Copyright is held by the author.
SOMETIMES A chance remark from a friend will recall an event dormant in memory yet vivid on recollection.
My friend Jan had gone kayaking over the weekend and sent me a few iPhone shots of her exploits along with a welcome invite for coffee later in the week. She remarked that all the strenuous paddling had given her arms like Popeye’s. I recalled a rather disparaging comment I once made to an elderly kayak guru when proudly showing me his 8 ft. craft.
“You throw a Merc 75 on that and you’ll really have something!”
That remark also reflected my distaste for exercise as expressed by W.C. Fields. “Anytime I feel the need to exercise, I lie down until the feeling passes.”
The location of Jan’s adventure was an inlet from Lake Ontario known as Jordan Harbour, although no harbour exists there and never has to the best of my knowledge. It’s a lazy kind of summer place, ideal for equally lazy afternoons of canoeing and kayaking or just “mucking about in boats” to quote the Rat of Wind in the Willows fame. My mucking about in boats and knowledge of Jordan Harbour preceded Jan’s adventure by many years but one of my escapades there, is the core of what I am about to relate.
Two years after we arrived in Canada, I was convinced by my brother that we should buy a sailboat. He had some experience having sailed on the Norfolk Broads in England. Me? Zilch! But fired up by Errol Flynn’s movie, “The Sea Hawk” I readily agreed. What we bought was a gaff rigged 14’ Peterborough perhaps suitable for small northern lakes but not Lake Ontario. The decision at the time was perhaps logical. We thought the gaff rig would quickly allow us to step the mast and pass under the low bridge on the QE Highway at Jordan and out onto the lake. Interestingly, I was told years later that had the sailboat been berthed at Jordan Harbour prior to 1931, the Department of Transport would have been required to construct a bridge high enough to allow us passage, marine traffic having the right of way so to speak. Anyway, hardly had the first barnacle formed on the hull when my brother upped and relocated to Toronto leaving me the problem of stepping the mast alone. If the boat is moored against a dock, this is fine, but afloat, it’s akin to lifting and tossing a caber from a rolling log. My first attempt was my last and despite applause from onlookers and humorous suggestions directed to Captain Bligh, I gave up. Time passed and my interest turned from sailing to power boating. The sailboat continued to pile up mooring fees and seagull deposits until that glorious day when fate intervened and my brother announced that he intended to get married and needed money. Promptly, the “Sea Hawk” was sold and flush with my half in cold cash and free from all liens and encumbrances, as lawyers say, I invested in a smart new runabout complete with a Johnson 35 horse motor. Absolute bliss. No mast and no more Captain Bligh insults. Push button power, full speed ahead and damn the torpedoes.
Here I must digress a bit and tell you a little about myself otherwise you will not be able to appreciate my psyche or persona at that time. I have always been rather shy and introverted by nature. Coupled with this I had a rather bad stammer “caught”, according to my mother, from the kid next door who was also thus afflicted. We were close friends and together would stammer, stutter and yammer away at each other for hours on end. This was the age before speech therapists, psychiatric help and the rush of support groups. Recourse to the elderly village physician, a dour Scot with a liking for a “wee dram”, produced this bleary advice, “Ya dun’na ha to worry mum, he’ll grow oot it.” Wishful thinking perhaps and maybe somewhat correct, regardless, after several years of deliberate effort and dogged perseverance, I eventually succeeded in banishing the curse myself. But it was a painful process and even today small fragments of the affliction remain to remind and bedevil me.
At the time of these boating exploits I was working as a draughtsman in an engineering drawing office which of course involved blueprints, printed in a separate room manned by two girls. One of the two was exceptionally good looking, slim, long legged, blond, with a coltish kind of walk and a great personality. Her smile was pure sunshine. Naturally, she was much sought after by all the guys including myself but my shyness and stammer prevented any approach other than a polite “hi Kay, good morning, how are you.” By this time Errol Flynn had moved on to film “Don Juan” but I lacked his looks and devil may care swashbuckling attitude that I was sure would have stormed Kay’s heart. My knowledge of Shakespeare was of little help either. For example, how do you follow up on a line to a girl like “bid me discourse and I shall enchant thine ear.” Thus, like in the movie “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” my passions for Kay became only the wonderous episodes of an over active imagination. Then without warning it happened. Kay delivered a roll of blueprints to my drawing board and in the process noticed a photo of my boat pinned to the wall.
“This yours?” she inquired pointing a graceful finger.
Taken aback and left groping for words that would not disclose my affliction, I managed,
“Er . . .Yes . . . Er . . . I guess so.”
“It’s beautiful. So, when are you going to take me for a ride?” she inquired laughing.
I couldn’t believe my ears now aflame with embarrassment.
“Er well, er that’s okay,” I mumbled. “ Er if you want to . . . Er, maybe . . . er, yer, yes.”
“I’ve got water skis,” she said. “We could make a day of it.”
A day of it! The office Goddess wanting to be with me, a shy and imperfect mortal and for several consecutive hours no less.
“But I don’t ski,” I blurted out in panic forgetting to stammer.
“No problem. I’ll teach you. Sunday OK?” she replied cheerfully. “Only if you’re not too busy of course.”
Me too busy! Jesus Murphy Mother of God! Shit, there goes lunch with the Queen I thought.
“Nu, Nu, No,” I stammered. “I’m Fu, Fu, Fine.”
“Great then. See you Sunday at 10:30 OK? Jordan right?”
With that she departed leaving me in mental turmoil, her gorgeous smile still radiating off the walls of my prison and Sunday an eternity away. Eventually Sunday did dawn, a perfect day. Excited, I was up early, dashed down to Jordan, cleaned up the boat and waited and waited. Every passing minute was an eternity or so it seemed, such was the state of my nervous anticipation but at 10 minutes to 11 she did arrive in company with another girl.
“God I’m so sorry I’m late,” she gushed. “But I couldn’t find the tow rope, then I remembered I’d left it at Deb’s place. You don’t mind her coming along do you? And guess what?” she added bubbling with excitement. “I’ve been accepted as a Flight Attendant with Air Canada.”
I was stammering congratulations when Debra peeked around Kay and pleaded.
“May I come please Anthony? Say it’s OK please. It’s too nice a day for me to be left stuck at home.”
What could I do? My hopes of a secluded sandy beach, Kay and I locked in a passionate embrace, the surf sweeping over us like in “From Here to Eternity” were now suddenly dashed.
“Er, yes, I, I, it’s okay,” I quavered, suppressing the urge to scream. “Er, any fu, fu, friend of Kay’s is a fu, fu . . .”
She had moved from behind Kay and I was now looking squarely at an attractive dark-haired girl, shorter, several years older than Kay, toting a beach bag and a six pack of beer. She took my hand in hers and gave it a lingering squeeze.
“Anthony, thanks. Kay said you were a really nice guy. Oh!” she added, handing me the beer “Something for your trouble, sorry but I didn’t have time to gift wrap it.”
I started to laugh and was about to thank her when she added, “Hey! I know you. We work at the same place. I’m way down the hall in Sales, the girls say you’re shy and don’t talk much.”
Thanks a lot, I thought. I’m so glad I invited you. A remark by Winston Churchill came instantly to mind. “It costs nothing to be polite even if you’re strangling someone.” I was seriously considering doing just that when Kay, impatient to get started declared.
“I’m not skiing here in the harbour. It’s too closed in here. There’s not enough room. Let’s go out onto the lake.”
So, we stowed the skis and the rest of the gear and headed out under the low bridge, ignoring the curses of the fishermen forced to reel in their bait. The lake was mirror smooth, heat reflecting off the surface had burned off the morning mist heralding a scorching day. I followed Kay’s directions hugging the shore line until we came to a large concrete slab partially awash, the remains of an old dock.
“Right here,” she yelled. “I’ve skied off this before.”
As if to add to my disappointments, immediately behind the slab was a small secluded sandy beach. I unloaded the ski gear onto the slab whilst Kay was stripping down to her swim suit. Meantime, Debra was wading to the beach.
“I’m not going to fry my ass on any hot concrete,” Deb said.
“Don’t worry about her,” was Kay’s comment. “She’s not much into sports.”
I didn’t pay much attention to the remark being too busy concentrating on Kay’s instructions for the tow.
“Run the line out slowly,” she commanded. “Then when I yell, hit the throttle wide open.”
She was standing, skis on, on the edge of the slab.
“Shouldn’t you be in the water?” I inquired politely.
“What the hell for?” she retorted. “I don’t want to get wet.”
And she didn’t. When I hit the throttle, she stepped smoothly out onto the surface of the water and proceeded to cut graceful arcs back and forth across the boat’s wake. Her return to the slab was equally elegant. I don’t think a drop of water ever touched her. She was just so great to watch that for the next hour I just continued towing her until Debra yelled.
“What about Anthony?”
“OK, OK,” she replied sounding slightly irritated. “I’m just getting to that.”
Somewhat reluctantly, her turn over, she fitted me to the skis and positioned me sitting on the edge of the slab for take-off.
“Keep a firm grip, keep the skis together and don’t sit down when I accelerate,” she commanded.
Yikes! On the first attempt, not anticipating the strength of the pull, I let go thinking my arms were being yanked clean out their sockets. On the second try, rigid and hanging on like grim death the skis crossed and I achieved a near somersault. Third try, the skis dug in and I was towed along under water like a submarine. More attempts with equally dismal results followed. Meantime, Deb, who had been watching, joined us.
“You’ll never do it like that,” she said ignoring Kay’s what the hell do you know about it stare. “You need to be deeper in the water. I’ll get in and hold you. Just a minute.”
With that, she stripped off her blouse, kicked off her shorts and completely naked, dropped into the water behind me.
“Not to worry Anthony,” she laughed, ignoring the shocked look on my face. “There’s no one around here for miles.”
“Oh, for God’s sake!” exclaimed Kay disgustedly, totally appalled.
“No. It’s for Anthony’s sake,” she replied jokingly. “Anthony doesn’t mind, do you Anthony? Move back so I can hold you.”
Dazed, lost in the unreality of the moment without thinking, I complied. Then, without any hesitation, she slipped her hands under my arm pits and pulled me tight against her body. Her chin rested on my shoulder, her mouth nuzzled my ear. I could feel every contour of her body, warm, soft and unbelievably feminine. I trembled like a plucked harp string.
“Anthony, relax,” she whispered. “Forget Kay, I’ve water skied in the Caribbean, this works, believe me. Let the skis float your legs up, keep them together stiff and slightly bent, push back against the pressure, hang on tight and let the rope pull you up.”
Kay backed the boat up and tossed me the tow bar.
“You two sure this is going to work?” she inquired with a slight sneer. Then sarcastically, “Ten to one you’ll just wipe out again.”
The sunshine smile has disappeared and she looked darkly annoyed. You two? That bothered me. Something had happened. I don’t know what. Suddenly it seemed that our friendship had gone and Debra and I were now paired. Deb pulled me tighter and whispered.
“Don’t mind her. She’s pissed off because I’m helping you. She can be really jealous some times.”
This became more obvious as Kay, without even calling, ready slams the throttle open and I’m pulled violently forward. Off balance, trying to remember everything and struggling to keep upright, by some miracle I managed to gain the surface. Impossible, but I’m up! Behind me through waterlogged ears I can hear Deb shouting and applauding.Several more tries and I’ve got the hang of it. Finally, after zooming around for a spell, on a wide sweep I manage to skim in and drop off directly in front of Deb. Wildly enthusiastic, she grabs me and plants a lusty kiss full on my mouth.
“You did it!” she exclaims, arms around my neck. “Watch, now Kay will get really pissed.”
Kay, busy coiling in the tow rope rose to the bait.
“You two should get a room,” Kay snarled.
“Hey, great idea Kay. You plan on joining us?” Deb replied laughing still embracing me. “I’m sorry we haven’t got a room Anthony but let me grab my clothes. You grab the beer and we can go camp on the beach and soak up some sun.”
Caught in the middle of this catty exchange, not wishing to take sides, I stay mute and light a comforting cigarette. Meantime, Deb has purloined Kay’s towel and is drying off. Shameless she looks at me winks and mouths, “Grab the beer.”
Fingers loosely entwined, we are sloshing our way up to the beach when suddenly behind us, Kay starts screaming, waving and jumping up and down. She’s hailing a fast-approaching inboard.
“It’s Roy and his girlfriend,” she yells still hopping excitedly. “They’ve got slalom skis. I told them yesterday we’d be here. It’s a really fast boat,” she adds no doubt intending to convey that my craft is an underpowered sea slug.
No sooner had they landed when she’s all over Roy, a bronzed Bay Watch Adonis type. He smiles and waves. The beautiful people; sunglasses, summer whites, yachting cap, custom mahogany boat, everything reeking of money. An animated conversation ensues, whereupon Kay announces.
“Deb, I’m going with them. It’s OK to use my skis. Look after Anthony.”
“Sure. No problem. Have fun,” Debra replies, then to me, laughing. “Looks like it’s just you and me kid.”
I smile but inwardly I’m quashed. Damn her, damn Roy and damn his lousy fucking boat. So much for my perfect date! Deb, sensing my feelings, squeezes my hand.
“Anthony, let me tell you something. I’ve known Kay for a long time. Believe me, she’s not your type. she’s jealous and self centred. Oh sure, most of the time she’s fun, that is, until she gets one of her mood swings. My advice? Forget her and find a nice girl, maybe somebody like me,” she adds laughing, delivering a confirming jab to my ribs.
I tried to make light of it, difficult when you’re gnashing your teeth, but what the hell, life goes on as they say. We spread a blanket in the shade, pop the beer, share cigarettes and talk. Despite our age difference, I’m finding that she is downright fun to talk to, like we have known each other for years. Between that and the beer, over the next hour or so my stammer disappears. Gone! Vaporized! Relaxed, laying together in the sun, sometimes touching, we are becoming more and more intimate albeit in the sense of friendly intimacy. Then in one of our more intense exchanges, on rolling over on my elbow to face her, carelessly, my other hand inadvertently falls between her thighs.
“I’m terribly sorry,” I stammer. “I . . . I . . . I . . .”
Rather than being offended or angry, she captures my hand and holds it gently in place.
“Anthony, I’m sorry,” she whispers. “I’d love to but I can’t. My divorce isn’t final until next week. Technically, I’m still married.”
My mind goes into complete shock, excited, my stammer surpasses itself in pure gibberish.
“G, g, good gr, gr, grief . . .er, er . . . I’m Sus, Sus, Sus, so sorry t, t, t . . . hear that.”
She’s looking intently at me, a smile forming. She’s still holding my hand, now limp as a dead fish. She starts to laugh.
“Hey, I’m not sorry Anthony. The guy was a control freak. A complete jackass. I can’t wait to be free again. Come on, let’s celebrate. Hand me another beer.”
Despite everything that had happened that afternoon I still managed to maintain a gentlemanly front and enjoy Debra’s company. Kay was history obviously and Debra, a likeable brazen upstart who I did not wish to pursue long term. Later, as we parted at the dock, she handed me a business card with her phone number scribbled on the back.
“Call me,” she said with a lingering kiss.
I never saw her again. Sure, I thought about calling but I never did. Then, maybe a few weeks later, talking with a couple of the guys at the coffee machine, Deb’s name came up. Had I heard the rumour? Like what? I inquired. Apparently, she had been asked to leave. Supposedly, she had been running an escort service from the office, clients paying her with Bearer Bonds. I refused to believe it and avoided any comment. Our time together had been ours alone and would remain so, but I felt sad for her losing her job. News of Kay did eventually drift back. She had married a wealthy business man, one of her “first-class passengers” and now lived in some luxurious mansion in the Bahamas. Oh, the business card? I kept it. I really don’t know why. I found it one day tucked away in a drawer. I was about to toss it but then, curious, I turned it over. Not surprisingly it advertized a business, her business, Interior Decorator not quite. I looked at it again, it read, “I decorate Interiors” and under it a different phone number. I was puzzled, she worked I knew, but she had a business? Then the penny dropped and I started to smile.