting smells of old fish and even older seaweed mixed in with what had to be diesel fuel dripping into a bilge full of black, scum-filled water. This world, this little womb Goodwin found himself in, was almost completely devoid of any and all light, his only frame of reference was the opaque sound of water lapping against the hull echoing all around him. Somewhere far away a bell was clanging in the night, perhaps atop a buoy rolling on an unseen breeze, and memory came rushing in as if borne on an inrushing tide.
Of course he was floating. He had been afloat all day.
First on hell-borne wings, his descent looking up through burning silk at storm ravaged clouds, and then, finally, on endless, storm-tossed seas. Yes, the sea. Floating on the sea. Cold sea-fingers reaching from the depths, drawing 'round his soul, pulling him from life on vaulted clouds into darkness, cradling him in soothing embrace, each afraid to let go. He remembered the inevitability of it all; surrender had seemed the logical, the easy thing to do. He remembered sinking yet with his eyes open, and he saw cool gray water, the sun just a receding memory of blue-filtered ripples echoing like memories of happier days. Like he was running in lazy circles through flower-tossed fields. He could see his mother standing outside the house, trees swaying in warm summer breezes, leaves dancing in silver-green music, and she was calling him . . . calling him . . .
In his heart he could smell cookies and milk, his mother working in the kitchen, his father out in the fields . . . a cold nose rubbing against his leg . . . he looked down, saw his best friend in the world, the dog he had always called Ready . . . because he always was . . .
The old Springer's nose was white with age, his eyes clouded by milky lens that could only have been earned by thousands of afternoons running under carefree skies be his side, and yet Ready was rubbing his cold nose against his legs insistently now, his little stump of a tail wagging in excited purpose, that low growl he used to tell the world he had something to say, 'and you'd better listen if you know what's good for you . . .'
The cold nose slammed into his side again, but harder this time, and he turned, saw he was sinking deeper into the sea, felt the loneliness of solitary death surrounding him and, there is was . . . a cool grey form gliding by just in silence, a black eye following him, looking at him, measuring him . . .
The dolphin came closer, rubbed against Goodwin's body, it's gracefully arced dorsal fin thumping into him as it flew by. The dolphin turned again, seemed perplexed, then drifted by again, closer still, slowly . . .
'Take it . . . see me . . . you can be free of this . . .'
Goodwin reached out, took hold of the offered fin and rose gently back into the light and air of his beginnings. He held onto the dolphin as air rushed into starved lungs, his body draped over the dolphin's cold gray back, and as he drank in ragged breaths he began to cry. From joy or sorrow he couldn't tell, and to the others the song remained the same. He felt the others rise in the sea quietly by his side, and he turned, looked with vacant uncomprehending eyes at the other dolphin laying there -- looking at him, then he saw another and another. They were all looking at him, listening to him, taking the measure of his soul. He grew silent, watched them as he might have watched a mirror of his dreams -- and in that uneasy instant he grew silent as a crying child might when confronted by the profoundly unknown.
He looked around . . . now there were seven of them in the water beside him . . . each silently looking at him . . . their silver-watered forms seemingly aglow with electric expectation . . .
The seventh dolphin, a small pale creature with luminous eyes drifted forward, came up to him and rested its slender snout lightly on his shoulder. He could see a golden worm attached to the dolphin's eye, a weeping sore surrounded the wound. Goodwin fished in his flight suit and pulled a little metal first aid kit out and opened it. With tweezers in hand he removed the parasite; he opened a tiny silver tube of sulfa ointment and put some on his finger, then rubbed the medicine into the flesh around the eye until it disappeared into the animal's hide. He stroked its forehead tenderly; the small dolphin rose a bit and opened its mouth, and smooth sounds drifted across the waves as she proclaimed his fitness to the skies, and her group assented, dropped back into the sea, and as suddenly Goodwin was alone again.
The largest one reappeared a moment later and presented its dorsal fin again; Goodwin reached out and held on, his cool body absorbing warmth from the vast flank of pulsing muscle against his belly. They began moving toward land.
"Now I know what it feels like to be a torpedo!" he said after plowing through a couple of large waves, but soon he got into the rhythm of the animal's motion through the water and in time ducked and breathed with some measure of this new music. He saw land growing near and realized he didn't want this time to come to an end . . . the longer he remained on the dolphin's side the more intensely he wanted to stay with the animal, to be with this animal . . . to become one this animal. He sensed that the dolphin felt much the same way, only perhaps . . . differently . . . he felt the animal wished to be human, longed to walk among trees and flowers again and again and again . . .
Soon Goodwin saw a boat ahead, a man on the foredeck framed by purple clouds and an apricot sun was looking at him, clearly stunned by what he saw. As they came closer, Goodwin smiled at the man and shot him the 'thumbs up': I'm real - he wanted to say - I'm going to be your friend.
Now, in the cold and damp of the rocking boat Goodwin felt disoriented and alone, but worst of all he felt an immediate need to relieve himself. He had seen soldiers on the beach and on the quay and he didn't want to expose himself to scrutiny or in any way reveal his location; he knew the consequences would be disastrous for not only himself but the men who had offered him this refuge. Now he faced a stark choice; get back in the water or foul himself . . .
He heard -- something - thump along the hull, then again. He didn't hear any voices, but again something soft collided with the boat.
Was it the men?
Had they returned?
He froze, listened to every sound in the darkness, but soon his heartbeat was drowning out everything as his pulse hammered through his head. The need to relieve himself became overwhelming in the cold darkness, and with each new bump against the hull the pressure built and built. Finally he could take it no longer . . .
He gently pushed back the companionway door and slipped into the back of the boat on his belly. He crouched next to the gunwales and raised his head, slowly looked around. The village was almost dark, only a few lights flickered behind old yellow curtains; he raised himself up and slid over the side as silently as he could into the cold darkness.
Sudden light flooded his eyes, he heard voices, German voices yelling menacingly nearby, then gunshots. The water by his face exploded, bullets slammed into the wooden boat behind him and he pushed himself down into the blackness . . .
And there he was . . . waiting . . .
The dolphin swam alongside again and Goodwin latched himself to the proffered dorsal fin and the two of them rocketed out of the harbor, breaking back into the night air with the harbor several hundred yards behind. He smiled now, his gratified relief immense, and he hoped the fast flowing currents had washed all the pee out of his flight suit. His obscured feelings surrounding the day's encounters returned with overwhelming intensity, this feeling of being alive, this sudden joy, was all a mystery. This animal was his friend. Why? How?
And still his friend kept swimming, swimming toward a spit of land ahead and to their right. Soon he was among slippery rocks, the water shallow enough to stand in, the harbor now so far away no one could possibly see him.
Had the dolphin been thumping the hull, trying to warn him? The thought hit him like a blow to the stomach. Not possible! Everything that had happened that afternoon was impossible, and yet - here he was.
The large dolphin drifted lazily on the surface just a few yards away, staring, then Goodwin felt another body closer still. He turned, saw the smaller dolphin, the one with the wounded eye, and when their eyes met she came to him, placed her snout on his shoulder again and seemed to sigh. He held her in shocked surprise for a while, then she slipped under suddenly and was gone again.
Lightning still danced across the far horizon, distant thunder rumbled through the sea. Had she seen something?
Goodwin heard footsteps on the rocky beach and flattened himself against the black granite and held his breath. They seemed like aimless footsteps, the footsteps of a wandering soul taking in the remnants of another storm-tossed day. He chanced to look, wanted to get an idea of what he was up against . . . He slipped upwards, his eyes lifted just above the kelp-crusted rocks . . . and his breath slipped away into the night like a prayer . . .
She was taking off the last of her clothes now, standing on the rocks in her panties and tattered black stockings looking out upon a pitiless sea; soon she sat and peeled these last bits of another life from her skin and slipped first one foot, then the other into the inky black wetness. She walked out into the water not ten feet away from Goodwin, walked past him and kept moving silently as if to her death, and then it hit him.
She had come to her end. Was this night to be of endings? It was too cold out in this night air for a leisurely swim, and the water now uncomfortably cold with the sun's warmth so long departed.
She was committing suicide!
He couldn't stand by and watch this unfold silently; he had to act, and that being his nature, he did.
He pushed himself away from the rocks, slipped through the water until he came to her and he reached out, touched her shoulder. If he had expected surprise on her face he was disappointed. The woman, perhaps his age, perhaps a little younger, reacted to his presence with barely the slightest shimmer of recognition, her eyes felt black and lifeless, her skin slack as if she had already moved on and was now beyond redemption. She pushed his hand away, walked further into the sea. She never said a word.
The large dolphin moved to block her way and the woman stopped, moved away from it as if afraid, then another dolphin appeared, and another -- until soon all seven were around her, boxing her movements. The woman turned, looked at Goodwin, began speaking in Italian as her confusion rent the air; Goodwin put his fingers to his lips and she instantly understood, and in that moment of pure silence she become unimaginably beautiful, and completely full of wrathful vengeance.
They both heard the voices at the same time. More Germans, he guessed, and probably looking for him, too. Goodwin pushed himself from another rock and drifted to her side, took her arm and pulled her back into the shadows. He turned, looked where the dolphins had been and saw now only a smooth black sea.
Voices, hard angry voices, flashlights sweeping silvered water, footsteps on gravel, laughter, footsteps receding into the night, voices falling away on dying breezes.
And then . . .
The woman's cool skin on his, her teeth beginning to chatter as the cold penetrated her bones. He took her in his arms and rubbed her vigorously and she held him, put her arms around his, her face on his shoulder and she sighed. To Goodwin the symmetry was complete, and astonishing. She grew calm as if taking energy from him, soon she pulled back from him, looked into his eyes for a long moment, a silent moment pregnant with swirling purpose, then she leaned into him again and put her face on his shoulder again.
Forces unseen and unseeable drifted on the surface of the water and coiled around the man and the woman, pulled them from the rocks into deeper water as if to wash the woman's wounds in this man's embrace. She held his face, now, oh now, instantly aware of unimaginable impulses gathering in the waters all around, and she leaned into him again, this time her mouth on his, breathing the breath of his breath, kissing the kiss of his mouth. Soon it was as if the water around them boiled in furious abnegation of human frailty; she reached down, took him in her hand and squeezed him roughly, his hands sought her downy smoothness and entered roughly, almost savagely. She leaned back, unzipped his flight suit, pushed it down over his shoulders and down his body, took him in her hands and dragged her fingernails into the stiffening skin and squeezed again, hard. He gasped as she rose in the water and lowered herself on his need, his surrender complete as other bodies in the water began spinning furiously around this new union.
They were there again, all seven of them. Looking on almost tentatively, almost reaching out to touch them, they had formed a rough circle around the man and the woman and they watched carefully, as measuring their choice. The small one, the female Goodwin had helped earlier, drifted closer and rubbed against him, then began to swim around the humans slowly, soon almost continuously in contact with both of them. Another one came forward, this one larger than the female, and he moved in beside this apparent mate and swam by her side.
Goodwin felt them rub across his back and his legs occasionally, but they were intently focused on their own dance now, leaving Goodwin and the woman alone in the vortex they were creating. He felt a lightness of being warping the air around them, the water grew warm and intensely briny as electric impulses arced between the woman and his groin, he felt her stiffening, her back arcing like lightning, her legs behind him now, pulling his legs closer to her as he came. He twisted under her vaulting orgasm, his back arched and he exploded into her, wave after wave flooding into her . . . and then the drifting began . . .
He was aware the two of them were as seaweed drifting in the currents of a sunless sea . . . almost like two flowers dancing in mountain breezes . . . they swayed and swayed and swayed within invisible currents, the power of their union dissipating into the towering vault of the heavens above.
The sand . . . the stars . . . and all that lies between . . .
They returned to the sea, to the cool air and the chilled water, and as each became aware of the other, still within this deep embrace, they looked at one another, she in a state bordering on pure panic. She pushed off him, swam away with her back to him, covered her breasts under crossed arms, and he watched her retreat into moon-kissed rocks. Soon he heard her crying and he remembered her coming to the water, the agony and anguish and the total despair of their meeting and all that had happened in this day.
What of her day? What had murdered her soul this day?
He reached down into the blackness and pulled his flight suit up, covered his body with the armor of his profession and zipped it closed.
Movement . . .
He saw men on the rocks, their black form silhouetted against the distant village as they jumped from rock to rock, closing in on his position steadily. He slipped through the water toward the woman; she turned and started to speak but saw his anxiety and followed his eyes into the darkness.
Yes . . . she saw them too.
She slipped deeper into the water as he drew beside her, and she felt him pulling a knife from a scabbard on his ankle. He sank down next to her, their noses just clear of the surface of the water, and they waited. He could see the men clearly, two of them at least, crouched low and moving smoothly among the rocks as if looking for someone, or something.
They came to the girl's clothes; one of them held something to his face and he felt the girl's embarrassed jerk as she turned away. The men moved their way now, still slowly, still so low to the rocks they almost -- almost -- blended into the blackness.
"Maria . . ." he heard one of the men whispering loudly. "Maria . . ."
Goodwin could just make them out now; they were the two men from the boat.
"Over here!" Goodwin whispered. The closest man turned at the sound in the water and crept their way; he stopped short when he saw the woman in the water, her pale nakedness standing like an insinuation in the pale light of the storm-lined moon.
The kid leapt at Goodwin, the knife in his hand slashing at Goodwin's throat as he landed on him. Goodwin rolled under the scrawny kid, held him by the neck and pulled him under, twisted the knife from his hand and pulled him by the hair back into the air.
The kid started to yell and Goodwin drove his fist into the boy's sinewy neck; the boy sputtered and coughed, tried desperately to catch his breath while Goodwin held on to him.
The woman came over and took the boy from Goodwin's gripping hands and began talking to both of the newcomers in soft soothing tones; words Goodwin couldn't understand, but her tone conveyed sorrow and understanding and resignation.
Goodwin turned, saw another man standing over him.
"Hi," the man said. "You American flyer?"
"That's the rumor, bucko."
"Yeah, buddy, that's me. I drive big plane that go boom-boom."
"Yes! American pilot!"
"Oh, si, good. You comes us go hills yesterday sleep goats."
"I wouldn't miss it for the world."
"Yes. Good. We go sleep with goats. Really. Sounds like fun."
"Fun? Maybe no, but you come anyway, yes? What happen Ludvico?" The man was gesturing at his friend, who was - still - choking in the water.
"Ah. Ludvico slip on rock and fall on face."
"Eh, fuck you mother, goddamn Yankee!" Goodwin heard the kid -- Ludvico? -- croak between gasps.
"What Vico say?" the other man asked.
"He says he wants to fuck my mother." He heard the girl laughing at that one . . .
"Shit, pal, don't sweat it. My mother can handle him."
"Sorry? Cans speaks slowly?"
Goodwin hauled himself up onto the rocks. "We go find goats now. Germans there." He pointed down the beach.
"No Germans," the man smiled as he mimed slitting throats.
"Fantastic!" Goodwin said, now terrified. These clowns would have an entire Panzer Division crawling around here by first light. "Please go find goats now. Now please."
The man started speaking in rapid fire Italian to his friend in the water, then he leaned down to help the kid out. Only then did this one see the woman in the water was as naked as the day she was born, and he stared at her breasts while he licked his lips.
"Go get clothes," Goodwin said to the man while he helped the other kid stand. Goodwin could already see a nasty bruise forming over the front of the boys neck, and he felt bad for unloading on him so hard. He told himself that was better than getting his own throat cut. The kid had meant business!
The other man returned, held the woman's clothes out to Goodwin, but Goodwin handed them over to the kid and walked away carefully across the slippery rocks toward the beach. He was cold now, real cold, and hungrier than he'd ever felt in his life. He still had, he hoped, a little chocolate in his flight suit; he felt for it but it was gone, probably, he thought, lost in the water. The two men came up a minute later, the girl right behind them, and they started looking for her shoes. All the while she talked to the kid in low, soothing tones, but he dismissed her brusquely; his pride had obviously been badly wounded on many levels by the encounter, and he had to put the girl in her place now.