Jeffrey Hollar’s Picture Choice: Both
Title: Solace and the Sea
It was one of those chill, raw-boned days that served notice of the weather to come. The wind whipped about the bay in complex flows and eddies only the forces of nature could understand. It was a wind speaking with an ethereal voice of tourists gone for the season, of storms soon to confound commercial and freelance fisherman alike. For Andreja it was a wind that spoke of sadness and of loss and of love forever gone.
She held the urn in a viselike grip as if its material presence would somehow anchor her to the spot for a little while longer; forestall her from the necessity of fulfilling her mother’s final wish and releasing its contents to the cold embrace of the sea. Though she knew what she must do, it made the doing no less difficult.
It seemed only yesterday, though it had been closer to eight years now, she’d stood in nearly this same spot with her mother, performing this self-same ritual for her father Lars. He’d been a man of the sea his entire life and so for him it seemed only fitting. It was not until after returned to the only home she’d ever known she learned there was far more to the story of her parents and the sea than she could ever have imagined.
She’d seen her mother seated by the fire with a mug of the strong tea she seemed to prefer over coffee that the story began.
“You know, it was your father who got me drinking this stuff. I thought it so unaccountably vile at first, but like so much of what your father loved, it just kind of grew on me. He had that special gift, that indefinable magic to make the things he found worthy become every bit as worthwhile to me. I always loved him for that and I always will.”
Andreja had a sense her mother had something to say she was somehow avoiding by filling the silence with small talk.
“I have never told you of how your father and I met. I have never told you of why we seemed so oddly matched but so thoroughly inseparable. Now that he is…gone, I think it best you know what he would never allow me to speak of before. Oh, I shall truly miss his Old World sense of propriety. He was ever my staunch, stodgy Nordic conscience. He believed some matters simply were as they were and naught more needed to be made of them. As in nearly all things, I deferred to his wishes for I owed much to him and, as you shall see, you do as well.”
“As a girl, you must recall how distant your father could be. You must understand he was a very loving man, perhaps the most gentle and loving soul I shall ever know but he always struggled to be worthy of you and most often felt he was not. You see, dear, Lars was not your father in the biological sense of the word but I doubt you could have ever had a finer man to fill that role.”
Andreja sat in stunned silence, unable to find any words to fit this revelation. Her mother saw her surprise and chose to merely continue her tale. It was, as if, having begun the telling she feared having the strength to finish it should she allow any diversion.
“We ‘met’ on a brilliant July day by the most unusual of circumstances. On that day, your father…my Lars…saved both my life and, of course, your own. You must understand I was a very different woman then than she whom you know of as mother. I was so hopelessly young and naïve and so very, very alone at a time when solace and support were the things I needed most.”
“Of the man responsible for your inception, there is little I will say. He deserves no more space in either your or my thoughts and, most certainly, deserves no remembrance. We knew each other for only the shortest of times. He was handsome and witty and so much wiser in the ways of the world than I and I was as smitten with him as any awkward young woman can be. He swept me, almost literally, off my feet with fancy restaurants and stage plays and concerts and so many scintillating sparkling wonders he soon owned me heart and soul. You are now more than old enough to understand the ways of men and women and so I won’t elaborate on the details of how he, all too soon, came to possess my body as well.”
Andreja merely nodded in mute acceptance, finding it difficult to envision her mother as a young woman of a sexual nature.
“We took no precautions, thought not a whit for the possibilities and so it came as scant surprise when I became with child…with you, my lovely daughter. And that, as they say, was when the man I thought I loved above all else showed his true colors. He cut me from his life like nothing so much as a fish head and would have naught to do with me. He would not return my calls; he would not answer his door and went so far as to have the building security bar me from his place of employment. I was, quite understandably, devastated.”
“Now while these were hardly puritanical times, I sought no comfort or succor from my family. You have never met even so much as a one of them and that was by my design. They would never have accepted my ‘situation’ nor you nor any of what it might have meant to their otherwise storybook way of life. I do not say these things lightly or by assumption. I say them with every ounce of conviction I can muster. They were, from that point on, no longer people in whom I could place my fate.”
“Bereft of solutions to my problems, I found myself wandering along the cliff sides as if the Gods of the sea would somehow rise up and make all of my woes disappear if only I was close enough to them. It was foolish and hopeless and silly of me but believe me when I say my mind that day was in a very different and far more dangerous place than it had ever been before or has ever been since.”
“At length, I came to realize the depth of my plight. I was ill-equipped to care for my own needs, let alone those of an infant. I was unwilling or unable to do what needed to be done to stay the course. I do not say this to elicit pity or acceptance but merely to acknowledge the way things were on that day. There were no avenues open to me, no hand to reach out to and no prospects for a future anything more than an unaccountable nightmare.”
“I do not know, precisely, how it came to be so but I found myself at the very edge of a cliff. The roots of an old tree had burst forth from the ground there and hung by sheer natural will over open space. I found my feet leading me out to walk upon that narrow, tentative support as if led onward of their own volition. In that split-second of time, reality ceased to exist for me. I knew with but another step I would plunge downward to the sea and be swallowed up as surely as if I had never existed at all.”
“A voice seemed to whisper in my head the rightness of the premise and so it was I took those final, life-altering steps. I know not for how long I fell but it seemed, at once, an eternity and yet so very, very short a span of time. I struck the water with no preparation or intent and allowed myself to surrender to its cold, eternal embrace. My vision grew dim, my thoughts were frozen and I felt little more than a numb sense of relief all would soon be done.”
“I thought, at first, some denizen of the deep had laid hold on me. I was seized in a grip as strong as iron and propelled through the murky depths as if by magic. I know not how long I felt this before my sense were flooded by light and sound and the sweet, sweet influx of air. I was near senseless for some time until time began to flow again and reality returned to accept me back into its confines.”
“I saw his face…Lars…standing over me. He was so tall and broad and blonde and imposing I thought I had, indeed, been taken in by a sea king. He wrapped me in thick, warm blankets with a redolent scent of fish and brine to them and he slowly massaged life and vitality back into my limbs. It was his strong, scarred hands I felt as my body surrendered to dreamless, healing sleep.”
“I awoke and stumbled to the pilot house to find him steering his boat towards the docks. He was no god but a man. He spoke not a word and offered no explanations but merely looked to the sea and the task at hand. When his boat was securely moored and safe, he turned his attention to me.”
“He’d been heading into port after three days at sea when he’d first seen me. With no thought or consideration, he dropped anchor immediately and took to the water. I had no way to know then and only realized much, much later this wondrous, brave, unbelievably powerful man had swam nearly a mile in the icy bay waters to see me safe aboard his vessel.”
“In the gruff, matter-of-fact way he had, he informed me…did not request, invite or offer…but informed me I would be going to his home and there I would be seen to. I followed him from some instinctive sense this was a man totally without guile or pretense or untoward design. He brought me here, to this very house we shared for some 43 years together.”
“He was so kind and gentle and uncompromisingly proper he never asked what led to my fall into the sea that day. When I felt it unavoidable, I told him of you with little expectation of what might befall me next. He merely nodded and said we must lay in a good stock of items his Swedish mother swore were the secrets to strong and healthy children. He waited on me hand and foot when needed and, at other times, scolded me to get up and about or I should be mistaken for beached. It was just the proper combination of care and nurturing I required and he seemed to know as much. His was the hand I held for nigh on to 13 hours before you, at last, chose to emerge into the world. His were the massive, encompassing hands that first held you and offered you his unconditional love and acceptance.”
“When we returned to the house, he said, as if it were a given, the baby must have a father and I must have a man to look after me and he would see the arrangements for such were made. The rest is, as they say, not much to speak of. In time, I grew to love and cherish the man beyond any love I had ever known. I shall miss him desperately for whatever years are left to me until we can, at length, be reunited together in the cold waters where first we came together. Well, it is past time I was to sleep and you as well, daughter. Sleep well and never forget what I’ve told you this eve. Though I think Lars might find it fitting to forgive my admissions, I still think it best we never speak of these things again.”
Andreja came back to herself realizing she and her mother never had broached the subject ever again. As if she could hear Lars…her father’s…voice chiding her to “either fish or cut bait”, she slowly removed the cover of the urn and surrendered its contents to the wind and the waves. She could almost imagine the spirit of her mother floating across the still waters and into the waiting arms of her unwavering Nordic love.
Jeffrey Hollar is half Klingon, half Ferengi, visiting Earth in an attempt to negotiate a merger. He is currently working on a novella and a collection of zombie stories with his wife, Lisa McCourt Hollar. Jeff writes almost daily for his blog, The Latinum Vault, found at http://www.jeffreyhollar.com.