Passegiatta Pt. 13byAdrian Leverkuhn©
Elsie lay in the cockpit of Goodwin's boat Springer; she was curled tightly in a ball, warding off bitter winds that had come down from the mountains just above the harbor during the night. Cold air had settled uneasily on the water, and a light snow had just begun falling when her ears perked up; she heard movement below and her little tail began thumping to the beat of waking life.
She jumped as something fell below.
"Goddamn it all! Shit! Who in their right mind would live on a Goddamn boat!"
Elsie's head tilted to one side as she listened to the old man grumbling below. She jumped again when companionway hatch slid open, but she smiled when she saw Paul Goodwin climbing up into the cockpit. He had a cup of coffee in one hand and a pipe in the other.
"Goddamn it! Snow! Fucking snow! Ain't that just fucking great!"
Elsie looked at the old man, at the ragged trails of foggy steam that wafted from his nose, then she looked away quietly, looked back into the water behind the boat.
"So. You're still here, are you?" Goodwin sat down beside Elsie and scratched her neck. The dog looked up and her smile reached him. "Well, you don't mind if I have a smoke, do you girl?" Goodwin opened his tobacco pouch and got to it, pausing once to drink some coffee.
Goodwin turned when he heard the voice, saw the young English couple in the boat next to his son's. "You say so. Seems kinda cold though. I keep seeing these posters for Sunny Italy in my mind, and somehow this don't quite jibe with that."
Malcolm Doncaster laughed. "Quite. Happens a couple of times a year. Mind you, the snow will be gone by noon, so don't let it bother you too much."
"Oh, I'm used to snow alright. Was just hoping to get a reprieve." Goodwin lit his pipe and puffed at it until satisfied he had it right. "So. You know my son? When did y'all meet up?"
"We met in Portofino. About a month ago. Our girl here seems to have adopted him."
Elsie looked at Doncaster, then at Goodwin.
"Who was that woman on the boat when I got here? Did I run her off?"
"Ah, Trudi Blixen; well, she's down below with Mary Ann right now. Yes, well, she's been staying on board since Tom – uh, well, took ill."
"Crap! I didn't mean to. . ."
"Not to bother. She has a place in Portofino, was just staying here until Paul gets back on his feet. Seems, however, that our dog won't leave his boat, and was apparently staying aboard to keep her company."
"Yes, well, it's complicated."
"Uh-huh. It's been my experience that things around here can get a bit more than complicated. And in a hurry, too."
"Indeed so," chuckled Doncaster. "Yes, quite. And perhaps more than we know. So, how about some breakfast? Scones and jam?"
Goodwin took the pipe from his mouth and tapped it against the side of the hull; burnt tobacco settled down on the water like old snow, then drifted down into the inky blackness and on out of sight. "Don't mean to be rude, but I'm going to run back to the hospital straight away."
"How's Tom doing? I haven't seen him since he was down here."
"Well, you're welcome to tag along. I could use some company."
"Really? Splendid. I'll just go check with the Admiral."
The hair on the back of the dog's neck stood on end, and she began to let slip a low growl. Goodwin turned and looked at her, saw she was looking at the water and followed her gaze. A tremulous ripple – dark gray and barely visible under the pewter stained water – gave way to winter winds and disappeared into shapelessness. Goodwin had the impression he'd been watched for some time, and though he wanted to dismiss the idea as ludicrous he knew he couldn't.
They wouldn't dare just leave me be, he told himself as he looked for echoes in the chaos.
The dog turned and looked at Goodwin, and he felt her eyes on him now. He thought she seemed skittish, almost worried, before she hopped down the companionway and disappeared into Tom's cabin.
"What the Hades is going on here?" Goodwin followed the pup below, suddenly remembering he hadn't brought any clothes for this unexpectedly cold weather.
Tom Goodwin sat up in bed and rubbed his eyes with the tops of his knuckles; the lids felt crusty and his eyes burned, but even so he felt a little better this morning. Margherita was asleep in her chair by the window and Jon Santoni was hunched over a pile of lab reports chewing on a plastic ball point pen. The hospital room was beginning to feel like home, and Goodwin knew this was not an encouraging sign.
And then there was his father.
Seeing his dad for the first time yesterday since their blowout a year ago had filled him with a tenderness he simply hadn't expected. In the past year the old man had gone from spry to beaten; he seemed like a pale copy of the man he remembered and the sense of impending mortality was palpable about him. It left Tom feeling breathless.
"I wonder how I must look to him these days?"
"You say something?" Santoni said.
"Hm-m? Oh, crap, I was just wondering how bad I look. Thinking about Dad, I guess."
"Oh? I'd say right now you two look to be brothers. In fact, I'd say he looks like your younger brother."
"Thanks a lot, dickhead."
"Well, we aim to please."
"Yeah? Well, if I have to eat any more frozen hospital lasagna you can wheel my ass down to the morgue. Crap, I thought American hospital food was shit, but y'all got bad food down to a science in this place!"
"Tom! Look out the window! You want good food, try that place right over there. They make a carbonara that will make you weep it's so good."
"Yeah? Fine. Eat spaghetti and cry. Great. What's your point?"
"The point, Tom," Margherita interjected, "is to get well enough to rejoin the world." She yawned and stretched and sat up in her chair.
"Exactly!" Santoni chimed in. "Look out that window, Tom. The world's still out there, waiting!"
"Geesh, guys! Does it look like I've given up or something?"
"I wasn't so sure a few days ago, Tom."
Goodwin looked at Santoni and frowned. "How did my dad look to you?"
"Like he could whip your ass."
"Really? I thought he looked kinda rough around the edges."
"When I'm eighty seven I hope I'm that rough."
"He's a pistol, alright."
"Tom, he's a fucking cannon. A force of nature. You know, that makes me wonder? Are you sure he's your father?"
"Fuck off," Goodwin said while he started laughing, then he turned to Margherita. "Did he say he would come back this morning?"
"Oh, si, yes, he said first thing. I think when he saw you he was most afraid, Tom. You slept for a long time, while he was here."
"I don't really remember talking to him. Just his eyes. How tired he looks. Old."
"Just point of view, Tom," Santoni said. "From over here you look as old as the Coliseum."
"You know, when I get out of this bed I'm gonna have to beat you senseless."
"That'll be the day."
Goodwin swung his feet from the bed as he pushed himself up. He turned pale and started to sweat; Santoni came over and held Goodwin up.
"Easy now. Deep breaths, Tom. Slow, deep breaths."
"Well," Goodwin said between gasps, "you're safe. At least this morning."
"Sure, sure," Santoni said as he slapped his friend on the back. "There is one thing we really need to do this morning, Tom. And I mean this."
"We need to get you into the shower. Fast. And maybe Margherita could find some cologne."
"Swell. Just swell. And here I thought it was you stinking up the place."
Maria Theresa walked along the quay with Vico as the last of the night's light snow drifted down on waiting stone. She watched flakes as they hit and melt and thought of all her life's hopes and dreams. Were they so dissimilar? So proud in flight, so resilient in that moment of contact, and then, what – nothing? Was there really only nothingness waiting after dissolution? Could dreams survive?
She felt Vico's arm around her shoulder, felt his love as it had always been. Steadfast, almost eternal. Patient.
"There is a reckoning coming, my old friend," she said to him at last.
"Did you see Paul?"
"Yes. He seems as young as yesterday."
"Ah. As do you." She looked at dark striated clouds scudding silently, quickly through the treetops on the hillside. Everything felt close inside this gray dawn; it was as if the village had drawn inward protectively around itself – as if to avoid being caught in the rush just overhead. Even the stones they walked upon seemed to have withdrawn from the streaming current, and Maria Theresa felt the world had turned in on itself and all that remained was held inside ambivalent shades of gray.
"What do you want to do?" Vico asked.
"About?" She walked slowly now, quietly. She wanted to grab onto a cloud and fly away.
"About?" he asked while trying not to laugh. "Perhaps I should not have asked."
"Yes, perhaps." She stopped and looked out past the harbor to the cape, to the darkness there, that darkness always waiting. Were there answers to be found? Would she find them here, among these men who had defined her life? Or would the answers find her.
"Would you like me to take the boys into Genoa today?"
Perhaps it would be best, she said to herself, to stop looking for answers. What if by trying all my life to look for life I simply avoided my answers; what if sometimes life has to come looking?
And could it be that some experience was so ephemeral, so slight, that even after flying among the clouds he was left to wonder . . . was that real . . . or was it all simply an illusion?
"You, Maria? Can I take you to see him?"
She turned and looked up at this friend, at his blue-gray eyes and at the last strands of auburn in his wild silver hair. She put her hand on his face and felt his skin, the lines she had watched march across his face seemed as familiar to her as the trails on the hills outside the village. "You always loved me."
"The let him come to me. Or not."
"And the boys? If he chooses not to come, what of them?"
She shrugged as if dismissing the impossible, then turned toward the black water and walked to its edge. She leaned over and looked down as silver echoes washed against the stone. There in dancing fragments she saw scattered bits of her reflection suspended over infinity, little shimmering echoes of time cast aside to drift for a while before fading away into the night.
She smiled, then watched as they drifted away silently into the snow.
Paul Goodwin stood outside the head looking at his reflection while he knotted his old red bow tie, then he looked down at his hands. Age spots and yellow fingernails, white scars from a couple of skin cancers removed from the back of his right hand – everything about these hands said they were his – but they didn't belong here anymore. He still saw his hands resting on the black Boeing yoke, still felt a tenuous link to those old 747s his hands had guided for more than a decade.
"Getting old is the silliest thing in the world, girl, and don't let anyone tell you different." He heard the pup move, knew she was looking at him. He focused on finishing the knot before turning to meet her gaze. "You know, you remind me of Sarah. That's her on the wall there." He pointed at the painting and looked at it again; he always looked at it – and it always tore him up.
He hadn't had a dog since growing up on his parent's farm outside New London, and in a fit of nostalgia one day he'd came home with a little Springer pup, a male so patently clumsy, so patiently good natured, the only name he ever thought to call him was Ody. Doris had immediately fallen in love with the beast and insisted on getting Ody a female companion and, dogs being dogs and less inclined to follow the more inane social conventions of others along the Connecticut shore, the two decided to pop out litter after litter of little brown and white puff-balls every other year.
Ody and Lady grew into a force of nature, they held the Goodwin's marriage together, gave both Doris and himself no small measure of joy and, in the end, more than a little purpose. With Tom on his own and retirement proving to be an unendurable bore, Goodwin threw himself into whelping boxes and one day finally built a real honest to Pete kennel. He started to train Lady and took her to a show once, but hated all the stilted pompousness and preening, self-centered dogs. In the end he took to the fields with them both and simply let them do as nature intended. Though the farm had fewer than two hundred acres they roamed the woods together ceaselessly.
Sarah had been the first pup from the first litter, and Tom had been home visiting when she popped out into the world. Lady had chewed the umbilical too close and the newborn had started to bleed out. Doris had called and Tom came, looked things over for an instant, then disappeared as quickly as he'd come. He came back a moment later with hemostats and suture and stitched the wound shut, and from that moment on Sarah had been his. He had been the first to hold her, first to pick her up and feel her soft tongue on his nose, and it had been love at first bite. Two months later she was at her new home in Houston, if, Goodwin thought, that glittering glass and steel box could rightfully be called home, but Tom slipped into the physician's groove and time passed quickly.
Ody found a rattlesnake one afternoon and Goodwin held him while the vet put him down. Goodwin held his friend so tightly as he passed, he cried so long and hard into the nights that followed that even Lady couldn't console him. Goodwin grew distant for a while; when winter came he started taking Lady for long walks again, but everything was different now. He rejoined the living but seemed to keep everyone at a distance. When Lady passed a few years later, Goodwin had insulated himself from his emotions so completely he didn't say a word when she didn't come for him at four in the morning to go outside.
Doris wanted to get another pair but he wouldn't have it. She consequently reacquainted herself with Jack Daniels and he found a rocking chair on the front porch to call his own. Each in their respective corner, they waited uneasily for the match to resume.
Then Tom moved to New York, and Tom brought Sarah.
Now Goodwin looked down at Elsie and saw Sarah and Lady staring back at him. All that love and devotion. . . where did it go? It was, Goodwin saw, as if it had been passed intact from one being to the next, like genetic memory drifting on intercontinental breezes connecting yesterday and tomorrow.
The hair on Elsie's neck stood on end and she bounded up the companionway steps and right down onto the snow covered swim platform; Goodwin followed her through the cockpit and leaned over the rail.
It was Two Scar. He stood motionless in the water and looked up at Goodwin. Elsie pawed at the water and the dolphin eased closer to the transom; Goodwin climbed over the rail and down onto the platform, then knelt there looking into those black eyes and he soon felt as if he was drifting in time. He could smell Hell's Belles on fire again, could hear screams rippling through the foul air as bullets tore into the nose of the Liberator, and he could feel the storm roiled air as his parachute opened so briefly – and he was falling again, falling into the sea. Drifting down, drifting down into that other world. And there he had been, this savior, this friend.
He reached down and rubbed the top of Scars beak, and the dolphin's body leaned slightly into the sea before spinning slowly, spinning as if in remembrance, as if in homage to other meetings, other days. Then the dolphin stopped and looked into Goodwin's eyes again. There was sadness in Scar's eye, and Goodwin was immediately filled with an awareness of vast time passing, of time rapidly passing from reach.
The small female, she of the wounded eye, appeared beside Scar and looked at Goodwin before pushing the male aside. Goodwin leaned in as she lifted to meet him; he reached for her as she placed her nose on his shoulder and he whispered to her as she hovered. Two Scar circled slowly for a moment, then slid beneath the water and was gone; the old girl drifted back and looked at Goodwin almost longingly, as if there was more that needed to be said, but she too slipped beneath silvered ripples and was gone.
"It's alright, Lady," Goodwin said, still drifting on nether currents. "Everything's alright now." He scratched Elsie's head for a moment as memory washed over feeling, as union and reunion coalesced in dancing water. He looked down, saw his reflection on the soft contours of the still water and reached down to touch it.
He saw Maria Theresa's face as he got closer to the water. He saw her soft smile waiting – just at the edge of memory. His hand dipped into the water and she disappeared.
Tom stood under the shower and let hot water beat down on his neck; he felt weak, dizzy, and the bed seemed to call out to him. He leaned into the wall and took a deep breath.
"Are you alright in there?" Santoni called from the main room.
"I feel like shit," Goodwin said weakly.
"Well, at least you won't smell like it," Jon said as he came into the bathroom. "Wrist."
Goodwin stuck his arm out from behind the vinyl enclosure and felt his friend take his pulse. "Jon, I don't feel right."
"Yeah, let's get you back in the sack."
"How was the LFP?"
"Uh, gee, think you could be a little more specific?"
"I think you ought to take a couple of pictures of my heart."
"What are you thinking."
"Uh-huh. What vector?"
"Man, you're sure a talkative son of a bitch today."
"Hand me a towel, would you?"
"You feeling light headed?"
"No, Jon, I'm feeling cold. I need a towel, and I need someone to turn up the heat in this mausoleum. Geesh, how old is this building, anyway?"
"Have you felt your carotids?"
"No. Have you?"
"Yeah, and we did a transthoracic echocardiogram last night. Had to put you out for a while."
"You're right, as always. Endocarditis, probably nosocomial, at least using the Duke Criteria, and there's some growth on the right side valves."
"That's great. Just great. Add Penicillin yet?"
"In your last bag."
"No wonder I feel like crap. What about the . . ."
"It's not responding well, either."
"Did you talk to Margherita?"
"Yes. But I think she knew already."
"So that's it. Wow, help me back to the bed, will you?"
Tom looked at Margherita as he shuffled back into the room; he could see she had had a tough night. Her eyes were puffy and red and the smile she wore seemed forced. He sat down on the edge of the bed and took a deep breath.
"I'm glad you're here. Both of you," he managed to say as he lay back on the bed. The back of his head still seemed almost afire as he felt the cool sheets touch his neck, and he looked up at the ceiling for a while, then out the window. "Is it snowing?"
"Yes," Margherita said. "It has been since the middle of the night."
"Jon, we've got some work to do. Do you want to go in and clean the valve?"
"Let's give the meds a chance to work. That's my first advice. And do another round of Vancomycin. Let's give it a week and see."
"Alright. Margherita? What about you?"
"Do you want to sit here while I do this?"
She looked away, suddenly unsure of herself, afraid she was about to be sent away again. "I don't want to leave you, Tom. Not ever."
"Jon, see if we can get a rollaway in here. She can't sleep in a chair forever."