Lloyd Faber likes to walk dockside in the early mornings. Waves lap quietly on the pier, the tinkle of halyards slap masts on the boats anchored in the harbor, a gull laughs in flight. The salty scent of low tide and engine oil flavor the air. Only a hint of a breeze. The sun rises low over Glen Cove across the Sound, and on a crisp fall day like this it lights a blaze on the calm waters and warms his face. Lloyd pulls the brim of his khaki Bernard cap down low.
Lloyd is a tall, sinewy, weathered soul, some six decades into the merry-go-round. He wears a well-trimmed mustache, gray turning white, and his deep-set eyes give him a haunted look. Strong hands, calloused and gnarled, are scarred from close work on hot engines and sharp fittings in salty water. Every evening he irons his khaki uniform and spit shines his black oxfords for the next new day.
He drives a launch for the club, ferrying folks back and forth to their boats. When he isn’t driving the launch, he helps man the front desk of the club’s rambling Victorian mansion, a rich multitude of rooms and stairs and niches of polished wood and bright brass and aromatic leather, finely made ship models under glass cases and jewelry grade barometers etching pressure lines on paper rolls, the bemused chuckles of the members enjoying cocktails drifting out of a cozy bar looking out over the harbor.
Lloyd takes his job seriously. Check that. He takes his calling seriously; a minor but revealing example is that he won't sell club mementos in the display case to guests. Only to members.
A stickler for things like that, Lloyd is, the gatekeeper to an internal code he projects on the world. Propriety first, rectitude second, and the bark to enforce both, third. If Lloyd were to allow a guest to purchase an item that might indicate membership, then brandish in public their Zippo lighter or Cross pen emblazoned with the club burgee, well, that would be false witness, no more and no less. He growls deep in his soul just thinking about it.
Which he is doing right now, soul growling, and does, quite frankly, most of the time. But this is a dream growl, a moan really, which always drives him to these dockside walks early mornings. Lloyd again awoke in confusion; did I really see that, or was it a dream? Whose arms were waving? Who was she? If I open my eyes right now will I be in my room or...there?
Then, tremulously, he let one lid peek out, and, as usual, he was here, not there, wherever “there” is. He toileted, he dressed, he left his clubhouse quarters, he went outside carrying a deep ache within him.
Lloyd now watches a cat’s paw kiss the water lightly. Its ripples shape-shift into an angel, a horse, an anvil and then wisp by him, lightly ruffling his trouser cuffs, disappearing like the old illusive memory, remnants of disconnected thought, each once perhaps part of an event disassembled now, laying in an unruly scramble in his mind that he can never quite put back together. Who was she, we, it, and why can't I forget if I can’t remember?
Son of an itinerant boat mechanic who had worked in a number of yards up and down the Atlantic seaboard, Lloyd has been around boats his whole life. He has scraped barnacles off boat hulls on hot summer days, some of the dirtiest work around if not down in the bilges deep in oily water fixing a pump or repacking the stuffing box around an old driveshaft. His father, Lloyd Sr., had taught him the trade and he had learned it well. The two had lived in an old Airstream, hooked up in whatever yard was employing them. had been a gypsy life, off the grid mostly, paid in cash and barter.
Lloyd never knew his mother. She had died birthing him, Sr. told him, but not to worry about it. It wasn’t your fault, said Sr. over and over. What did she look like and who was she, ? She was an angel who came from the sun and swept me up in her wings and gave me you and then flew away. And that was as far as Sr. would go with it.
Sr. didn’t talk about the past. He didn’t talk about the future. In fact, he didn’t talk much at all. Sr. had been quiet, an old father, 45 when Lloyd was born. He had kept Lloyd close, and others had stayed away. The path from their Airstream to the day’s repair and back had been their journey. Those who had employed the two over the years learned quickly that “the Lloyds” did their work well, and they wanted to be left alone. Lloyd had learned the ways of silence.
They had followed the seasons up and down the coast, and their reputation gave them steady work. In the Airstream after a day’s work, they followed a routine. Sr. cooked, Lloyd cleaned up. They discussed the technical details of the job. They watched movies on DVD. They read old trade magazines discarded by the yard’s sales office. They kept life simple.
Sr. died at 76, on the job, slipping off the deck of an old dry-docked Cheoy Lee ketch, breaking his neck on the pavement. It was quick and painless. The yard boss had been very solicitous and kind to Lloyd. He paid the crematorium costs of the funeral home and had given Lloyd his father’s ashes in a cardboard box. Lloyd had taken it back to the Airstream and stowed it in a lower cabinet.
“And then I just drove away,” thought Lloyd, remembering the moment, more cat’s paws stirring the still water below him. And it was when the dream began. For thirty years now, at first every so often, but with greater frequency with every passing year. Several times a week now.
The dream. He senses sadness and alarm. The sound of weeping or just its despair courses through his synapses. A dark room, he is moving, carried through this space by a force enveloping him as he passes an open door, slender arms waving inside, surrendering, and sinking into nothing. The weeping trails away, the despair remains, following him down, deeper down into a maw that disappears into flashing light, a pounding heart, an agony of fear and loss, a voice whispering, “who was she, , who was she, who was she, , who was she, who was she, …” until he wakes up, confused and desperately needing…what?
Lloyd takes a few deep breaths, and the ache begins to disappear as the shadows shorten with the rising sun. He walks over to the launch and begins unsnapping its fitted canvas to get ready for his first call, three blasts of an air horn from a mooring party ready for the club grillroom’s legendary breakfast buffet.