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Sometimes Here, Never Quite There

He was sitting in the upstairs breezeway dining area in a restaurant on Islamorada, in the Keys. Dwight, who was named for his granddad’s favorite president, sat playing with the leftover ice in the bottom of his drink. A pensive man, in his mid-thirties, he was partially burnt from the sun and partially burnt from life. His hair, that always looked as if it needed cutting, was bleached in patches by four years of beach time in south Florida. Being of average size, he never cared much for being a namesake, especially with the larger than life burdens he felt came with it.

Dwight had wandered in a southerly direction from his days growing up in the Great Plains, first to Texas and then to Florida. Even though his meandering took him far from home, he still carried that midwestern work ethic and sense of honor, even if he didn’t always work, or do the right thing. His steely blue eyes, set against his strong face, hinted at the presence of too many thoughts, engaged in an everlasting chaotic dance through his mind.

The café’s name, the Dolphin Cove Inn, was nearly the same as so many of the tourist traps that dot the islands. Carpenters were working on the front, cutting wood away from the side of the breeze way with a circular saw, in an attempt to put up an art deco neon sign proclaiming the establishment’s world famous Key Lime Pie. Another worker sat in a bucket truck and was cutting dead palm fronds off a Royal Palm with a hacksaw. Sawdust occasionally blew across the upper breezeway, pelting the customers and spicing their food. The backside faced a small harbor where two charter fishing boats were moored. One bore a sign advertising a vacancy for the next day’s trip. The other one, a forty-two footer with a fly deck had a closed sign hanging across the side. An occasional drunken snore from below deck provided competition for the whine of the carpenter’s circular saw.

Below the breezeway, several men were cleaning fish caught by tourists and other landlubbers who come to the Keys to escape from their own private drudgery. The cleaners threw the carcasses in the water and pelicans fought each other harder for this handout than they would have to work had they caught their own meals. The Dolphin Cove had been a weather worn dive bar until it recently added this breezeway and a little larger menu. The changes were made in order to attract more mainstream tourists and discourage the always a little too drunk local fishermen, scuba instructors and beach bums, who had for years inhabited the place by night. It must have worked as it was late lunch time and a family of overweight Midwesterners, probably from Ohio, were also sitting on the breeze way on that humid, April, Tuesday afternoon. In addition, several German tourists, dressed in conflicting plaid shirts and shorts, had just pulled up in a late model, four-door sedan, obviously a rental car. It was easy to spot the tourists with their bright pink lobster skin and the constant aroma of coconut tanning oil, sun block factor of eight.

Across the table from him sat Anne Marie. She was looking out over the harbor into the eastern horizon at a couple of catamarans dancing slowly across the water to the gentle symphonic wind resonating against their sails. She clutched onto the straw hat she was wearing with one hand to keep it from blowing off the fiery, red, shoulder length hair that framed her face. Her mother, a proper Bostonian, would probably not have approved of her hat, or for that matter, her situation. Here she was with him again, six months after they had called it quits the last time. She had moved to Colorado because even though she was born under a water sign, she really belonged more firmly planted on terra firma than in this sub-tropical playground. Anne Marie, however, never did care much about what her mother or anyone else thought. That was one of the things that had attracted him to her in the first place. She seemed to have a certain independence that did not require her to live on the praise of others. From his perspective, it seemed she also saw no reason to acquiesce to the admonitions of others. While she regularly seemed to take day-to-day life with self-assuredness, there were those times when she charged a little too far ahead, becoming as fragile as a porcelain china doll.

Earlier that day, Dwight thought, had been a prime example. They had gone out on a charter to snorkel. Although Anne Marie had never done it before, she gave no thought of it until they were on the boat heading five miles off the coast of Key Largo to White Bank reef. It was a flawless Florida morning. The sky had only thin wisps of white fluff hugging the southern horizon and the ocean had almost no chop at all. The drone of the twin V8 outboards filled the deck. She was squirted gobs of waterproof number 30 sun block on her legs and rubbed it in with a vigorous motion. She asked him to put some on her back and he nodded. It seemed strange to Dwight to be touching her creamy white skin once more, even if it was just to rub on some lotion. Her skin was softer than he had remembered, but then, he had tried pretty hard to forget many things about her. Mostly, he had been successful until she had called a week ago to say that she was coming back for a week. He lifted the straps of her suit and slid them over her shoulders so that he could cover her back completely with lotion. His mind raced back six months to the last time they had made love, the night before she left. The sting of the last departure covered him like the sunblock he was applying to her. He finished and put the suit straps back in place.

About that time, the charter started slowing down and aimed for a buoy about a hundred yards away from the edge of the reef. The captain brought the boat about, stopping it with the buoy bouncing off the port bow. The mate clambered up to the front of the boat, tying the bowline to buoy. After that, the mate dropped the ladder off the side. Dwight already had his mask and flippers on and advanced down the ladder into fifteen feet of warm, crystal clear water. He knew it was her first time and that he would have to be patient. At first, she refused to get into the water. After a little coaxing, she jumped in without using the ladder, her head disappearing below the water. She came up sputtering and quickly grabbed the side of the aluminum ladder. His face twisted in a small smirk. Here she was, in over her head again, he thought, and here I am, right along with her.

It was time to swim out to the reef, yet she ignored his call to follow him. Having already made it this far, he didn’t think that she would back out now. Anne Marie refused to budge. Her hands turned even whiter as she clung to the ladder. Once more, he wasn’t sure what she was thinking or how she would react. He waited a minute, then decided that he would go enjoy the reef regardless of what she did. At that point, she let go and started swimming, confusing him once more. As they swam toward the reef, she kept her head out of the water, another kink in her behavior. Once there, he stopped and looked directly at her. He saw the inner frailty that she would only allow to be seen for fleeting moments. Moved by her struggle against her fears, he gently implored, “Anne Marie, you won’t be able to see anything unless you at least point the mask into the water.”

“I’m not ready to do that yet,” she quivered, between large gulps of half ocean and half sea breeze. He watched as her facial expressions changed several times. She looked down, but without the mask breaking the plain of the water. She looked back at Dwight, down at the water once more, then back at him.

“Okay, when you are ready and no sooner….” Just as he was saying the words she lurched forward, her mask piercing the plane of the surf, and started to swim. He swam up next to her and started to guide them across the reef. Anne Marie clenched his left arm with her hand, as she had the ladder only moments before. Her knuckles, drained of blood, turned from freckled ivory to ashen. Dwight flailed for a moment, trying to balance himself, under the pressure of her grip. He then pried her hand loose and guided it to the waist of his swimming trunks.

With her holding on, they toured the reef. Huge brain corals, some as much as six feet in width, had grown from a limestone ledge, and looked as if they were from the lab of some mad scientist in a fifties science fiction movie. Sea fans swayed in the current, betraying their close relation to the hard-skeletoned coral. Parrot fish, triggerfish, yellow-tailed snappers, angelfish, Sergeant Majors, and other fish streaked their vision with the brightest versions of every primary color as they danced to and fro, in and out and around the coral and sea fans. Every once in a while, a barracuda, grouper or tarpon would slide in from the far side of the reef, then fade into the silence of the deep blue water. Out of the corner of his eye, Dwight saw a manta heading toward deep water, its wings undulating as it moved with surprising speed. He maneuvered himself between the ghostly image and Anne Marie. No sense tempting fate, he thought. When he had guessed that she had reached her limit of time in the water, he swam with her back to the boat.

Dwight helped her take off her fins. When they both had their equipment off, they each climbed the ladder back onto the charter. He dug into his bag and pulled out two beach towels, giving the one with the seashell pattern to Anne Marie, while keeping the towel with the beer can on it for him. Leaning against his shoulder, she dried her legs and then wrapped the towel around her shoulders. He mused that for this new encounter, he had been an anchor for her. He wondered if she would ever realize just how many times he had been her there for her. After musing it over he reached the inevitable conclusion. It doesn’t matter, she probably wouldn’t admit to it if she did.

As the mate unfastened the bowline from the buoy, the captain fired the twin V8s and turned the charter back toward shore and the safety of dry land. As the wind blew across their water-cooled bodies, they snuggled close. As he looked into her intense brown eyes, he bent his head over and kissed her. She responded and he felt passion sweep over his body. At the same time, his mind screamed, “What are you doing, you know just exactly how crazy this is! She’s leaving again. What the hell are you doing?”

“You want another refill?” The question from the waitress dragged him back into the reality of the moment. He nodded, not really knowing what she had asked. He thought about the fact that Anne Marie was so close physically, but emotionally, she was gone. It was not that he didn’t love her any less – in his heart, nothing had changed. It was practical, now. She would be leaving soon and he had to protect his heart. Still he couldn’t help but wonder what he could do to get her to stay. He looked at Anne Marie and then turned his gaze at the clouds that had advanced overhead from the southern sky. It now looked like rain.

The check came and Anne Marie paid it. In his mind, he could not find the action to do much more, or to say anything that might captivate the moment. She was going to be leaving for Colorado soon. He had already told her that he was over her. In one sense, it was true. He had started to live life without constantly thinking about her. He was now actually doing his laundry and making his bed on a regular basis. On the other hand, he knew that underneath that facade, braced up by every ounce of stoicism he could muster, he had never loved anyone the way he had loved Anne Marie. Soon, she would be gone. He would have to continue making his bed, doing the dishes or whatever workaday routine he could that might bring him a little repose.

His resolve kicked in during the slow walk from the table to their cars, somewhere on the stairs, he thought. He moved to open her car door almost automatically, something he had been in the habit of doing for her. She got in, closed the door and rolled down the window. Why doesn’t she just leave now, he thought. No long good byes. No see you next times. He didn’t want to talk about such things, even though he was already calculating the driving time and gas consumption for a trip to Colorado. The engine of her rental car roared to life.

“Thanks, I really had a great time, today. I forgot just how well we challenge each other,” Anne Marie said. “Good bye, call me sometime. Maybe we’ll see each other soon.”

“Sure, I’ll call. See you later,” he said. She threw the rental car into gear and spun the tires, gravel spraying against the German tourists’ rental car as she sped out of the parking lot. He watched her drive out of sight and leaned back against the side of his car. He wondered what would be the reason that they might ever see each other again. He longed to find the reason, but in the end, he knew whatever reason there might be, would again come from her.

The clouds had moved overhead to deposit their tears. Turning on his heel toward the car, he took the only decisive action of his day as his fist smashed through the driver’s side window. The agony welling deep in his gut overtook his brain and fully masked any attempt for the pain darting up from his hand to make a difference. While blood oozed from his knuckles, the sky’s teardrops mingled with his own as they streaked down his cheeks.

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