Still Life in Shadow Ch. 03byAdrian Leverkuhn©
© 2007 by Adrian Leverkühn
She was in her outlook a simple woman, and it had been said of her for as long as anyone on the island could remember that she had never shown an interest in love. And how could they have known, how could they have known that their Saint had chosen to live in the shadows, that her life had been stillborn so many years ago in Zurich's staid halls of medicine. She had chosen the silence of a life in exile, in the shadows, and her fires had lain dormant, smoldering, waiting for the catalyst of her release.
And now, Maria Louisa Delasandro was a raging inferno, a fire banked down for far too long, and now she was breathing in the first faint tendrils of her release, and she was intoxicated.
She had found her fuel in Jennifer, and soon they were both burning on the razor's edge of control.
But still they waited. Waited. Waited for me . . . for only I could complete the final act of our Dance Macabre. Only then would the razor cut so deeply . . .
I don't suppose I will ever forget that first time, that first afternoon together. All of the uncertainty of the past few months was . . . they were but fuel for our fire. All of the anger I felt towards my soon to be ex-wife was . . . little more than fuel for these fires. Everywhere I looked, every bit of my past that seemed to linger in the air around me became a volatile fuel, and in the flames we released there was a transfiguration. There was a fusion. The three of us became, if but for a short while, one consummate ball of lust interwoven by a celebration of our rejections. We caught fire, and we burned oh so brightly.
Could there have ever been left anything but the ashes of our lust.
We remained together that first afternoon, lingered into the evening, hands seeking hands, mouths seeking mouths, craving penetrations defining our every move, every expectation giving way to the uncertain flower of our experiment. We fell asleep in the early evening, only to wake in the midnight and resume our feast, and we continued in this frenzied dance all through the night.
Soon I knew I was no longer in control of my life. I was consumed by this fire, consumed by the need to keep it burning, because in the light of this burning panorama I could make out a simple truth. I loved these women, and they loved me. Nothing else mattered, and soon nothing else seemed important. Only the fire . . . only the fire . . .
I took to taking Max, Maria's patiently faithful old Bernese Mountain Dog, on long walks. He came to love Saturdays, as did I, for on that day of the week, come rain or shine, Max and I would take off on long, excruciatingly long walks. Ten miles was a short walk. We often walked west along the coast roads, to Atalaia and Feteira, and more than once past Castelo Branco and all the way to western shore. Max became my faithful friend, his boundless love of life easily shouldered on his broad, black shoulders. We walked and I tossed sticks, we walked ever onward, across wet rolling hills, through tall pines alive with whispering winds, and we would pause and listen to the shifting voices as they darted through the limbs overhead, our minds lost in the ancient music.
I always carried a lunch for us. A sandwich for me, some scraps of chicken and cheese for Max, a flagon of cool water to share in the shade. These Saturdays were for Max and I, just as this day was for Jennifer and Maria, alone.
This was their day to enjoy each other, alone.
One Saturday Max and I walked into Horta, down to the breakwater, down to David Latham and Bolero. I could see his cancer taking a toll on him now, it seemed to grow in direct proportion to the beauty that now claimed Bolero as he worked away on her. Every piece of the boat seemed to glow from inside with some unknown form of energy. The exterior wood was a blisteringly bright honied-bronze, and all the topside metal was so meticulously polished that one could watch the reflections of passers-by and make out even the smallest detail.
On this Saturday we approached Bolero, and saw David half way up the fifty foot tall mast. He was lacing up the spreaders on the mast, adorning them with brilliant white twine to keep the sails from chafing there when close-hauled. It was so odd watching him, knowing that imminent death stalked him every moment of every day, yet he seemed to be at peace with this future, at peace with the beauty he had promised the rest of his life to. I was taken for a moment back to Fahrenheit 451, to those lives dedicated to preserving one work of literature, and I could feel these same forces at work in Latham. He was making the Bolero his life's work, preserving her for the future.
Max sat on the breakwater looking up at David, his head cocked to one side and his tail brushing the concrete; I was sure Max must have been totally confused by most things we humans did, but seeing Latham dangling from the mast must have really taken a toll on the old boy. Every now and then Max would whimper or moan as David angled out to lace-up the farthest reaches of the spreader, and after one of these outbursts David looked down and saw us on the breakwater.
"Come on aboard," he called out. "I'll be down in a minute. Go fix your self some lemonade!"
"I don't know, David. Max's claws might tear up this varnish."
"Screw that! Get on board. I wanna hear all about these rumors I'm hearing."
I hopped on Bolero - it had been a long time since I had been aboard her, and she was transformed. The last time a helicopter had taken me off, but now this was a totally different boat. Max seemed to understand the dilemma his claws presented, and hopped gingerly aboard and launched himself across the cockpit, coming to a rest on the seat. He curled himself up into a ball to ward off the chilly October air and watched David as he lowered himself down the mast. I could tell the old boy was relieved when David's feet hit the deck; hell, so was I!
I poured a couple of drinks and returned to the cockpit. Now up close, I could see David's skin was now turning pasty gray, and his eyes were a little sunken and rimmed with dark circles.
"Howya feelin'? You looked in your element up there."
"Oh, pretty good. Some days are better than others, but all in all, you know, it's not as bad as I expected. Maybe it's the meds. I don't know."
"You keeping up with the labwork?"
"No, not really. I mean, what's the point?"
I nodded understanding, but I really couldn't understand his attitude.
"How's the boat coming along?" I knew I was going to have to come up with better questions soon, or I'd wear out my welcome.
"So," Latham volleyed back at me, "what's all this stuff I'm hearing about you and Maria and Jennifer."
"What stuff?" I asked, now feeling a bit uncomfortable with what I knew had to be coming.
"Kind of a threesome thing y'all got going. Everyone's talking about it up at the bar."
"Yeah, oh yeah. One of the old men, a gardener I think, saw some stuff. Lots of talk about it now. Pretty weird stuff, Pete. I didn't take you for the type."
"Neither did I."
"So, what's going on?"
"Maria and Jenn, I think, started off on it, and I guess I just got pulled in to it."
"Sounds pretty heavy, dude. Better watch your ass."
"Good advice. Now can I give you some?"
"Sure, man. Fire away."
"Get up to the clinic and get some blood-work done, would you?"
"Sure, Doc, sure." He reached over and gave Max a scratch under his chin, and I could see the old boys eyes roll closed as he gave in to the pleasure. It was so simple. Receive pleasure, relax, and all was right with the world. It was only when human morality entered into the equation that things got sticky.
"So. You ever gonna take this tub out again?"
"Tub? Did you say tub?"
"Hell yes, Dave. Tubs sit around in the water. Boats sail you know, like out there, on the ocean. It's what they're for."
"Shit, Pete, I didn't know you was a philosopher. Gosh dawg! Ain't that somethin'."
"Shut up and answer the question?" I smiled at him, wanted to challenge him a little.
"Maybe next weekend. Want to go?"
"Shit yeah. Can Max come along?"
"Shit yeah. Why not. You think you can keep from getting sea-sick?"
"Fuck you, Latham!"
"And the horse you rode in on!"
"See ya next week." I started to walk off, leave David to his work, but Max went over and sat by him. He put his graying muzzle up in Latham's lap and let out a long, contented sigh. This was a first as far as I knew, and David scratched the old boy behind his ears for a while. Max's fluffy black tail swept the cockpit seat, and David looked down into Max's eyes.
"You okay, buddy?" he said.
Max licked his hand, then got up and walked off the boat and down the seawall. I looked back at David. There was a little tear falling down his cheek.
Dogs are like that, you know. They're smarter than we are about some things.
I knew David was itching to get back to work on Bolero, but I also knew something extraordinary had just happened.
I turned to walk after Max. I didn't know if the girls had had enough time alone yet, didn't want to bust up there time together.
Pretty weird stuff, yes indeed.
When I got back to the house I could tell by the sounds I heard coming from inside that things were still pretty hot and heavy in the bedroom. I went to the kitchen and filled Max's bowl, and I drifted over to the open bedroom door.
Maria had a strap-on around her waste and was driving away inside Jennifer, licking the feet that rested on her shoulders while she rubbed away at Jenn's clit with her free hand, and I came into the room and sat in the chair by the corner and just watched for a while. Maria looked over at me, clearly annoyed at the intrusion, then returned to her feast. Jenn's feet began to arc and she clutched at Maria's hand as she thrust against it to meet her need, and soon I could hear the tell-tale signs that she was coming. Her head began to thrash from side to side while Maria pounded away as deeply as she could, and soon the room was filled with screams and shouts as Jennifer exploded.
It was, all in all, quite a sight.
And something about it left me feeling hollow inside. I felt unclean. Like my soul was hurting.
I left the room and got Max. We headed out again, and this time out we walked west along the coast road.
We walked for a long time.
I had, during these weeks and months, still been living at the hotel. Now more often than not Max was my roommate. We returned to the hotel that night and I gave him a bowl of kibble, then bathed and went to bed. I found in short order that I couldn't sleep. All I could see was Maria's latent hostility toward me as I had watched them that afternoon.
There was something profoundly wrong about this relationship. Something that in my own confusion I had ignored, something that had gone terribly amiss between Jennifer and I. This relationship wasn't about us anymore. It wasn't about my future, or Jennifer's. It was Maria's design, her plan, her needs working themselves free from bondage after so many years pent up in repressed angst. Jenn and I had happened along at just the right time, and I had provided cover for Maria's design to take shape.
Now. What about Jenn? Was she truly in love with this woman, or was she lost in the infatuation, to the attentions paid her?
With what I had seen that afternoon, I instinctively knew the answer to that question.
I was no longer necessary to either of them. I had written myself out of their equation.
And it hurt. It hurt more than I could say as I stared at the dark walls of my little room.
Max slept with his head on my shoulder, looking up at me every now and then and licking my chin.
We all walked down to latham's boat next Saturday. All of us. The girls and Max walked ahead of me out the breakwater, and I was conscious of people all over the docks looking at us. Who knows, maybe they were looking at Maria and Jennifer more than me; I couldn't tell, but I could feel people's eyes burning away in the back of my neck as I walked out the dock.
Latham was ready and waiting. Bolero gleamed.
Once aboard, he cast off his lines and we drifted out into the little sheltered harbor inside the inner breakwater and Latham hoisted the main. Bolero caught the breeze and slipped into the outer harbor and he raised the high-clewed yankee up front and the boat bit into the wind and heeled over, began dancing through the light chop within the little bay. As seagulls flitted along behind us, I felt wonder at how much like flying it feels to sail.
Latham tacked and Bolero came up on a northeast heading; we sailed past the light on the end of the outer mole and out into the straight between Faial and Pico. The distant volcano stood in stark relief that day, a clear reminder dancing under the sun, and I remembered thinking that we - Jenn, Maria and I - were all dancing on a volcano. There was no telling when it would blow, but I knew we were all going to get burned.
Maria had packed a little picnic lunch and of course brought along some Sangria, and as Bolero settled into a groove and danced along she brought out the food and we all sat in the sun, lost in our thoughts as the boat rolled along as we picked at our food.
Soon a bottle-nosed dolphin broached alongside us, and Max stood up in the cockpit and looked at the gray form sliding through the water, and Max jumped back - lost his footing - when the dolphin jumped high into the air off the right side of the boat. We all laughed at Max while he regained his composure, and within moments the single dolphin was joined by dozens more, and we were soon bouncing off the waves while the pod of dolphins danced and turned in the sea around Bolero. Max and I slid up to the bow together and lay side by side next to the side of the boat as the dolphins, and Max whimpered in frustration he wanted to join them so badly. Hell, so did I. I reached down and slapped the side of the hull, and one of the dolphins came very close to me, and I reached out for it . . .
. . . the thought of sliding into the deep blue water and swimming quietly away was suddenly very appealing. Why was human life so complex, so full of complications . . . And why was the desire to drift away from the problems of this life so overwhelming?
We continued to sail away from Horta on a northeast heading, and the sun continued to pour down on us after the dolphins left. Max looked around at the water occasionally, and it was apparent he had enjoyed the experience as much as we had; he missed his new aquatic buddies.
Just after we finished eating one of the dolphins reappeared, and this one jumped out of the water alongside us and began to chatter excitedly at us. Moments later the sun disappeared.
So intent had we been to sail, to journey forward, we had simply not checked the horizon behind us. There behind Horta was a wall of black cloud, and two white snakes writhed in the air, uniting cloud and sea. David ducked below and turned on his VHF; there were now gale warnings being broadcast in Portuguese and English, and we all looked aft at the boiling clouds and the malicious waterspouts.
Max looked at the dolphin. I swear as they looked at each other they were communicating somehow. The dolphin was warning us, warning us of the coming danger.
"Looks like we race the storm back to Horta, or we run for Pico. But Pico's a lee shore; I'd rather not risk that." Latham looked around, measured his surroundings, then made his decision. He jibed Bolero smartly and we began to beat back toward the little harbor at Horta, now about seven or eight miles away, and as we hit the swell, great waves arced up off the bow as we smashed into them, and as gusts hit Bolero she began to heel-over even more as she aggressively bit into the wind.
Of all the people out on Bolero that afternoon, Maria alone had absolutely no sailing experience, and I could clearly see that as she looked at the black wall of clouds and the dancing waterspouts advancing toward us she was growing terrified. Not scared . . . terrified. Jenn was busy working the jib-sheet, helping Latham squeeze every ounce of speed out of Bolero they could. I took Maria down below and hooked up a sea-berth in the forward cabin and wrapped her in the cabin with Max, and then, as a vicious gust tore into the boat, I ran up and helped Latham tie a deep reef in the main while Jenn steered. We slipped forward and doused the working jib and hoisted a little storm jib that was lashed up there ready to deploy, then we worked our way back to the cockpit.
Ahead there were now four snakes dancing in the sky, with one not so far off our course towards Horta. Then, just as things looked as if they would get truly exciting, the radio came alive:
"All vessels approaching Faial, be advised the airport has recorded wind gusts over 75 knots. Please take cover immediately from this rapidly developing storm. Waterspouts approaching Monte de Guia. Take cover."
Latham looked ahead at the waterspouts, then back over his shoulder toward Pico across the straights. Horta was now tantalizingly close, maybe three miles, perhaps a bit less, and I could see the gears turning over in his head. The knot meter claimed we were making almost seven knots through the water; that made it 25-30 minutes before we made the breakwater.
We were going to get slammed if we made for Horta. If we turned and ran, we would probably get slammed out in the middle of the channel between Faial and Pico. I watched as Latham nodded to himself; he added a little west to his course, cheated to close the island just in case, and we all kept our eyes on the waterspouts, though they were still on the far side of the island.
One of the spouts hit the ridge on the west side of Monte de Guia and came down the gently sloping grassland toward the sea, and it started to march across the water toward us. It danced a little, made a zig-zag to the west, toward us, then back to the east, and we pushed closer to the shore. We could just make out the tree-lined soccer field on the north side of town as we cleared the final point and cut hard right to make directly for the harbor entrance when the squall line hit.
A white wall of rain came between us and the town - now only a few hundred yards ahead - and the red-roofed white buildings behind the stone breakwater suddenly blinked out of view. Bolero heeled over drastically, the rail on the right side of the boat slipped under water, and Latham threw the helm hard over to help her claw her way back upright. I saw Jenn sliding off her seat toward the water and held out my hand for her, and she grabbed it just as the cockpit reached an almost vertical orientation relative to the surface of the sea. I held on to the life-lines now above my head with my left hand, and Jenn with my right, and I looked down at her as her little bare feet flailed to gain footing. I could feel her fingernails digging into the flesh of my hand, yet I knew I would never let go of her.
I would never let go of her.
Bolero clawed her way through the deafening wind and rain, and precious moments later we could just see the outlines of the breakwater ahead, and the village of Horta behind. Bolero stood back up and pushed into the howling wind.
Ten minutes later we were tied up at the dock. Within a few moments we heard rumbling down below, and Maria came up into the shimmering air and walked off the boat without saying a word. Max stayed with David and I. So too, did Jennifer.