Good Byes and Yesterdays
His eyes were glassy, thick with tears that would never come. He held out his hand to me and for the first time in my life I was afraid to take it. I knew it would be for the last time. He grabbed my hand hard and held it there for a second until I could feel his remaining strength. The tube in his neck that prevented him from talking coughed a mucous filled snort and trickles of blood trailed out of his trachea. Time was so short now. He motioned for the children’s toy pad he used to write with. I picked it up and lifted the plastic sheet to give him a clean surface to write on. His snarl and that look of “you idiot” he always had when he was teasing me about some dumb mistake I made, told me I goofed again. He wanted me to read what he had written. He grabbed the stylus and began to write with his shaky hand.
“You’ve always been smarter than the rest. But you made a mistake leaving that girl behind. You left the space program for the right reasons… but now you have to use that brain…..”
His hand stopped but I knew what he was trying to say so I finished it out loud for him, “for more than fixing outboard motors and fishing”. He nodded, smiled and winced from the pain and more blood trickled from his neck. He and I had never spoken about me leaving the propulsion lab. I just figured he would not understand but evidently my sister had been providing more than just her nursing skills.
It flashed back in my mind.
We were in a large conference room… too large for the few people in it. There were three American military men fully decked out in uniform complete with medals like they were supposed to mean something to me. They all had grey hair but were otherwise in great shape. They kind of looked like triplets and I almost laughed at them for their rigid demeanour. My boss, Tom Arnold (no relation), was head of the lab and a person who had gone out of his way to make me comfortable in my stay in Florida. He was heavy set and balding…looking far more worried than any multi millionaire should ever look.
In the middle of the room seated at the middle of the table with her white blouse too far open to be considered professional was a petite lovely young woman with weepy eyes that when you looked close at them, sparkled between blue and sometimes green, my propulsion engine project team-leader. She and I had an often too flirty relationship and I had come to regard her as a close friend.
I would have been pining for more under different circumstances but she was just fresh out of school and I had been working on the space program for almost her entire life. Well, that and she was kind of out of my league. When she smiled, she was breathtakingly stunning and I was well… unarmed. I assumed she was there for my benefit…to make me feel like I wasn’t being persecuted. The uniformed men all sat rigid and left the arguments to my boss.
“Look Davis we have no choice…they…” pointing at the military boys, “…supply the money for this project…” my boss’ round face turned purple as he argued a point that he knew I would never accept.
“They are my designs and I will not have them used for weapons of destruction … mass or otherwise,” I argued back.
“These men here represent the US government and they have paid for the development of your designs,” my boss yelled back.
“I am Canadian, so I don’t give a crap if the President of your country is here, they are my designs and I will not have them used for any other purpose other than what you agreed to, which was to send people to Mars faster than any of your people ever thought was possible before.” I was fuming.
“And your design will be used to go to Mars but we can’t do that without money,” my bosses colour came back and he calmed down. “We give these guys what they want and they give us money to complete our project,” he said calmly.
“I can’t be part of killing people, Tom”. “Please,” I pleaded. “Don’t let them do this.”
“It’s done, you can’t do anything about it Davis except finish the project and help us use it for what it you intended it for,” the lovely young woman… the woman I thought was my friend… interjected blind-siding me with her support for the military application of the design she helped me work on. It hit me like a knife and I could barely think.
My boss spoke to her like I was invisible now. “So, Ms. Larsen do you feel that you and your team can finish the project without Dr. Davis here?”
“It will be harder, but yeah I think we can…..”
The rest of what Larsen said faded in to pain. She turned on me and stabbed me in the back and in the heart, all at the same time. I thought she and I had a connection…an understanding…something.
We had fun working together. We laughed all the time and Larsen was one of those people who produced tears when she laughed hard enough, so I tried to out do myself each day. She was playful and fun taking my constant innuendo, which would have sent most people screaming to the sexual harassment office, as if it was a new joke.
When we hung out after work we both remarked about how neither of us had that much fun before… taunting and teasing until we had to leave as we both had separate ways to go. At one point, she asked one of those cryptic questions about my feelings, whatever they are and I just reminded her that, as my father always said, “Never ask a question you don’t want an answer to.” I was a scientist, not a Hallmark Card. I couldn’t have feelings. Just because my serotonin levels were out of whack when I was around her didn’t mean I …
“I mean I know that you know how I feel and down deep I think I know better than even you how you feel; if either of us felt anything, which of course we do not.” She laughed at my pretended rejection of human emotions. “So I know that you know…you know? Like every human being that craves socialization into a harmonious pair bond, I want to hear it, just once, but it changes everything and it changes nothing.” As cryptic and confusing as it was, we both understood and we never spoke of our “feelings” again.
My separate way, as I called my girlfriend, crashed and burned…seems I was having too much fun with a co-worker. She left me and I hardly even noticed because I couldn’t wait to get back to work and see Larsen. To try and figure it out, I called my Dad and I told him all about her and he said if he didn’t know better he’d say, I had surrendered to the ‘human pair bonding ritual’ referring to something I wrote as a kid about how love didn’t exist.
It doesn’t … I was right. I never spoke to Larsen again. Even thinking her name causes me to relive a betrayal and the feeling of stupidity… how could I think she felt something for me? How could I have been so wrong?
I left Florida that night hoping to never think of those people again. I flew back to Canada, rented a car and drove to the small town of Portland on Big Rideau Lake near Ottawa and started working at my Dad’s small marina. It had 15 or 20 small motorboats and a few sailboats all tied to floating docks that seemed to spring from the heavy evergreen trees that almost obscured the small marine garage where I fixed small engines, an office and the house behind it. I had a bit of money saved up and I wasn’t in any hurry to see my inventions used to slaughter innocent people again.
Boats are simple and boaters can be trusted.
A few weeks after I got home I caught my Dad coughing up blood and was having trouble speaking. Despite his reluctance, I took him to the hospital. The Doctors kept telling him there was nothing wrong with him until the last Doctor did an exploratory surgery on his neck. I never got to hear my dad’s voice again; they left a trachea tube in his voice box and told me he had a few weeks to live. They asked me if I wanted to tell him or if they should. I said I would tell him…it would be better coming from me. I wanted to run away…even the lab was better than this but I had to do it.
“Hey Dad,” he turned to me and smiled, “the news is not good, you have oesophageal cancer and the time is very short.” I felt the bubbling of emotion and I nearly died myself when he wrote down on a piece of paper,
“Any hope at all?”
I just shook my head. He waved good bye ironically with a forced smile and wrote,
“Here till I die?”
Meaning did he have to stay in the hospital until the end?
“No… no you’re not,” and I picked up my cell and called my sister and asked if she could get away for a while.
They had always had a strained relationship so I figured she would be less than eager to look after him now. Nevertheless, she agreed to come out to the house and stay until the end. The hospital and everyone said we couldn’t take him home but we insisted and spent the next 6 weeks tending to his every need…….
I had never believed in euthanasia but when my sister the nurse said my Dad, my friend…my strength, was going to haemorrhage to death and drown in his own blood; my beliefs were shot to hell.
“Its time” is all she said. But it sounded like a warden getting the final word that there was no reprieve and the execution would proceed. She would give him enough Morphine that he might not know anything at all until his heart stopped.
“Wait!” is all I could say.
“Rob, would you really want him to die by drowning in his own blood? We agreed to this a long time ago when we said we would take him home to be with us…until his last day… today. Please let him have his dignity.”
Even 6 weeks later it was still strange to hear someone call me by my first name. My sister, Joan, was less than subtle but I had to tell him one more thing…or maybe I was trying to buy him time. Even I didn’t know. Dad looked at me and then motioned to Joan to proceed. The tears I had not shed during the 10 weeks of 24-hour-a-day chronic care, boosting his oxygen levels, feeding him through a stomach tube, cleaning his trachea and keeping his spirits up, suddenly started to spill out.
I was never what you would call emotional. These might be the first tears I had shed since I was 5 but my emotions were leaking like they had spilled over my control line and I was powerless to suppress them.
I wanted to explain about what all happened with the girl, my life, but there was no time for that now. He grabbed my hand and shook it like he was saying goodbye to an acquaintance and then let me go. Joan was crying now and her hands shook so badly that I had to help her give him the injection. No matter how I felt, this is what he wanted and I did not have the right to deny him that. I could see his instant reaction of relaxation after the injection and we shut off the oxygen and waited. There was a deafening silence as we listened to hear each breath and wondered if it was his last.
Joan wanted to distract me from discussing what we just did and I was relived to talk about anything else no matter how painful it was. “So tell me about this girl Dad was talking about,” she asked. We both spoke quietly so as literally not to wake the dead to a pain and a scene neither of us could comprehend.
“Did you ever meet someone you had an instant rapport with?” I asked.
“Yeah, I guess so,” is all she offered like she wasn’t really interested.
“Well Larsen and I had in instant but odd connection. Differences in time and age meant nothing as I teased her relentlessly about her poor choice of words and hillbilly expressions. We didn’t talk that much face to face; most of our conversations were over the company chat line. I was glad of that. She had a smile that could disarm a battalion. Her eyes sparkled between hues of blue and green as they filled with mischief and playfulness. She would innocently ask something like ‘how much thrust does this thing have?’ And I would respond, ‘how much thrusting do you need?’ She laughed easily without concern over the rights and wrongs of conversations between co-workers. It was like I could never go too far and I could turn everything into a joke. For the first time in my life I was having what other people might call fun. She seemed to love it and teased me back as often as she could. I couldn’t wait to go to work just to hear what she was going to say next.”
“You may recall, I had a girlfriend, Tanya, who hated my guts but so long as Larsen was around, I didn’t even care about that.” By the look on Joan’s face I guess she didn’t know about Tanya either. It really had been a long time since we talked. “Tanya had accepted my lack of profound emotion and scientific rationalizations but seeing me give those emotions, which I claimed I didn’t have, so freely to someone else was too much for her. Eventually she left me and I don’t even recall if she said goodbye. Larsen was all I cared about and even the thrust mechanisms of the propulsion unit were a backdrop to my feelings for her. A cheap excuse to spend time discovering who I really was for the first time.”
“So, you were in love with her then,” Joan said simply trying to boil the conversation down to nothing.
“No, of course not! I just got used to her and how she made me feel. Its normal to long for things you can’t have, isn’t it?” I asked rhetorically. I understand the affect her youthful exuberance can have on someone like me trying to recapture his youth. Her rampant pheromones caused stimulation to my neurons and the effect of which was euphoric. Obviously, it was one sided and “the feelings” if you want to call them that will fade. Like a million other men I just got it wrong.” I said it more to convince myself that Joan.
“So, if she walked through that door and pledged her undying love?” Joan was teasing now.
“I would know that she was lying. She loved her boyfriend. She loved her work and she loved my designs. I guess I just misunderstood; she loved what was in my mind. I just let my fired-up testosterone levels from her too-low-cut shirts and captivating delicate features dominate my thinking. It happens. I just wish it would never have happened to me. She did rescue me from Tanya though so I guess I could thank her for that. But love? No, more obsession than love. I think the best way to describe it is an addiction to a drug you can never get enough of until it kills you.” I declared to my own pain and simultaneous satisfaction.
Joan wasn’t buying it. “Get over it Rob. You were in love with her. Obsession is selfish and I don’t think you are a selfish person. I think emotionally you are a 38-year-old three-year-old who couldn’t admit to love because it made him vulnerable. She had you and you hated her power over you so you bolted.” Joan didn’t pull any punches.
“Haven’t you been listening? She betrayed me!” I said too loud.
“Did you get an explanation? Did you ask her why? Did you even tell her you had feelings for her? No, No and No,” Joan answered her own rhetorical questions. Maybe she did all that to force you to get angry and admit your feelings. But you ran away. So, little brother…you blew it!”
Joan was fierce in her condemnation and I wondered what happened to her to make her feel that way. But more I had to ask myself if there was a chance that she was right? All this time it had been easy to blame Larsen and pretend I was running away for my own honour but now I was wondering if I wasn’t trying to hide from my own feelings. I hated Joan for this but I loved her for telling me.
There was a long silence and then Joan opened up. “I was in love once. That is how I know how Larsen feels. This girl was tall, blond an amazing body…most guys would have killed for a minute with her but she was a dyke like me……What?” Joan asked as my mouth dropped in shock.
I had no idea.
“You knew I was Lesbian, right?”
I just shook my head
“Oh, my god Rob, you even walked in on me and my girlfriends when you were a kid. Didn’t you think it was odd I was kissing them? Let alone the fact I am in my 40s, don’t have kids and you’ve never seen me with a man. You can’t be that dense!” Joan said laughing at me
I felt retarded. I did see them kissing and touching each other but I just thought she was playing around practising for a boy. “I honestly had no idea. I just thought you were career driven.” We both laughed at how stupid I had been then the reality of us laughing with our Dad dying beside us brought us back to a quick sombre reality.
“Anyway,” Joan continued, “She was gorgeous and everybody wanted her. She was so far out of my league that I didn’t even think to take a shot. But she started flirting with me, a lingering hand on the shoulder, a poke in the side even a slap on the bum as I walked away. It was clear she wanted to go slumming and I was her slum-lord. I was drawn to her but so was everybody so even then I didn’t pay much attention. I just figured she wanted to play around. Once when she dropped by my office, she ran right up and kissed me on the cheek and I think she was turning to my lips when I laughed. I mean this gorgeous girl could never want me, right?” Joan asked rhetorically.
I wanted to intervene with some brotherly input but she waved me on like the queen passing in her car.
Joan was crying as she continued, “She must have taken my laugh as a rejection because she stopped being as flirty. Then one day she came in to the office looking very serious and shut the door. She got a job offer in Toronto and was asking me if she should take it. After she explained the offer to me I told her it was too good to pass up. She left my office looking rejected. All I really wanted to tell her was, ‘I want you to stay here with me,’ but I thought that was too selfish. She gave her notice and the next two weeks were about her leaving and I feigned excitement for her. The reality was it was killing me inside ‘cause I would always wonder if that kiss had turned into something real, if she would have stayed. On her last day, I kissed her on her cheek again but I closed my eyes so she couldn’t see the pain. We chatted forever and then she drove away. I have never stopped thinking about her. I wish I had betrayed her like Larsen did to you to try and get her to admit something or told her how I felt at least. She was raped and murdered 24 days after she got to Toronto. That playful personality, the beautiful face and body, destroyed by a maniac. I told her in email how much I missed her but I never told her the rest and now I never will.”
The silence continued for a long time as both thought of what Joan said. I want to run to the phone and tell Larsen that I was in love with her but there was still too much hurt there.
It was hours before his breathing stopped and Dad was gone. I had never felt so alone and yet for the first time in my life I was never surer there was an eternal truth to existence. This can’t be it. There must be more to this universe than the random particles of matter that somehow coalesced into becoming cognisant beings. At that moment, despite my scientific teachings and empirical sense of truth, I needed to believe there was a god and somehow my father was as special to Him as he had been to me.
Joan and I had never really been close as children. She was older and out of the house by the time I was 10. Nevertheless, we held each other like the closest of siblings. We were orphans now and no matter how we felt about one another, we were the only real family either of us really had. Our mother disappeared when I was 14. Most people think she drowned in the lake and the body just never surfaced. The police and the military searched for days and days and gradually any faint hope we had that she might come barging through the door dissipated over the years. My father never gave up hoping and really never went on with his life because, “Helen might come home and find no one here, how would we explain that?”
She never did nor would she ever. It took me a while to accept it …years really. Joanie on the other hand some how knew Mom was gone forever the minute I called her that night. She sensed something was wrong before I even called.
I was trapped in hope and I hated Joan for not hoping. Each Christmas I would set a place for Mom but Joanie would always clear it away and tell me to “grow up…she’s gone… get over it!” I knew but I didn’t want to know. It’s like when a relationship breaks up and you sit by the phone, wondering why they don’t call. You know its over and they are not going to and yet…you cling to the hope until time eventually reminds you it’s really over.
I called the extra mural hospital Doctor, the police and funeral director. The police arrived first and waited for the on-call Doctor to say there was no foul play. To be truthful I had forgotten that what we did might have been considered a crime. When the Doctor came she simply said it was good that we got a healthy dose of morphine into him when we did as his lungs were filled with blood, and his death might have been much violent had we not been so ‘on the ball’. There wasn’t even a wink in the sound of her voice. Joan was relieved as that might have been the end of her nursing career. But the Doctor and the police were satisfied.
When the mortuary came to take the body, it was much more traumatic than I thought it would be. He was dead and they were waltzing off with a cadaver and yet it felt so real when they put him in the body bag, threw him on a stretcher and wheeled him away. For the first time, I realised he was leaving the house and never coming back.
It was a quiet and dignified service and I think most of the people there didn’t even know who he was. We had him cremated and even though it’s against the law, mysteriously his ashes fell out of my motorboat in the middle of the lake. He’s always said that is where he wanted to be, just in case Mom was waiting there for him. Then Joanie and I hit the throttle and drove one end of the lake to the other and back again at over 80 miles per hour. It’s a fast boat. Next to the old wooden 26 foot Grew Cabin Cruiser, it was Dad’s favourite and I could see why. The beauty of going that speed is there will be tears on your face anyway and the water bounces up and washes them away.
Having driven back and forth between lower Rideau and Big Rideau so many times I couldn’t count, night had fallen and I didn’t even notice. It was the first time I had looked up at he stars since I came back. It was a clear night and you could see each one glowing in the black night sky. There was a slight wind and the boat rose gently in the water and lowered with a slight splash. I cut the engine and through out the anchor. It caught nicely and I just looked up.
Joan looked up too and said, “So this is your office?”
“Well it was. Now every damn star reminds me of missiles with my name on them and rockets that will never break 30,000 and…..”
“Larsen!” Joan fished my sentence for me.
“Yeah. I can’t fight it Joanie why can’t I just move on?” I asked not really expecting an answer.
“No one ever does Rob. But believe it or not it does get easier…after a long time. Not to change the subject but what is happening in the stars? I keep seeing flashes and then what looks like satellites moving through the sky.” Joan was curious
“I see it too and frankly I have no idea. It looks like the flashing of engine fire on some of the satellites but we would never be able to see that from here. Ah well whatever it is…. maybe its some nukes with cool new engines ready to rain down on us. Now that would be a thrill.” I said only mildly sarcastically. Truth is I wish that was exactly what the phenomenon was. I would never commit suicide but right now I yearned for death.
“Joan reminded me, “You would never be that lucky.”
We spent the next few hours watching the light show and then went back to port and drank Southern Comfort in the kitchen of the house and talked about lost love until the dawn broke through the window and told us to go sleep it off. “To Dad,” we both toasted over and over again until we were both toasted. At some point in the night the lack of sleep and the alcohol made us both giddy and Joan randomly confessed, “You want to know something?”
“Sure,” I said half crying and laughing wondering what she was going to say next.
“I’ve never slept with a man,” Joan said completely at random. “I mean I am a lesbian so I guess I am not a virgin cause I have slept with girls. I’ve slept with a lot of girls but I have never slept with a man.” Joan confessed while taking a huge gulp of Southern.
“You know what?” I asked half laughing.
“What?” Joan asked after a long drunken pause waiting for the punch-line.
“I’ve never slept with a man either…” and we both laughed so hard we fell on the floor. After a long time of looking at each other and starting to laugh hysterically again. “But…but I can go you one better, “I said still laughing. “Not only have I never been in love, which you knew already…. I mean I have had lots of unrequited crushes which I guess you could call love, albeit a bit one sided…” I was randomly going all over the place and I couldn’t even remember what I was saying. “What was I saying?”
“You said you had never been in love or that you had been in love but it was one sided,” Joan offered amazingly remembering what I was talking about.
“Right…That’s right. I have never loved anyone who loved me back so I guess you could call that emotional masturbation…” We both laughed for what seemed like hours still on the floor under the kitchen table like we were kids in a fort. “Now I know what you’re thinkin’ What about Tanya?” I asked guessing what she might be thinking.
“Well no but ok what about Tanya?”
“Tanya loved scientists. She was smart but she really got turned on by intellect. She was involved with another scientist who was married when I got to Florida and I think she went back to him after she left me. She loved me doting on her. She loved me serving her every need. She just didn’t love me at all. But here is the best part, she didn’t believe in open mouth kissing. So, I am 38 years old and have never really kissed a girl,” sobering up long enough to finally deliver the end of the confession story. Joanie was laughing at me now and as pathetic as it was I was laughing with her.
Time went on until finally I asked her about Mom. “Why wouldn’t you let me set a place for her at Christmas or even let me think she might come home? I really wanted to believe that after she disappeared she might just walk through the door.” I was accusing her but I was mostly curious.
“For Dad. It broke his heart when Mom disappeared. Like you I wanted her to walk through that door but even after a few days I knew. See I knew something at 18 that a 10-year-old didn’t. As odd as this sounds, the two of them really loved each other. She would never stay away from him or from you unless she was really gone. Dad and I had our problems but I could never let him think that the woman he adored didn’t love him enough to come home. ..Not even at Christmas. He was hurting too much already. I loved the old bastard you know.” Joan was full out crying now. After a few minutes of watching her tears and wondering if mine would ever come she began again, “He loved you… you know. He was so proud of you. Robby is going to MIT. Robby got his PHd in physics and chemistry. Robby’s inventions got patented. Robby came home and made an outboard engine in to a jet. Robby has gone to for the Rocket Propulsion lab to do something with magnetic induction and thrust amplification. I was proud too baby brother but you made my Masters of Nursing look like a ‘I used the potty certificate’ at day care.” Joan unloaded her baggage and I think we both felt closer.
“Sorry! Its funny you know because all I ever heard was how well Joan was doing. Joan saves lives. Joan got a Masters in Nursing and now she is running a hospital. Its too bad he could tell both of us how proud he was of us to our faces.”
“Yeah but that was him.” Joan threw in
“Yeah I’ll miss that too.”
With the light shining too brightly through the window we both crawled up off the floor and bounced off the walls to our rooms. My sister and I had become friends after all these years.
They say the profound sadness becomes a dull ache in time, I wish I knew when. The memories of my Dad are everywhere. I can see and hear him as I look at the places he worked and lived. It’s not so much about the things he said since most of his conversations through my life were grunts of acknowledgment. “Can I give you a hand? I’d ask… “Uh huh” he’d say and then motion with his hand what he wanted me to do. I’d give anything to hear a simple grunt now.
After a few days, I realised that life had to go on. The boats still needed fuel and fixing and a dead father seemed to be a meagre excuse for most of the people who relied on us for their amusement. I loved these people normally but their chronic insensitivity to my pain in the face of getting gas for their pleasure boats was pissing me off.
The solution to my dilemma walked through the door of the marine office just as I was thinking I did not want to do this anymore. She was tall, statuesque and stunning with long flowing dark hair that had a gentle curl. The man in me fought desperately not to stare at the perfectly perky pair of boobs barely covered by a Canadian maple leaf patterned bikini top or the tiny blue jean shorts. She caught me looking and just offered a soft gentle laugh that let me know that she wasn’t upset or uptight. She told me a few days later that she expected to be looked at when she dressed like that. If she were a knight that outfit would be her armour. It made her feel powerful and probably hated by every female on the planet.
Her voice was soft and relaxed as she said, “Hi Davis.” She acted like she knew me but for the life of me I couldn’t place her. But she seemed awfully familiar.
“Maybe you don’t remember me; I am Jack’s daughter ….”
“Mandy,” I interrupted finally making the connection. Jack was my Dad’s closest friend. He lived on an island in the lake with his second wife whose name I could never remember. He had been at the funeral but there was no way I would have missed Mandy, grieving or not. The last time I saw her she was 11 and she and her Mom were moving away to Perth. Seems Jack found a new model who couldn’t have been much older than Mandy who had to be 20ish by now. ..A classic mid life crisis gone wrong. Jack used to hang out here all the time but his new wife wouldn’t be caught dead in a grease pit like this. My Dad missed him no matter how much of a cad he thought he was, Jack was his best friend.
“Wow, I can’t believe you remembered me after all these years,” Mandy said wondering how.
“Well it was difficult because I thought you had moved away …. The last time I saw you was…..”
“Yeah, I remember,” Mandy interrupted not wanting to relive the pain. “But I spend my summers with Jack and Lois,” The way she pronounced her stepmothers name and referred to her father as Jack pretty much told me that time had not healed every wound. “Anyway, I just wanted to come by and tell you how sorry I was about Rod’s ……passing,” there was a long pause as she searched for the right word. It’s funny but this was the first time since the funeral that anyone had used my Dad’s name. It felt strange. Not only had my Dad died but a real person called Roderick Davis had died too. Mandy started again before the awkwardness could continue. “Anyhow, Jack wanted me to ask if you needed any help. I don’t know much about marine engines but I can catch a rope or pump the gas…well after you show me… and you don’t have to pay me,” Mandy added clearly hoping I would not agree to that last part.
“I would love to have you working here. I can’t pay you a lot but I am sure we could work something out.” I said truly hoping to just toss the whole damn Marina in her lap and walk away. Mandy seemed like fun, a bit wild and so full of life, she would be a welcome change from the environment of death we had going on for the last 12 weeks or so.
I took her to meet Joan even though Joan really didn’t have a say in the matter. She was family and I felt obligated to include her in things. Joan took one look at her and said out loud, “Holy crap she’s gorgeous.” Then she said in my ear, “If you don’t sleep with her, I will.” I knew she was mostly joking but I thought I better spoil the party before I found out for sure.
“Ah Joan, this is Mandy….” “Jack’s daughter,” Joan said sounding a bit disappointed.
Mandy was a bit confused but smiled happily anyway. Mandy, Joan and I sat down at the kitchen table with Joan still salivating despite the fact Mandy was the daughter of our Dad’s best friend. She was young enough to be Joan’s daughter and I realised that ‘damn it she was young enough to be my daughter too’. Of course, she was just a year or two younger than Larsen. I felt like slapping myself silly for even thinking it. Mandy caught me leering again and again she laughed when I tried to look away. Admittedly compared to Joan I was respectful. Finally, I just called Joan’s name,
“I’m so sorry I didn’t mean to make you uncomfortable, it’s just that I can’t get over how much you look like your mother.” Joan said trying to cover the fact she hadn’t even seen a female in about 14 weeks.
“I think my mother is quite pretty,” Mandy said with a smile but obviously trying to diffuse an awkward moment, “So thanks for the compliment.”
Joan replied, “Oh you’re quite welcome.”
Joan turned to me for rescue but I was thinking of just letting her hang herself. But finally, I interjected, “So I imagine you’d like to know what we want you to do for the marina?”
“Well actually I was enjoying hearing how pretty I am, but if you want to make this all business….” Mandy said laughing. Joan laughed too much and I just let my eyes do the laughing for me.
“Well I am not sure how early you can get here but we won’t open the shop until then. Then if you could take care of the cash, manning the pumps which I will show you in a minute and then just keep an eye on the boats making sure they get moored ok…that kind of thing.” I rattled off her duties as quickly as I could because I kept getting rattled myself looking into those dark blue eyes. She was a friend’s daughter and I was still filled with complicated emotions about Larsen not to mention she was now an employee but I could not help finding her attractive.
My thoughts betrayed me as she caught me off guard with her next question, “Shall we get started?”
“What?… um oh yeah.”
“You were going to show me a man with cash that I could pump…. Well at least that is the way I heard it.” Mandy teased.
All three of us burst out laughing. It was something Joan and I had not done for a few days. Mandy’s shock humour was just enough to send us into hysterics and we all laughed too long and too hard.
Finally, Joan said, “There is no doubt about it the Marina is in good hands, this girl is hilarious.” Despite Joan’s initial attraction, now she just genuinely liked the girl. Despite my attraction, I felt the same way.
Mandy learned her duties quickly but like a comedian on a roll she continued with the innuendo.
“Can you come inside and I’ll show you how it works?” I asked as we were going in to see the shop cash register.
“Wow you almost never hear a man say that.”
“Can you hold this for me while I turn it on,” I asked as I handed her an oil can that fell from the shelf as I went over to the cash.
“Now there is something I do hear from guys all the time,” Mandy laughed.
I laughed too but I finally said “Oh god I think we have created a monster.”
“You just keep layin’ em out there and I’ll keep knocking them away,” Mandy said using a sports euphemism
“Now there is something you don’t hear girls say that often.” And we both laughed again. It was going to be a fun summer. Mandy was nice to look at and had a warped sense of humour. The only way to ruin the fun would be for us to get involved so I resolved at that moment it would never happen.
Mandy arrived promptly the next morning wearing a ‘hot girls are people too’ purple tee shirt and a micro mini that I wasn’t sure was covering anything. One thing for sure she was great for business. I had never seen a larger collection of middle aged letches and penis head teenage boys in my life. One of them bought a can of oil and I don’t think he even had a boat. She learned quickly…I even heard her exclaim to a couple of boys, “If you’re not buying anything you’ll have to leave.”
I was finally free to work on the engines. There is some satisfaction in taking a broken engine and making it work again. Over in the corner there was a 50-year-old Evinrude sitting in a test tank that I worked on whenever I had nothing else to do. A boy named Tim had brought it in to me after he found it in his grandfather’s garage. It was on an old wooden boat that had more dry rot than wood left. The boy was lucky to be alive because he rowed that boat about a mile before it literally sank in my dock. I got the crane on the motor just in time.
As I was working on the motor and tearing it down I started thinking about progressive compression chambers like a jet or a turbine and I started thinking about using many fuels instead of one. One to power the initial compression reaction for a further compression of something inert that became volatile when compressed. I had done it. I had solved the problem that the scientists in the propulsion lab had failed to. You could hyper compress the fuel use its decompression to fuel the next reaction and so on down the line until the two most volatile fuels mixed to create a cataclysmic reaction. I wanted to call Larsen and tell her but she had chosen to use my designs as engines of death. The only thing I could do was build one myself. If it worked in water with the chemicals I could easily get like hydrogen, nitrogen and oxygen, it could work with more sophisticated chemicals.
I would build my super engine later; right now, I had an internal combustion engine to take care of. It had a cracked cylinder head which had scored up the cylinder pretty badly but it was fixable. That kid hadn’t been back since the day he almost drowned. Yet another parts delivery I would probably never get paid for. I could see why Dad was always such a stickler for half down when he did a major repair…at least his costs were covered.
I peered out the open garage door to catch Mandy thoroughly bent over pumping gas on a small cabin cruiser with two delighted old men enjoying the show and one angry older woman looking disgusted.
“Hey Mandy,” I yelled out.
“Yeah?” She looked up and smiled one of her you’re-a-man-and-I-own-you smiles.
“Do you know a kid named Tim who sunk a boat here?” I yelled the question wondering if she would find it as dumb as it sounded.
“I should, he is my boyfriend,” Mandy said, matter of factly.
The words hit me by surprise. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that someone that pretty had a boyfriend but this Tim kid was well young…probably her age as I thought about it. Now I was having second thoughts about fronting the kid the parts to fix the engine. He probably couldn’t get his hands on a boat to go with it anyway. The little schmuck who gets to touch that face, kiss those lips, run his hands through that hair and …..
“Why?” I heard Mandy ask in the background.
“Oh um…just thinking about something,” I said trying to escape my good deed out of pure jealousy. Mandy was finished her boat fill-up-sex-tease… “and look they gave me an extra 10 bucks,” she said genuinely surprised.
“Imagine that. Couldn’t be the outfit, could it?” I said under my breath.
“What? No… well a little skin can make a man feel as guilty as sin.” Mandy laughed at her quote from god knows where. “Anyway, for some reason I feel like I have to explain about Tim and me.” She offered but I tried to stop her before she finished.
“No, no not at all. I guess I assumed you didn’t have a boyfriend but I never asked and it really is none of my business. I mean god knows you are pretty enough but I guess I thought ..well none of these kids would be good enough for you,” I felt like I had turned three shades of purple and just kept digging myself in deeper.
“So, you think I am that hot?” She asked very pleased at herself for putting me on the defensive.
I just nodded because anything I said here would just make it worse.
“Tim lost his father a while ago and now his grandfather. He looks like he is about 14 but actually he is 18 and lives with his sister and her husband in their grandfather’s old house. I call him my boyfriend ‘cus we hang out a lot and it helps get rid of some of the boys. But I am older than him and he knows that so it’s really platonic, though there are times when I am sure he would like more than that. Then again there are other times when I am not sure he is in to girls….He has a huge G.I. Joe collection and he notices shoes…what’s that tell ya?” She laughed to my relief because I was laughing too.
Joan could zero in on nervous laughter like no one else I knew. “What’s going on?” She asked curiously and maybe a little defensively.
“Mandy her has a boyfriend who is in to G.I. Joes and notices women’s shoes,” I said teasing Mandy.
“Oh, poor girl! I was in love with someone who was gay too. But since she and I were both gay that made it a lot easier.” Joan was teasing but still flirting rather sadly with the girl who was 25 years her junior. “What you need to do,” Joan continued “is have an affair with a mature woman. That will pay the boy back for his preferring the sausage.”
Mandy looked at me before she realised that Joan had just been teasing her which made me laugh even harder.
“It’s not like that,” Mandy protested. “Tim isn’t really my boyfriend and I don’t know that he is gay. From the way he looks at me I would say that he isn’t but he does play with dolls and is aware of shoes…”
“Rob, quick without looking, what kind of shoes is Mandy wearing?” Joan asked still teasing.
“Um white ones?” I really was guessing because I had no idea even though we were talking about shoes.
“See, despite the fact my brother would blow a man to measure the scientific reaction, I know he is not gay. Only women, gay men and shoe makers actually notice shoes.” Joan continued until we all were laughing hard.
“Hey I would not blow a guy just to measure his reaction.”
“Yes, you would and then you’d get someone else to blow him to see if the law of diminishing returns holds true in a sexual vane or not.” Joan’s comment was probably true. For science, I would probably do almost anything. Not sure if I would go that far or not but I had done some unusual things to measure a scientific truth.
“I am wearing brown sandals with a small heal, in case you were wondering,” Mandy pitched in.
“Sorry,” I offered
“Don’t be. I guess I would be more worried if you did know what shoes I was wearing. I had you pegged as straight and I would have had serious gay-dar issues if you turned out to be gay,” Mandy said still half teasing.
“Anyway,” Joan interrupted, “I was wondering if you two would like to take the big boat, go out to Perth and get some dinner. I want to talk to both of you.”
I hadn’t even fired up the engine of the cruiser since before Dad died. I had come in and turned the blowers on and run the bilge pump for a while but I didn’t start it. The Sacred Heart as Dad named her was built by an Ontario firm called Grew. She was a 26-foot mahogany lapstreak wooden boat built in the 70s with a small forward vee cabin and a fold away galley table. As kids, we went on all kinds of trips on her but after Mom disappeared it was only occasionally. Dad loved the boat; spending every winter re-conditioning the hull and making her sound for the water.
It was the first engine I ever worked on. The original engine was a 350 Chevy that I had developing over 500 horsepower with a new inboard-outboard using a variable pitch and through the hub exhaust propeller. My Dad was very proud of the modifications. Especially proud when his cabin cruiser was blasting past ski boats half its size.
As we gathered up the stuff we need for the trip, I reflected on how far Joan and I had come. We hadn’t stayed in touch over the years. She had resentments and so did I but we overcame them all and here we are today as close as any two siblings can be. My sister was talented. She kept my Dad strong right up till the end. It was her strength that allowed him to keep his dignity and not haemorrhage to death. She was the one who made most of the arrangements while keeping me going at the same time. I was proud of my big sister. I had only just found out she was a lesbian and the story of her life was really quite sad. But she knew me and knew I was afraid of the love that was developing between me and Larsen more than I was angry at Larsen’s betrayal.
She helped me see that I was changed and quite a bit more receptive to what the future might hold. The engine fired up right away like the heart of my father living inside of it. I looked around the small marina with its blue painted wooden floating docs, the boathouse in the back where we kept the speed boat, the white and grey marine office where people signed in for overnight docking and bought their supplies; the two big pumps, one with diesel and the other with pure gas and several gas oil mixtures that hardly anyone ever used anymore; the trees that lined the back so you couldn’t even see the parking lot behind them and behind the boathouse was my house where Joan and I grew up.
I never realised how much I really loved this place. Joan was right I was just hiding out but now I really felt like I was home. With Mandy running the marina and me fixing boats and able to experiment and play, I can’t imagine any other place in the world I would rather be. Joan could come back on the weekends and spend some time here and I would keep the place running. Sure, there was no trip to Mars, but there was a life and a strange feeling of contentment came over me. For the first time since my mom disappeared, I felt like I belonged somewhere, right here at home.
I untied the boat from the doc cleats and threw the rope on top of the deck. I thought the lone turquoise border strake that connected the deck to the hull looked a bit dingy and could use a coat of paint. Dad would have been pissed that I let this go so much. While the boat just floated, I took down the musty smelling tarp and opened the back deck to the sky. I revved the engine once and then popped it in reverse for a second then let it coast back. The Sacred Heart floated back quietly. I put the cruiser in drive and steered her toward the refuelling doc. Mandy and her sexy short dress were waiting for me and I tried to divert my eyes as she fuelled the tank. In this day and age, it is unthinkable to even admire beauty. But since the boat needed gas it would have to be this way…for now!
Things like regular hours and opening and closing times had never been part of the regimen of the marina. So, it was no issue for Mandy to join Joan and I to just leave. As the waves pounded gently on the old wooden hull, the boat planed perfectly past the many rich man islands as we traversed the lake. We pulled up to an old government dock that had seen better days and moored there and we walked the old road into the town of Perth. We found a nice-looking restaurant and as we walked in past the nautical décor on the walls and waited until each man had a chance to rape Mandy at least once with their eyes before we sat down at a table for 4.
“Before you get too drunk, I just wanted to tell you that it’s time for me to go back to Ottawa.” Joan said without a hint of smile. “Now that you have Mandy to run the shop and we’ve had time to grieve. I think its time to get back to reality.”
“Are you sure?” I said hoping that she would say no. “I mean I knew that sooner or later you would want to leave….”
“No, it’s not that I want to leave. In fact, I’ve really enjoyed this time with my baby brother… getting a chance to re-connect with you has been one of the best times of my life…in spite of why it happened. But I need to be a nurse, to save lives, to feel useful. I need to be me again.” Joan said it like she was asking for permission.
“I understand,” I lied. “I guess I just hate to lose my big sister now that I have found her again.”
“Well that’s just it. We have reconnected and I will not stay away this time. I will be back as often as time permits and who knows I might even learn to pump gas or something. We are not going to lose what it took losing our father to get. I will be part of your life and nothing you can do will stop me.” Joan reassured.
The hours sailed by and after a fill of Lobster flown from Moncton to Ottawa and picked up by the restaurant in Perth that very day….I made mine dance and used the claws for castanets…yeah I was hammered…it was awesome. The three of us had a blast and we somehow staggered our way back to the boat. I passed out on the transom bed and the girls went down below deck and if I am not mistaken, spent the night getting off with each other. They must have been in better shape than I was because all I could think of was how the boat was going side to side and I was spinning. At one point, I covered myself with the musty smelling tarp as I had donated enough blood to the save-the-mosquito foundation.
In the morning, I untied the boat and headed back home. It felt odd like this might be the last time. I didn’t know how or why but I had a sense of impending doom and I could not really explain it other than an odd turn in the grieving process.
Just as I pulled up to our dock, Mandy and Joan opened the cabin door, albeit sheepishly, and Mandy handed me a coffee which I was so grateful for I think I forgot about what sounded like multiple trysts the night before.
I wanted to but I didn’t bring it up and all Joan would say or do is “Thanks for your discretion little brother”. And we left it at that.
Despite Mandy’s pleas for Joan to stay just a bit longer. Joan left later that afternoon. I wasn’t sure if it was just that the kid had never had anyone love her and leave her but she seemed really insistent until Joan was finally really short with her.
Mandy said, “If you leave now you will never see me or your brother again!” Joan just smiled and grabbed Mandy into a hug and said, “Trust me you’ll get over it.” And at that she packed her last suitcase into her car and drove away.
I should have asked what Mandy meant but I just chocked it up to youth and forgot about it until much later that night
Chapter 3 Taken