I HAD TO GO HOME, if home is the place where you lived when you attended high school. I was down by the village green at dusk, at that forested intersection of Old Stone Street and Welsh Tract Run, where the constable usually sits in his car eating donuts and waiting to catch a speeder or two. That’s when I saw the tugboat pulling the distressed oil tanker into Sowassetville Harbor. I ran down to the pebble beach and began to walk along it, among the high reeds and tangy stink of rotting clams and seaweed. You could see the stars in the purple sky already, and I noticed the faded writing on the bow of the tugboat that read, SS Jimmy Carter. I didn’t realize that the bay here was deep enough to accommodate a tanker of that size. Maybe it had been dredged? It went right by the Smiths’ place, and then a moment or two later was off Dead Indian Point. I followed that tanker toward the opening to the port, which was where my family still lived, only to learn that Hannah and Lewis had started living with them. These were two high school friends who had married and, basically, disowned me for having abandoned them by not living on the same continent. “You ran away from America,” they had always said. This time they were happy to see me though, while reminding me that I owed them about $700, which I didn’t remember borrowing. They had become proper suburban liberals in the meantime. Lewis, with his graying black beard, had even taken to smoking and gesturing with a pipe. Hannah had made a small fortune advising others on what was wrong with their lives. They lived comfortably and had no worries. The children were being battle trained in lacrosse. All food in the pantry had been certified organic. They wanted the money repaid though. “Pay us half up front, the other half in a month,” said Lewis. O’Mara, another high school friend, was there too. In my time away he had been admitted to the bar and remade as the family attorney. He came out to speak with me briefly, playing with a pocket watch from time to time. He wore a three-piece suit. The family was not ready to meet with me. First we had to reach a binding agreement. O’Mara was also disappointed to see that there was a woman with me, Rakel, who was a psychologist from Denmark. Don’t even ask me how we met or what she was doing there. O’Mara the attorney toyed with his pocket watch some more and studied the strange blonde girl in her tight red sweater. He squinted at her through pince-nez glasses. “Officially, she is not welcome at the coming legal proceedings,” he said. “But she seems nice enough. We might be able to make an exception.” After he went back inside, Rakel and I walked down to the Sowassetville seaport. We admired the rusty oil tanker, and that proud little red tugboat, the SS Jimmy Carter. It was a fine ship, and it had helped this tiny New England maritime enclave avoid an environmental disaster. The crew was being celebrated in port. Someone brought out champagne and the captain was waving his hat. Maybe he could smuggle us out.
Month: May 2023
I WAS ON MY WAY HOME when I passed by the café. There were colorful balloons tied to the awnings and customers out the door and into the streets, drinking coffee and beer and kombucha, and spooning mouthfuls of creamy tort into hungry mouths. Through the glass I could see them hoisting the girl up and down on a chair. “Twenty-one, twenty-two!” Was that how young she was? She already looked different though. Did a few days really age a woman that much? More mature, I suppose. There was something more captivating about the way her dark hair dangled loosely around her shoulders. The young lady saw me briefly through the glass. “Happy birthday,” I mouthed to her, and she mouthed back, “Thank you.” Then I left her alone again, as I had promised myself, and went along my way. Our new house was in some derelict back district, an old tenement building with crumbling brick stairs. The floors inside were just wooden planks laid out side by side. My ex-wife was in the kitchen stirring a black cauldron of stew and listening to a podcast about the end of the world. When I came inside, she told me to be quiet and that she was very busy. I tiptoed across the floor and picked up a sack of books and was out the door. Chan, my editor, pulled up in a jeep with the top down. He was in the driver’s seat as usual, looking like, well, an editor. He wore his glasses and a crisp white shirt. His black hair was combed back and fixed into place. Chan honked the horn and I left the house and got in. Vahtra, an Estonian hippie percussionist, complete with incomplete beard, tribal headband, and bemused look, was also seated in the back. We began to drive and soon we were out of the town bearing down on the Florida Keys. When we pulled into sunny Key West, we cruised past Sloppy Joe’s Bar. There was a shouting match going between some bearded, Proud Boys-looking figures at Sloppy Joe’s and at Irish Kevin’s next door. You know the types, braggarts with Viking rune tattoos and piercings. One pulled out a semiautomatic and began spraying the Irishmen with bullets. An Irish Kevin responded with a blast from a grenade launcher. Chan just kept driving toward the wharf, as cool as cracked ice. He had said there was a boat that could take us to Havana. “Welcome to Florida, boys,” Chan announced, as we drove through the billowing and stinking grenade launcher smoke. “It’s real fucked up.” Vahtra was in the back observing the scene and tapping lightly on a bongo drum. I think he was high. “Why did you even move down here, Chan,” I yelled. “If you don’t mind me asking.” “For the weather,” said Chan.
SILVER WAS ON the north coast. I had never been there before and I wasn’t sure if it had been named after a precious metal or a popular folk musician. The city was located in the fjords somewhere between the Pakri Islands and Akureyri. The architecture revealed both Japanese and Nordic influences. The rooftops were angular, half Shinto, half Norse. It was dusk when we arrived by train and an orange sun was sinking into the cola-colored sea on the horizon. There were long piers along the waterfront. Vendors were out selling ice cream, painting portraits, and strumming guitars. I took a walk out to the end of one of the piers and climbed down a metal staircase. Then it began to rumble. This was another submarine, right beneath my feet! We began to voyage out into the harbor. There is something magnificent and a little terrifying about the stealthy and quiet movements of a submarine. Once far enough out from port, the one below me began to dive. The water levels rose quickly. The dark and warm seawater pooled at my ankles, then was at my knees. So this was it then, the big end. The submarine was going to go down and I was going to drown with it. Davy Jones Locker. I was somehow resigned to this fate, when the submarine suddenly rose again and returned to port. When I disembarked, I saw that the submarine captain — a certain Peter Townshend, the guitar player for The Who — was wiping his head with a handkerchief and pacing on the docks of Silver. “All my friends are dead! All my friends are dead!” There were tears behind his blue eyes. His face was pink from the moisture. I didn’t know what else to do, so I went and tried to cheer him up.