Martin Trent remembered crashing that Iraqi stone farmhouse—past midnight, March, 2016. Inside, tapestries draped those stone walls. Four men: two at a table and two on a beat-up green sofa. Rifles? Low-voiced preparations for rocket-grenade strikes against Government forces? Like that?
No, it shouldn’t have been like that. This was supposedly a routine patrol. But back home now in Virginia, those Mideast memories still stabbed Martin’s head. And, besides, at the present moment his cell phone was ringing.
What he always remembered was the thwoomp-thwoomp-thwoomp of circling chopper blades—like some great old Pink Floyd disc. Meanwhile, one of those guys on the green sofa must have told a joke—the men’s four voices surging, boisterous and noisy. Brimming with laughter and delight in danger? Then it just all went to hell.
Martin shook his head hard—to toss memories away. Head didn’t work right now. And his phone was still ringing.
He exhaled harshly—grabbed the phone. “Yeah’ello?”
Alex Beatty’s hyper-educated alto: “Hola, dude! Eight o’clock ... remember?”
“I’m here already, Alex—at the café.”
“Yeah, sorry. We’re running late. Look. This morning Irene met Judith Angleton. She’s in town for three days. Irene convinced her to join us tonight.”
Now Martin didn’t say anything at all. He didn’t feel anything at all. For an instant, he didn’t exist at all. Then Alex said, “Judith Angleton—remember, Martin? The sister of the girl who almost married you.”
Finally, Martin spoke: “Where’s Judith been?”
“She told Irene, ‘in California somewhere’. By the way, Christine Richards wanted to come tonight. But not a good idea with Judith along. We all know your old feelings for Judith.”
“Yeah ... feelings.”
“But you should see Christine more, Martin.”
“She’s a nice girl.
“She’s not just a nice girl. One day, she’ll be millions nicer. Martin, think of your future. Those special ops days are bye-bye. You were wounded out. One hundred percent disability. My advice? Marry Christine. Get fat and affluent working for her father.”
“Selling half-million-dollar yachts to semi-billionaires?”
“You could do worse. And Irene says that Christine craves you.”
“Does Judith know I’ll be with you tonight?”
“I don’t think so. Irene didn’t know you’d come. Judith may be there already. Have you seen her?”
“That’s right. She said she’d wait in her car. She didn’t want to go in alone.”
“What kind of car, Alex?”
When Alex returned he said, “Irene says, ‘Just a car car—gray’. With two doors, Irene thinks.”
Yeah. The silver Merc was easy to find, parked under a live oak. But no one in the car? Was this even her car? Those wheels had to be like year ‘97. So, at least she probably hadn’t married a millionaire yet. Then he saw her, unmarried or not—standing alone in the darkness of the ocean beach near the café.
The first time he’d seen her she was in the ocean, off Virginia Beach. Some Viking poet might have named her The Water Girl, The Sea Maiden. She was becalmed in her catamaran, its small sail dangling helplessly as an offshore current pushed her slowly towards Portugal. Martin, in diving gear, ducked under the pounding surf and swam out to her. He still remembered that pale-green water churning white in high-noon brightness—on that not so long-ago summer that seemed a thousand years away.
Above him, the shadow of her sailing cat had quivered in liquid light as his fins kicked him higher. Rising lungs struggled up through dim watercolor ... his head exploding out into air dazzle. And all these hours later, he thought that the first thing he’d ever said to her was: “You lost out here, beautiful?”
She’d said something like, “You free-divin’ out here?”—her slacker Southern syllables lingering indifferently, as if speech on this earth was sweet and slow but wearisome.
“There’s no wind at all, beautiful.”
“Why keep callin’ me that?”
“Just one reason. You usually go sailing offshore with no motor ... and no oars?”
“I thought the surf would...”
He’d smiled. “Unh-uh.”
Like that? Too long ago to really recall. He’d towed her in—that much he remembered. The catamaran’s hulls knifed through the water: no resistance, no real bow waves ... until near shore the big surf had grabbed them, tossing them high and onto the sand against each other. She’d helped him up.
Yeah, he remembered.
And now here at this seaside café she was looking out at the same old ocean as Martin said, “Judith”—hoping that when she turned she’d turn smiling.
No smile. Same face, though—there in the manic flicker of the café-front neon. Dark hair framed a broad pale forehead. Eyes wide-slanted: miming some Cossack horseman’s sister’s black eyes? All images dredged up from old memories—made real again on this unexpected night.
And that same look of abnormally sensitive awareness. Always thirsting? But more quietly—not her sister’s agitated, incessant anxiety.
“After twelve months,” he said now hoarsely.
“No, thirteen,” she said.
“So, you do remember.”
But immediately she was moving away towards her silver Mercury.
“Wait ... please,” he said.
“I’ve got to go now. I didn’t expect this.”
“Judith! Stay a minute. Just five minutes. You’ve got to give me that after twelve months.”
The moon was down and the night air was heavy and growing damp. A thick, chilly mist was beginning to solidify into a drizzle. Taking her hand, he ran with her into the shelter of the café’s awning as for a moment a few drops fell. But she said, “I’ve got to go. I don’t want to stay here. I can’t talk to you. It just brings it all back.”
Then suddenly she was pointing out over dark water. “That last night we were together: little shore lights, same as now.”
Yes. Those small shimmering lights of the nearby yacht club glowed softly. Piers and finger piers shone between slips. Silhouette land: tinkling masts and antennae standing out dark against the less dark sky. Her voice came back dreamy—bitter: