I don't know how long I've been here now. Stopped counting the years not too long after my wife ... my life ... left this world. Mine is a story of common irony. We worked together, spent our years trying to give our children every advantage as they grew into adulthood. Always looking forward to the day when it would just be the two of us, when together we would sail off into the sunset. It was a classic dream.
Our kids did grow up, healthy and mostly happy. Some did better than others in the highly competitive game of life, but they all did all right. We were just putting the finishing touches on our getaway platform, a thirty-six foot cutter-rigged sailboat called Undine, when it struck. The dreaded "C" word. Cancer. Uterine cancer, which, by the time it was diagnosed, had metastased. The doctors had tried heroically to save her, and did extend her life by a year or so, but that was all. She hardly had time to say goodbye.
I barely made it through the funeral. My oldest daughter, herself distraught from the loss of her mother, had to care for me like a baby. I couldn't think, could barely breathe, and didn't want to. The kids settled Claire's affairs; I wasn't capable. Eventually though I had to try and have some sort of life, even if it was without her. That's how I ended up as a troll.
Yes, a troll. You know the kind. Lives under a bridge. Grumpy. Doesn't want company. A long time ago, I read a series of essays called Magic Harbor1, by a fellow named Don Berry. In one of the essays, he described himself as a troll. I find myself in a very similar physical and emotional situation. I live on my boat, not under a bridge - that doesn't work well with a real mast - and without the light in my life. I really don't want to interact with anybody and I don't even think about finding someone new. No one could take her place in my heart; it had been torn out when she died.
Things have been odd lately. I would be puttering around, doing minor maintenance stuff, and have to go to the head. So, I'd put down whatever tool I was using, or whatever small item I was working on, to go take care of business. When I returned, the tool or item was several feet away from where I'd left it. Sometimes, something would totally disappear, only to reappear somewhere else later that day, or the next morning.
I wonder if some of the local kids are playing pranks on me. Another odd thing happens, that pretty much convinces me of it: I'm frequently finding wet spots on the deck, that could only be small, wet footprints. Oddly shaped, though. Almost triangular.
This is getting out of hand! I was trying to tune up the dinghy outboard this morning, when "nature called." When I returned to finish the job, my Torx screwdriver was missing. I need that damned Torx! It's the only one I had, that I could use to tune that carburetor! Fuck it. Maybe it'll turn up soon. I need a drink. Or nine.
I should never drink that much. I know I shouldn't, if only because of the dream.
Three times it's happened now. I go on a binge and end up lying in the cockpit, hanging over the side. In my dream, I wake up staring into the water, and I see her. At first I think it's Claire, but it isn't. Claire was a brunette, and this woman is a blonde. Besides, Claire's dead.
Anyway, I see her, there in the water, looking up at me through the wet surface, her hair sort of floating around her face in a halo. I reach out to help her, and she quickly disappears. In the dream, I pass out again.
When I awake for real, there I am, hanging over the side. It was a dream, wasn't it?
She's real. I know that now. I don't understand it, or why she seems interested in me, but she is. I know it, because now I hear her at night. Her song entraps my mind, suspending me between sleep and wakefulness.
She's calling me. Not with words that I can understand, but I know she is. Mesmerizing. Such a sad, beautiful sound, it makes you want to cry. What am I supposed to do? When I try to help her, she disappears. I'm at a loss.
I have a plan. I'm going to set a trap. Not a real trap, but I'm going to try to lure her out of hiding.
I had to put into port for provisions a couple of days ago. While I was there, I bought a lot of dark chocolate miniatures. What woman can resist chocolate? Tonight I'll start by leaving one open in the cockpit.
No dice. She's still around, because I still hear her singing at night, and I still find wet footprints in the cockpit. It's obvious she finds the chocolate, because it's never where I left it. She isn't eating it, though, just moving it around. Could it be that she doesn't know what it is, or what to do with it?
I have an idea. I haven't eaten chocolate in years; I don't really like it that much, but it's evening now, and I suspect she's watching. Lounging in the cockpit, in full view of whatever cover she normally uses, I'm pigging out on the candy. Maybe she'll get the idea. I have to quit soon, though. I'm starting to get a little sick...
I'm leaving the empty wrappers where I drop them, instead of cleaning up like I usually do. When I quit for the evening, I'll leave a few candies in the cockpit. I'll even leave one open again, as if I started to eat it and changed my mind. Hope it works.
It worked! Not only was the one I left open gone, but she had opened and removed all the miniatures I left, still wrapped, in the cockpit.
With that bit of success, I was able to establish a routine: just before retiring each evening, I'd carry a small handful of candies into the cockpit and eat one or two. The rest I'd leave in the cockpit, close to the main hatch. I've been doing that for about a week now, and I when I am very still, and listen very carefully, I can tell when she comes aboard.
Tonight, instead of actually racking out, I'll take up a station in the cabin, where I can see into the cockpit.
I've seen her twice now, and I'm waiting for her again. I said before she was blonde, but she isn't blonde like we know blonde. Her hair is so white, it's almost silver. Her skin is pale, as well, almost ghost-like. She's small, no taller than a girl in her early teens, but seems to have all the physical attributes of an adult woman. I can see everything she has, because she's nude. So beautiful.
There she is, moving silently, cautiously to the bait. She really likes the candy. She tears open the packages, almost viciously, and crams the contents into her mouth as if afraid that they will vanish. The look on her face is almost spiritual.
I sit unmoving, just watching, but because of a chance look in my direction she spots me. Fear replaces the serene expression I've been enjoying, and quick as a flash, with a splash, she's gone.
I hope she comes back.
It's been three days since she left in a panic. The candies I leave in the cockpit remain untouched. Every morning, I gather it up and toss it into the refuse bin. Every night I put fresh candy out, hoping for her return, but so far, nothing. She's still there though. She still sings to me.
In a funk, I look around for something, anything, that might bring her back. I spy my old guitar. I haven't touched it since we buried Claire. I never was that good, but I can pick out a few tunes. My favorite thing to do with it is to improvise around MalagueÃ±a. I drag it out into the cockpit as twilight descends, and start to strum, then to finger-pick a little.
I find myself getting lost in the music, the way I did when I played for Claire. She enjoyed my limited talent enough, that it was worth the effort. Feeling her love and sincere appreciation, I could ignore the sore fingertips, and just play; my eyes losing focus, as I felt the classic strains moving into my soul.
I play a little while, then I feel her gaze. She's treading water a few yards away, just looking quizzically at me. I reach for the candies on the adjacent seat, and she starts, as if to flee.
"Please!" I beg softly. She may not understand the word, but she hesitates, long enough for me to put the candies on the gunwale closest to her. I retire to my seat and begin playing again.
As I play, she slowly approaches. When she is close enough, she grabs a candy and unwraps it, never taking her eyes off me. There is a wildness in her eyes akin to that one might find in the eyes of a deer. As she watches me play, she slowly chews and swallows. My fingers are really sore now, so as I finish the current stanza, I stop and set the guitar aside.
Watching me intently, she moves a little closer again; then she grabs all the candy remaining on the gunwale and disappears into the dark water. Later that night, I hear her singing again, closer this time than before.
We have a routine now. Each evening, I take a few candies, and my guitar, out to the cockpit. I put the candies on the gunwale, then I sit and start to play. A few minutes later, she surfaces a little way off, and slowly moves closer. She stays close to the boat now, eating candies and watching, while I play.
I'm running low on candies now, so in an effort to make them last, I haven't been putting out as many at one time. Instinctively, I suppose, she spaces her consumption, making my offerings last as long as she can. Maybe she's also gotten her fill of chocolate. Last night she left a piece on the gunwale, unopened.
I've decided to try to push a little harder. Tonight, I don't put the candy on the gunwale. Instead, I left it on the seat next to me and I start playing immediately. Right on time, she pops up through the water's surface. Looking at the empty gunwale, she appears vexed, then she looks at me, as if in askance.
In full view, I put a candy on the locker seat near the transom, and retreat to my seat, where I resume playing. She doesn't move immediately, but after a while she gingerly pulls herself over the side and into the cockpit. Her eyes are locked upon me, as if expecting attack. I just continue playing.
She stays as far away from me as she can, while she opens the candy, and pops it into her mouth. She continues watching me intently as I play. She looks at the small pile of candies next to me, then looks at me again. When I reach a place in the music where it seems right, I pause and reach for a candy. She makes as if to dive over the side, until she sees what I'm doing.
Moving very slowly, I place the candy on the locker seat between us. She hesitates. She looks at me, then at the candy, then back at me. I resume playing, and she quickly grabs the candy. Opening the candy, she again pops it into her mouth and listens as she chews. When I finish the song, she slips over the side unhurriedly, and disappears.
I must be getting better. Practice, I suppose, and the fact that my finger calluses have re-grown, so that I can hold a chord better. Anyway, she comes every evening, and listens. She seems to be getting more comfortable, being in the cockpit with me. She's not as careful to keep her distance, and she seems curious about the guitar.
She hardly eats the candy anymore, seeming to prefer the company to the sweets. She usually takes only one piece, now, just before she leaves me. Then later, out in the dark, I hear her serenade.
Tonight is different. I've finished playing, but she doesn't seem interested in leaving. I don't know what's going to happen next.
She sits and stares at me for a while, then tenderly places her hand on mine. Surprisingly, her hand is warm. Soft, too. Somehow I expected her to be cool to the touch, like many other water-dwelling creatures.
She raises my hand, and holds it next to her cheek, in a gesture so much like my Claire, that the memory fills eyes with tears. I can tell that she senses the ache in my heart, because she gives me a sad smile, and squeezes my hand. Afterward, she again slips over the side. Her song tonight is a lament, just for me.
She didn't come tonight. I don't know why. I did everything right. I'm sitting in the cockpit, playing my guitar. The candies are handy and visible. I guess she's tired of me. I do that to people, I suppose.
I need a drink.
She's stopped singing. Not a single note since the last time she came to me.
Why the hell am I on the fore deck anyway? Stupid idea, coming up here to look. She's gone, and she won't be coming back. Probably got tired of humoring the old guy.