The Empty Copper Sea Part 20

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ON A July afternoon, late, we came trundling down the Gulf in the Busted Flush, just the two of us. We came down the length of Longboat Key, where the condominiums stand tall off Sarasota, and when we pa.s.sed St. Armands Key, I told her about the famous shopping circle there and promised her I would take her to it and buy her something ridiculously expensive. It would be something useless and important and would have to do with some of the slice of the recovery awarded me by the committee headed by J. Devlin Boggs.

Some days we made good miles, some days zero. She had fallen deeply in love with the old houseboat, had learned how to cope with the trickeries of the galley and the cranky plumbing in the head. She wasted fresh water in long showers when we had it and did without when we didn't. She learned how to read the charts and operate the radio and the RDF, synchronize the diesels, and cook up Chili Meyer.

On this uncounted day in July, we came into Big Pa.s.s at dusk, on a tide so low I had to creep through the shoaling waters, b.u.mping lightly twice. The charter boats were coming in off the Gulf. The sun was a forest fire in the west, and the distant downtown windows winked red in response. I chugged slowly by Sand Dollar Island and over to an anchorage area I had used before, happy to see no other craft there swinging on their hooks. We were well out of the channel, in about seven feet of water and about a hundred and fifty feet off a sandy beach, when I put down the two bigger Danforths, cut the power, swung on the lines, tested them, and found them firm.

While I made drinks, Gretel checked the larder and said she'd better make out a list in the morning. We had both spent all day in a sun so hot, so burning bright, that we radiated heat. Her brown hair had grown out to about an inch and a half. She had been shaved bald as an ostrich egg, and had given me no glimpse of her skull during the bristly time. Now it was revealed. Crowning glory, she called it. The constant sun was baking it lighter. You might end up with a blond person, she told me. She thought it made her look like a boy, hair that short. I told her that from the eyebrows up, in a certain light, at a certain angle, she might look somewhat like a boy. But include any other parts of her, and the illusion was lost. Smashed-all-to-h.e.l.l-and-gone lost. That kind of lost. She asked if I was trying to call her, hippy. I said she was hippy, busty, waisty, lippy, throaty, that she was all thighed, bellied, eyelashed, ankled, all ladied up just fine. Today she had been quieter than usual, and I knew she had been thinking about the life I wanted for us.

After we ate and had tidied up, I went on deck to check the weather and the bugs. It was a splendid night, mild and sweet, frosted with stars. The western sky was black, where thunder b.u.mped and muttered, and the breezes came from there. I got the inflatable mattresses out of the locker, put them side by side on the sun deck, pumped them firm with the pedal pump, spread a blanket over them.

There was a strawberry glow over the city. The lights winked out in the houses along the Siesta Key side of Big Pa.s.s. We lay on our backs and identified the constellations, and we both saw the same shooting star.

"Hey, do you wish on those?" she asked. "I forget."

"There's no rule against it. I wish you'd make up your mind. That is, if I'm ent.i.tled to a wish."

"I think maybe I have. To review the proposition you made me; you want me to share your life on any basis I choose, just so long as I understand it's permanent."

"Properly stated."

"I think it is very probably exactly the right time in your life for this to happen, maybe even the last chance you'll have."

"Something has been happening to me these last few years," I said. My voice sounded rough and uneven. "A bleakness. I don't know what to call it."

"No, darling. Don't go grasping at me. I'm not saying yes. Let go. There. Now listen to me. I really do love you. And much as I love you and want you, I can't be... somebody's remedy. Some kind of medicine for the soul."

"But that isn't-"

"Listen to me, please. I have to be my own person. I have to take complete charge of my life. I did the hard-scrabble years for somebody else, for some idea that was never going to work anyway. I'm not talking about lib or chauvinism. I've got kind of an alarming capacity for blind loyalty. Like my brother had. Fierce loyalty. I know that in some very final way, dear, we are all absolutely alone. The relationships people have are an attempt to deny that aloneness, but it doesn't go away. I want my loyalty to be to me for a while, and maybe for all the years I might have left. I have to be complete within myself and stand by myself in order to really become a person."

"You are a person, a d.a.m.ned wonderful-"

"Hush! I'm not going to run away. I love you. I want to stay near you, but if you won't accept my terms, I'll have to run away. I'll come to your town to live and work. We'll find me a place. I want demanding work that I can be good at and get better at. We will be friends, and from time to time, for as long as we both want, we'll be lovers. But n.o.body is going to try to manipulate or change or control or smother anybody else."

"But I don't-"

"Think about it, darling. Tell me tomorrow. I'm trying to be wise about myself. I can't be rushed. I have to reinvent myself. By myself. I don't want to sign on."

"But you'll be nearby."

She got up and went over to the rail. I followed and stood beside her, resting a hand on the warmth of her waist through the T-shirt. She moved to lean against me, head against my shoulder. She was a strong and accessible magic.

"I don't think he would have hit me," she said. "I've thought about him all day."

"You've been quiet."

"I know. I think there was somebody else there."

"There could have been," I lied. "We'll never know."

"No matter what that stuff did to his brain. I can remember up to the point where he sprang up out of bed in his room and went yelling outdoors as if he was answering somebody. I just can't remember past that."

"Don't keep trying."

She looked at the lights of Sarasota. "We don't know anyone here. We're not in their minds," she said. "So in some kind of funny way, we're dead. Nothing stopped in Timber Bay. They're stirring around up there tonight, laughing and hurting and hating and making love. Some are trying to live and some are trying to die. We're fading out of their minds. I'm fading out of the memories of the people I've known back in my other life. And as they are fading out of my memory, it is as if they were dying. Dying is all forgetting, maybe. Nothing more. You are not dead until there isn't a crumb of memory left anywhere in the world."

"You come up with some pretty strange stuff, lady."

"So why do you want me around for keeps anyway?"

"Two or three minor reasons. Nothing important."

"Settle for my being sort of a neighbor?"

"Like you said, I'll let you know tomorrow."

She turned into my arms. The thunder boomed closer. It was using up more of the sky.

It was clear that the rain would come. We went back to the mattresses. When the first big drops did come, they fell splatting unheeded and almost unnoticed upon my bare back and on her upturned face, vivid in the first stroke of lightning.

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The Empty Copper Sea Part 20 summary

You're reading The Empty Copper Sea. This manga has been translated by Updating. Author(s): John D. MacDonald. Already has 245 views.

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