The finger dock was not two people wide. Not really. It stuck out into the darkening harbor, further than seemed possible, almost as long as the Town Dock that accommodated the Boston Ferry. It felt like it had to be illegal. On the side facing the breakwater that held back the bay, a weathered wooden railing was topped by a shelf, narrow enough to hold a wine glass or a beer bottle, nothing more. On the other side, a fragile fence, waist high, held you from falling into the harbor water or, at low tide, breaking your neck on the rocks below.
People bellied up to the shelf and you could barely shimmy past them if you turned sideways, as you moved outwards in search of a space for your own body and drink. It was a close call between the elbows of the other people and the railing you did not want to test by too hard a lean; some vertical slats were missing, and the entire rail seemed weathered beyond redemption, or at least beyond safety.
None of this did I know when I first walked inside and asked what they had on tap.
“Sorry, no tap. Just bottles. Here’s the list.”
I looked down the beer-stained sheet of paper at the six choices; surprisingly eclectic, several fine Belgians, all over-priced. The bartender waited patiently, tall and wearing a tight green body shirt and a killer tan which he did not get just by standing behind this bar. I picked a St. Anselm’s dark and gave my credit card because I had the intention of getting mildly drunk. While waiting for my beer I planted my butt on the edge of the bar and took a look. The room was full of men in twos and threes, and a short blonde with sharp features who I guessed was the proprietor as she moved talkatively through the crowd.
Through the glass sliders I could see the sun setting on the bay, falling through a crystal blue sky towards the water’s edge. There seemed to be a pathway of sorts which, as I walked through the glass sliders, I discovered was the finger dock. On one side about a dozen men were drinking beers from bottles but there was plenty of room further out and I did the shimmy past, ducked a left arm gesture that almost launched my beer, and walked down to the end to see what the white sheets might be, tied to the end-rail and blowing Eastward in the stiff afternoon wind. Beyond, the sun was making the sky a pale red but igniting the bright reds and yellows and greens of the upturned dinghies that cluttered the beach. Beyond, at floats, sleek sailboats and fancy yachts bobbed gently; the clink of the halyards tapped the main masts and the wind carried a hint of the wind-driven rhythm onto the dock.
The white blowing fabric proved to be some sort of stiff gauze, incongruous at the time, its purpose unclear. It whipped sharply in the near-gale and I moved a couple of yards back towards the bar to escape. I began then to seriously swig; if I were to forget the trauma with Lois, on the beach, I needed to get drinking. I still don’t know what it was I said that got her so furious, but she tromped off up the beach and I did not think much of it, stretched out under the sun and must have dozed off because the sun had moved a good deal West when I finally sat up. It took no time at all to notice that Lois was not back at our little encampment; I stood up and looked towards the water but there were growing whitecaps further out, the afternoon breeze was picking up and no one was in the water. Looking down, I saw her beach bag now was missing, and slowly I got the message that I must have really stepped in it this time.
Lugging all the gear back to the room, the picture became clear; her duffle was gone. The 4:30 ferry had sailed by then; no doubt a steaming Lois was making as much smoke as the boat diesel. I needed another beer to get deeper into my self-pity, and turned towards the bar to find my way slightly blocked by another drinker who had sneaked up beside me while I was looking at the gulls.
“Great view, isn’t it?” He spit a little when he talked and I took a half step back, which also gave me a better view: middle aged, diminutive, too tan, too much stomach, white sailor shirt with dark blue horizontal stripes, a garment designed for someone half his age and girth. Short tan shorts which should have been longer so that I did not have to look at his unfortunate knees. His glasses were dirty.
“Sure is,” I said as I planned my end run but he stuck out his hand. “Roger Charpentier.” His French accent was pretty good.
I shook his hand, rejected the impulse to give him a false name, and was about to excuse myself.
“You here for the wedding.” He said it as a statement, not a question.
“You a friend of Brian or of Joe? Must be Brian, I think I know all of Joe’s crowd. Joe and me, we go way back. Long time ago,” he trailed off wistfully.
“No, I’m sorry, I actually just came in off the beach for a couple of beers.” Roger’s eyes narrowed a bit, mild suspicion I felt. Was I poaching on some private local turf? I felt compelled to inquire. “There’s a wedding going on?”
“Well, It’s actually scheduled to start in about a half hour, but I’m sure they’ll be late,” Roger replied. “Those guys, they’re always together and they’re always late.”
“Where are they going for the wedding,” I asked, having noticed a small chapel just across the street on my way in and putting, I thought, the whole thing together.
“Why, right here!”
“Here? Like in the bar, here?”
Roger laughed, showing me his yellow teeth with the upper left incisor missing and projecting a modest whiff of beer and sausage which thankfully got swallowed almost immediately by the now-typhoon-like wind, carrying with it however no respite from the day’s heat.
“No, no. You must be new here—this your first trip to Ptown? No, it’s here here. Right here on the dock. Everyone who gets married here gets married on the dock. Rain or shine. No really, even in the rain. Right down there, at the end? See the bunting?” He waved towards the stiff bunting that now was standing horizontal to the water and beginning to shred into strips. “Everyone who gets married in Ptown wants to be married while the sun sets over the harbor from the end of the dock.”
He took a quick glance at his watch, then over my shoulder at the setting sun.
“Acourse, those guys, they are going to get married by moonlight if they don’t get their butts in gear.”
He looked at me. “You’ll stay, yes? I mean you should stay. There’s room, you can look from the slider. It’s, well, magical,” and at the end of the last word a small glob of spittle landed on the back of my hand as it rested on the rail. I tried to wipe it off on my shirt as I smiled at him and stepped smartly around and headed back down the dock.
When I got to the bar it was so crowded that I thought the chances of getting another beer were nil and I was about to leave when I remembered they had held my credit card for my tab. Edging through several men, who all gave way readily while continuing to chatter, I scored a repeat and turned to walk directly into a man carrying a huge sculling oar. Behind him, another big guy carried yet another oar. Roger came bustling up.
“About time! You guys please quick quick take those down to the end of the dock right away. We are SO late. Now the groom is on the right so put the Princeton oar on the right, in the corner. And put the Yale oar on the other side, of course, that’s where Brian will stand.”
Roger caught site of me. “This must be so hard for you to follow. So a quick explanation?” He did not wait for my answer.
“Brian rowed for Yale and Joey, he rowed for Princeton. That’s where I met Joe actually—but, another story.”
“I couldn’t help but listen and, well, why are you putting Joe’s oar behind Brian?”
Roger beamed as he answered: “That’s the beauty part. Each of them will stand in front of the other’s oar. The blaze at the end of their new spouse’s school oar will stand over their respective heads! It’s perfect. And Rodney, he thought of it but we all thought it was brilliant. It shows that they are together, they are really as if they were one!”
“No shit?” It was all I could think to say. Although maybe I didn’t even think. Then: “Yeah, ya know I decided I will stick around for the event.”
Roger and I smiled at each other then — but for different reasons.
Just then, the bride and groom arrived and were immediately surrounded by well-wishers as they were simultaneously shuffled through the slider and began their long hike to the end. I got a glimpse of two men holding their top-hats as they moved outwards towards the now mostly faded sun, the sky a deep purple reaching for black. In their tuxedos, the couple looked like store mannequins, although their matching dark turquoise shirts suggested some lesser level of elegance. Their friends followed a discrete distance behind, talking now in whispers. Through the slider, I tried to see the end of the dock but could not. I stood for about ten minutes, until I heard a loud cheer followed by the two sculling oars being raised over-head, then tossed high in the air and over the side of the deck.
* * * * * * * * * *
Next morning my head hurt less than I would have guessed although I did drink a good deal of fine champagne at the wedding party, as everyone assumed I knew the half of the couple whom they themselves did not know. It was one of those dull aches at the back, running down to where your head muscles anchored your skull to the rest of you; each time you head moved it felt like you pulled a muscle. It occurred to me that crashing weddings could be really easy to do, particularly after a half hour when people were already drinking vigorously. Lois didn’t call and the answering machine in our apartment went to message three times before I gave up and decided to catch the next ferry back to Boston; it was another nice beach day but I just wasn’t in the mood. I was alternating thinking, as the ferry cleared the breakwater and began to gently buck in the flat bay and mild breeze, first how I would express my fury and then how I would apologize and beg. The problem was that I did not feel like apologizing, particularly since on sincere thinking I just could not remember what I had actually said or done.
I snorted a laugh as I drank my thick coffee from a paper cup at the boat rail; maybe I might just walk in, announce I apologized and that I would never do it again, but by the way could you remind me Lois what in fact I said? And then, funnier yet, when she expressed anger at my not knowing, I would shrug and give her my endearing smile and say “hey, it’s just a guy thing, ya know?” Then I stopped laughing because I guess it really wasn’t all that funny.
As I belched gently into the remains of my coffee cup, a man in a dark dinner jacket came up to the rail a few yards downwind from me. Since it was sunny and 10:45 in the morning it was not immediately clear to me what he thought he was doing. I glanced up at his face then, and was surprised to see Brian, the groom; or was it Joe the groom? Well it was either Brian or Joe, the bride or the groom, that much I knew; as for the details, I never did pay much attention and, truth be told, last night I had sort of avoided both of them for fear of being recognized as someone they did not recognize.
I was about to drift away and become invisible, when the jacket spoke in a loud voice.
“Hey, come over here will ‘ya? I remember you from last night. You one of Brian’s guys, yeah?”
“Uh, I was there last night, Joe,” I replied. “Say, are you cold or something? Must be hot as hell in that coat. You okay? Uh, Joe?”
Joe’s eyes were closed and his shoulders convulsed up and down. Then I heard the gasps and sobs; Joe was crying up a storm.
Long pause, no answer. Joe just stood there, head in his hands, eyes fixed over the side staring at, well, there was nothing really to stare at except for the horizon.
“Look, do you want me to leave you alone? Because you did call me over, but if you changed your mind, it’s okay ya know…” I said, petering out, hoping my suggestion that I leave would be accepted, at least by silence. For half a minute we both of us froze in place, but as I began to turn away, ever so slowly….
“No, hold on a minute. Please.”
I moved closer, to avoid having to yell over the growing sounds of the water and wind as the ferry turned Northwest and began to make way against a slight chop in the bay.
“Are you alone? I mean, are the two of you…?”
“Yes, I am alone. I just—oh shit!” He turned towards to me then, his eyes red and swollen, his cheeks wet, his hair few strands of hair askew. His turquoise shirt, unchanged from the night before, was blotched with the drip of his tears, while random smears of something white and sticky – frosting? — marched across his chest in random parade.
I waited a moment, hoping he’d given up. Just as I was about to start my retreat, Joe began to speak in a slow croak, flat intonation, precise pronunciation.
“It was never my idea. I thought we were fine. We were a couple! What’s the matter with being a couple? But Brian—well you know him, he’s so jealous over me. Was he always so damned jealous, or is it just me? How long have you known him? Did he just get angry jealous over the last two years since we were committed to each other?’’
“People change,” I replied, avoiding a direct answer which would have been pure fabrication. It did not seem right, to lie to the guy, but of course I had no history with either of these men, I was just the innocent by-stander; well, innocent voyeur to be accurate.
“Well, I don’t know. He just kept drinking champagne. I could never drink with him, he has one of those hollow legs, ya know?”
He wiped his whole face with a crumpled handkerchief pulled from his pocket. Already saturated, it just rearranged his tears into an overall sheen. As an unfortunate side effect, it also redistributed what looked like a coating of flesh-toned makeup, leaving subtle horizontal roadways from nose to ear on each side of his face.
“I was just talking to my friends. Just talking! I mean, they came up all the way from New York for the ceremony,
I ought to at least be able to talk with them for five minutes, to thank them; ought to be able to do that! Ah shit!” Tears reformed in the corners of his eyes, welling gently against his nose.
“Sure, I agree!” I tried to invent an emotional reaction to head off further bawling. “But—well, what was it, then? Did you tell him you were going over to talk to your friends, or….”
“I wasn’t GOING anywhere, that’s the point. I was standing right there in the bar. Not twenty feet from him. And my friends and me, we weren’t even being – demonstrative! I was drinking his champagne. You know how fussy he is about champagne, any wine. I don’t give a damn, but Brian, no, I had to be his Crystal, his $300 a bottle Crystal, and he’s tapped out as usual so I am drinking this expensive crap that I don’t even like and what’s more I’m paying for it also, and then all of a sudden he’s standing next to us, and I start to introduce him to my friends which we already did on the beach but it’s so crazy I figure I’ll save him some embarrassment by reminding him of their names, it’s just a courtesy—to him! But he’s so pissed he’s like right in my face, telling me I gotta go stay with him, talking to his friends not mine.”
“So I try to make a joke out of it, ya know? I turn to my friends and say something like ‘excuse me, guys, he’s just SO in love tonight,’ and I smile and start to go, I mean they came all the way from New York and spending what, too hundred a night to be there, and I’m just walking away!”
Joe paused, then looked right at me, fire now in his eyes behind the water-works. I feel I have to say something, I feel he is waiting for me say something.
“So, what did you do, Joe?”
“Well, I’m trying not to make a scene. It’s our goddamned wedding, fa Godzake and he’s humiliating me and I’m letting him do it but, okay, maybe he’s had too much to drink, I’m turning away and he – he slaps me! Right in the face, he slaps me. Loud and hard, and I rocked back and put up my hand and tried to rub my cheek. And Carl– my friend Carl, he says to Brian, he says ‘Hey, please don’t hit Joey, he’s our friend and he didn’t do anything,’ and Brian he just glares for a couple of seconds and hisses ‘keep your friggin’ mouth shut, you New York asshole” and then he grabs my ear, my EAR, he’s pulling me by my ear, across the floor, and now it’s as quiet as death and everyone is staring, just staring and Brian, he starts talking in a loud voice about I had to be taught to obey now that we’re married and I better not be a slow learner; and then he realizes that that its totally quiet in the bar and everyone is staring at us, and my ear is bleeding because he’s pulling me so hard and he’s tearing my left ear and I’m crying right in front of everyone – oh God it was so – HORRIBLE that I, I ….”
Joe gasped for breath, took a couple of deep gulps of ocean air. He had me now. I damned near screamed at him, “What? What?”
“I kicked him as hard as I could right in the balls and he fell down in a heap and I ran out of the bar.”
“Well, he damned well deserved it,” I said.
“Yes he did, he surely did, but don’t you see? What am I supposed to do now? We’re married. Married! It’s so horrible, we’re married!”
I tugged his arm until he turned to look directly at me. “You don’t have to stay married, you know.”
“No, I don’t. I have said to myself, you don’t have to stay married, you’re your own person, you have your pride, you have your friends, I told myself—or at least I did before all of this – horror.”
“So, I came to the wharf and had nowhere else to go. I sat in the doorway of the Clam Shack, with the restaurant garbage. I was afraid he’d come looking for me when I didn’t go back to the apartment, but the son-if-a-bitch didn’t even care enough to try to find me. I mean, where would I go? And all my money and my cell phone were back in the guest house so…. Well, you’re right, I don’t have to do this. I got on the ferry and I’m going to Boston; my company has a branch office there and I can get back to New York and figure out just how to extract myself.”
He laughed briefly, took a piece of paper from his shirt pocket and waved it at me. “And send this guy his hundred dollars back for buying me my ticket and giving me cab fare for when we dock.”
“What a story! I really feel sorry for you,” I said. “What can I do to help,” I blurted out reflexively.
Joe paused a moment, then looked up. “Well, there is one thing I didn’t think of. I will get my company to arrange returning to New York but they don’t open until tomorrow, this is Sunday of course. Since you were kind enough to mention it, I could use a place to crash tonight….” He looked down, seemingly embarrassed to have asked. I rolled my eyes up, angry at myself in having trapped myself.
“Sure you can come to my place but, well, I’m alone on this ferry for sort of the same reason you are, not sure how my place is going to receive me, let alone another person. But, here,” I said as I reached for my wallet, “let me see, let me give you, well I have a bunch of cash, let me lend you say $300 for a real hotel room; and here’s my business card. Just get yourself comfortable and send me the money when you get squared away in New York.”
Joe hesitated a moment, looked up and smiled abashedly.
“That’s really kind of you,” he said softly. “I do so appreciate it,” as he carefully counted the bills, folded them once over and tucked them into his pocket.
“And let me buy you a drink if I may,” I blurted in relief. So we passed the remaining half-hour of our trip drinking G and Ts at the ferry bar, and then we shook hands as he went off to find a bathroom to “clean up.”
I paid the tab and began looking for Joe while I joined the slow, crowded shuffle down the stairs to the main deck and the gangway. A youngish well-dressed guy all in crisp khaki tapped me on the shoulder.
“Hope you were able to calm old Joe down,” he said with a small smile.
“Why yes, I actually think that I did, as a matter of fact.”
“Good for you; that Joe, he’s always been so emotional.”
“Well he was crying when I first, uh—so you know Joe, do you?”
“Sure, known him in New York and then down in Ptown, for years. Good guy. He got a raw deal I hear; I didn’t have much luck stopping his crying but at least I was able to lend him $500 to get him back to New York.”
I stopped so short that the man behind me ran his roller suit case right into the back of my leg, making my bad achilles tingle. I turned around to apologize, he claimed it was his fault, I insisted it was mine, and by the time we were finished taking blame and I had again gathered up my gear I had fallen back in line and could not see the khaki Samaritan in the crush of people on the gangway.
I disembarked and stopped at the end of the ramp to rub my leg and look for Joe, but I did not see him; likely he was in the first wave off the boat.
I took the T back to the condo, and found Lois sitting on the small balcony with a chai latte and the Sunday Times Crossword, which she always annoyingly seemed to be able to finish in ink.
“Hello,” I said.
“F you and the horse you rode in on,” she replied without looking up.
I pulled the other chair up next to her and, ignoring her comment, said “I want to tell you a story….”