Archive for February 23rd, 2009


Sea Change

Brady looked at the woman sitting beside him and pondered his situation. Where had he made his mistake? He had imagined her cradled in his arms, looking up at the stars from the top deck of the boat. Instead she sat as far from him as possible with her nose pressed against the glass. She was peering out at the sun-dappled waters of the Seine as if they might be whipped to tsunami heights at any moment and batter their boat to splinters against the shore.

“Are you sure you wouldn’t like to go up? The bridges are quite lovely and you can see them so much better from there,” Brady asked in what he immediately recognized as the wheedling tone mothers took with their tots to avoid a showdown in the checkout line. She looked at him aghast.

“I can’t imagine why I would want to look at the dank, smelly undersides of bridges,” she sniffed. “Besides, you know it’s not safe up there.” Brady tried not to sigh.

“Tell me again why we are risking our lives to go and breath the fresh Paris air,” he said.

“I don’t like your tone, but I will tell you,” she replied. “It is unsafe because there might be a fight on one side of the boat and if everyone ran to see what was going on then the boat might capsize. I prefer to stay here closer to the center of the boat where it is safe. You may go up if you like. Don’t let me slow you down.” Brady stood up. He stretched in an attempt to cover his hasty departure for the upper deck. He wanted to ask her if she didn’t think she would be safer on top of the boat where she could swim to safety if it did capsize. But he realized it had taken a lot of guts for her to board the boat in the first place after she had seen those two Vietnamese women on the gangplank. It was only after they heard them speaking French that she had agreed to the tour so long as they took the proper safety precautions.

Brady had reached the top of the short flight of stairs and he flung himself gratefully up the last step. He breathed deeply of the blossom laden air and looked around. It took only a moment for him to wish he had stayed below. Even in the brightness of the afternoon sunshine, they were there as they had been everywhere in Paris. Lovers entwined and oblivious to the world around them. He wanted to go to them and shake them and ask why they didn’t observe the rules of common decency. Why the rules for them were different than the ones he was forced to live by. But he realized he would rather be shaking her and asking her why she had so many rules. He’d take her by the arms and shake her until she gave him a satisfactory answer. But shaking her would involve touching her. Brady looked across the deck to where an elegantly dressed blond with the latest au mode haircut was being disheveled by a man who looked like he spent his days working on cars and his nights sleeping in them. Brady wondered how they had come together and why the woman was so engrossed in her lover and not afraid of a capsize. How could she let him touch her in such intimate ways out here where all the passengers on the boat might watch them and the people on the shore as well? Why was she so free with her body?

His thoughts turned to the woman he had left below. She would be asking someone about the disposition of the lifeboats by now. He realized it had been nearly a week since they had made love and nearly as long since she had let him touch her at all other than to take her elbow to cross streets or help her onto buses or elevators. How had it come to this? Not long ago she had been like that blonde over there or like the titian-haired temptress faking a snooze in her companion’s lap.

They had met in his figure drawing class. He was a student and he was delighted when he discovered that she was the nude model. He had gone to class expecting a young Adonis or a wiry hen of a woman as they’d had last term. Instead there she stood proudly but casually as the instructor pulled her limbs this way and that until he was satisfied with her pose. She didn’t blush beneath their inspection as he had expected. She reeked savoir-faire and after class an intrigued Brady had approached her to see what such a creature sounded like. They talked easily. They laughed about the snobbery of the French and the prudery of their home country. How silly to view the body as anymore than an extension of oneself and a convenient way to carry about one’s brain. After an afternoon of mocha lattes, they went to her rooms and made love on the flannel sheets and patchwork quilt her mother had sent in case there was no bedding in France. Afterward she smoked her first Galoise and was ill and laughed about it.

He wondered if she would pose the next morning after all they had shared that afternoon. But when he walked in, a few minutes late, she was already there in the center of the room in all her naked abandon.

“I must have you,” he growled some days later when they were cocooned under her mother’s quilt. She smiled.

“But you just did,” she said truthfully.

“That’s not what I mean,” he said. “You’re not like anyone I’ve ever met. You’re free and fearless. You’re like the best of home and here mixed together and that’s something I want to be near forever.” Brady noticed her smile was less bright but she consented to marry him. She kidded him about having been an American in Paris so they agreed to go there to celebrate.

A burst of song from the shore brought Brady abruptly back to the present. A group of four or five people with their arms around each other’s shoulders were swaying slightly and belting the words to a sea chantey that Brady knew well. He sang it to himself to give him courage as he walked down the stairs to face what he knew he must do. He had caused this problem between them and he must be the one to resolve it. Was it only after he’d asked her to marry him that the unreasonable fears had manifested themselves? Was it then that she asked him not to touch her in public and to maintain some dignity? Brady realized it to be true and reasoned that if his proposal and the prospect of being a married woman had poisoned this affair then he would just have to undo it. He would go to her and simply tell her that things had changed between them and he didn’t like it. She would cry and ask what she could do and he would tell her. We’re not getting married after all, he would say, it was a silly mistake. How could I have thought of caging a songbird like you? Then she would laugh and throw herself into his arms, telling him how relieved she was and he would carry her up to the top deck where they would view the splendors of Paris together.

Brady stood beside their bench now. He took a deep breath and held it then let it out slowly between his teeth. She turned to look at him. He was struck again by her beauty and grace. If he looked closely he imagined he could still see the spark of mischief in her eyes which his announcement would fan to a flame.

“I’ve realized I made a dreadful but very funny mistake,” he began.

“Oh,” she said.

“Yes,” Brady said starting to chuckle. “I realized that it would be a horrible mistake to marry you and tie you down. You should be free to follow your heart not follow me around like a dog waiting for a piece of meat.” He waited for her to join him in the joy of his insight. But her laughter never came.

“I’ve been waiting for you to come down so I could tell you I’ve had a wire from my parents,” she said. “They would be pleased to have us visit anytime after next month. They are looking forward to making the wedding plans then.” Brady was open-mouthed.

“Didn’t you hear? There isn’t going to be any wedding. It was a mistake. I never should have asked you to marry me,” he said. She stood up and walked around to stand beside him.

“You’re serious aren’t you?” She asked. Brady nodded.

“I thought this was just a silly joke of yours,” she stammered. “I thought it was a test to see how flaky I was, but you’re serious.” Brady nodded again. She rushed to the back of the boat and posed for a moment. When she was sure she had his attention she lifted one leg then the other over the guard line until only a few feet of wood stood between her and the churning waters of the Seine.

“Do you think this is a joke of mine?” she said coldly.

Brady racked his brain for a way out of his predicament.

“It was a joke,” he called as he moved slowly towards her. “Of course we’ll get married. You were right. It was just a test.” She didn’t smile.

“I couldn’t marry you now,” she said. “I could never trust you. I would always wonder. It would be like living in a perpetual classroom. I would spend all my time waiting for the next test and wondering if I would pass it. I couldn’t live like that.”

Brady was within arms reach of her now. His brain whirled like the wheels on a one-armed bandit but nothing came up. The boat was very near the shore now as the boat turned around. He could see lovers sitting on the benches. Their heads were together and the cooing reminded him of the pigeons on the roof of her rooms. That first afternoon seemed a century ago now. How had it come to this? She took one step toward the back edge of the boat then another. He could see a stone lion beside the walking path standing sentinel over the lovers crouched against his great haunches. She gave a great start forward and Brady leaped to catch her. But he had misjudged the distance and his momentum carried them off the back of the boat and into the water. He heard her scream as the cold engulfed them and he wondered for an instant if she could swim. He felt woozy and tried to think how long he had before hypothermia set in. But part of him was warm. It was his head. Brady realized he had hit his head on the side of the boat as he came up and he was bleeding. He saw her swimming toward him and calling for help. Then she grabbed his right arm to pull him toward the shore. Brady looked at the banks of the Seine. He saw lovers as before but they seemed to be sitting on the swings of his grade school.

Brady balled his left hand, the dominant one, into a fist then drew it back and punched her in the jaw as hard as he could. As he had expected she released his arm and both hands flew to her face. Brady took this opportunity to begin stroking farther into the Seine. He looked back once at the boat he had struck and saw that most of the passengers were now crowding the top deck. He blew a kiss to the chic blonde then sank beneath the water. He did not resurface.