by Susan Gerry
After graduating from Colby College in Waterville, Maine, Susan Gerry moved to Guadalajara, Jalisco, Mexico, where she worked for Servicio Linguistico Empresarial, as an ESL teacher and translator. She now works for the Department of Human Services in Rockland, Maine, helping families transition from welfare into the work force. She has recently completed a literary mainstream novel, Carnival Mirrors, and is working on a second novel, Rogue Waves, and a collection of short stories.
Menachem Bateman awoke at five a.m., enveloped in a cocoon of well-being that sheltered him from the feelings of strife and dis-ease to which many men fall prey. As soon as his eyes were fully open, he began to recite his daily affirmations. "I am grateful. I am blessed. I love my family and my work. I make a difference in the lives of those who surround me. Health and prosperity will follow me throughout the day."
Menachem was a tenured professor of maritime studies at College of the Atlantic. He had several books of maritime history to his credit, including Lobster Wars of the Maine Coast and Ghosts of New England Lighthouses, two slender volumes now widely used as reference books. As much as he loved teaching, Menachem was enjoying his summer vacation to the max. He yawned, stretched, scratched his hairless chest, and rolled over to reach for his wife, Abby. Strands of wavy, blond Jesus-hair, smelling cleanly of Abby's Herbal Essence Shampoo, draped across his face. He did not brush them away. They were one more reminder of his good fortune, the gift of physical beauty.
The other side of the bed was empty. He smiled. Abby had spent a lot of time in the meditation room of late. They both had, ever since they finished the seminar in tantra yoga. Best thing they'd ever done for themselves. A cruise away from all responsibilities and cares. Three glorious weeks of healthy cuisine and beautiful shops in one tropical paradise after another. Their only contact was with their English-speaking, Latin-American guru and other cruise participants, as eager as themselves to explore the benefits of tantra yoga. No cell phones, no watches, no TVs or other reminders of the hustle and bustle of ordinary life allowed. In such an environment, time was irrelevant. One existed in the moment, connected to past and future only by the thin cable of the ship's emergency radio (to be used only in case of emergencies, and none had occurred.)
They'd been relaxed, tuned-in, turned-on. Knowing their daughter, Effie, was safe with the family of her roommate from Kent's Hill, he and Abby had barely thought of home. The atmosphere of spiritual calm and those simple, uninterrupted exercises had ratcheted up their sex life substantially. Oh, Menachem knew tantra's main emphasis was on the transmutation of this creative energy into higher channels, but the end result was the same. Tantra had intensified their connection to each other as well as to the world at large.
The course-cruise had been Abby's idea, and Menachem had to admit that over the years (How many now? Seventeen?) she'd had a lot of good ideas—as well as the money to bring them to fruition. Still, he wasn't convinced her latest, to sell the family home in Reliance and move closer to College of the Atlantic, was one of them.
Abby wanted to start everything anew in keeping with the new intensity of their relationship. Hire an architect to design a brand new house, aligned and furnished according to the strictest principals of feng shui. No more Victorian frills and fancy. She wanted simple, clean-cut lines. Minimalist furniture. A building isolated from the road, yet not too far from the hub of things. Maybe a brook babbling its way across the property. The most stringent requirement was that it be close to Menachem's place of work so they could incorporate lectures, concerts, plays, and other cultural events of the college community into the fabric of their deepening intimacy.
Since the seminar, Abby was loathe to relinquish his company for weeks at a time as she had previously done so willingly during the academic year. In fact, she'd swung a full 180 from her former position that those long separations enhanced the quality of their "together times."
Menachem, while thoroughly enjoying his wife's company, worried that having Abby always hanging from his arm might compromise his professorial panache. Not that he relished his reputation as something of a heartthrob. It was just that his constant exposure as part of a family unit might hamper his professional effectiveness. No longer would freshman girls lie awake in their dormitory rooms at night after an intense, thought-provoking discussion, comparing notes while they nursed their crushes. If imagining him alone in his bedroom, rather than seated at a family hearth, made the intellectual content of his lectures more memorable, so be it! Nor would male students absorb as much from his classes without the edge of envy his effect on their female counterparts provoked. They, too, would begin to see him as just a husband and father, rather than an intangible purveyor of knowledge.
Indeed, Abby's continual presence threatened to set the whole professor-student equation out of kilter. As things stood, Menachem was a safe repository both for a young girl's feelings of lust and a young man's envy. A training ground, if you will. Far better for young girls to hone their wiles on him, to stay in their dorms of an evening dreaming of the intangible, than to ram around on winding roads with some careless youth, drunk on lust and beer, who'd probably forgotten his condoms in his roommate's car. And his clean lifestyle blazed a clear trail for young men to follow. No drugs, no late nights, no carousing or pretension or greed. If they adopted just such a lifestyle, they would never become a sad statistic.
Then there was his daughter, Effie's, passionate objection to the proposed move. She had already transferred, against their will and the dictates of all common sense, from the well-regarded boarding school of Kent's Hill, where she'd been an all-A student, to Rocktide High, and she appeared to be dating a sort of rag-tag local boy. An older brother of that girl his wife tutored. Gawky looking kid. Nothing like his sister, who was rather spectacular . . . invariably pleasant and curious, if not terribly bright.
Well, sooner or later Effie would get over it. Hopefully sooner than later. She'd need a great GPA and outstanding SATs to get into Berkeley or Stanford. She certainly couldn't afford to be caught up in petty distractions. They'd taught her all she needed to know about keeping herself safe from pregnancy and contagious diseases, but no one could protect her from the consequences of falling in love with Mr. Wrong.
Menachem threw on shorts and a tank-top, performed his "salute to the sun," and completed his eye exercises before leaving the bedroom. He glided silently through the house on his narrow, bare feet, tiptoed up the stairs, and opened the door to the meditation room where Abby was seated in full lotus position. Her hands were interlaced in the ushas mudra, palms upward, right thumb encircled between the left thumb and index fingers—the mudra intended to spark creativity and enliven sexuality. He smiled. By the time he returned from his morning jog, she would be in a totally otherworldly state. They would practice a few tantric exercises, maybe the one where they placed the soles of their feet and the palms of their hands together and leaned forward into each other's auras. Delicious! Then they'd retire once again to their tower bedroom for a session of complete oneness. That would still give them time for a shower and a bite to eat before Effie got back. She was spending the morning at the beach with a friend, probably him—that Chamberlain kid. She'd said she wanted to harvest some beach glass that she could turn into wearable art, but it was probably just a ruse. He hated to admit it, but Effie was a master of subterfuge.
Menachem silently closed the door of the meditation room, double-bowed his high-top cross trainers, pulled his lush hair back into a ponytail, and slipped on a head band. He adjusted his Ray-Bans on the bridge of his nose and left the house.
Beneath the soothing, green canopy of maples, locusts, and horse chestnuts, he slipped into a slow jog. Both the locusts and chestnuts, in full bloom, dropped delicate white petals on the sidewalk beneath his feet. On second thought, maybe Abby was right and it would be better if they all moved closer to his work. Better for her, better for Effie, and yes, even better for himself in the long run.
As he approached the public landing, he tried to banish these thought—all thoughts—from his mind. Breathe in . . . breathe out, inhale 1 . . . 2 . . . 3 . . . 4, exhale 1 . . . 2 . . . 3 . . . 4. Smell the aroma of sea roses, clam flats, trees and shrubs in bloom all over Reliance. Feel the cool, moist, morning air caress the skin. Experience it fully. Breathe in . . . breathe out.
He jogged out onto the wharf beside the Co-op, pausing a moment to look out over the harbor. Breathe in 1 . . . 2 . . . 3 . . . 4, breathe out 1 . . . 2 . . . 3 . . . 4, and know that all will be well. Into his awareness crept the smell of bait barrels, of diesel fuel—not unpleasant when neutralized by an enlightened frame of mind. His to experience—not to judge.
He inhaled deeply, gazing out over the harbor where the village lobster boats swayed gently on their moorings. Meaningful, useful tools—these boats. He felt himself gradually blending into the background, leaving the boats at center stage. Absently his eyes scanned the names inscribed across the boats' blunt, boxy backs, each name personally meaningful to the boat's owner. The "Rebecca Lynne." The "Angela Marie." The "Owl and the Pussycat," painted a whimsical pea green. He smiled. The "Norma Jean." The "At Long Last." The "Effie B . . ."
Menachem did a double-take. Squinched up his eyes. His incipient far-sightedness should be reversing itself any day now. He'd caught it early on. Been very faithful with the new eye exercises. Practiced them twice a day. He squinted again, raised his sun glasses. It didn't change a thing. The "Effie B?" Jesus Christ! His jaw dropped. The beautifully restored wooden lobster boat swayed, waving its tail provocatively in Menachem's direction, flaunting the name painted across its beam in beautiful, feathery calligraphy for all the world to see.
A skinny, snaggle-toothed man in greasy jeans and sweat-stained tee, his biceps strong from a lifetime of hauling heavy traps, materialized on the end of the Co-op wharf. The old duffer who gassed up the boats for Hardgrove. Menachem moved closer.
"What's the meaning of that?" He pointed a trembling finger at the freshly painted newcomer in the harbor line-up of boats.
"Y'mean the 'Effie B?' Belongs to that kid from up on the hill. Launched a couple weeks ago. Kid with a Southern accent?" He chuckled. "Ever heard a such a thing? A Maine lobsterman with a Southern accent? Halfway decent kid. Hard worker. Done a great job on the boat, ain't he? Knows a lot about engines, too. Do well if he don't get off on the wrong foot."
"He can't just name a boat after my daughter," Menachem sputtered. "Can he?"
The old guy shrugged. "Seems so. Far's I know he can call it the 'Fuckin' A' if he's a mind to."
"He . . . they . . . there must be some laws about boating . . . some laws," Menachem stammered.
"Laws? Why sure there's laws. But not about what name a guy can put across the ass-end of his boat." The man lifted his hat and ran his hand through thinning gray hair. "Has to be registered . . . and it is." He pointed out the letters: ME18563 along its side. He rubbed his chin. "Come to think of it, there may be some laws about it. Maybe he couldn't call it the 'Fuckin' A.' But the 'Effie B?' I don't see how you could stop that. Effie B's your daughter? Tall . . . skinny . . . long hair? Spunky kid," he added.
Spunky? Jesus Christ! "She comes here? Effie?"
"Oh, sure. She's sternin'. Not today, a course. It's Sunday. But she comes here four a.m. every other day a the week since they launched. Same's all the other sternmen."
Menachem shook his head. How could he have been so oblivious? It was that damned cruise. Left him with his head up his ass. Abby, too. Sex, sex, sex, that's all they thought about these days.
"Pardon me for inquirin'. You an actor?" the man asked. "I see you ain't home much."
"A . . . an actor?" murmured Menachem. "No . . . I'm a professor."
"That explains it."
"Explains what?" An edge crept into Menachem's voice.
He shrugged. "The hair . . . the accent . . . the understandin'. I seen where you live. Lotta rich dads feel like they gotta control their kids. Never let 'em outta their sight. Wouldn't take kindly to seein' 'em engaged in manual labor. But college professors is smart. They know kids got a mind a their own. I gotta admire ya for that."
Menachem swallowed hard, straightened his spine, aligning his Kundalini. He was a sucker for a compliment. He patted the old guy on his shoulder. "Excuse me. I've got to be going now," he said.
"Name's Fred. Fred Thompson. Not that ya asked."
"Yeah, sure . . . Fred. I'll see you around, Fred." He attempted a jaunty wave as he turned to jog back down the wharf.
His knees felt wobbly as he sprinted back down Main Street. He was out of rhythm. Out of sync. Universe . . . schmuniverse. He had to talk to Abby. He was running now. His hair flew free from his scrunchy. Sweat dripped into his eyes. Where was his God-damned head band? He raced up the driveway and burst panting through the door of his house.
Effie was seated in the breakfast nook eating whole-wheat blueberry waffles, dripping with real maple syrup. Sans companion.
"You look like Hell, Dad. Go cool off. Want me to fix you some waffles?"
Menachem shook his head, took the stairs two at a time, and slammed open the door to the meditation room.
Abby looked up startled, amazed by the sweaty, red-faced appearance of her husband. She unfolded her legs from the full lotus, rose, and quickly enfolded him in her arms.
"You broke my concentration, Menachem. Whatever is wrong?"
Menachem shuddered and silently began to cry.
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