by Robert Earle
Table of Contents|
parts: 1, 2, 3, 4
We spent a few unsettled days. All of us did our share of brooding. Meanwhile Helen and I did our best to avoid both each other and Marguerite and Nowitzki.
Finally, I said to Helen one evening as we were nearing the Mediterranean, “Look, this trip has all but done me in, but it’s made me think that, yes, before I die, I probably would like to experience love, whatever love is.”
Helen studied me warily. She’d heard this line before, I gathered, and wasn’t biting. I went on: “I mean, who would answer an advertisement like that? A man so sunk within himself he’s got no sense anymore.”
“Oh, don’t tell me you’re dead, too.”
“Drowning? Taking your last gasp? Holding out your hand?”
We laughed as she reached across the table and took my hand. We sat there a few minutes that way.
She said, “No, I was the one who had given up, I was the one who thought with two bad marriages behind me, nothing good lay ahead. And then I got furious at Marguerite and my father and stayed away from them, and all of us were unhappy and only said yes to the cruise because my father always loved cruises. But she had no idea how much this idea — his own idea — frightened him. He clearly didn’t want to chance it on his own.
Ergo, the advertisement. Ergo, her resentment when I appeared. Her father obviously was doing his best to get her back into the love game. Maybe I wouldn’t be the guy. Probably wouldn’t. But there were guys out there ready to take her father’s place when she lost him. “That was the message he was sending me through you. He doesn’t want me to be alone.”
We ended up in bed. I can’t bring myself to rehash the particulars. There’s something about sex in the movies that’s like a spoonful of awful medicine you’ve got to take because it’s good for you. The same thing goes for narratives. Descriptions of thrashing and grappling get you nowhere in my opinion. It’s something you have to do, not discuss. And when you’re finished, it’s time to start discussing things again. That’s when sex is what is known as “good.”
“At the very, very beginning,” I said, “your father wanted to know if I thought it was possible to really understand someone else, get into someone else’s head.”
“What did you say?”
“What do you think I said?”
“Presumably you said no.”
“No, I said, ‘In theory, yes’. But I wouldn’t go further.”
“Are you about to announce a change in your position?”
“You wouldn’t want me to?”
“No, by all means, if you’re going to tell me you think you understand me. I wouldn’t mind hearing it. I don’t know if I’d believe it, though.”
“I don’t know if I’d believe it, either.”
“Good, it’s been a long trip. Something that big would swamp this ship and it would sink, just the way Marguerite and Herman seem to want it to.”
“I haven’t heard you call him Herman before.”
“You know, I think that’s the first time I ever have.”
“Maybe because he’s not my daddy anymore. Marguerite took him away from me, and obviously I’m furious.”
I let that one drift by. What is obvious is obvious.
* * *
By morning we were gliding past Gibraltar, leaving the slate-gray Atlantic behind, and I found that as writers since Homer have written, the Mediterranean blushes twice a day, once at sunrise, once at sunset. Its air is soft and tranquil. Sailing beyond Spain toward Greece, you’re very aware you’re in a bygone world that mysteriously remains alive.
Herman Nowitzki didn’t gloat when he could see something going on between Helen and me. To the contrary, he seemed almost mournful. He looked as though our easy chatter at meals were binding and entangling and even strangling him as we plowed deeper and deeper into the ancient world’s basin.
Marguerite grew worried. She asked the ship’s doctor to examine him. The ship’s doctor grew worried, too. Herman’s heartbeat had grown irregular. His eyes grew very still. He didn’t make hand gestures to help the doctor along in guessing what was wrong. Didn’t have the energy.
I moved into the background as Marguerite and Helen joined forces supporting Herman. They took turns or sometimes sat with him together. I deduced that what I was seeing was love.
Marguerite had been right about what makes it real, and the intimacies Helen and I had shared passed away. No more nights together. Then Herman’s condition became critical. A rescue craft from Palermo came to bring us to shore. That’s where he died, and that’s where I began my journey back to New York while his wife and daughter stayed behind to handle the formalities and cremation. After that, they decided to board another ship together and sail on to Greece.
Copyright © 2015 by Robert Earle