BY DAVID MOORES
Copyright his held by the author.
THE SAIL Alice was wrapped in crackled indifferently as she rolled over. Raindrops pattered on the cold Mylar sailcloth. The breeze fanning wavelets on the Niagara River smelled of mud and moss, spiked with diesel.
Alice surfaced, shivering and headachy, from a night on the unyielding foredeck of a Beneteau Three-Sixty-Seven docked at Youngstown Yacht Club. She tried a stretch, and it all came back. Yep, she’d done it again.
She was relieved that the semi-public amorous encounter beneath that same sail last night, and the refreshments prior, hadn’t left her feeling worse. She was ready for a pee and a shower, but on the plus side her nether parts had nothing beyond a familiar and not unpleasant gently bruised feeling.
“Miss?” A woman’s annoyed voice from back in the Beneteau’s cockpit. “Would you get back to your own boat now? We saw and heard quite enough of you last night. Just go, and tell Arturo not to bring you here again.”
“On my way.” Snotty cow, Alice thought. She supposed she couldn’t really blame the woman, and she had to get going anyhow, it being her turn to run to the store for Gatorade and snacks before the regatta began.
She hauled herself to her feet and looked around. Grey early morning, rain dimpling the water. Up the street from the Yacht Club, the village of Youngstown, New York sat quietly on a low bluff. A short ways downstream, the Niagara River emptied into Lake Ontario. Youngstown, a typical upstate small community, pop 2000, couldn’t compete with Niagara-on-the-Lake, the tourist trap on the Canadian side of the river, but the annual regatta made up for that.
Rolling Stone magazine had once called the Youngstown Regatta one of the 10 best parties in America. Great bands, all-you-can-drink beer and a couple of hundred sailboats crewed mostly by men, often wiry, mildly disreputable men. An interesting proposition for a single woman of halfway-presentable appearance.
Alice knew her looks were nothing spectacular. Her face was framed by straight mousey-blonde hair. She displayed Scandinavian cheekbones, a ski-jump nose and a broad mouth which, in her opinion, showed off too many teeth. Her midsection was likewise okay but nothing to turn heads.
Not so her legs. They were shut up stunning. Normally-reserved men would exclaim aloud on their gorgeousness. Toned and athletic like many, they were additionally curvaceous and voluptuous in a way that made guys’ insides do backflips.
The boat where Alice had slept was one of a clutch of eight tied together side to side, extending out from the dock into the river like a raft. They jostled gently against each other with the occasional creak from mooring lines. There were five boats between Alice and the dock and she began clambering across them to reach it. Awkward with a hangover at 6 am, not helped by ironic hand-clapping and shouts of “Yeah Baby!” from early risers who had obviously seen or heard last night’s exploit.
Or maybe it was her getup which, she now realised with an inward Oh Fuck, comprised a Bronte Rocks Regatta T-shirt, her thong, and nothing else. Returning in haste to recover the rest of yesterday’s outfit, Alice slipped barefoot on a rain-slick deck and went head first in the water.
The current in the Niagara River, Lake Erie emptying itself into Lake Ontario, was a force of nature. Alice, in her shaky state after a night sleeping rough, had as much chance against it as a bug flushed down the john. It was carrying her to the middle of the river and out towards the lake.
Nobody so far was gutsy enough, or maybe fool enough, to enter the water and help. Scenes from Alice’s life began flashing before her eyes: the day she got a kitten, her first and last Brazilian wax, school exams.
Roy Sauvé was replacing a broken shackle on the bow of a tired C&C 29 called No Foolin’ when he heard the splash and cries of “Girl overboard.” A woman, barely treading water and looking pale and panicked, swept past.
Roy was the archetype of the person holding the Foredeck position on a racing sailboat: the knuckleball pitcher of the crew, the one with attitude. He had that stringy working dude look, spiky prematurely white hair, a fringe of matching goatee, frosty blue eyes and demeanour to match. Five foot five with a short man’s shoulder-chip, Roy had spent his working life in blue collar jobs in Hamilton’s steel industry.
Stupid broad, thought Roy. Then, to his own surprise and with a muttered “Ah shit,” he kicked off his flip-flops and dove in to save her.
It didn’t take long, but by the time he reached her, Roy was hyperventilating and starting to question his sanity. Kinda late for that, dumbass, he thought, so “I gotcha, I gotcha,” he yelled and grabbed at her, catching hold, albeit unintentionally, in the left chest area. She, flopping around uncontrollably, responded with a knee in the testicles and their collective situation was not improved.
Adjusting his grip, Roy tried to support his charge and paddle for shore. Wasn’t working. Fort Niagara on the American side of the river mouth slid by. The woman appeared borderline hypothermic, babbling incoherently. Then Roy heard a sharp a pop-popping sound. Jesus they’re shooting at us, he thought, recalling the small-arms range nearby, adjacent to an area of water restricted in case of misses and marked off with buoys. The Coastguard’s Instructions To Mariners said, in effect, sail here and get shot.
No bullets ripped the water. Instead, the Youngstown-Niagara ferry, its one-cylinder diesel popping away, pulled up to them. They got dragged aboard and the ferry resumed its first trip of the day from Youngstown to Niagara-on-the-Lake.
Wrapped in grungy blankets from the ferry’s locker, the two got introduced, but Roy was unused to being the hero of the hour. He accepted congratulations, pats on the back and smokes with nods and little else, and barely managed to receive Alice’s heartfelt thanks with a shrug and a grin.
Ashore, Roy found himself and Alice escorted by Sharon, the ferry boat’s skipper, “Lose my job otherwise,” to the portals of Canadian Immigration, a shed basically, smelling of bleach and sporting a lineup of posters relating sins and misdemeanours you better not commit and why you would come to regret it if you did.
At the counter stood the officer on duty, name tag Melissa. Lounging back to the side, her number two, a heavy-set black guy, name tag Vincent.
In Melissa, Roy instantly recognised a female counterpart: same hair and washed-out colouring, minus goatee, plus chest, same demeanour. “Sir, you can’t smoke in here,” were the first words out of her mouth. It crossed Roy’s mind that nobody could make “Sir” sound more patronising than a border guard. He held eye-contact with Melissa for a beat, then crushed the glowing cigarette under his cold wet heel. It hurt like shit but he didn’t flinch. Neither did Melissa.
“Sir, I need your names and I need to see ID,” said she, shoulders squared.
“Roy Sauvé and Alice Cooper,” drawing a stifled snork from Vinnie.
“Don’t joke around Sir, she can answer for herself. What is your name Ma’am?”
“That is my actual name,” ground Alice through chattering teeth. She looked like she badly wanted to add “Bitch” but refrained.
“So I need ID,” said Melissa, “ without ID you’ll both need to remain here until we establish your identity and citizenship.”
“Lady, we were just pulled out of the freakin’ river! All our stuff is back on the other side. We’re like shipwreck survivors or something,” said Roy, struggling to characterize their predicament. In a plea for sanity he looked at Vinnie but the man just rolled his eyes.
Melissa wasn’t going for it. “Sir, without ID you will both need to remain here until we establ—
When he felt like it, which was often, Roy would drink himself into a fury in some steel workers’ bar on Barton Street and pick a fight. No stranger he to law enforcement officers and their ways. Never show the assholes weakness was his policy.
”Lady, will ya quit repeating yourself like a fuckin’ robot! We are walking out that door and back on the fuckin’ ferry and we were never here. Bye.” Melissa turned for support to her wingman, but Vincent had made a strategic withdrawal to the back office.
They made it onboard the ferry as Melissa, now packing a serious black automatic on her hip, came boiling out of the office. “You two, back inside. You are under arrest for attempted illegal entry into Canada.”
A critical juncture for sure. Events hanging in balance. Sharon, with the deliberation befitting her rank, turned to face Melissa and drew breath. Roy sensed that this was only the latest in a string of run-ins.
“Melissa, as you perfectly well know, this is a US-registered vessel operating across an international border. As Captain, I am in sole charge of those aboard and you have no jurisdiction. See ya later.” To hoots and clapping from the passengers, she gunned the engine and the ferry departed for Youngstown, leaving the sharp airport-smell of burnt kerosene in its wake.
Arriving back at the Yacht Club, Alice, still wrapped in the ferry’s blanket to protect her from wandering eyes, ended up following Roy to his tent in the camping area where overflow crew bunked down for the night. She wasn’t ready to face her crewmates on Pussy just yet.
Roy dug out a towel for himself and handed one to her. “You’re the Alice on Pussy Galore, right? Helluva name for a boat.”
“Yes that’s me.” Rat-tails of wet hair across her face. She caught a look of what? Disappointment? From Roy.
“That’s that dyke boat, right?”
“The owners are a gay couple. Dyke’s not a word I like.”
“Well pardon my vo-cab-u-lary.”
Alice shrugged. Under the blanket she manoeuvred herself out of the T-shirt and started drying off. Roy did likewise, with the occasional peek at Alice which, under the circumstances, she didn’t feel entitled to call him on. She was covered in goosebumps anyway, not too alluring, she thought. Like she cared.
She was so cold.
The moment came when Alice stopped thinking, dropped the towel and launched herself at Roy, who caught her and held on. His embrace wasn’t warm exactly, but his arms around her felt like salvation.
One part of him soon felt quite warm and Alice reached under his towel. Roy’s eyes went wide. In a hurry, Alice backed off, hiked herself around on the groundsheet to kick away her underwear and returned to wrap herself around Roy. It went quickly then, not an occasion for tenderness or subtlety, she didn’t even like him for gosh sakes. She started making tiny growling noises in his ear. The orgasm started like a quiet flame, bloomed, and engulfed her.
A while later, dazed but warmer, Alice snuck back onboard Pussy Galore, crew still snoring after late partying, grabbed her overnight bag and made for the Ladies’ Room to get herself together.
But for the second time in the barely six hours, she had failed to resist the lure of opportunistic sex. And that, Alice Katrin Cooper you sad slut, she thought, is your big problem.
Pussy Galore was a C&C 33 based in Oakville and owned by a lesbian couple of lawyers, Norma and Lucy. The other crewmembers, three including Alice, were straight. All female though, accounting for the owners’ choice of the boat’s name with its racy overtones. After a high-cholesterol breakfast at the Yacht Club Alice made it back aboard, feeling at least functional. Arturo had not been heard from. Quelle surprise.
Alice had met Norma when she hired her for the divorce. That whole sad business had started when the docs told her that her tubes were blocked beyond hope of surgery. And the problem was not that Alice and Alan would be childless, rather that everything Alan possessed had to be in perfect working order, be it snow blower, hi-fi, or wife. Eventually she realized that he was an obsessive sociopath, and the final straw came when, in an especially poisonous fight, he told her “You’re so great aren’t you, but you can’t even be a mother.” She left the next day.
One part of Alice knew quite well that she had come undone since the divorce, the good-girl image she once had of herself now shoved aside, and control of her personal life slipping out of reach. The other part didn’t care all that much, and the two were constantly at odds. Still, promiscuity had become Alice’s escape. Her legs had ensured no shortage of opportunity.
It was time to go racing. Mooring lines released, the mass of sailboats, battle flags flying and crews yelling challenges, made a spectacle as they headed downriver, stereos cranking war anthems. Lucy had Lady Gaga’s Edge of Glory blasting out and if that didn’t get you pumped you were catatonic or dead. The locals turned out to watch.
The rain had cleared off to the south. Alice straightened up from tidying a line. She turned her face into the wind to view the crowd of sharp looking sailboats manoeuvering under a brightening sky, awaiting the starting gun’s signal for the first race of the day.
And in that unexpected moment, like a door opening on a sunny garden, the shock and fear of her brush with death were replaced by a glow of joyous relief. She was alive, goddammit! She wasn’t religious, but heartfelt thanks were due, she felt, to somebody or something, to whatever had allowed this day, these friends, these boats, this lake, this planet even, to be here at all rather than nothingness, and she to be here and part of it.
And Alice felt that she had been given a warning and another chance.
Yes, she thought. It’s time for all this playing around to stop. Last night with Arturo, and, I can’t deny it, this morning with Roy, were the grand finales, and they were grand weren’t they? But really, it’s time to put that stuff behind me. I’m done with it.
BANG went the starting gun for Race 1. To Alice it seemed to signal the arrival of a more hopeful passage in her life.