By Karen L. Lessard
He docked that frigid morning as a fog bank settled along the eastern reaches of Casco Bay.
She’d slept restlessly during the nor’easter two nights before. She couldn’t recall her dreams, but his presence in the dank morning air was unmistakable. Wary but not anxious, she could sense the tide was turning.
She’d banished him from her consciousness for five years, keeping him submerged like the shipwreck he was, but she’d never doubted he’d resurface. One day, a tempest would draw him from the deep like other flotsam from her past and she’d have to face him and force him back down.
Yesterday caught her channel surfing. Despite deliberately avoiding old TV shows, she felt closed in by the storm and began exploring. And there he was: young and handsome, strong and honorable, as perfect as she’d first seen him fifteen years before.
In another life, she’d watched that series faithfully and had developed a juvenile crush on the character he portrayed. It was a safe crush, separated from real life by fantasy, anonymity, and the distance between the East and West coasts. She could laugh about it over beer with her friends at Dewey’s.
Five years later, Fate relocated her to Los Angeles and introduced them through a mutual friend. She found the man embodied the fictional character, and for a few years, it seemed they were meant for each other. But eventually, reality deviated from the script. He chose to change course; she chose to change coasts.
Her departure from California had been tumultuous; her return to Maine convinced her that the years in L.A. were simply an extension of her childish fantasy. Her childhood home offered safe harbor.
But the dreams and the old TV show had piqued her curiosity, and this morning, social media served as harbor master to guide him to her slip. How stupid of her to Google his name! How self-destructive to explore the website he’d created for his philanthropic project.
Hollywood had made his life comfortable, and he’d poured his resources into her dearest social cause. How dare he–the documentary had been her idea. She had shared her vision with him at their introduction, and they’d spent hours in passionate altruistic conversation. She had the intimate knowledge of the issues, he the connections and experience to create a film to educate the world.
Impetuously, she signed up to follow the site. Fate set its hook without hesitation or mercy.
“How are you?” His tenuous testing of frozen waters.
Her mind raced as adrenaline dumped, and she yanked her hands from the keyboard as if from the mouth of a shark.
The answer to that simple question was not simple. I’m fine without you would beg a dissertation of her achievements and salvaged life. I feel cheated that you did this without me would be closer to the truth because she once believed they’d be partners in this venture. He was making a difference without the slightest nod to their scuttled relationship.
She stared at the question for a moment, then retreated for a cup of tea and some fresh air.
“How are you?” The question trailed in her wake like a hungry seagull.
I’m just fine, damn it.
She sipped her tea, relishing its earthy aroma, and stepped onto her balcony overlooking Casco Bay. She watched the ice-encrusted fishing boats emerging from beyond the Calendar Islands and chugging into Portland Harbor with their bounty. She drank in the bay’s heady saltiness and set her mind adrift to the cacophony of marine traffic, bell buoys, and water birds. Hot tea and smoke from the still-icy harbor mingled into misty tendrils, adding visual poetry to the diversion.
“How are you?” The Spring Point Ledge fog horn moaned its misgivings, shattering her reverie.
Why the hell should you care? You were so wrapped up in yourself and your fans.
“How are you?” A Coast Guard cutter blasted a warning as it broke up the ice choking the main shipping channel.
You scourged my soul, and you embarrassed the hell out of me in the tabloids. I hated that life. I’m glad to be free of it and you.
“How are you?” The question hovered precariously above her balcony.
Succumbing to the bitterness, she slipped back inside but left the slider open a smidge, hoping the onshore breeze would purge him away. The question was waiting on the laptop screen but was hidden behind a slide show of book signings, vacations, and family and friends. She smiled back at her smiling image kayaking near Peaks Island.
I’m okay. I have a great life.
She took down the screen saver. As the kayak faded from view, a second question surfaced.
“Are you there?” As she read the words, she could hear his gentle voice as if he were standing at her shoulder.
You know I am…you can see I’m still signed on.
She finished her tea and set the delicate cup on its saucer, concentrating on the chickadee-and-pine motif to delay looking back at the screen. Finding no respite there, her eyes sought out and caressed his words.
“Are you there?” She felt his hand softly on hers.
I guess I owe you a reply. I started this.
“Raven?” His warm breath upon her neck…
She inhaled sharply and eased her hands toward the shark’s mouth. n
Portland native Karen Lessard is in the U.S. Forest Service. She’s presently posted in northern Minnesota.