“I hate the damn beach,” Cal said and it surprised me because I had always heard he loved the beach.
“I don’t like it either.” I replied and it was true. It’s far too much sun and far too much sand and what I really liked are the waves, but it’s always hot and always sandy.
“I don’t give a damn what you like.” Cal said and we fell silent again.
“And I don’t much give a damn what my daughter likes, either, even if it’s you.” Cal said suddenly. I sipped my beer and counted to ten before taking another sip. Cal was hitting his pretty hard and if I couldn’t talk to the son of a bitch I sure as hell could get drunk with him.
“You’re a,” and Cal paused as if he was searching for a way to say it nicely, “you’re a writer? You just sit around and write? That’s it? That’s what you do?” He drained his beer and tossed the can back into the cooler. I drained mine, too. I reached for another.
“Get me one too, if you cando that.” Cal said as if I might fumble the can or lose my way.
“And you were an,” and I paused in the same matter, “an accountant? You just sat there and counted all day?”
“Was a time I would’a dragged your ass out there in the open and made you bleed til I was tired of the color red.” He said this without a bit of arrogance in his voice and I nodded because I felt like he might still try it. “I did that, did she tell you I did that once? Her first boyfriend in High School, did’she tell you about that?”
“Yeah, she did.” I lied hoping he wouldn’t tell me anyway,
“Fine young man, quarterback on the football team, good family, all that stuff, but I knew if I messed up that pretty face I wouldn’t have no trouble with the rest of’em. Brought her home after midnight smelling of beer and cigarettes and was just going to drop her off and drive off. Pulled the sum bitch right out of the window of his daddy’s car.” Cal killed his beer in three gulps and so I did too. I got us both another one.
“Like to went to jail over it.” Call sighed. “Made him bleed plenty but didn’t hurt him, really. I went to a lot of trouble not to hurt his arm.” Call laughed hard and suddenly. “And I sure as hell didn’t hurt his fists any!”
I raised my beer to salute him and then we drank together. I finished first and got us another one.
“Kris,” Cal said, “she took her time getting over that one. Rebellious type. Started bringing home flute players and mama’s boys and video game experts. Flute player! How’s a man wake up one day and wanna play a damn flute? But she never latched onto nobody until now. Went through eight years of college bringing up that what couldn’t make it through a week of boot camp but never the same one twice.”
Cal stopped talking and he must have realized what it sounded like when he said what he had. We drank in silence for a while and when he was done he got me one too. I killed mine and realized that I was nearing my limit if I was going to drive. Or walk.
“Kris tell you about the Boann?” Cal asked but his voice was lower now. He killed his beer very quickly and I struggled to drain mine. He got us both another one and I took a gulp of it, trying to get it down in case he chugged his right off the bat, but he leaned forward and looked out over the water. “She wasn’t a large boat, just something for me to have after I retired and I thought about renting her out, being a fishing guide, but I don’t know shit about fish and I can’t stand fishing people. But it was fun to get out on the water, and I fell in love. I started navigating with a sextant and a compass, I wasn’t a whole lot good with it but I loved it. I started keep’n charts and trying to figure out how the tides and currents worked. Live and breathed it as much as I could while Kris was trying to get her Pee- Ache- Dee and when she finally graduated she wanted to go out on the Boann and celebrate. Had that damn vet she dated for a while, specialized in poodles or some such as that. Man looked like he hadn’t seen daylight since he was a young’un. Had long yeller hair that curled up like a girls. Like to had seen him in a foxhole taking fire. Cal looked at me sideways as if he thought I would have something to say about it but I didn’t. I took another gulp of beer and squeezed it down. My eyes watered.
“Beautiful day, spectacular day, and the Poodle Boy ruined it all because he couldn’t shut the hell up. I was ready to kill him and Kris just kept laughing at me every time she could see I was about to explode. It was his fault, really, and I wish’a Kris had brought that damn flute player instead. I should have listened to the water, and the wind, but I didn’t, and I knew I hadn’t done right, and that damn storm caught us out in the open before I could make a run.”
Cal stopped and rubbed his hands through his hair and then put his cap back on. He got us both a beer and didn’t say anything at all for a while. We both drank in silence and I had just finished one beer and started on the next. If I was going to marry Kris I was going to have to learn to drink. I was getting intoxicated and it was getting hot. The heat waves rose like the water and crashed into me. The sea breeze seemed to have died.
“I knew the storm was coming but we were already in when I realized we weren’t getting around it. Whadda you do? I mean whadda you do? The wind picked up from nothing to damn near gale and suddenly there was me and the boat and there was the sea and the wind, and God Almighty had taken real boat from real sailors and left nothing but a slick spot on the surface afterwards. I fought that storm. I fought her like I was fightin’ for my family’s life, but truth is I fought it because I had always wanted it. I wanted to know. I would have never took Kris and her mama out there for that but it was better they were there, you see? With them there I couldn’t give up or back down. I had to take everything that storm had and I had to push the Boann as far as she would go. Poodle Boy was screaming like a little girl and my wife made a mess of herself screaming with him. I could hear’em squealing from the deck. But barely. The wind was up and the water rose up to take the Boann from me. She wanted the boat and wanted me, but mostly she wanted to take Kris from me, and she wanted me to know she could. I’ve been shot at. I’ve had men try to kill me and I’ve put bullets in those men. Grenada wasn’t nothing to talk about as far as wars go and it was shameful to kill men who weren’t equal to what I was, and I knew they weren’t, but the water was more than a match for anybody or anything. Three times I rammed the stick hard forward, as tight as she would go, and gave the engines all they could take. Three times the Boann climbed, and climbed, and she climbed to the top of those waves and I eased her down the other side. Them three times, them three waves, them three moments of my life meant more to me than any medal I ever won. My boat, mine, my hand on the wheel, my own, and my mind in that storm. Mine! Mine! I tell you I rode that thing like I was fucking her.” And then Cal fell silence and drank his beer slowly. I hadn’t realized it but I had stopped breathing. Kris had never mentioned this. I could see why. Cal finished his beer and reached his hand out, and I put another beer in it. I finished mine and started another.
“Finally, the wind backed down, just a little and the rain slacked off. I still fought it but the storm was dying and then it was gone. Just like that, the sun came out and you could see it walking out over the water to try to kill somebody else for the rest of the day. My wife and Poodle Boy were huddled together whimpering like someone had whipped them good, but Kris was down on the bilge pump. It’s a handle that takes both hands to pull and while I was trying to save her life she was trying to save mine. Her hands were bloodied from the work and she had cracked her head on something when the Boann lurched. But I knew right then I couldn’t tell her what she could have from then on. I saw in her the same thing I seen in men that fought beside me. I should’a known then.”
Cal stopped and looked at me. He took off his cap again and look at me as if he were trying to figure out I how I would look in a foxhole or on that pump. “Another?” I asked and got us both a beer. I wanted him to keep talking now.
“We got in and that damn old geezer, not far from my age now, looked at me like I was somebody. Them guys that was there all year round knew what I had done and they looked at me like one of their own and I was.”
Cal stopped and then he laughed. It was a sound devoid of humor or humanity. “Kris looked at me different, too. She was proud of me in a way that made me feel good. I started looking for another boat, the Boann had taken a beating, and then that damn fern. The god damn fern.”
“Fern?” I filled my mouth with beer and swallowed hard. “Is that the name of a boat?’
“Kris’ mama put in I stay ashore while the Bo’ was getting dry docked.” Cal laughed again. “I was on a step ladder trying to hang one of those ferns that people hang up,”
“Hanging baskets” I offered. My head was spinning.
“…yeah, whatever, but I went backwards over the porch rail. Damn near broke my spine. I couldn’t stay on a boat more than a couple of hours if the wind picked up at all. It was over and I knew it. I sold the Boann and this is as close to the water as I can get.”
“Whoa” it was all I could think to say.
“You know, we went on one of them cruises but it was like being at Wal Mart for a week. Folks pushin’ and shovin’ try to get to food that runs right through you. Boat was so damn big we couldn’t really feel the water. It was like being in a small town where everybody wants to do the same thing at the same time. It was as fun as having a pocketful of hornets on a trampoline.” Cal stopped talking again and I let him. I had drank nearly six beers, or was it five? Maybe more. But it was more than I was used to drinking that fast.
“Pain gets me now.” Cal said. “Most of the time it’s pretty bad, but sometimes it feels like they left something in me. I can feel it, always, even when I’m tore up drunk. Feels like a hand on me where one’s not supposed to be. I dodge things now, plants me feet careful like a old lady. You got mouthy with me and I can’t do nothing about it. I can turn the wrong way and it knocks me feet out from me. I call it My Drinking Buddy. Sea couldn’t take my boat from me but a plant in a wire basket did.” Cal drained his beer and I followed suit. I was totally wasted now. He could have beat me to death with a feather. I felt like I might puke.
“So you aim to marry Kris?” Cal asked suddenly and I felt the buzz of the beer bleed away. I still had a can of pepper spray on my keychain and two years of self-defense classes.
“Yes sir, I do.” I managed to say.
“And you think it’s proper for you two women to act like man and wife?”
“I do.” I had never been through this before but I knew it was coming. “I love Kris and I am going to marry her, Cal.” I sat up and planted my right foot in the sand. He was going to start something and he was going to do it now. I was going to man the pumps or lose my woman.
“Well then” Cal said, “you go right ahead, little missy. But you got to write something for me.”
“Yeah” I felt he was toying with me. “I’ll do it.”
“You write that I wanted to take a swim one day, and you write that I got too far out and couldn’t make it back in.” Cal suddenly sounded very sober. “You get to writing and don’t forget that’s one hell of a girl.”
And I watched him stumble towards the surf. Cal made it to the water, dove over a breaker, and headed out to sea.