The Lady on the TowerbySailor1©
The view from the top of the tower that August was spectacular and refreshing. I had needed that for some time.
Reluctantly, the way one does when it would be nice to just stay right where one is and not have to move, I turned away and leaned back against the railing. It was an effort to extend perhaps just a little longer the time there in the sun and with a magnificent vista all around me. I had not noticed that anyone else had come up. The access door to the upper level was creaky and wanted oil on its hinges, and I thought I would have noticed. Nevertheless, there she stood, some twenty feet away on the other side of the platform, gazing out towards the bay and the port and the mountains and forest beyond, enjoying apparently as I had been the panorama of the broad countryside spread out below. For me the scenery of interest suddenly became much more proximate, and my movement to depart was arrested altogether.
She was a very attractive young lady.
Her face was turned away from me, of course, but I took rapid inventory of what I could see... and then slowed my perusal, since I was now in no hurry whatever to move onward. Her auburn hair was long and flowing down off her shoulders, the light wind playing with loose tendrils. She wore a white linen short-sleeved blouse and a beautifully flowered skirt that reached to a bit below her knees. She was standing very still, maybe even tense, taking in the refreshing view in big gulps perhaps, as I had been, and finding it lifted her spirits to do so. Perhaps. It was pleasant to imagine that she was, anyway. As I watched she relaxed and leaned on her arms on the heavy railing, and shifted to one leg and, in a delightfully feminine way, slipped her one bare foot out of her Scandinavian clogs and wiggled her toes in the fresh air.
Well, maybe she was seeking some relaxing get away and enjoyed the change of pace up here on the tower. After a few minutes enjoying the view myself, while she shifted again to allow the toes of her other foot some fresh air as well and the wind danced delightedly with her hair, I decided that there was nothing in my day that was so pressing. There was enough flexibility in my self-imposed schedule to allow an occasion to develop where I might meet this young lady. I had just UPS'd off the CD and hard copy print out of my book to the publisher and mailed the three bills that were demanding payment, and plans for exploring some of the waterfront were purely of my own making.
There had been little interest in meeting another woman for several years now. The last one took her leave after years of togetherness and left me bereft of the softness and cheery companionship that had meant so much. Only in the process of bringing this book project to a conclusion was the confidence in self returning that allowed me to imagine I might successfully seek out the acquaintance of another. So far no suitable candidate had appeared on the horizon.
The length of the interlude was mostly of my own creation, I supposed. Still, even casual friendships with women were selective efforts for me. Perhaps I was just picky, but it was important to me that the friendship have some substance and depth, and there was a dearth of opportunity to meet women of a comparable inclination not already otherwise involved. I turned away from the young lady beside the rail so that, should she turn around, it would not be quite so obvious that I had been staring; and I had been staring and for how long I was unsure. Something had happened to my senses and my awareness of the passage of time was interrupted by her having captured my attention. Even continuing to observe her with sidelong glances was sufficient to push easily other objects from view.
Mid to late twenties, at the very most early thirties, I judged; no, probably less. Rather taller than many, about 5-10 or so; slender but not thin. Her legs, ankles and bare feet reflected her overall trim figure. Her long hair caught highlights from the sun and accented her delightful appearance. She was dazzling, and inside I could feel some sparks flitting here and there as circuit breakers began tripping off the line. I turned aside; for the first time in a long winter my heart was driving me to attempt to engineer some appropriate situation in which I could make her acquaintance.
Earlier, I had decided that I would not appreciate a woman observing me from afar and then simply expecting me to fall like some ripe fruit into her hands, and that therefore the same criteria would apply in reverse should some lady catch my eye. This lady did catch my eye, and from my own resolution I determined that some overt approach to her was the only way in which I could expect at all to make a positive impression. Thus, determined and motivated, I moved at first closer and found a new position at the rail some respectful distance from her.
"The view from up here is marvelous, don't you agree?" Hardly a debonair opening, but it was perhaps sufficiently inoffensive to open a conversation.
She did not at first seem to respond, thinking perhaps that I was speaking to another.
"That mountain peak on your right, with the snow cap, is sixty miles away. It certainly seems closer from up here, doesn't it? Amazing what a little perspective will do."
It was immediately clear that I had put her in a real quandary. She did not say no, but more out of courtesy and being lady-like than anything else. There was no open indication that she was welcoming me into her life by any means.
A sidelong glance and then, rather clipped and firm: "I do not make acquaintances so casually with men." That it was an attempt to deflect my attention was clear, but equally so, somehow, was that she simply did not function in this way... she was not a pick up. She meant the statement to push me away, but it revealed to me the quality of her person, and it made me all the more determined.
"Thank you for making your position quite clear. Nor do I approach women in such a casual manner. Your graciousness speaks highly of you... and I recognize this is a very exceptional situation for you. It is for me as well." There had to be time to take a breath in there somewhere, and she had turned to look at me and for some reason my breathing had stopped.
"Then why are you doing it now?" There was a note of challenge there somehow, as if I could not be who I claimed and be doing this.
I turned to look out over the sun-drenched seascape before us, and tried to sound relaxed and non-confrontational in response. No response came to mind. So much for planning and forethought. Then, without giving it a second thought, I said somewhat off handedly, "I agree that my action is quite out of character; it feels very out of character, even now. Nevertheless, I saw no other way to resolve my dilemma."
She was quick to retort. "Dilemma? And what dilemma was that?" The hint of disbelief and challenge was still there in her tone... the conversation, however, was continuing and she was making a contribution, however unwittingly.
"My day has already seen some tremendously rewarding steps forward for me, then too the sun is out, there is music and everywhere about the beauties of nature. Along my flower-strewn path I suddenly crossed trails with an exceptionally beautiful woman. It seemed a shame, even perhaps rude or ignorant, to ignore her. If I took no initiative, however, our trails would shortly 'diverge in a yellow wood,' as Mr. Frost once wrote in a poem... and I would never even have made her acquaintance. I judged that would be... a very great loss. And so, as you see, I ventured where I have never trodden before."
She was silent for a long moment, perhaps contemplating whether my explanation held any hint of reason. I could feel her eyes boring into me, seeking out such answers as she could about who and what I might be for a man. At forty I felt still young and vigorous enough to match wits with many much younger, but wise enough to pick my battles. Mentally I was with it, more or less, and involved in things that kept me current and active. Appearance-wise I doubtless overlooked a number of deficiencies, but considered myself a reasonably high-grade specimen. The critical issue was whether she would concur. It felt uncomfortable at first, being a bug under the microscope, but then I had already done that with her and turn-about was, I supposed, fair play. Then it occurred to me that catching her attention was precisely that which I had hoped to achieve. Still, the inspection and perusal – the feelings came across very clearly – were sharp and thorough and uncompromising.
"This is very exceptional for me, I assure you." Her tone had softened a bit; and she was talking to me.
"Thank you for your assurance. It is obvious to me, now even more so than before, that this is out of the ordinary for you. Thank you for even considering making an exception." It was, nonetheless, not at all evident that she was, or would.
She made no response, and I could sense that our conversation had essentially ended. She had listened to my pitch and weighed it on the scales of... well, weighed it and evidently found it wanting. She was too much a lady to simply walk away, which would be conclusive but very rude. It was not a brush off, not exactly, yet it was a zero-response that said essentially "Thank you, but no thank you." Nor would she deign to offer any more of herself that I could in any way interpret as suggestive of the slightest interest on her part in continuing.
There was nothing more, it seemed, that I could do or say. I told myself to retain my composure and remain a gentleman and not push any more.
That left little else but to withdraw. No man feels vanquished on the field of endeavor with a woman without something of a let down, and I was beginning to feel my day, for all the promise with which it had started out, going right down the drain. Withdrawing with honor and grace is possibly one of man's most difficult and demanding maneuvers, and none of us ever do so easily... most of us never manage it at all. I leaned on the railing as the silence between us drew out to unbearable lengths, trying to appear to enjoy the spectacular view before I faced my execution.
Moving slowly away from the container terminal far below us was a large ship, loaded now and heading for the open sea. Another, also loaded, was just entering, all way off now and lying to waiting for tugs. The romance and adventure of the sea provided a welcome diversion from the indignity of my pending demise and I delayed for a moment for a last sip of refreshment before... before admitting to myself that it was... over.
"Fascinating, is it not, one arriving from a distant port, the other setting out for another... who knows where their voyage will end up taking them?" I surprised myself at having said anything. "The red one," the incoming freighter had a dull, dirty-red-painted hull streaked with running rust from a long and stormy passage, "is arriving from Far Eastern ports with textiles and piece goods; the darker one is bound for Sydney, Port Elizabeth and Europe..." I added. "It will be in Rotterdam in eight weeks time."
Why did I think she would be at all interested? The executioner's axe seemed to be falling.
"The black one has a Norwegian flag. Why it is going to Rotterdam?" There was a delightful lilt in her voice, not quite an accent perhaps, but something indescribable and unique... and pleasant. I had not caught it before, but then the defensive, stand-offish tone was now rather muted as well. Like the prisoner's last minute reprieve, I felt a new lease on life and scrambled to find a good answer to her question.
She had correctly picked out the Norwegian's colors and opened herself to further exchange. Possibly the axe was not falling after all. "She's engaged in liner service between the Pacific Rim and Europe, and Rotterdam is her listed destination. She'll be in Bergen after that for a while and then back here again in late winter." I could not focus on the ship and her business because the lady once again engaged my senses fully. I ventured a look at her again.
Her profile was classic Nordic. The breezes continued to play with her hair and the highlights of sunshine there were magical; the effect was just striking. She was beautiful... more beautiful than any man has the ability to imagine in a woman and a thousand times that for which he has any right to hope. She turned and looked at me in response. Her eyes were sheltering behind her dark glasses, but her features were fine and delicate without being weak and fragile. I noticed the very pleasant hint of some light freckles in her cheeks, and there was just the slightest trace of a smile. I would have been naïve to presume her smile meant anything at all, but at least for the moment I could construe it as an invitation to continue. That alone was more than I had thought possible.
"How is it that you know so much about ships?"
She was actually asking about me! Don't fumble this, silly, quiet down and just let the conversation develop on its own. "I've worked with them for many years, in the traffic management shop for the port authority and then with shipping brokers. Quite interesting actually, seeing all the goods moving hither and thither in gross lots and in thousands of tons... the ships' names are intriguing as well, long a fascination for me." With some trepidation I ventured a question of my own, seeking to find some opening to broader conversation. "Traveling and seeing the world is a great adventure. Have you had the chance to do some yourself?" There it was, the kicker. If she answered me at all, it would be an opening. I waited for her, almost forgetting to breathe.
It was a conscious effort on her part, a step outside her normal pattern of dealing with people.
"A little," she answered.
OK, not exactly the breakthrough at Normandy, but at least she was talking to me.
"My parents were both Danish, but we lived in Praha for many years when I was younger."
Well, a rather marvelous introduction to whatever was next to come. On the other hand, it could hardly have been less obvious that she had just skipped over the last ten years at least, the last ten years during which she may have made some long term decisions in her world; a man in her life and marriage, for example. I had already checked her hand for a ring and she wore one, but it struck me as other than a wedding ring. Hard to be sure, and I couldn't get a good look. Of these nary a word passed the mystery lady's pretty lips.
"Praha, what a marvelous city. It has been years since I was there and I could never stay long enough to savor the city worthy of its beauty and history." I thought it might spark a bit of mutual exchange of experiences in one of the world's most interesting cities, but she seemed not to hear me. I thought more about what she had said, and then about how she had said it. Her family was Danish, and the conclusion was logical that she was as well, and probably spoke the language. But she referred to the Czech city with its Czech name – Praha – and not as Prague, the German name used most commonly by speakers of Germanic languages, like Danish and English. I could guess thus that she had at least a working knowledge of conversational Czech and could think in the language. Intriguing. Not yet evident was how she came by her very smooth American English. There was a slight hint of an accent, as I mentioned, but it was muted and she passed easily for an American. Sadly, few American girls were in her class for physical beauty and basic courtesies; few girls anywhere from my experience.
What was going on here anyway? Was I getting through to her at all?
"Where is the ocean from here? I thought Seattle was on the sea coast."
Her simple beauty held me transfixed as I took in her query and realized the implication was that she was new to the area and unfamiliar with the region. When I had not answered directly she turned to me and took off her glasses with a smooth and polished, but quite natural and unaffected movement. Our eyes met and the intensity of the meeting caused her to glance downward. She suddenly didn't know what to do with herself and opened and closed her dark glasses several times.
"I'm sorry. Please excuse me for being so direct. I didn't mean to stare." I felt like I was stammering because I had embarrassed us both. "Surely I am not the first gentleman to compliment you on your extraordinary beauty. Please don't take offense; I mean it only as the most sincere compliment."
She didn't look up at me at all. "Thank you. I take no offense."
It seemed essential that I make some move to redirect our exchange and restore a bit of decorum. "The Pacific is just beyond the Olympic Mountains over there" motioning across the Sound to the west. The scenery on the coast is something to see." I had been out there several times and knew for myself how very splendid and impressive it was, and I think my enthusiasm carried over to her in my tone. She followed my gesture and I immediately noticed one of her own as she looked at the Olympics with her eyes but kept her face turned slightly in my direction. It was delightfully feminine how she tilted her head and now seemed, I thought... perhaps only imagined, to foster our conversation with this little welcoming mannerism.
"May I be so forward as to ask your name? I am Richard Kensington... but my friends call me Dace. Please tell me your name, if you would."
She paused a moment, deciding, I was sure, whether she wanted to take this plunge into the unknown. Her voice was gracious, but a little hesitant, "Karen Olesen." She pronounced it with a long "a" sound, not like an American would say it.
She was very shy and once again I had the feeling that she was a very proper and conservative young lady. If she were putting up a front she was an exceptionally good actress and knew her role perfectly. I doubted any actress could pull that off quite so well.
"And I guess my friends just call me Karen." There was a little smile adding some soft, gentle curves to her mouth. "Why do they call you Dace? I haven't heard that nickname before."
Just marvelous! Was this a definite sign of progress or what? Then our pleasant exchange was rudely interrupted by a harsh command from behind me.
Two young boys with open switch-blade knives threatened us from just a few feet away, glowering menacingly, demanding wallets, purses, jewelry and watches, and talking loud and tough. "Young boys" – well, middle to late teens; that was young to me. There were no others on the upper observation deck and the second, younger boy was intentionally blocking the access door. These were two street kids out playing at being muggers and probably thought they had us. My adrenaline was already up and pumping because of the thrill of making Karen's acquaintance. So I was primed; these two young scalawags happened upon us at the very least suitable moment for their purposes.
They obviously assumed we were together, and I somewhat cavalierly enhanced that impression by reaching for Karen's hand and pulling her closer and somewhat behind me as I faced the kids.
"Nice lookin' blade, son. What, about six inches, right?" It was not more than five, but he felt momentarily stronger that I should be impressed, and thus weaker because he showed himself susceptible to flattery. The blade danced in his hand, jabbing and waving it at me in a manner he thought would frighten me into submission, all the time repeating his demands amid gratuitous, free-flowing vulgarities.
"Look, fellas, you come up here and show me what weapons you got and tell me what I gotta do. You guys gotta do better homework. You don't know me from nobody; no idea what weapons I many be carrying, and what I can do." Slowly, now, leaving them plenty of time to absorb what I'm saying. "Pal, that ain't so smart."