Wearing off-white shorts, a pastel green wrap blouse, and silver canvas sandals, she sat in the peace of the late afternoon at a sidewalk table of the Le Bon Auberge. A heady background of sun oil, and coffee espresso, filled the light breeze off St. Tropez as she relaxed: gave herself up to the flapping colours and clinking boats to watch the comings and goings along the quay. Despite the crisis and the upheaval to her life she was at peace: her nerves calm and her head level. Was that the longer memory kicking in? Was the greater perspective breaking through to give her this confidence?
She decided not to think but to let her mind drift . . . poor Peter . . . such an intellect . . . such a pace to his life. She loved the mental agility of that amazing man but he was too dangerous . . . too vulnerable . . . too exposed. Professor Peter Jordan was lovely but she could never risk being seen with him again. All that madness at his apartment in Los Angeles, all those pictures of the altars and monoliths, and his knowledge of Ogam . . . how many people knew about Ogam? The earliest language found to date carved indelibly into the heaviest, most permanent, structures on the planet yet few people could read it, and many academics refused to even acknowledge it as a language. Well she knew more now. With the language stone from her father’s safe she could translate Hieroglyphs, and Cuneiform, and Ogam, with certainty and if that wasn’t enough, if the accurate translations of the Ancients wasn’t enough for one young woman, there was the increasing awareness of her greater knowledge: a knowledge of a depth and width she was unable to measure because it lay deep, very deep, in the lower recesses of her mind and it was changing her outlook. Frightening. Or was it? The exercises were working – that’s all. She was getting tangible results.
‘It’ll be subtle at first,’ her mother had said. ‘You’ll be rewarded with little things you didn’t know you knew but it will grow quickly, subconsciously. Your mind will be busy without your conscious participation and your dreams will start – oh what dreams will come your way my darling girl. I almost envy you.’
Almost, she had said, and meant precisely that. Making the connections to memories placed in her mind by her mother while still in the womb was daunting because it was not just her mother’s knowledge she was gaining. How many lifetimes did her mother inherit in grandmother’s womb and she in hers? How many Matriarchs precede her and how long did they live? Her mother would never tell her age but she must be more than one hundred fifty because she let slip little snippets about her early years in America and her first child. Would she one day see all that as she sees her own experiences, or would she just possess the knowledge as a distillation of events? Either way it was daunting and she could expect her dreams to be busy affairs given the need for sorting all that information. How would that make her feel? Let it happen girl: just sit back and let it happen.
Seahorse, a twenty metre sailing catamaran in spotless white, with two chrome and steel winches big enough to service a liner on her aft deck, was moored stern to, not ten metres from her table. A silver canvas bimini shaded the spacious well-deck, and an aluminium passerelle, propped. with careful Mediterranean nonchalance, over her immaculate transom, connected the boat to the shore.
A slim, dark haired, woman in her early thirties wearing the almost obligatory halter top and crotch hugging denim cut-offs appeared from the inner workings and was striding purposefully shoreward on thick soled, pink and white, deck shoes. As she approached Mina noticed her legs were lean: the skin pale and thin with blue shadows pushing the surface. A heavy smoker. Over her shoulder was a canvas shopping bag declaring the superiority of San Solare sun screens; one of the handles had slipped off her shoulder. Deftly, in almost perfect timing, as she passed the café, the dangling handle caught the stanchion supporting the long sunshade wrenching her, inelegantly, backwards into Mina’s table. There was a rattling of silverware and crockery, an awful grinding skid, and a short, gasped, “Oh,” as the unfortunate woman’s denim posterior was dumped firmly onto the pavement.
Mina went to her aid, settled her at the table, poured water and made solicitous enquiries. She appeared to be all right, but she sat at the table a while all the same and began chattering. Her name was Gloria, from Southall, Middlesex, on the western end of the London suburbs, she spoke with heavy, flat, back-of-the-throat, suburban London vowels and had never been married. “Lot of Indians where I lived, not that I got anything against Indians – some of them boys are pretty good looking – and they make the money alright. Nah, but the families are tight, like Jews really, they don’t marry outside their kind much. Keep to themselves they do. Not that it mattered much, I din’t want to spend any more time in Sah-fall than I ‘ad to. This life’s alright, no money in it, but you don’t need much anyhow, food and accommodation’s all taken care of . . . you just need a bit of spending money.” She rummaged in her bag, pulled out a single cigarette, then rummaged some more until she found a bright, pink, plastic, lighter. She lit up expertly, blew a long grey cloud from a deep inhalation, and went on, “’Course I’m paid crew. Not many of them jobs. Plenty of people crew for nuffin’, makes it ‘arder for us professionals, but there’s nuffin’ you can do abahd it.”
“Are there many captains looking for crew?”
Gloria threw her head back and grinned, to submerge her laughter, as another huge inhalation of smoke was processed deep in her respiratory system then blown as a long cloud into the air. “Plenty lookin’ darlin’. Ain’t all wantin’ strictly crew. You need to be able to look after yer’self if you’re gonna sail miles from anywhere with men you ‘ardly know.”
Thoughts of both living and dying by the sword crossed Mina’s mind, but she left them unsaid. “Perhaps a couple looking for help . . .?” Mina ventured.
“They usually prefer young men. At least the woman does, and she has all the say. A strong guy on board is more useful. There’s still plenty of heavy work. Even on the smartest new boats anchors need to be cleaned and manhandled into lockers and lazarettes, heavy ropes and chains have to be repaired and I ain’t met a woman yet to go up the mast on a rolling sea. Nah, women ain’t so useful, and they’re competition to wives. You want a job, you look for a big boat, it’ll have more crew. ‘Course then you got more than the captain to fight off.” Another deep inhalation seemed to seal that pearl in the woman’s mind as she blew, dragged hard again, then stubbed the hot little cigarette into the glass ashtray of the adjacent table. “Gotta go, shopping to fetch. Nice talkin’, sorry about crashin’ into your table.” She gathered her San Solare bag up tightly and bounced away on her air cushioned soles. Mina watched, and noted that her departure had also caught the ever attentive eye of the waiter. She signalled for the bill.
She was keeping her distance, and only half heartedly watching, but Mina was following Gloria for reasons she did not really understand. It might have been the determined steps and a sense of purpose, that seemed to exceed that of a routine shopping trip that drew her, or it might have been the dallying conversation, or something else, something less finite. Whatever it was she was pleased she followed because an increase in pace as Gloria neared, what proved to be, her destination, told her to be more attentive. Mina propped herself against a concrete bollard to watch the woman quickly skip up the gangplank of a black hulled boat, with a pristine white deck festooned with glittering chrome winches, and immaculate stainless steel safety rails. Immediately a male head, balding and weathered, with alert eyes, appeared from the companionway but was quickly obscured by Gloria hopping familiarly down from the gangway to what was, for-all-the-world, a lover’s welcome. Mina retraced her steps with a plan forming in her mind.
She did not receive a call until the following afternoon as she sat in her room quietly gazing over the jetty and the small marina beyond. “I’m George Hastings, owner of the Seahorse:” An authoritative voice, barely polite, and decidedly employer to perspective employee. She waited for him to continue. “You left a message with my deck hand about crewing for us.”
“Thank you, yes.” She had watched the Seahorse the previous afternoon carefully choosing her moment to approach the muscular young man scrubbing the foredeck with a long handled brush. Her first guess, that the he was a factor in Gloria’s presence on the Seahorse, and that he might be pumped for further information about the boat, and her crew, was clearly wrong. The moment she looked into his steady gaze she realised she had made a mistake; he was not the sort to have an affair with the Glorias-from-Sahfall of this world. Quickly she changed her plan: requesting only that he pass a message to the owner.
“I’m looking to sail, though I’m willing to pay my way,” she told George Hastings.
“Why don’t you come over and talk about it? Cocktails around six-thirty?” It was almost a command; she instinctively backed away. Cocktails lead to dinner, and dinner to an awkward late night departure with everyone a little drunk.
“This evening is a bit awkward – how about tomorrow?” She ventured, testing him.
“Lunch then. Around noon.”
“Lunch it is. See you tomorrow.” She hung up with the last word fresh on her lips, which, she thought, might be another mistake. If she wanted to sail in quiet waters she should not be entertaining a battle of egos.
George Hastings was not a tall man, around five foot nine, or less maybe, but with a good head of light brown hair greying only along the temples in attractively benign streaks of silver. His eyes were a passive brown under a dark mass of eyebrow foliage grown wiry with twists of grey curling upward to form tiny horns. He moved easily, rising to greet her as she paused to remove her shoes, then watched as she placed her first barefoot step on the Seahorse passerelle. “Welcome, welcome Mina,” he reached forward to take her free hand. “Welcome to Seahorse, my poor, but entirely dependable chariot.” He continued to hold her hand as she stepped carefully down into the well of the bridge deck. “Come meet Andy, my sailing master and life long friend.”
Andy stood, beer glass in hand, a big smile under an entirely bald head, and pale green eyes crinkled into a large, friendly, face. “And Carina,” George continued, “our second mate, housemistress, and as of this moment, only female member of the crew.” She was small, dark, Mediterranean, and wary. Mina sat beside her. There was no sign of the deck hand.
“Would you like some wine Mina?” Said Andy, still standing, his eyes fixed upon her, taking in her silver-grey provocatively front buttoned dress, the wide silver belt, and the silver plastic fuck-me shoes dangling from her right hand. “Or a gin, vodka maybe . . . we have a good bar.”
“Wine please,” she said. “Light and white, and preferably cold.”
“Champagne perhaps,” suggested George, already too long silent, his eyes all over the big silver buttons. Mina merely raised her eyebrows. “Champagne it is,” he declared. “Pop down to the forward cold box Carina. Bring up a couple of the Cordon Rouge.” There was a moment’s breathing space after Carina obediently disappeared in which the two men took her in: their eyes passing evenly from face, to shoulders, to upper body, and immediately to her legs. She was being examined; the jury were currently out, deciding if they wanted her aboard. She smiled as she let the front loader and the belt do their work but was increasingly conscious of the need to do something with the damn shoes. Finally she placed them face down on the seat beside her.
Andy seemed alright, she mused, placing him around the late forties, maybe early fifties: so difficult to tell now men take such good care of themselves. He was about one point eight metres tall and on the lean side – leathery was the word that came to mind – and bore all the signs of having been worn down by hard work and unhappy relationships. If his ugly brown belt, and the ink stains in his shirt pocket, were an indication there were no women in his life now, which might become a problem as time went on, but for now, she decided, he was benign
George was not so easy to place on the age scale. He had a youthful appearance, and was quick in his movements, but the skin around his throat was loose, lizard like, and the backs of his hands were heavily spotted, and his teeth were no longer white. He could be anywhere from forty-five to sixty. Of one thing she could be sure; he was a self-centred egotist who surrounded himself with subordinates he thought to be less adequate than himself. ‘My chariot, my sailing master,’ she recalled, but Carina was ‘our’ second mate, and therefore not part of his inner circle. She would have to be careful in her dealings with this man. If he takes a shine to her all well and good; it would help to smooth over any irritations and keep him blind to any indication of her growing mental powers. Should he see evidence of a superior education, or a memory more powerful than his own, he would probably compete and might become aggressive.
Carina returned with a bottle of champagne in her left hand and another clutched firmly under her left arm, leaving her right hand free. ‘One hand for the ship, one hand for yourself,’ ran through Mina’s mind. Carina, she was willing to bet, was an experienced sailor who had been frightened, or hurt, and would never again be without a free hand moving about a boat.
“So where are you from, Mina?” George had dismissed the chore of pouring drinks, preferring to leave that to his subordinates. “New Zealand’s my guess, South Island.”
You can’t resist the chance to shine, can you Mr. Arrogance? “Close, and I can see why you say that, but no, I’m an Aussie at heart. Born and bred in Queensland until my mother remarried when we moved England, south Dorset – Hardy country. How about you? East Anglia? Ipswich?” Careful girl. Don’t be too clever.
“Oh, very good Mina. Very close. Felixstowe actually, but very good. I’m impressed. Have you done much sailing?” She was tempted to relax as George seemed happy with this early exchange, but that quick change of subject gave him away. She had scored, and he was annoyed
“A little on a friend’s yacht in Hong Kong. Just little trips around the islands – never more than an afternoon or so. I have no idea what it’s like to be at sea, but I can tell a rolling hitch from a bowline.” Keen, amateur, with a touch of innocence – that had to be perfect.
“Oh that’s a wonderful start,” George announced. “Most people don’t even know of the need for different knots. So how long do you intend to sail? Do you have to be somewhere at a specific time?”
Okay, for this one she needed the open line, and a reason for not jumping into bed with the boss.
She lowered her head just a notch, kept her eyelids low, and said, “Let’s say it’s opened ended right now. I have no plans other than to sail away and do a little writing, and lot of thinking.” She pulled a small smile, the kind people use to hide pain.
“And hopefully a lot of drinking,” George offered up his glass for a clink. She obliged. George would have the last word.