Adrift – by Tom Gaffney
Climbing out of the water on to a boat should be easier. Lucille managed to brace herself with her feet on the wooden beam that ran near the water line. Roger held on, and then Manny grabbed an arm too and hauled her up on to the deck.
As she came to rest she began shivering immediately. Manny draped her with a fetid but welcome shipping blanket.
“No need to tell me you are happy to see me,” said Roger, smiling. “Just look at this beautiful spot. I knew you needed a vacation.”
Experience with Roger had taught her she could get some situational information but little to no meaningful background. Admittedly, and after many encounters, the relationships currently at play were confounding. There was always the shock, and then the hope that it would not happen again. But that hope was smaller now, something she had come to see as burdens: hope and memories.
The last she remembered was she had been tending bar at the Chandelier. Not quite shoulder season, but getting there. Then bam . . . here I am. Like a lightning strike.
The view was astounding on many levels. From beneath her blanket, over several arcs, she took in the full circle view. No land in sight. The water had seemed quite rough while she was swimming in it, but from up here, on whatever you call this floating platform, she could see the waves were not so big once your perspective shifted. She was accompanied on this strange vessel by Roger, his foil, Manny, and on the opposite corner, sitting in a group of four, playing cards was a rather buxom woman and three men.
“Well, my dear, if you wanted to see me, why didn’t you just drop in?” Lucille asked.
“I would have if I had known where you were. You left your beloved Olympia and I had no patience to look for a forwarding address. You weren’t thinking of losing me were you?”
“That dream fell asleep quite a while ago. I try not to hope for it. Just hope that I have moved past my usefulness. No, Roger, I am just trying to live a life.”
“Lucille – you are like a utility tool. So often you come in handy. Now, when your blade is dull, maybe then our affair will be closed. But you are still sharp.”
“I feel the warmth. Well – do I get some info on what we’re up to? Whose day you wrecked in order to fetch me? Just where on earth we are? Who you are?”
“Nice. No need to worry. We didn’t have the time to hunt you down; we did know where some of your old connections could be located.”
“Have to ask, pretend normal rules apply. Orienting myself. One of the reasons I’m here, you must recall, my ability to communicate.”
“So true. You find yourself this afternoon outside, you may trust, your normal temporal arrangement, floating on a little piece of Japan. You are on a pier, released by last year’s earthquake, meandering toward the coast of Oregon. “
“No shit. Really. Interesting.”
“In your reality: yes, shit. In your time, last year really, this thing was pulled from its moorings by the tsunami that hit Japan. It will be landing in Oregon, near Newport actually, in the next six weeks or so. And Fred – do you remember Fred?”
“Fred? Oh no.”
“He will be fine. A concussion, a broken arm. That guy did not even remember me. Silly human consortium, quite a water bag.”
“Pelvis fracture too, I bet,” added Manny. “His bike though – that’s a write off. Going down the hill just a bit too fast. Did his job. Too bad about the bike, it was a nice one.”
“I’m sure,” Lucille responded. Poor bastard. She had not actually seen Fred in years. Had only met him once. He had been there that first afternoon that seemed much further away than it should for a woman of thirty. Whatever. Now she sat in this strange situation, pleased to be warming up.
Things could be far worse she tried to tell herself. For long stretches of time she lived a normal life. Spent a lot of time in the woods, boyfriend, plenty of friends and family. She loved where she lived, spent a lot of time outside and having fun. Even made her living that way sometimes.
But then, there would be Roger, and Manny. That ugly ass old van. Or this.
How was your shift at the Chandelier today honey? Alright. Pretty good tips. Pretty normal, if you look past being whisked away in the middle of the shift – just pulled right out. Time paused. And taken to a pier – a fucking pier – are you kidding me – that may as well be in the middle of the ocean because I can’t see any land.
Now, none of these events has ever been debasing. I haven’t been sexually or physically assaulted. Yet. Not even humiliated, just big heaps of confusion, menace, and omens. Though the menace is generally of a much more psychic rather than physical nature. Just weird more than anything. When I am with these two the memories of interacting with them are very clear and distinct: what has happened in the past, my real life. I still call it real. Insist on it.
She laughs. Just trying to convince myself I am still sane.
She looks up to what ought to be a beautiful sight. A group of brown pelicans feeding. Taking turns diving, then just coasting in the breeze. Not worried about the pier and its inhabitants, just floating in the breeze, following the seasons.
When I go back, the memories of here – whatever here is, will be quite indistinct. Like the memory of a dream, but it persists and never gets all that vivid. It persists, does not fully fade.
Fortunately, I guess, it can happen at any time. Meaning, it imbues all of my life, but it doesn’t make me terrified to go to sleep, hasn’t left me with PTSD. These abductions are tied to some events from long ago (long ago to me). Fred and the others – I never see them. Never really knew them that well. But somehow my life and there’s and the world of Roger and Manny and the freaks that populate that world got entangled.
Something about how I can know what direction I am going in, or where I am located, but never both. Try talking about that with someone at home.
Raised voices from the card game. Jesus Christ, a card game on this fucking pier.
“Be ready Lucille, I think you might be up soon.”
“Up, up for what? Don’t I get a packet, a briefing, a tape that explodes in 30 seconds? Just what the fuck do you want me to do?”
“Lower your voice. Watch. Listen.”
“Look at them over there. Things are getting a little heated.”
There was some disagreement at the card game. The lone female participant, who looked like she was dressed for a night out, her hair done up and lots of make-up, was getting in the face of a dude all dressed up like a country western singer. Fancy collar on his shirt, some kind of dressy cowboy jacket: a man mostly in black.
“That woman looks kind of regal.”
“Big, you mean. I believe in your realm she would be called a diva. I wouldn’t fuck with her if I was George.”
“George – the gambler she is arguing with. “
“Got it, I guess.”
The breeze shifted a little, and so did the pier, and just like that the pelicans were directly over the pier.
Then some spatter near the card players.
“Looks like the pelicans just shat on that game.”
The card players jumped up, cards dropped to the table, and then blown into the water.
“I knew it,” the diva said. “You sir are a cheat.”
She turned towards a fellow Lucille was really getting her first look at. He seemed to be rather advanced in age. Wearing a priest’s collar. His face seemed to be consumed at once by a deathly gray pallor and a look of deep terror. His coat was spattered with pelican shit.
“You know, the pelican shit never lies,” said George.
The priest opened his mouth, to protest, Lucille was sure. But the pier dipped and he was gone. A small splash but no other sound. Gone.
“Roger,” the diva called. “Clean up this table. And get my friend George here a new partner.”
“Lucille,” Roger said, “you’re up. “
Manny smiled, gave her a light punch on the shoulder.
“Good luck Lucille.”