Below is a story I've been trying to capture for years. It's not much, but it's almost my like my very own A&P. Some names have been changed. Others have not.
Not So Starry-Eyed Anymore
Maybe, there’s a time outside of time, a way to bond by leaving our starry-eyed souls adrift on a raft floating on the universe’s tide, connected to life sideways, and sewn to one another with gossamer threads, like helium.
It was at least 8 o’clock. I was freshly showered and my work clothes were jammed into a laundry bag. I was a cotton dress and flip flops, a headband, and adorned with maybe one trinket around my neck.
I grabbed my Manchester United backpack and the handle of Sailor Jerry, because there’s no reason to live unless you go hard, right? I locked up, walked down the stairs, and met a man outside.
He sat there, plastic cup, empty.
“Hey,” I said and smiled.
“Hey girl, hey,” he answered.
“Noticed you’re empty. Tonight, I’ll be your booze fairy.”
“Thank you, thank you, thanks.”
Without removing the bottle from my bag, I unscrewed the cap, pried off the short plastic nozzle with my nails, and refilled him up. It was one of those good spirit moments, and after I left, he yelled something after me, compliments I couldn’t hear over the traffic, on my way to the marina.
Bopping, I passed gas stations and pawn shops. The night air was cool and wet. Blackness swallowed the sky and the four railway buildings, fancy manila towers, stoic guards of the street looked down upon us tiny peasants.
The small bridge, known to eat cars when the roads flooded was dry and empty. I looked down over the edge into the dark water, seeing my own reflection and the bright orbs of street lamps. The sounds of people laughing and cars swooshing by followed me like music on the seaside wind.
A car honked, either carrying a friend, or someone I’d know from the future. I reached the light that separated Lincolnville from West King, with only the tiniest shred of memory from when I lived over that way, even though it was only two years before this.
I went left, passing another pawnshop and the liquor store. I reached the Welcome to Our City sign and started down a path that led to the inlet. I kept one eye on the mangroves, as more than once a ghost crab sashayed out in front of my stride, presented his little claws in fierce sign language, and asked for a dance.
Flouncing like a cheap napkin, I trotted into the tiny marina, listening to the mumbles of the gathering, already in swing.
The night felt humble, and it was at least ten hours of freedom until the work day ahead.
I greeted the group, unzipping my bag, and presented the bottle. While half holding my crap to the side, Peter clasped my elbow, we locked forearms, and he pulled me up onto the deck. I gave him The Sailor, closed my bag, and stashed it in the cockpit.
Edmond was the first to grab the bottle. He and Jeff were in some discussion about Spoon or the Decemberists; I couldn’t tell who, to be honest. I knew he played them for me, for everyone, all the time, but I hadn’t bothered to find out which was which.
Mid-sentence, he tipped the bottle back and took a big glug and passed it to Jeff, who didn’t drink just yet, but instead took it and handed it to Peter, who smiled and took a large swig as well. He wiped his lips with the back of his hand, and then walked the heavy, glass bottle back to me, held it out, and winked.
I said, “Eh, later,” as I really hadn’t had time that day to think. The intoxication of the night air was humming louder than the conversations around me, and I wanted just a few minutes to feel something other than drunk or high.
I saw Benjamin’s ears perk up at my refusal and he gave me a half-glance from over his shoulder, as he lounged within one of the twin nets on the bow.
Liquidized amber colored fire was a better description for the liquor, but we just called her The Sailor. She loved to tease. Drink her once, and the shot will burn you, but all you feel is a tiny buzz. It’s like nothingness zipping through you, as a quick, fleeting haze. Drink her again, and she goes down a little easier, but it’s just more of the first. Drink her a third time, and the first shot finally starts to hit you, followed in rapid succession of numbers two and three.
She takes her admirers from sitting… to tiptoes and screaming!
I wasn’t ready for any of that, so I decided, the nets.
I slipped off my flops, took cold footsteps on the ridged plastic, toes touching puddles and slid into one on the other side of Ben, facing the opposite direction, with the party before me, and him to my right.
“Benjamin! What’s up?”
He filled me in on his musings, life as a first mate, and Peter’s boat things. They were pulling up anchor soon, and heading out to more open waters.
Peter, as if on cue, brought the bottle over and held it out to Ben, who shook his head also.
This caused my eyebrows skip upwards, and I leaned over the tiny point between us, and said, “Not drinking? You… okay?”
The conversation behind him grew livelier, sucking the captain back in, who continued with his boisterous stories and pirate tales.
Benjamin turned his head around and made sure Peter and the others were more occupied, and then looked back at me with excitement in his eyes.
“I have a new game,” he said, with intensity uncharacteristic of his relaxed façade.
“Oh?” I answered, with deep interest.
“I sit around and watch everyone getting drunker and drunker. You should try it. It’ll open your eyes,” he nearly whispered.
I didn’t answer, just considered the notion. Nothing seemed abnormal. The guys were just talking, like they always did. Hannah emerged from the back of the boat with Roy, loudly laughing and joining in.
Ben leaned in and said, “It will get funnier, just watch.”
He smiled like a devil and I knew I was in. This would be the night I just watched. Jeff took his first swig and Hannah soon followed.
Each net was like a hammock, and although they seemed small compared to the size of the deck, I had enough room to stretch out and have some left over. I shouldn’t have been surprised when Baby Bro and William showed up with some other girls, that Bro-Bro climbed right in.
“I love my big sis!” he said and gave me a squeeze, before l could wiggle free. We leaned back, on elbows, with my toes and his sneakers against the nylon ropes. His words tumbled out, about his first week on the job, his discoveries, friends, and enemies. He was proud and wanted me to be too. In the six months I knew him, he went from crybaby to young gentleman, imminent scholar.
He went to finish rounds and also headed towards the bottle.
Peter came over again, to both Ben and I, looking frowny.
“Drink, drink!” he said, “It’s a party, time to have fun.”
I said, “I already had some.”
But Ben was brave, and just shook his head.
Peter frowned again, pointed at him, and muttered, but I didn’t catch it.
I repositioned, turning around so as to let the party rumble behind me also, space out, and half sleep, while gazing across the small waves.
Things got louder.
Edmond and William strutted over towards the ladder.
“We’ll be back!” Edmond shouted, and waved, with a drunken sarcasm.
“Where are they going?” someone asked.
“To get pizza,” someone else responded.
Things frayed and became looser, so much so that I turned to face Ben, who had also turned his body to be diagonal to the sea. We didn’t speak, and as I was about to, he held his first finger up to his lips, to tell me not to. It was as if to say, if didn’t do anything, we could be invisible for the entire night, and that was somehow valuable.
I gave in and remained mute, only speaking with silence.
Jeff got wild, his jokes were like cocaine, but had no punchline. He posed like a statue, leapt up and shadow boxed, kicked, spun, and almost went off the side.
Ben was right, things got interesting. Although, Benjamin seemed to tune in and out of the chaos, like he was in a boring lecture, I’m not sure my face looked as detached.
My body got sore. Ungraceful as a fish, I climbed my way back up to the sturdier part of the boat, into the hubbub and unfinished sentences.
I sat by Hannah. She went on and on about I’m not sure. I joined in some of the conversation, but kept my eyes out, watching the shape of the spectacle; it moved like some erratic, deep sea octopus. Every so often, I thought I caught a whiff of Ben thinking, but he always returned his face to ease and detachment.
Hours passed, like I was inside some strange TV show. I was there, but I wasn’t; not drunkenly fighting for attention, not screaming or singing, or putting my arms around anyone’s shoulders or pushing away someone’s hands or lips. It was like being invisible, but not.
The comedy flipped, as Baby Bro reappeared, looking angry, and pushed past me on the bench, I said, “Hey!” as he brushed against my arm and tried to collect him. He escaped my hands, and I let him go.
William and Edmond entered the stage, looking red faced and wrong. William was silent as a stone, and Edmond sputtered like a muddy engine. He paced, shook his hands out at his sides, and ran pale, thin fingers, through thick black hair.
The two girls, totally wasted by then, went up to him and one asked, “What’s wrong?”
“My car got hit by a train!” he yelled, probably too loud.
The one girl looked at the other and started laughing, “No…” she said, still laughing, “No…”
“It got hit by a train! It’s gone! It’s broken! Ka-blam!” he said, tossing his hands up.
From behind, Peter put a heavy hand on his shoulder, and brought him in. He said softly, “calm down. It’s a party. Relax.” Edmond ripped way from him, but did quiet. With shaking hands, he removed his glasses and wiped tears from his eyes.
He raised The Sailor to his lips and took a long pull. Then, he took the box of cigarettes from his shirt pocket, and lit one up.
He had a few more swigs, and sat, saying nothing. William and Baby Bro had disappeared to the stern, and the girls they brought were in their own world. Jeff returned to his silliness and Ben remained in the net.
When he was half finished with his smoke, I stood, and went over to him. Hannah followed.
“Wait, what happened?” I asked, holding his open hand and looking into his face.
He took back his hand, and faced the empty cockpit. Without returning his gaze, he said, “We ran out of gas, right on the tracks. The train was coming. William and I got out. There was only time to start running.”
I gasped, “Wow, really?”
“All my CDs were in there, all my stuff, we didn’t have time to grab anything.”
“How far did you run?”
“I don’t know. It was so loud. I’m probably going to jail.”
He cried again, so I hugged him. Peter and Hannah found their arms around him also. In the embrace, his breath returned.
We let him go and he almost smiled.
We didn’t try to come up with a plan. We didn’t do anything. Everyone knew that Edmon drove his Honda on E with the gas light on for days at a time, and more than once seemed to enjoy being stuck on the side of the road.
It terrified me, but exhilarated him. That or it was just another way he could prove to everyone that he was unworthy and an outcast.
We got on well, because we understood one another. We both believed we were less than trash, and in this we reveled. A few months later, we’d take my car from Florida to Maine to visit our favorite lobby girl.
As I sat next to him, Hannah speaking, me listening, Peter whistling, I felt the call of The Sailor. I’d hate to lose the game on the first try, so instead I just looked at the packaging.
Although the boat was full, we felt the missing. I’m sure Edmond’s thoughts were of Devon, back in ‘Bama, wondering why he left and if he’d call.
My thoughts were with Jude, Amadeus, and Bradley. One was back home in Panama City, another was with a pretty lady with glitter in her hair, and the last was either on a train or in Ocala.
The calm in our quiet moment didn’t last. Baby Bro and William made their exit. Wine coolers and beers appeared, along with new faces, and others I barely knew cycled in and out, creating a second, glorious uproar. Eventually, even Jeff turned quiet, as he curled up on his side, precariously close to the edge. Benjamin got out of the net then, only to make sure his friend didn’t roll off.
The chatter died down, and guests thinned, but every time anyone looked over at him, Edmond had his lips on The Sailor. He drank harder and harder, until Peter grabbed it from him, and took what remained somewhere below.
I woke up to seagulls and the rising sun. Air flowed beneath me, and through the open windows of the ropes. Morning light glimmered into my eyelashes.
Before I fully opened my eyes, I had no identity, no cares, and no feeling except the embrace of the net, a waking dream that lent myself to feeling more relaxed than I had ever felt.
If things were different, I never would have moved.
As if it heard my plans, the sun perked up, warming me skin, as if to say, “No, you have to go back to real life.”
Groggily, with little sleep, I surrendered to the drudges.
I found my backpack and my shoes. I found missed calls and texts and the time, just past 7am. I found Peter awake and smiling, Ben asleep and drooling, and some kind of cute dog-pile on top of Jeff, with both of those girls and the cushions from the bench.
I didn’t see the bottle and I didn’t see Edmond.
Later that week, I saw him with his CD case, and not a scratch on it or him.
I played the game two or three more times, and without consulting one another, Benjamin and I both returned to the hardy party mindset, imbibing on boats, in houses, or on porches.