It happened at a Maryland yacht club after Labor Day, when summer lingers. Philip Wright was adjusting lines aboard his forty-something-foot sailing schooner. Suddenly dark-haired Adrienne Racine called from the dock, “You’re publishing a novel?”
That Saturday was stormy, and this bold belle’s voice battled the wailing wind: “Alex Gooding told my uncle. He’s your agent, right? He goes sailing with you? We’re new here.”
Before Philip could answer, she’d climbed, uninvited, aboard his boat. She’d recently arrived like a disoriented explorer. Charmingly she’d wander the docks as if searching for her lost home, her paradise. Philip fantasized her as from another galaxy. Alpha Centauri? Her space ship had let her out on the wrong planet?
But now Philip’s Android phone was signaling a caller: Claudia Fletcher, Philip’s blonde society friend, reminding him: “Tomorrow at eleven, Philip. Remember?”
“I’ll be there, Claudia.”
“And, by the way, congratulations. Alex told us about the book deal. Why didn’t you call and tell me yourself?”
“It’s not firm, Claudia. They’re proposing some weird conditions.”
“Well, Alex seems excited about it. And he knows publishing.”
Ringing off, Philip said to Adrienne, “Your uncle’s boat’s the Martha Ann, right?”
“Yeah, named after my aunt. Hemingway had a power boat too. But I like sailing. But I’ve never been sailing.”
“Would you take me?”
“Well, yeah—sometimes, maybe.”
Philip glanced at her shoes. Boating shoes, but he laughed and shook his head. “See those trees blowing? There’s a gale out there. It’ll even be dangerous.”
“Okay. Next Saturday? Or Sunday?”
“Sorry. On Monday this boat’s being hauled for a refitting, possibly for a month.”
“Let’s go today then. Are you scared?”
“If you do this, I’ll read every story you write.”
“Do that, and I’ll take you to Paris, or the moon.”
“Let’s go sailing first.”
Philip wondered if he or she or both were crazy—their first date, going to a storm? Out there, at sea, the flashing and splashing tempest began thrashing and crashing and smashing their bouncing sailboat. But Adrienne seemed thrilled. Clinging to a starboard shroud, she shouted happily as the howling northeaster flagged her raven hair: “What’s your book about, Philip?”
“Uh ... well, political conspiracy, skimming enormous profits. But with yachting and love scenes. So, the publisher wants a romance novel.”
“And you won’t write that?”
“I don’t know. I may have to.”
“Don’t do it. Don’t give in,” Adrienne cried. “Please! Don’t cater to popular sensationalism. I love early Hemingway, but he got commercialized.”
They could see, far out in the Atlantic, a large tanker heaving and flailing—a violent spectacle: mucho sea-drama, as Adrienne exclaimed, “I feel sick. Please, Philip, don’t get commercialized like Hemingway.”
Philip laughed. “I’ll match Hemingway’s career? What a terrible fate!”
And what a day! As the schooner rolled with the vicious waves, Adrienne, beside Philip in the cockpit, was thrown into his arms. Hurriedly he put the helm on autopilot as he steadied Adrienne and asked, “How do you know about Hemingway? Do you teach literature?”
“I don’t think so, seeing I never went to college.”
“Your parents didn’t send you?”
“You don’t have parents?”
“I have parents. They just don’t have me.”
“It’s sad and decadent. I shouldn’t tell you or you’ll put it into a story.”
“Anyway, you sound highly educated.”
“I am. But I’m sick. I’m going to throw up.”
He was holding her waist while she leaned over the lifelines, but he had to pull her back from the savagely breaking sea.
Delicately she vomited on his foul-weather jacket, until the retching stopped and she heaved herself dry. Both were soiled with vomitus now, but still Adrienne shouted on: “I’m self-educated. By the way, I read the best books all the time. In my view, I’m smart. But nobody knows, because I don’t have any degrees.”
Then it seemed that something magical was happening. They were just together—just a part of each other on a rolling deck, feeling the wind as it hassled the sea on that psycho night.
Claudia Fletcher’s luncheon party the next day was at her mother’s house on Capernaum Beach, next to the Channing mansion. Parking in back, Philip joined the other guests on a large tiled veranda. They welcomed him courteously, inquiring about his work, as Claudia embraced him affectionately.
“Who are your important influences?” one lady asked.
Philip replied that he wasn’t sure. “But my favorite novelists are probably Stendhal and Dostoevsky.”
“Dostoevsky?” someone asked. “You prefer him to Tolstoy? May I ask why?”
“As I see it, Tolstoy had the art. But Dostoevsky had the heart.”
Now the little group seemed impressed. One man even clapped as Philip’s phone rang. It was Alex Gooding, sounding puzzled: “Look, a friend of yours is upset with me—Adrienne Racine.”
“I’m at a party, Alex.”
“What about the three of us for dinner? Say the club restaurant, seven o’clock?”
After lunch, as the party was breaking up, Claudia led Philip out across the rear lawn to the ocean seawall.
“My mother likes you a lot,” she said, raising her hands elegantly to Philip’s cheeks—as the noon sunlight, bouncing from her diamond bracelet, flashed in sync with the glittering sea.
“Mom said to me, ‘Philip’s fine in himself. There’s just that question of... ‘“
Philip nodded: “Money.”
Claudia smiled. “Always an ugly issue. But Alex thinks you’re about to break through.”
“I hope he’s right.”
“He said the publishers like your yacht-club scenes.”
“Well, good. But I want to write more than that.”