Alone By The Sea
There are many legends of life lost at sea along the coast of Maine, but this story is different. This story is about love, and loss by the sea.
The moment I walked in, I saw him. I knew I had a real live story, but I was dead wrong. Dead wrong on what kind of story.
I walked toward a tavern that seemed as good as any place to eat. I noticed the old sign off the side of the small road that led me into town. It seemed to have a feeling of rustic charm about it, almost as if it held a story itself deeply ingrained in the salt air weathered grain of the wood sign above the doors. I was just passing through you see. I was headed to another assignment, another boring assignment along the coast Maine.
I stopped outside a moment before entering, trying to look through the old glass at its front. It looked as though it were as worn and used as the sea beyond the large rocks, that lay just a few hundred yards beyond my back. It was fall, the wind bit into me like a menace, trying to find its way into every open crevice of my clothing. I walked up to the heavy wood door and pulled hard opening it with the cold following me in. The décor was rustic with an obvious seaside theme to it, but it wasn’t forced like you would see at some tourist trap, rustic would be the best description. It looked more as though the accoutrements of the sea were pulled in by the men and women who came here before me. A few little hardwood tables sat next to the front windows with a pool table in the corner. There was an old style jukebox that seemed to have worn its color, as if it too had seen too much of the sea.
There he was at the corner of the bar. The far end…alone. I walked to the opposite corner sitting down next a man that seemed he’d lived here his whole life. I could always tell a tourist from a native especially in this part of the country. He was smiling as I sat down next to him and his beer in front of him. He watched the weather intently on a little old television above the bar. I looked up at the same television as I sat down seeing an older weather reporter that I didn’t quite recognize. He looked as though he pulled his suit out of mothballs by the way he was dressed.
Maybe that’s why this guy’s smiling, I thought.
“What’s the best thing on the menu,” I asked with a pleasant smile.
“The chowder’s what you’re looking for my boy,” he replied with a wider smile than before. “My names Henry, you just passin’ through?”
“I’m just here for the night, then on down the road I go.”
“You must be headed for the 20th annual crab festival eh?”
I was looking at the specials when I caught what he said.
“Ya, the 40th annual Crab Fest,” I replied.
The only reason I had known what year it was going on, was due to my own research for the event. He took a long drink from his beer and slapped me hard across the back before calling out to the older woman at the end of the bar.
“Hey Maggie, can I get anotha’ draft?” He spoke in a jovial way.
It seemed he was a strange and sharp contrast of the place that he sat in.
She slowly made her way towards us. A woman that once must have held beauty, but there was something about her silvery gray hair and features that showed a loss that could never be filled. She grabbed his glass and put it under the tap pulling hard on the handle until the head flowed over his mug.
“What can I get for you hun?” her eyes seemed to smile as she forced a feeling of warmth across her face that didn’t care to stay.
“I’ll have the Chowder please,” I said as I looked into her eyes for some kind of life. “Henry here recommends it,” I added with a wide smile. Her lips were slightly pulled up at the corner as she nodded and looked towards the old man at the opposite end of the bar. I followed her eyes to the man on the corner with the dull wiry gray beard. I saw him well enough for the first time now.
“Is he a fisherman?” I asked Henry as she walked away.
“Who-James there?” “Ya, if you would call him that, he sits there every time he comes back from a trip…with one beer in hand. It’s usually him and I that are the only ones here.” He answered with a voice that began to sound as if it slurred.
I looked at him again, this time the old sailor pulled his head up slowly, from staring down into the full mug that sat on the bar in front of him. His eyes seemed as cold and deep as the sea he sailed on, he had a long deep scar across his right check that traveled down to his chin before making sharp changes in direction across the underside of his face.
“But tonight I have a new friend,” Henry smiled wide, as he slapped me across the back again.
“What’s his story, Henry?” I asked still staring at the old fisherman.
Henry’s face suddenly turned smooth with his smile slipping away slowly as he passed through his memories, “He used to be one of the best fisherman on this coast. That was a long time ago,” He answered looking away from me. His eyes and mine followed Maggie who was walking into the two galley doors leading to the kitchen. When we lost sight of her he started to speak again, slightly under his breath.
“You ask anyone round here and you hear a different story. About thirty years back or so there was a bad storm you see, you could say it was an ominous storm, by the way the sky looked before it, and how fast it rolled in. That year we also had one of the best fishing seasons this small village had ever seen though, and he sailed with Maggie’s father…that is before the accident.”
“What accident?” I asked looking at him as he stared off in the direction she disappeared.
“Don’t get ahead of yerself now. First you ought to know that he was engaged to marry Maggie there; that was to be his last trip out before he came back with enough for her ring. He came back, but her father didn’t come with him.”
I leaned towards him intent on the end as I could taste the words that would make the story I could write about this.
“What happened to her father? Did he marry her, is that his wife?” I asked intent on answers.
“Nobody really knows what happened to him. James came back saying that he was caught by a snapped wire from the rigging that put that scar on his face. He says that her father was swept out to sea trying to pull in the catch with him, that when he was hit, he went down, when he got back to his feet, her father was gone. He said the swells were thirty feet and it must’ve been true because that storm was a nasty bastard.”
“So what happened to them getting married? Why is he here?”
“Well, ain’t that a good question. Nobody knows why he still comes here, to sit in the same place and stare into one glass of beer without touching a drop.”
“Why didn’t they ever get married?” I asked, now held in complete suspense.
“Like I said before nobody really knows, he never came to the funeral and never spoke to her again, with the exception of ordering that beer there every time, but he still comes here and just stares down into that drink until closing.”
With that I sat there staring at the old fisherman deciding how to approach him.
“Here’s you’re chowder.” Maggie slid a bowl in front of me with an empty smile before walking back to the kitchen at the back of the bar.
Just when I was about to excuse myself from Henry the old man got up from his seat slowly leaving the untouched glass on the bar and walked towards Henry and I as Henry went back to staring up at the weather report.
I heard faintly the weatherman speaking of a break in the big storm that was passing through, talking of sunny days ahead and smooth seas.
The old sailor walked slowly toward us with one boot dragging with a sliding step from what seemed to be a bad leg. He reached down into his old and worn brown jacket with his hand as I held my breath waiting for something to happen. He passed us, and walked to the end of the bar leaving an envelope on the edge before passing us again and leaving through the heavy front doors.
“Henry did you see that?” I asked after watching every move of the old sailor.
“Ya, looks like the storm is blowing over.” He replied without taking notice of my enthusiasm.
“No! did you just see…” I caught my words as I watched Maggie come back to the bar picking up the envelope.
I picked up and quickly walked to the doors to catch up with the old man. I followed him out to the edge of the rocks where if it wasn’t for the full moon I would have never saw him from the distance between us, then I saw it happen. I saw him climb a large rock that was being crashed by the white tips of waves coming in with force enough to no doubt spray salt water into his face, then he was gone. I ran as quickly as I could to the rocks climbing what seemed to be the same one almost slipping from it as I looked down at the angry sea that was spraying up at me.
“He couldn’t have jumped I thought to myself, at least I didn’t see him jump?” “But if he didn’t then where did he go?”
I searched as best I could from my vantage, but he couldn’t be seen in the water so I climbed back down quickly and ran back to the tavern with all the energy I could muster to find an explanation!
I opened the doors to see Maggie still there, where I left her. With tears streaming down her face she read the end of the letter laying it down.
Suddenly, the outburst came without warning, as she arose just then from the shock of whatever was in the letter. “James, noooo!” She screamed. She ran past Henry and I as he continued to watch the weather report without even slightly being aware of me standing in awe of the story unfolding before me. I walked quickly up to the edge of the bar seeing the letter lying open and picked it up, a gold ring with a large diamond lay on the bar beneath it as began to read.
I scanned the words quickly seeing that It was a very short love letter with a tragic end, the end of his life as he put it, a way to be where he belonged, alone with the sea where her father lie, where he should be.
He never forgave himself for her Father’s death, I thought, then quickly ran towards the doors passing Henry as I went without a word exchanged.
I ran as fast as I could after her as she ran towards the rocks, I could feel her pain now as I ran. Her loneliness by this sea, with him and yet without, the story was complete, but now I played a part in it. I ran and she ran, then I saw her climb the same rocks, but I was closer this time. She slipped and then started again towards the top. I was only but a few feet away, the sea seemed calm now almost awaiting her arrival then she jumped and I was climbing as fast as I could tearing skin from my hands and knees, making it to the top to see her hit the water. I quickly stripped off my coat without thought and jumped in to save her.
“Did she make it! Did she make it!” I yelled sitting up grabbing two fistfuls of sweater that an old fisherman had on.
He looked down at my hands and then answered, ”She who? Was there someone else out there with you?”
“A woman an older woman! That’s why I jumped in!”
“What woman?” He asked me again looking into my eyes before looking down at my hands still holding his thick sweater. You’re the only one on my boat that we fished out, and you’re lucky there was a full moon and we saw you jump off that rock, crazy fool.” He unclasped my hands from his sweater and sat back at the edge of the small cot I was on.
“Maggie, from the Island, from Maggie’s Tavern, I replied more calm now. That’s why I jumped in, I tried to save her.”
He looked into my eyes closely then spoke with a slight, calm tone, “Maggie’s Tavern’s been closed for twenty years, when she and that crazy fisherman James both killed themselves.”
© 2009 Adam C. Powers
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