"Do you think we could go to bed now?" she said, a twinkle in her eye.
"Surely, Ma'am, not on the first date!" I said with feigned outrage dancing across my face.
But that's exactly what we did. She fucked the living daylights out of me for the rest of the day.
Then as the winds outside subsided in the afternoon, she got dressed and left. She didn't even say goodbye.
So, two hurricanes in one day.
One hurricane moved out to sea; there wasn't even any storm surge in the marina that day. All of us moved around the piers that evening clearing up the tangled maze of dock-lines we'd stretched all over the place that morning in our frenzied desire for security, and it was all very fun. A sense of community builds after shared experience that intense, and there was almost a party atmosphere in the evening that followed. But not for me.
For you see, I had had a close encounter with Hurricane Betty.
She came to me in my need and - like a hurricane - she completely tore my world apart. I went to bad that evening - exhausted from the effects of her winds - and slept so soundly I didn't even dream. And that may have been a good thing; I'd probably have only been able to dream of Ruth, and I already felt guilty enough as it was for having enjoyed Betty so.
We had - Betty and I - walked our own geometry of the heart through that day, experienced our own diametric opposites as we moved from tentative explorations to sybaritic abandon. She was indeed a skillful lover.
I think she sensed my reluctance when we first lay together, but she kissed me lightly on my forehead, then not so gently on my lips. When I tried to fall asleep later that day, all I could remember was the way her tongue had felt as it slipped urgently over mine. Such a familiar penetration, yet so utterly foreign, so new. So goddamned exciting.
Her hand, slipping down my stomach and smoothly onto my . . . oh, God! Almost like a snake moving slowly towards its prey, coiling to strike . . . there, now! As she took me in her mouth I drifted away in the surreal warmth of her swirling caress, and it wasn't long before she received her supplicants offering. Too soon she mounted our straining desire and she came and came and came . . .
I woke the next day to a world sunny and cool; there was an autumnal snap in the air, and the rains and winds had swept the world clean.
Hank was on the foredeck of his little Island Packet running some sealant along a hatch.
"Hey partner!" he called out when he looked up and saw me. "Did you sleep through the party?"
"Yeah, up by the pool. Started about eight, went to God only knows how late. Hell, everyone in town was here!"
I just looked at him blankly and shook my head.
"What the hell happened between you and Betty?" he asked.
"I don't know. It was nice, and . . ." And what? What had happened?
"She came over, seemed lost. She and Susan took off about four."
"Did she say anything to you?" I asked. I wanted to know. Really wanted to know.
"No, not really. Like I said; she just looked lost. What happened?"
I shook my head. "I don't know, Hank. She ripped my world apart, then just walked out."
"Hey buddy, I may not know up from down most days, but I'd say if anyone's world was ripped apart, it was hers."
"Yeah? Well, what are you working on?"
He looked at me for a second, then down at the hatch he was working on. "I don't know, man; something came down on the plexiglass and whacked it. Nice hairline crack in it. You think silicone will seal it?"
"Well, it'll seal it until the first time someone steps on it, then it'll split and leak again."
"Nothing for it but to replace it, especially if you plan on going offshore."
"Bahamas," he said.
"Gulf Stream," I said. "Come on, we'd better head up to the store and see if we can find a replacement hatch."
"Yeah, guess so. Let me grab some shoes."
We walked up the pier to the harbormasters office and went in to get directions to a marine supply store. There were a couple in town, and we got directions.
"Ah, you Mr Grant?"
"Got a note for you here," the man said as he dug an envelope out from under a pile of papers on his desk. "Woman dropped it off here yesterday afternoon."
I took it from him. The envelope was hotel stationary; the handwriting unfamiliar. I slipped it in my pocket and Hank and I walked out into the afternoon sun and walked off toward town.
As the sun set, Hank and I finished installing his new hatch and I invited him over for his steak. I did it, I called Room Service and had them bring down a raft of t-bones and shrimp cocktails and - hang it all - a bottle of Dewars. I set the CD to play Ella Fitzgerald in the cockpit, and put up the cockpit table just as the white-jacketed waiter rolled our cart to the side of the boat.
We - hank and I - sat in the afterglow of a really magnificent sunset and wolfed down shrimp and steak, then picked at cheesecake for a while as we sipped our Scotch.
"So, what happened with that - er, with you and Susan?" I asked as the night settled in around us.
"Oh, you know . . ." he said quietly, and his voice trailed off into the night.
"No, I don't know. That's why I asked, Hank."
"Oh, well, I think it turned out she wanted a go at you and was kinda pissed off at Betty for moving in on you so fast." I looked across at Turtle-man - not the best looking guy to come along, that was for sure - and I felt kinda bad for him. "So, you never said, how was Betty? She work out OK for you?"
"Hmm? Oh, yeah, Hurricane Betty. Yeah, Hank, she's something."
"Was that letter from her, the one from the harbormasters'."
"Shit!" I'd left it unopened in my pocket and now hastily reached for it.
"You haven't read it yet?!" Hank asked incredulously.
I pulled out the envelope, fished out the letter . . .
'Martin,' the note began. 'I know we shared something special, maybe even something beyond special, but I don't know if you're ready to face the consequences of the moment yet. You have a choice to make. Let me know. I love you. Betty.'
"Seems I have, according to her, a choice to make."
"Very serious, this one is, Hankster. Very serious indeed."
"My advice to you? Run like the wind, Marty, run like the fucking wind!"
Maybe life is that simple for some people. Find someone, and like a bee in a forest of petals, land and spread your seed and move off into the breeze, toward the next flower, always moving toward that next epiphany. Always moving . . . never satisfied . . . always . . . lonely and looking . . .
You have a choice too make.
It's always about choice, isn't it? Forget about right and wrong, good and evil; those aren't relevant, or helpful constructs to hold when confronting choices of fate and destiny.
Like Nietzsche said, there is no objective right or wrong, only what men choose to make right.
You have a choice too make.
I could leave the marina in the morning, head down river to the Waterway, and make my choice there.
Turn right, head south, away from Elizabeth City and Betty Hutton, or turn to the left and return to her, see what future I could build in that woman's arms.
Is that what I wanted?
Did I want to fall into the arms of the first woman I ran into? Wasn't that emotionally childish? Did I really feel an attachment to her, or had she simply read me like an open book, understood my need, and acted on it?
And just what can you say about a woman who claims to have such a profound understanding of the future that she can divine a connection between two people?
Do you mock that? Walk away from an assumed gift?
Or do you respect that person's gift, as incomprehensible as it may seem to you at the time, and follow her intuition?
"What about you, Hank? Was that woman causing all the ruckus in Elizabeth City your wife?"
He looked down at his feet. "Yeah. I've been running from her all my life, Marty. I used to think I loved her, but you know, it's hard to love someone so mean it hurts all the time."
"So, why did she leave?"
"I guess she thought if she had me trapped on a boat, in such a confined space, she could murder my soul one inch at a time. When that didn't work out, when I started in on her, I guess she decided she'd had enough. Serves the bitch right!"
I looked at Turtle-man as he said that and for the first time in my life I knew what it felt like to hate another man.
"Oh? Why would she want to do that, Hank? Murder your soul, I mean?"
"She's evil, Marty, an evil, blood-sucking hell-bitch!"
It wasn't too hard to see it, in the end. Two people diametrically opposed in want and desire locked in endless struggles for dominion over the other, each never bothering to understand the impulses driving the other until in narcissistic rage they pummeled each other figuratively to death. Nothing in common, in the end, but hate for one another. That was all too human.
How many people settle for that? Settle for such easy dominion when there is so much beauty out there waiting to be explored?
Hank would continue to search for another woman just like his wife, for another woman to bully, and who would bully him, until they self-destructed again and again. So futile, yet so human. Round and round we go. But why hate the man?
Had Ruth and I not done the same thing? Was Turtle-man just a mirror of my soul?
Hadn't Ruth and I been diametrically opposed in outlook? Why, them, had we been so compatible? Had we been secure enough in our own world-view to accommodate the other's? To turn away from bludgeoning the other with our singular truth?
What was there in Betty, I wondered, that made her so like Ruth. I wasn't conscious of anything, but if I held to the view that people make the same mistakes in their relationships over and over again, then surely there was something familiar, something fundamentally the same about Betty and Ruth.
Is that what Betty saw? Was that the connection she touched in the air between us?
Isn't that what we're all looking for?
Even a Turtle-man like Hank? No, I didn't hate him. I had to admit he was growing on me.
The engine was warming up the next morning while I coiled dock lines and stowed shore-power lines; Hank was up on deck admiring his new hatch, dreaming of far-away places he could, no doubt, run to. Well, walk to . . .
"So Marty, where you heading? Made up your mind yet?"
"Oh, hell Hank. I never know what I'm doing from one minute to the next. What makes you think I know what I'm going to do about that woman?"
"Man-oh-man! If you don't know, then who the hell does?!"
"You have a point, Hank. You have a point. How 'bout you? Still going south?"
"Yeah, I'm gonna stay inside all the way down to Florida; maybe November or December I'll slide across the Stream to Grand Bahama."
"What are you gonna do about your wife?"
"She wants a divorce, by all means let her do it!"
"You'll probably lose your boat, Hank!"
"Not if they can't find me, brother!"
"Hank, that's the wrong thing to do, and you know it."
"Yeah, well, I tried the right way all my life, and that didn't work out too well. Time for something new."
"Your choice, amigo, and your life, but if I were you - if that's the choice you're gonna make - you better leave the country now, and don't plan on coming back."
He looked at me thoughtfully for a minute, then shook his head. "Yeah, maybe."
That was all he could say.
Maybe that was what separated the Hanks of the world from me, from people like me. Maybe he didn't have the courage of his convictions, the courage to face his own shortcomings, or worse still, the courage to accept his desires and act on them.
"Well, Hank, keep it slow and steady. Who knows, you might make it yet!"
He looked at me quizzically while I backed out of the slip and drifted into a turn; I slipped the transmission into forward and gave the beast some throttle. I looked at Turtle-man standing on the deck of his little boat, alone, running and afraid of his future. That was no way to live.
We arced out into the river and turned downstream. I had several miles to go to rejoin the Waterway, a few hours to think about the choice ahead.
The sky was clear, not a trace of the hurricane remained, and a cool breeze from the north was stirring up a few whitecaps on the river already. There would be a tough headwind back towards Elizabeth City, a hard ride to return to Betty Hutton if that was the choice I made.
I unfurled the headsail and sheeted it in, and as I pulled the main out from the mast the boat took off like a demon possessed. She kept pulling to weather, moving to the north, like she knew what I course I should steer. A gust slammed into us and she heeled over, and with the wind deep in her now we slammed into wave after wave; soon we were rolling along at close to eight knots, and I was burying the rail as I drove her hard abeam to the wind. We were charging into a newborn swell, huge walls of spray erupted from ahead as I buried the bow in them, and I yelled as the exhilaration of the conflicting forces overtook me.
Oh, yeah baby, we were running now . . .
We were running . . . now . . .
Running . . .
We ran for hours . . .
Then . . . I could see the channel buoy ahead that marked the waterway - that marked the locus of choice. We were making incredible speed over the ground. Ten more minutes to decide. Ten more minutes to challenge fate, to acknowledge Betty's sense of connection, or to keep . . . running . . . running . . .
One mile to go . . . a half mile . . . a quarter mile . . . then I stood by as we passed the red buoy marking the channel intersection.
Left, right . . . what would it be . . .
Left, right . . .???
(a follow-up piece is planned; any & all comments appreciated)