STARING OUT TO SEA
A Story about A Guy, A Girl and Possibly a Time Warp, but Maybe it Was Really a Ghost After All
I've never been a particularly lucky person - unless you count bad luck which I don't because it makes me feel shitty about myself and who needs that, right?
Anyway, the reason I'm telling you this is because for the first time in my life I've had some good luck. I didn't know it at the time, but I know now.
Here’s the story. I was sitting on the beach staring out to sea attempting to look manly and commanding. You know like a ship's captain gauging the tide before setting sail for the Great Unknown or maybe a pirate surveying the white capped waves looking for my shipmates to show up with the treasure we would bury.
I don't think I looked particularly manly or commanding. Mainly because it was a cold, grey day and my butt felt like a block of ice sitting on the grainy, uncomfortable sand and my nose was running a little. It's hard to look manly with a runny nose.
I was wondering whether or not it would be too gross to wipe my nose on my sleeve, because of course I didn't have a tissue, when I saw a girl's head bobbing in the waves close to shore.
Well, I say a girl's head, but I do want to assure you that there was a body attached to the head and that the head (and the body) were very animate. She was screaming at the top of her lungs. She probably had been for quite some time only I thought it was the seagulls that always swooped around and sometimes looked ready to attack me because I never have any bread to feed them.
Heck, I hardly have any bread to feed me. Stupid birds.
A real manly and commanding sort of guy would have rushed straight into the ocean to save the damsel in distress, but I have to admit I hesitated because, well, it was cold out and also? I can 't swim.
So she sort of just washed ashore in a soggy heap.
Casting me a baleful look not unlike the glares I got from the sea gulls, she fumbled to her feet. This was hard for her to do because she was tricked out in some sort of old fashioned long gown, complete with a really deep neckline.
Her hair was waist long and it looked like it might be red, but it was plastered to her skull and face and it dripped sea water .
"My hero," she sputtered
I sincerely wanted to help her, but I was just the tiniest bit afraid she might disembowel me with her fingernails. I thought damsels in distress were shy and swooning creatures; this girl was more like a Mack truck in overdrive. Well, a four foot seven, 90 pound Mack truck. Okay, I know, I'm not good at metaphors. Or is it analogies? Whatever, you know what I mean - the girl was pretty pissed off.
"Uh, do you want to wear my jacket?" I sort of hoped she would decline. It was, as I told you before, cold.
"That is an excellent idea. Give it here!" She held out a peremptory hand. Her long sleeve dripped a steady stream of water to the damp sand.
I divested myself of my jacket. Okay, I took off my jacket and handed it to her. I know, I can't use words like "divested" and get away with it. Flashback to my college writing class and the professor actually spitting coffee all over his desk laughing at me. I didn't think teachers were allowed to be so cruel. Students, sure, but not the teachers.
"Are you going to stand there shivering like a dolt or are you going to take me someplace warm?" She struggled to put on my jacket. I guess her fingers were too cold to manipulate the zipper because she gave up after a few tries.
"Uh," I said. I'm so witty and clever it kills me. "My house is just down the beach a little way. You could go there with me."
"Wonderful. Is it warm?"
"Well, sort of There's no heat actually because I kind of lost my job and didn't pay my gas bill, but ... "
"What? What are you babbling on about? How about a fire, man! A nice roaring fire! Could you perhaps accomplish at least that much for me?" She sounded really mad.
Almost as mad as my mother sounded when I told her my gas was shut off.
"Zachary," she had shouted through the phone in a towering rage. She was always shouting at me in a towering rage. She'd been in a towering rage since I was like seven years old and the time I tried to cook mud pies in the oven and the smell didn't go away until she had professional carpet and drape cleaners in.
"I cannot believe how irresponsible you are. Just like your father! Don't expect me to send you money to pay the bill. You need to learn how to take care of yourself. I won't always be here to do that you know!"
I very nearly said, "Thank God" out loud but managed to disguise it with a coughing fit.
'”And you can stop pretending you are sick to play upon my heartstrings. No money!" She hung up in my ear.
"What are you doing?" I jumped in shock. The girl’s face flushed dark red. "I am soaked to the bone and you stand there with your eyes glazed and mouth hanging open. Are you mad? Are you simple?"
''No, I was thinking about my mother. Sorry," I muttered. I led the way to my little house. Okay, my little shack.
Back in the summer when I'd rented it from some old guy who said he was sick of nature and the seagulls and wanted some action with the ladies and the dice and moved to Las Vegas, I thought the shack was perfect. It had an ocean view - well, sort of if you craned your neck just the right way while peering out the tiny bathroom window, you could catch a glimpse of the ocean. Otherwise it was sand dune and giant rocks on one side and two lane highway on the other.
In the summer it was cool. Literally because the air conditioning was on full blast. In the winter, because I couldn't pay my gas bill, it was not so great really.
I fumbled with the key in the lock and I could feel the girl's gaze penetrating my back like icy little daggers. The more she glared, the more I fumbled until finally she shoved me out of the way and did it herself.
She stopped dead just inside the door and stood there staring around like she'd never seen a living room before.
Well, okay, my living room was pretty awful. A ratty old couch I picked up on the side of the road, and ripped old recliner that one of my college roommates gave me when I flunked out . It was sort of a memento of the keg parties we used to have. The makeout sessions we'd had on that recliner were always a highlight of those parties.
When I say makeout sessions, I don't mean with each other. I mean with girls that came to our parties. Or, okay, this one girl that came to our parties. She was sort of weird and she smelled kinda funky, but she really knew how make out in a recliner and once you drank six or seven beers, she was pretty cute.
Anyway, so I had this horrible furniture and I suppose the girl was used to nicer stuff because she looked absolutely shocked.
"What, what, what is that?" She pointed a cold finger directly at my battered old television set. Some really dumb car commercial was playing.
"Yeah, I know. I hate that guy too. Galveston Stan let me sell you a sedan – how stupid. And they play it like a million times a day."
"How does he move within the frame? Is it witchcraft?" The girl’s lips were icy blue.
"Huh?" I said,
"And what sort of iron monster is he petting?"
"You mean the Honda?" I was totally lost. "It's not really an iron monster. My uncle drives one. It's kinda mainstream if you ask me. Not that I have one. I should talk, huh?"
"Where on earth am I?" The girl asked. “'This is not the same as it was."
"As what was?" Again with the witty remarks, I kill myself.
Her gaze strayed to the calendar I had tacked to the wall. Harry Potter was riding his broom with a big dragon in pursuit.
"Is is witchcraft!" she howled. "But why doesn't he move within the frame?"
''That's only in the movies. I don't know how they do that. Special effects are awesome. But he's not a witch, he's a wizard."
''This does not bode well for my soul." She moved closer to the calendar but slowly, as if she wasn't sure whether or not it might bite her.
"February 2006?" Her voice was a whisper. "The year 2006?"
"Ever since midnight on New Year's Eve," I said, trying to sound cool, but really coming off sounding stupid.
"But when I went overboard, it was February 1846. I don't understand."
I goggled at her. Your eyes feel funny when you goggle, you know that?
"You can't be serious. 1846. That's like a hundred years ago. Okay, that's like almost two hundred years ago. Okay, that was like a hundred fifty .. anyway. that's a long time ago. You can't be here. You'd be dead by now."
"Maybe I am. Maybe I drowned. Maybe I'm a ghost!" The girl sounded ready to scream again, only this time not at me in a rage, but in a panic. I'm not good around panicky girls.
"If you're a ghost, you shouldn't be freezing cold or solid." I said.
"You know the truth of ghosts? You're an expert?" Now she sounded like her normal self
"Well, I never heard of a ghost like you. You seem pretty substantial to me. Maybe you hit a time warp or something."
"A what?" Her lower lip started to tremble and I have to say even soaking wet and her hair all stringy, she looked really cute. Certainly way better than the girl from the recliner. Even after six or seven beers.
"Like you went through a thin space in the fabric of time and ended up ahead in the future."
"We're back to witchcraft again. I knew there was something strange about Captain da Silva beside the fact that first he proposed marriage to me and then he threw me overboard the minute I said yes. He's a witch. He threw me into the future. I don't understand because I agreed to be his wife. Would a man do that to his betrothed? Even a man who practiced the Black Arts?" She paced as she spoke, dripping water over the dirty hardwood floor.
''This Captain da Silva proposed to you on the deck of a ship? Wow. That's seriously romantic. Guys in the olden days really knew how to do things right.
"Of course he proposed to me on the deck of a ship. It was his ship and when my father died of influenza, I had no chaperone aboard. It was the only thing a chivalrous man of honor could do."
"Well, maybe he was a chivalrous man, but sounds to me like he didn't want to get married. So when you said yes, he freaked out and threw you overboard." I said.
"The impertinence!" screamed the girl, stomping her foot.
"He threw you overboard awfully close to shore. Was it really necessary to propose? You would have been unchaparoned for about five minutes before docking. That 's not so bad, is it?"
"I would have been ruined," spat the girl. "Five minutes, five hours, five days, it is all the same in the eyes of society."
"Say, you're unchaparoned right now. I mean I like you and all that, but do I have to propose to save your honor? That might be cool. None of my friends had to get married to save a girl's honor. None of my friends are actually married. Or have girlfriends even."
"I would rather die than marry an oaf like you." Her eyes flashed and I thought she might hit me. "Don't you dare insult me."
"Fine. The thing is, you're here in 2006 and everyone you know is in 1846 and you don't want to marry me because I'm oaf but I'm also the only person you know in 2006. So you're screwed basically."
"What is this 'screwed’?" She asked. "Is it some sort of dark magic?"She dripped more water on the floor.
"I want to go back." Her voice was decisive.
"Well, I guess you need to find the time warp,” I said"
"I know nothing of this time warp. You are a babbling idiot, but it appears you know more than me about this subject. Take me to the time warp."
"We haven't even established that there was a time warp. How do you know that you' re not a ghost, cursed to haunt Galveston after drowning in the ocean a hundred years ago?"
"I refuse to be a ghost. I have my whole life ahead of me. Even married to that odious lout Captain da Silva, I would still be able to go to dances and suppers and wear beautiful clothes and have my maid pile my hair upon my head and slip expensive jewels on my fingers and around my throat. Especially married to him. He's extremely well off. One of the richest man in Texas. I swear Papa died on purpose in order to see me well matched in matrimony."
"Do people get to refuse to be ghosts?" I asked. "I mean that's fucking with fate and destiny. Can we do that sort of thing?"
"I can do anything I set my mind to do. You, on the other hand, seem imminently suited to be a puppet dancing on the strings of fate." She smiled as if this actually amused her.
"No sir!" I yelped, stung to the core. "I can do things too. I didn't want to work so I sort of just slacked off until they fired me. I got what I wanted - free time to sit on the beach and stare out to sea."
"I refuse to be trapped here in this pestilential time with this ridiculous little boy." She stomped her foot again. "Perhaps if I return to the ocean I could swim out to sea and be returned to my own time. It's worth a try!" She took off running for the beach.
"You'll kill yourself!" I ran after her. She could really run fast for a girl in a long, wet dress.
"I thought I was already dead!"
She had too big a head start and I was too heavy of a smoker. I didn’t catch her before she threw herself into the cold ocean and swam, her long red hair floating out like strange seaweed behind her.
''This is what you get for skipping swimming lessons to go read comic books in the park," I told myself as she got smaller and smaller.
One minute her head was there, bobbing on the waves. The next it just wasn't.
I waited a long time for her body to wash ashore, but it never did.
I never told anybody about her. Well, nobody until you today.
I know I was slacking off and not cleaning the men's room like you told me to, but you see, on the way to the men's room I had to walk past the new display here at the museum. The Girls of Galveston , that's the one. All those old fashioned photographs and old jewelry and tiny tiny shoes. Why were people so little in the olden days? Nobody's ever been able to explain that to me.
Anyway, there's this one photo of this girl wearing a long gown with her hair piled up on her head and lots of jewels on her fingers and everything. It's black and white so you can't tell the color of her hair, but I bet you it's red. It’s her, the girl from the beach.
The weird thing is, the picture's dated 1852. And the caption under her name is "Mrs.Juan da Silva at her beach estate". Da Silva is the name of that captain who threw her overboard. She did it. She made it back. She married that guy. which I can't understand because I don't think I would marry anybody who tried to kill me, but the thing is - she did it. She said you could do anything you wanted if you wanted to bad enough and she was right.
I wasn't even going to tell you this story, but you looked upset when you were yelling at me and I think you must be a nice guy deep down. So, don't feel bad about firing me. I’m a slacker, I know.
But the thing is, I'm not going to be a slacker anymore. That girl said she would get back to her time and she did it. So why can't I do what I want? I don't want to live in a shack with no heat and work cleaning out restrooms at a museum. I don't want my mom bossing me around for the rest of my life. I don't want to be a loser staring out to sea.
What do I want to be? Well, that's the hard part. But at least I know what I don’t want. It’s a start anyway.
I'm gonna leave now. When I walk out that museum door, my life starts over and is going the way I want it. What? Yeah, I’ll take the back entrance to the employee parking lot, that's cool.