Of Turbulent Seas, by Scott Moses
John’s fingers brush over the chip in the porcelain sink. Something left behind by the previous owners, and something that after all these years, he’s yet to address.
There’s still time, he thinks, or perhaps mutters, and that’s the end of it, because, well– today is a perfect day for John Colbert.
He’s taking inventory of his life in the only bathroom of the one bedroom apartment he shares with his wife of fifteen years. Sweet, sweet Loretta, and as he thinks of her, he can smell her hair. That artificial strawberry scent stemming from the shampoo she’s been using of late.
The smell takes him back to Venice, honeymooning in the sweltering Italian sun, and to the bistro on the coast overlooking the blue-green water of that mystic place. Mid-June, just off the coastline, the strawberries in season, ripe and void of the pesticides America is so fond of. He remembers Loretta’s face at the size of one strawberry in particular that is still to this day, the largest he’s ever seen. Her face lights up, eyes moving from the anomaly to his own, as if afraid she were hallucinating the whole thing.
He turns to the stand-up shower, tempted to sniff the bottle, but he’s met with an empty shelf, a ring of shampoo-esque residue where the bottle once stood.
Could’ve sworn I picked up a bottle yesterday, he thinks, and decides he’ll have to get another tomorrow– more for himself than her.
He remembers riding a long Gondola against a reddened sky darkening to purple. The guide behind them, steering them along the edge of the lagoon. John had wanted to maneuver the boat himself, like the men in those old black and white films Loretta loved so much, but the guide persuaded him otherwise.
“Many sandbars. You be stuck til’ morning,” the guide had told them, in a mixture of loose Italian-English. “It’s eh, much money to stop traffic in Venice. You let me, you let me…”
He considers this the one flaw in an otherwise perfect trip, but also remembers Loretta smiling hundreds of times that week, and each one remembered casts a shadow over the sliver of regret.
John grips the sides of the sink, smiling at the thought of everything. His perfect life. His perfect wife. All of it. Sure, Maine isn’t Italy, but it’s beautiful in a subtle way, and they’re making do just fine. He remembers something Loretta said to him once–
When you finally accept the imperfection of it all, all life’s little blemishes– it’s then that happiness reveals itself. Or something like that. He’s having trouble remembering.
There’s a shuffling from outside the bathroom door, the floorboards creaking with the sounds of Loretta going about her day. John checks his watch. It reads 1:13 in blocked segments. It’s strange to hear her awake this early– considering her long graveyard shifts at the hospital– but he smiles at the surprise. Perhaps they can get out a bit early today? Maybe even get lunch on the water, and as his grin widens, the tiny bathroom swirls around him. Perhaps it’s the ecstasy of it all. The euphoria. The pure joy of reminiscence hand-in-hand with a hope for the future. Dipping toes into both realms at once– venues where one never simultaneously exists. It’s almost intoxicating– the mind’s hands brushing the gates to places one will never return and has yet to reside.
He closes his eyes, and listens to the water running from the faucet. The malfunctioning of one of the pipes– whistling from behind the drywall. He struggles to remember when he’d turned the sink on, and reaching to twist the knob, he hears Loretta’s voice from just beyond the door. He leans his ear against its wooden frame, listening to that sweetest of sounds. Akin to a vinyl record, hearing the notes played as well as the room they’re recorded in. Listening for each and every fragment of the space shifting around her and her words. Taking it all in, with a smile.
He returns to the sink and examines the painting hanging above the toilet– a sailboat on a turbulent sea. The image all but obscured by a layer of dust. The faded wooden frame, gnawed by atrophy.
John wipes the dust from its surface and Venice leaps into his mind once more. The purple sunset, Loretta looking eastward on the tip of the paddle boat, silhouetted in the sunlight seeping in from all around her. He, seated on the opposite end of the narrow vessel, attempting to live up to the title of desirable husband. She smiled up at him, through an array of curls, he remembers that well. Her shoulders rising and falling in unison with her breathing, with the current itself.
The water still pours from the faucet.
When did I turn that on? he wonders, and then he’s lost in his thoughts once again. Thinking of the boat they’ve always talked of getting, of reliving Venice right here in their own slice of the world. Trading the canals of Italy for the Atlantic. How one day, when they’d both retired, they’d sail the world. Just the two of them. Of how they’d sail back to Venice, the whole damned way, and relive it all. They’d been meaning to take that second honeymoon for quite awhile, but just hadn’t ever gotten around to it.
Loretta’s voice heightens once more and he quiets himself a moment. Breathing in the sound of her.
After a moment, he reaches for the miniature toothbrush holder beneath the mirror. It wobbles a bit before tumbling down to the sink’s center with a crack. The container lies broken and in disarray, shattered like some small piece of Chinese artistry. The water from the faucet collides with the remnants of the thing, which lies dead, or dying, atop the drain. The water splitting from itself, ricocheting off the broken pieces. The toothbrush lies there as well, sprawled out in the sink. The innards of the container splayed like some scene of vehicular manslaughter.
He smiles in the way he imagines god must smile in the midst of all the broken things of the world. He smiles, knowing that his life is perfect and that he can go down to Jeffery’s General tomorrow to pick up a new holder, and then all will be well.
The bathroom door moves of its own accord, and a gloved hand twists the sink’s knob, stopping the sizzling squealing entirely.
He wonders just how long the water has been on, but is lost when he sees her. She’s wearing that dark blue overcoat he likes so much, and when he looks up, her eyes are red– bloodshot with tears. Perhaps she’s had the same revelation. They’re going to buy that boat after all, and sail all the way back to Venice, where all will be well.
She stares at him, and wipes her tears with the back of her hand. Her black hair in disarray, smeared mascara from her eyes to her cheeks.
“Honey,” John begins, looking up at her, that same smile on his face. “We’re going to do it. We’ll sail to Italy like we always dreamed we would.”
She looks at him, her shoulders rising and falling in unison with her breathing. She’s carrying a faded brown suitcase in her hand. The same one she’d taken to Venice, worn with age and yet– preserved, having not left the bedroom closet since their time there. How could she have known? Perhaps that’s the level on which they operate. A strange form of ESP between those deeply in love.
She breathes in, cradling the oxygen a moment before she speaks.
“I can’t do this anymore, John. I just can’t…”
And with that, he leans his head against the door, her high heels click click clicking along the wooden floor of their apartment. The dormant void in his chest stirring with each step taken from him.
“Honey, honey?” he says, or perhaps mutters to himself, and his eyes find the kitchen table, overflowing with more pink slips than he has ever cared to count. The wood straining beneath the weight of overdue bills and empty fifths of Evan Williams. The reality of everything seeping back in through the whiskey-laden haze he’s been living in. He’s still jobless, and hasn’t done much of anything to remedy that, and with Loretta’s hours slashed at the hospital the money just isn’t there.
Drops of red collide with the water in the half-clogged sink, collecting along the edges of the destroyed porcelain shards. As the red expands and contracts with the receding tide, John Colbert’s eyes return to the mirror. The blackened bruise has overtaken his whole eye at this point, and he vaguely remembers the brawl at the pub on the corner. With blood trickling down his nose, he hears the front door shriek open, something else he’d always intended to mend.
There’s still time, perhaps tomorrow?
But no, he’s realizing tomorrow was long, long ago, and that tomorrow is beyond reach now.
The front door slams shut, beginning his newly ordained sentence– a life of solitary confinement. No wife, no job, no drive, no vision, no boat, no Italy, no– he glances down at the faucet, a puzzled look on his face.
When did I turn the water off? he wonders, and for a brief moment, sees himself for the first time since the pub. His tie in disarray. The blood coating his collar, sprinkled on and along his shirt. He glimpses the black eye again and his gaze falls to an unshaven beard.
It’s getting long, Loretta never liked it long.
And so at 1:24 in the morning, he takes up his razor and begins to shave. Tears welling in his glassy eyes, and whiskey on his breath.
Scott Moses is an optician by day and a writer by night. He currently resides in Baltimore, simultaneously loving and loathing humanity.