The Relentless Misdirection of Reason
He led her through the dark Mississippi forest, snaked her around twisted trees, helped her to duck under looping vines, step over boulders and stumps. The ground gave more as they descended the slight slope of the forest; down, down, they approached the rippling tide of a lazy inlet in the Gulf of Mexico. If she could swim to Havana with him, she would. Through a sliver of a clearing in the corkscrew of trees, she strained to pretend boat lights on the horizon were their mark, the shore of Cuba where they would rest on a hot beach, but that was just another of her one million fantasies for him, for her, for them.
"It is so dark, you see it, right? Right?" He said, anxious for her to notice.
"I see nothing. There is nothing to see. I'm only still walking because you're guiding me."
"Look at the sky."
"The sky is black. There is nothing."
"Then you see it! The black sky. This is what I wanted you to see. In Mississippi, it is so dark here—and there are no stars."
"But that makes no sense. There are no cities around. The stars should be plainly visible."
"No. They're not. Come on. Let's get there, let's get this over with, let's be gone. I love you."
Here he stopped at the darkest spot in the darkest forest on the darkest night, pulled her to his warm chest, and kissed her lips, which were easy to find, given how she leaned into the cavern of his arching body. She wished to lie with him in this black space, no white around. No color. Just them. But he tugged her to move forward. They had little time to complete what they came for and flee for as long as they could escape reality.
The trees straightened more and became less dense. Larger clearings began, and soon enough, the crescent of a pearl moon reflecting off the Gulf lit the beach on this pocket of Mississippi. Up ahead, a wooden dock stapled into the water, which seemed to pulse rather than roll in definite waves.
Tethered to the twenty-foot dock, a green fishing boat, which appeared to have been a small yacht in its glory years, dominated the circular inlet. No other boat in sight competed for space on the dock or even in the water around, for none were tied to buoys in this rare calm spot on this Gulf. The captain's wheelhouse was in center, the roof of which housed an upper deck with two teak lounge chairs. On the bottom deck, vertical tubes surrounded the edges of the stern side; out of some of the tubes, heavy-duty fishing rods poked the sky—rods thick enough to master a school of blues. In the bow, a cushioned sitting area formed the shape of a croissant. Escaping under the captain's quarters, stairs presumably led to a kitchen and sleeping quarters.
The rear of the boat held her name: "Runaway."
"Are we really going to steal your brother's boat?" She said.
"He's the only one who won't prosecute if we're caught. And plus, because we're identical twins, if anyone sees us, they'll think I'm him. I have to be with you away, in the middle of the water, and we need to leave now. I just want to fish and watch you while you write. There is no other option," this wishful fisherman said.
"I agree. I agree. I do not want reason anymore. I reject reality," she said in a breathless relief of admission.
He kissed her for speaking her truth once more.
"Can they, the others, can they find us here? Are we safe? Will reality find us?"
"We are safe, love. No one can touch us on this boat. Reality will not exist on the water."
And so, having the month before pocketed a spare set of his brother's boat keys, specifically as part of this premeditated theft, the fisherman climbed aboard, helped his beloved writer climb aboard, disengaged from the dock, and out they trolled for the open sea.
The night turned a blue-gray as the dawn crept upon them. He held her close in the below-deck cabin, on a bed made of cushions and pillows and two down comforters. They were warm from the fabric, warm in each other's touch, and warm in the glow of simply being together with no one around. He kissed her in a vacillation between tender pecks, desperate consumption, and easy biting. And she did the same. Between several rounds of making love, he reminded her how he would return to his younger years of fishing during the days and would make her fish dinners, however she liked, in the evenings. He promised to bolt a desk to the upper deck, bow side, facing the stern, and thus him; here, he said, she could type on the typewriter he'd bought her, filling however many blank, white pages she wished, whatever would make her happy. "Whatever," he said, "keeps you satisfied and with me. I will give you everything, anything you want." He also promised to erect a canopy made of canvas over her writing space to block the jealous sun from robbing her of her words. She said she needed no more than what he described. "That is all I need, my love," she said, as she stroked his perfect beard, which she loved to a dizzy distraction.
The next morning, he did everything he promised before she awoke. And when she did awake, she did so only because he returned to their below-deck cabin, crawled under the two down blankets, and kissed her stern to bow, starting at her toes, ending at her scalp, and was about to whisper for her to wake, when she awoke to his tenderness and pulled his nakedness into hers. She stroked and kissed and scraped his beard, his mustache, his berry lips, his angled jaw. She told him how incredible his face was, what with his sapphire eyes and soft facial hair. She traced the lovely length of his legs with her feet, up and down, up and down. Time proved irrelevant in these moments when they melded together as one; they dissolved in each other, evaporated to the surrounding air, dissipated into space, formed stars.
After a standing breakfast in the captain's wheelhouse, in which they did not speak while sipping French-press coffee and eating crackers and cheese, all of which they found in the cabin's kitchen, they pulled anchor and motored off to find a shaded bank in an inlet the fisherman used to fish as a child. Once they arrived and anchored and he baited his hooks and set his poles in the vertical tubes, she settled in to begin a new novel or novella or short story, it didn't matter, on the desk he'd bolted in the bow.
She enjoyed full view of him from time to time as he moved from starboard to port and port to starboard to check the tension on his various fishing lines. As the sun rose and inflamed the world, he removed his shirt. When he did this, she stalled her writing to stare, for every time she saw his back, she froze. Before her was the essence of beauty: his wide-set shoulder blades arching out like angel's wings, and strung between on his stretched skin, were a million sun-kissed freckles, some large and blotched, some small like sprinkles of dirt. Some brown, some caramel, a couple black. This map of stars on his back was all she needed; no visible stars on a black Mississippi night, if ever there were any, would ever match the Grace of this vision. She stopped staring only when she settled to write about them, about him, about the love plotted in dots on his back and crawling like a net over the perfect joint of his left shoulder.
On her first day, she wrote of his markings in a chapter of her new novel about lovers who ran away and hid for three months in a B&B in Savannah. The plot was immaterial to the pervading themes of requited love and riotous passion in the heat of escape—of hiding from the encroachments and insurmountable boundaries of reason. What wicked pins the facts of their lives made, holding them tethered to a world without wishes and realizable dreams. But not so on the boat, and not so in her stories.
On their first day, the fisherman and the writer shared a lunch of ham and cheese wraps and chilled, glass-bottled Cokes (items they'd packed in their on-the-run backpacks). After, she resumed her writing, bringing along a strong pineapple and vodka cocktail in a sixteen-ounce, plastic cup. The drink drizzled over the rim as she walked the port side of the weightless boat, so she licked her fingers so as to consume every drop. "This alcohol, this juice," she said to her beloved fisherman in the stern, "will be my afternoon delight and will help me write a passionate love scene between the main characters."
She typed. He fished. He caught a few keepers and threw them in the well for dinner.
In the late afternoon, when the sun glowed of tangerine, she left her desk to mix another cocktail, announcing to him how the love scene got away from her and burned out of control on the page, the flames of passion hotter than she intended. He smiled with a suggestion that he could help her visualize the details by acting out the male character's part in real life.
She giggled and returned to her writing. If he only knew, she thought. If he only knew how every kiss and every hug and every tear and removal of a blouse and unzipping of slacks were created solely from memories and fantasies of him, even before they'd met in reality. He lived in every line she had ever written or would ever write. Her muse remained clueless to the depths of her unwavering love. He was the embodiment of love, a love she had for so long desired and wrote about and wished for with every stitch of her soul, every verse she ever conjured. She still did not understand the magic that brought him to her, in the flesh, out of her creation, off the page, and before her in the truest sense of being. How he had proven to her that life was real and realized in fantasy. And vice versa.
The sun fought through the canvas and with this the alcohol absorbed more into her mind. Soon enough, she stumbled out of her teak folding chair, disrupting the pile of her typed papers, which scattered to the starboard side of the boat, and fluttered in the air and over the deck; she too, fell over the deck. In her descent, she laughed so hard and loud, the poor fisherman in the stern barely heard her splash.
In the water, she sank and surfaced, bobbing up and down in the nonchalant inlet waves. Each time her head crested, she laughed, which caused her to swallow some water. But she kept laughing and splashing and shouting disconnected prose from a variety of love poems to her fisherman on the boat.
Hearing her, he immediately dropped the pole he had been reeling in, losing the fish he'd hooked. Without removing his leather loafers, he jumped in the water to save her. As he swam to her, she just kept laughing. Laughing, laughing, laughing like a lunatic.
When he finally captured her, she stopped laughing. In his embrace in the water, she stared into his sapphire eyes, and he did the same to her sapphire eyes. They paused, their legs braiding underwater in a slow, deep tread. He lunged into her, kissing her firm, and in so doing, simultaneously freed himself of his shorts, allowing the cotton to sink to the depths. As she was in a skirt, he slid her panties to the side and entered her in the water. They buoyed together in the hot, salty waves, enjoying watery love in a defiance of gravity, a mockery of physics, allowing fish and dolphins to watch if they wished. Once done, they slogged aboard the boat, and she asked him to fry her a fish dinner, which he did while humming a country duet about finding a mutual love that felt like home. They ate together on the cushions in the bow, spellbound under the glory of a magnificent, purple and pink heartbreak of a sunset.
As they lay in their below-deck lair that night, he leaned up on his elbow to finger her hair from her forehead. He contemplated her lazy gaze and her easy breathing, her calmness beneath him.
"Aren't you upset for having lost all your work today? All those pages lost to the sea? I saw the dolphins tossing your pages, nose to nose, as though a game. You must be upset."
"No, my love. I will start again tomorrow. Today was wonderful. You are wonderful. I am not upset. Come on now, let's just sleep. We are away, we are lost, we are hidden and gone and reality is in the past, and that's all I want."
The fisherman and the writer slept sound, cradled in each other as if one body with eight limbs.
The next day, they once again shared a quiet sunrise breakfast of French-press coffee and crackers and cheese in the captain's wheelhouse; he drove to another inlet and set up his fishing, and she set to the bow to begin her writing anew. She once again grew transfixed when he removed his shirt and released his angel wing shoulder blades, the stars, the map, the love etched in freckles on his back. After lunch, she once again brew herself a large cocktail, or two, or three, and soon enough floundered into the sea, along with her day's typed papers, laughing and laughing and laughing. And he once again entered the water to save her, only to make love to her for all the fishes to see. Probably a few sea turtles too. And the dolphin couple who flipper-clapped their approval. This time when the fisherman and the writer climbed aboard, she asked him to grill her a grouper and add a pinch of basil and a brush of oil; and he did as she asked.
For the next two weeks, every single day, the writer fell in the water, losing every page of the day's work in her cyclone, and thus, having to start fresh the next day. The fisherman always jumped in to savor her, having learned to fish naked after lunch so he didn't lose all his shorts. The writer never began the same story twice; each day she started a new novel. Her stories involved visits to places she and her fisherman had never been together, out in public, and free of caring eyes, of others. One story involved a trip to Paris to hook locks to a bridge and throw the key in the Seine, the water swallowing their conjoined secret. Another story sketched, in elaborate detail, a trek to Bali to lay naked in a hut over turquoise water, making love and feeding pelicans from an open window, the casing of which was made of a woven bamboo. Another story on another day painted a stroll through a lilac hillside in the South of France, another a day at a zoo in San Diego, another a world tour to sample top-rated noodle joints—just for the sole purpose of rating the places themselves.
Each of her intended novels centered on one theme: them together. The fisherman and the novelist. Just them, out in the world and the world not caring to log their comings and goings, to notice them kiss in public, or hold hands in a restaurant, say "I love you" beyond a whisper—almost shouting, because no one would care. In her stories, they were an innocuous pair of lovers, holding so close, they appeared one shadow, spilling on the sidewalks of fictional city streets at dusk.
Once a week, while she continued writing her incongruous novels, ones that never grew beyond a chapter or two, he would take the mini rubber Zephyr with the mini screaming engine and troll into a seaside harbor to trade his frozen catch for food and gas and provisions and a gift for her, usually a wildflower he'd pluck from the harbormaster's yard. To her, each single flower was the value of a vast botanical garden, one planted and curated by Almighty God himself. With every presentation of one stem of daisy or one sprig of delphinium, it was as if he'd asked her to be only his by broadcasting such proposal to the entire world—something truly impossible in the reality from which they'd run. Impractical. Unreasonable. Outside the strict boundaries and purposeful directions, nay demands, of reason.
One day, the fisherman caught a catfish with writing on his side. On closer inspection, typed words became clear: a torn scrap from one of her papers had pasted to the fish.
"Love, come here, come here. You won't believe what I caught," he yelled.
The writer approached, and he held the wriggling catch sideways so she could read the scales of the fish.
"I can't believe it. My story returns to me," she said. She stepped closer and read the only legible line, one unbent and unbroken from the toil of saltwater and tide. "Do not be misled by the relentless misdirection of reason, which is tragically so often at war with the heart," she read. "Hmph. Of course. The one line that means everything to me, comes and swims and is hooked by you. The one line I'd ever want you to read. Can we eat this fish tonight, swallow this line within us so we never forget?"
"Whatever you want. Whatever you want," he said. His eyes sparkled as he spoke, and to her, she could not tell if he followed her meaning or was just revealing a spellbound love. She kissed his cheek and pat his bare ass, for it was after lunch and he was once again fishing naked.
A few days after the miracle of the worded fish, and another few days of her once again losing her papers and falling in the water, the fisherman left for provisions in the harbor. While smiling to a daydream as he kick-shuffled through the pebbled parking lot, a man from several car lengths away shouted to him. "Pico," this stranger said. Pico was his twin brother's nickname, one so unique, the fisherman could not deny. Playing the ruse he was reminded to play, he looked up and waved, and the stranger, satisfied, walked on. In being slapped out of his happy daydream, the fisherman noted his surroundings; specifically, he braised his sight over the name of a boat up on stilts, undergoing a paint job on the side of a red outbuilding. "Raison d'etre," was the name. He thought to himself of the meaning of that phrase: the most important reason for someone's or something's existence.
At first he was angered at the universe for once again barging in and reminding him of reason. Reason, he thought, you devil, you demon. You are never satisfied. You must barge in always, always you destroy everything, every daydream. The fisherman cursed the world, the pebbles in the parking lot for being on solid ground and being real, the cars around, the stranger who slapped him, even his brother, whose image was a harbinger of reason—of reminders—the other side of the mirror, one real, one fantasy. The fisherman forgot to pluck his beloved a sprig of any flower.
As he motored back to the writer on the boat, his anger settled into worry. He worried that the writer would eventually realize she'd lost all of her hard work, and would wish to return to the sea-less world, of concrete and dirt and stable land; he worried she'd want a safe reality in order to be productive once again and not lose her precious verse to the sea. Mostly he saddened, for he knew he had to give her up, allow her to be what she needed to be. He worked the day long not on perfecting the tension of his lines and securing bait, but on hardening his resolve to push her back into the world where she belonged, for he loved her this much, enough to peel her away and throw her to shore. He pictured every afternoon of the past few weeks when her papers hit the water, floating for seconds on the black surface like dozens of white spaces, rectangles of blankness, for the darker water camouflaged the black font. The papers would then soak through and sink to the seaweed and tumble of the floor of the sea, which the fisherman pictured now wallpapered with words and white space. His heart jumped, his breathing shallowed, to think of such loss.
One morning, before she awoke, having fret all night over the thought of future loss, the fisherman unbolted her writing desk, moved it to a narrow space below deck, between the skinny couch and tiny cabin stove, and bolted it there. He also removed the vodka from the mini-frig and hid the bottle in the well where he kept his caught fish.
"What's this?" the writer said when she awoke.
"Darling, please, I can't see you lose your work another day. I love your writing, I love when you write, and I can't stand to have you lose another page. Please, for my heart, work here now."
"I don't think I can. I don't think it will be the same," she said.
"Please, for me. I'm begging you. Every day for weeks you have fallen in the sea and lost your work."
She considered what he said, exposing a vulnerability in how she squinted her eyes and bit her side-swept bottom lip. She didn't comprehend herself as awake or asleep, in a dream, or on a real boat; she truly did not recall being bothered over falling off the boat along with her writing. I must be bothered, she thought, I must be. What writer would be fine with losing weeks of work? So she thanked her fisherman for setting her straight and sat to begin a new story.
The morning dragged on. She watched the surface of water bead on a round port window. Although she labored to recall, the placement of freckles on his back shifted and blurred to clouds of undefined brown; even the net of dots over his left shoulder, which to her formed a web of temptation in person, bled into unremarkable blotches in her mind. The precise line of where his beard fell upon his cheek, the exact hue of his eyes, the length of his legs, all became a watercolor memory of a warped and elusive man of vague generalities. Their shared lunch was in silence. She did not drink a cocktail, or two, or three in the afternoon. She did not fall in the water. They did not make love for the enjoyment of the fishes and turtles. The dolphins jumped around another boat, far away. When she read to him her work from the day over a dinner of canned soup, for he failed to snag even one grouper during the day, her lines fell flat, and the passion on the pages felt like a forced puff of air. Nothing.
"Every writer has a down day," he reminded her.
"It's true. You're right. Tomorrow will be better. And every fisherman has a bum day. Tomorrow will be better for you, too," she said.
They climbed into their lair of downy blankets, but did not burrow in. Instead, they kicked the covers to the floor, for the night air stalled—a long night of stagnant fumes and clammy humidity, which caused them to toss and turn as individuals, eight limbs on two different bodies.
The next day, the same drudgery unfolded. And the next day. And the next. On the fifth day, the writer again watched beads of seawater on the port glass and remembered how a publishing deadline loomed and remembered too, the others, searching for her for sure now. She packed her bags, a hole so wide in her heart, she collapsed on the wooden floor of the cabin. There, she sobbed a whole ocean and indeed, a puddle of sadness formed beneath her head. Nevertheless, she pried her body from the floor and crawled to the stairs, literally dragging her bags behind. On knees and elbows and fists and palms, she ascended to the light of a bright Gulf day.
"I'll have to leave now," she called to her fisherman. "Reality calls to me. I am dead down in that room, inside, without you in the air," she said. She kept her eyes closed. She could not look at him.
"No. No. No, please. No," he said.
"I must," she said. "I do nothing. I stare at water beads all day." And here, she finally opened her eyes. Upon seeing his face, his jaw, his beard, his eyes, the net of freckles on his shoulder again, reality vanished, which is something he must have also sensed, as soon as his eyes met hers. An idea seemed to spark, for he smiled.
"Love, please. Give me one more day. I can fix this. Please," he said.
She feared he would make her return to the cabin, but she tempered herself from guiding his solution. She needed him to come to the solution himself, to understand what it was they, as a them, needed, without her imposing her opinion on the matter. Instead, she spoke of her heart's general desire, without adding the specificity she so craved.
"Whatever it is you do, please do not make me be practical. Do not make me live reality. I need the fantasy. There is this, like was tattooed on the fish, the relentless misdirection of reason, which is tragically so often at war with the heart. There is no need for reason on this boat. I just want to live, simply live in the heart, a relentless heart, not a relentless reason." To her, the sun and the drink did not intoxicate her, the myths she whipped up did, the fantasy she lived in being with him out in the world and loving him in open air. The newness of each day was relegated to a new storyline, which was all she needed, so long as he remained in her tangible view, him, the love of her life.
The next day, before she awoke, the fisherman re-bolted the writing desk to the bow, slid the vodka in the mini-frig, next to the cheese and pineapple juice, and renamed the boat: "Relentless Heart." Mid-morning, he Zephyred off to the harbormaster's yard, fetched her two fistfuls of daisies and delphinium, and purchased a bottle of Bordeaux, for he hoped to celebrate with her under the purple-blue umbrella of an evening sunset.
As he neared the Relentless Heart, she cried upon sight of the bouquet and wine.
That hot afternoon, when she fell laughing in the water and he jumped in to save and to love her, he asked her to vow to never leave or even suggest anything close to ever leaving again.
"The dolphins and the fish and the tortoises can be our company," he said. "Please stay."
She giggled and nose kissed his sun-freckled face.
The fisherman and the writer never again went ashore together. Only he would reach ground, once a week, to pick her one flower, and obtain the foods and fuels they needed to survive. Every time he did, he bolstered his resolve by thinking of the medicine he'd eaten when he ate the worded fish. They would be together, he endured, and hidden from the world as fugitives of reality.
The writer has not, to this day, finished one single solitary story. It is quite possible, however, that the strains and streams of her varied chapters have been consumed by romance writers, who feast on tattooed lobsters and grouper and catfish and blues from the great Gulf of Mexico; this worded marine life may just be the source of untethered passion, a collective salty muse, which drives writers to write without any care for practicalities or reason at all. Just love.
© 2015 Shannon Kirk, All Rights Reserved