My Promised Land
A travel and love story by Roger Sparks,
a romantic legend in the making.
For Amber, April and Trijntje,
both the loveliest of lighthearted Scandinavian beauties in my life,
and Miss Geena Harley-Davidson,
and Allen, Lew, Katherine and Betty, Hank, Bill and
Louise and Anneli.
In the Spring of 2002 Roger Sparks was traveling
with a virgin agenda when he landed in America on the off chance,
so it seemed at first. But he had a plan, to meet Dr. Robert Ballard,
the discoverer of the Titanic, and also Ron Stamp, the Iceberg Man
Here follows the story, as far as it goes.
Through the open window of the Mustang I heard the unmistakable Harley sound behind the woods somewhat further down the road. In the open spaces between the trees some morning mist was lingering, just above the ground.
The sun was gaining strength, and so was I, getting a shot of oomph thinking of the wheels that I would see after the bend in the winding road. In the next open space indeed stood a lot of glimmering iron, chrome blinking in the early sunlight. In the back of the open space was a log cabin, in the Alaskan style. I stopped the car on the side, so it would not be in the way for pictures. Bikers dressed in leather walked towards the entrance of the café. A girl came out, looked around and lingered on the porch. So, that's what had pulled me telepathically to this spot, not the iron, but the skin that from the distance appeared to be wonderfully beautiful, soft, and creamy and probably freckled, a shocking mirage to be checked out.
I approached the bloke who looked like the leader of the pack, who was pleasantly surprised when I presented myself as a member of the West Coast Chapter, although I had drifted in with a Mustang. 'From Holland,' I added. That again did it; triggered the reaction I expected.
'My father,' the chap said, 'liberated Holland, and that's how I came to ride his bike on these outings. Same bike as he rode in the old days.'
'That's long gone,' I said, 'but not at all forgotten.'
He indeed was the leader of the Harley-Davidson Club of Long Island, Walter was. We chatted about the events they organized and about the background of the club members, a wild variety of characters. Walter himself was an attorney, second in line in the hierarchy of the club was a plumber, and then followed a lumberjack who had come down from Newfoundland to live here as a carpenter. A bookkeeper was waved at, a marketing man, a writer, and a photographer.
Hi! hi! hi! I gestured, all amiable chaps. Then Walter introduced me to Ember, the public relations person of the Chapter, who doubled as the hostess and tripled as the road manager of the group, the girl I had spotted first thing on the porch.
'Oh,' I said, 'you're the roady,' not exactly knowing what that really meant.
'No,' Ember said, showing some assertive initiative, 'not exactly, but then I'm trusted with some functions in this group. Off the record I'd call myself the Main Lubricator.'
Making herself comfortable for socializing she peeled off her woolen shawl and then took off her tight fitting leather jacket, pulled down her leather pants, showing her appealing bellybutton above the torn remains of faded light blue very feminine jeans. She smiled. I felt a sudden burst from the glowing embers deep down.
'So here we are,' Ember said, 'it's gonna be a hot day and like on all other outings under those circumstances we won't ride far, in fact we'll stay here until happy hour and probably even later. I sometimes say to Walter 'Why the heck do we sport them wheels when we seem never to roll them. Besides, we all practically live around the corner.'
'So you're from Holland,' said Ember, 'I'd like to hear more where you come from.'
She was a magnificent blend of a blond elegant thoroughbred debutante and sportive lass, with the esprit of a top class actress. Her skin was creamy pale with an immense wealth of delicate freckles. Her smile was lighthearted, but with the serious nuance of deep-felt honesty. I was utterly happy to be addressed in this way. On the West Coast of my homeland I occasionally had dreamed of such a mirage on this faraway East Coast, dissatisfied with my geographical fate, yearning to be away from it all. But in my dreams I never had been involved with a goddess like Ember. She was an unexpected appearance. I should pinch myself, or her. The chat with this fairy princess rolled out surprisingly smoothly. She offered me a drink on the house, the wooden shed that seemed to be the regular café as well as the clubhouse of the Harley-Davidson Long Island Chapter. She went for my black coffee, which I needed to sober up.
'Coffee it'll be, to begin with,' Ember said with a smile, 'make yourself comfortable, and don't run off, I'll be back in a flash.'
She lingered for a while as I fingered my camera. Her fourth ambition, I thought, was to be an outrageously beautiful model. Should I ask her? But wasn't that going to be an opening for too ridiculous words? The cafe was a quiet hang out. The entire area had the air of a national park. Nearby a cuckoo landed on the buddy seat of a silver FatBoy© and looked me straight in the eye, and gravely I imagined. On her way to the door of the café Ember turned round and asked in a barely audible voice, 'Milk, sugar?'
I didn't answer but smiled, we both smiled. She smiled with a starry-eyed sweetness that I only had seen in women who own the world, stern, but with an uncompromising sweetness, like I had seen in the eyes of Jacqueline Bouvier. I figured she had read all the worthwhile poetry in the world, knew the essence of good worldly manners and style, and had mastered a high degree knowledge or skill in some very intellectual profession, and most stunningly of all, she had the beauty that surpasses the splendor of the most striking cover girl.
Soon after we met Walter had disappeared with a faint excuse into the cabin, leaving me chatting with Ember, and now I was alone with the cuckoo, or whatever kind of bird it was. Considering my seriously engineered itinerary I thought of how determined I ought to follow the carefully schemed route and timing. Coffee had been foreseen, but only after a ride of at least two more hours. If I skipped coffee and loitering here and there, there wouldn't be much of a problem to catch up. Footsteps on the planks of the porch brought me back from my reflections. It was the hostess.
'Hey man, you look startled!' Ember said, with the same sort of accent that I had tried.
'No, no,' I said, 'I was just thinking of how unexpectedly pleasant it is meeting you guys. I was just thinking of my travel scheme, but coming to think of it I must admit that I have plenty of time for this wonderful event.
Ember seated herself next to me, accidentally touching my right knee with her left thigh that I barely could resist touching and stroking. She looked at me as if she had noticed. She smiled again, but lovely and not dubiously, or teasingly, or naughtily, if I was correct.
'Over the weekends in the past,' I said, trying my best easy slang, 'I've seen quite a few bro's ridin' around, but this here hangout is so quiet, so peaceful, so in harmony with what I think nature should be like, well, like you comin' down with coffee an' all.'
She passed me the mug with steaming hot coffee and put down hers on the railing and let out a sigh, 'Pfffft, that's some speech! So I guess you've been here before.'
'Before I actually came here for the first time, I had seen the all American movies that already had made me very familiar with the country and its ways and the atmosphere. My first visit was fifteen years ago or longer. And I came to love it here, driving along the endless highways, taking in the views. At home my thoughts continuously drift to these regions and I feel less and less at home at home. Home is where my wheels want to roll.'
Boisterous laughter came from the inside of the cabin. A Heritage© pulled in and a joyful couple greeted us warmly when they hopped up on the porch with a loud thump. In the other corner of my eye a squirrel ran across the field. Ember leaned back with enthusiastic vitality, seemingly ignoring the cuckoo.
A bit timid I said 'I was trying to recall this love poem about embers smoldering in the stomach.'
'Oh, silly boy,' Ember said, 'I'm spelled with an A, as in ashes.'
Amber laughed, and I laughed, spilling my coffee on the wooden floor.
'I should have rented a bike,' I said, 'for what use is my Golden Life Member HOG Card if I don't use it to occasionally to hire and ride a bike over here? Then we could've gone for a spin around the island, see the landscape, and do what we'd like to do on wheels.'
'Yeah,' said Amber with an A, 'I sure could show you some places, secluded coves, by a pastoral God given poetic scenery. I indeed could show you around if you'd like that!'
The way she looked at me made me shiver with almost tingling delight although I was dead certain that she did not exploit her natural wonders to play on my mood. I felt very at ease in her nearness, but I couldn't believe it was me personally she had asked. She amazed me more and more, being so open and sweet amongst these bikers, who at first sight seem so unpredictably rough and fearless.
'I imagine that it certainly would be great fun,' I said. 'I once met someone here on the island, who lived up in a house that once was once owned by Tiffany, the glass artist, in Oyster Bay, not far from here. I've seen the oven in the garden, and later, when back on Manhattan I browsed through some books showing his lamps and things, so colorful, and so happy! We might go and see them!'
'Oh, I think I know them,' Amber said. 'From the retail trade the man switched to being a professor at a business school on Manhattan.'
'Yes,' I said, 'that's the same man. To my regret he stopped responding to my letters.'
'It's an island dear.'
'You want another coffee or what?' Amber asked teasingly.
'Oh yes, I'd love to,' I said. 'And when you're back with the coffee I hope to have made up my mind for the rest of the day. I gotta be in Mystic this evening, which is a damned long drive, or let's say tomorrow earliest, but I tend to think that I could just as well make a call and say that something popped up. Gimme some time to figure that out.'
Amber gave me a long and smile showing pure delight. I fell for her lips, continuously curling, and her promising and prominent cleavage. Although we were sitting in the shade of the overhanging roof I felt that the sun was burning down. The way she walked away was supple, graceful, but natural and unpretentious. It had become a particularly beautiful Sunday.
Coming back with coffee for the second time round Amber asked 'Hey what's eating you? Are you hungry?'
Inside the café the boys were banging away on the one-armed bandits, a hell of a hullabaloo. A squirrel darted amongst the wheels.
'Let's get some fresh air,' Amber suggested, 'it's getting hot here, let's take my bike and leave this pathetically square Mustang here. Or better still, I'll grab the keys my brother's FatBoy©.'
'Yes!' we shrieked in unison, 'yes, let's get some fresh air!'
She smiled and shrieked again, 'Fresh air, that's what we need! Let's do it!'
She wrapped a bandana around her head, tucking in her boundless blond hair and readied her clothes, and then put on her jacket that sported an enameled badge with a Route 66 sign.
'Have you been there?' I asked with a sudden feeling of jealousy.
'Yes, let's go there,' she said.
'Let's go there,' I said. But I gotta be in Mystic tomorrow and early.'
'What for,' Amber asked, 'why the rush? It's Sunday, a day of rest and glory. Don't you feel it, glory in the air?'
'With this catch line,' I said, 'you've really proven that you're a professional pr. Nice lines you come up with!'
The moment I gunned up the FatBoy © Walter, the president of the club, stepped out of the door, beer in his hand, a grin around his lips.
'See ye round you guys, have fun,' he yelled above the thundering exhaust.
'That's what they're made for!' I yelled back.
'Good ol' Walter,' I said turning round.
Walter went back in, Walter Mitty, in worn down riding boots, and I winked at my buddy, who swiftly seated herself behind me, and I gave her a pat on a bare and warm thigh. She bent over close, seeing her delicate nostrils, and those freckles from close by!
I held my breath and said in her ear 'Luckily we've got his blessing, a sensible brother you've got. We sure are lucky!'
I turned east and pottered along over the asphalt that had dried in the warming air. I felt Amber bending over as she said 'Let's go by my house so I can put on something else, better suited for riding. Since I was dressed for just hanging around.'
Okay, that was fine with me, I had written off the day, that is I had made up my mind to book Amber for the remainder of the day.'
Left, left, up the hill, past a quiet inlet with a harbor, a flag slowly waving as the symbol of the national anthem in the blue sky, and there were carved and gilded signs on the lawn in front of a row of shops, which evidently were posh shops. Suddenly life had become rich. Amber ushered me to stop in front of a small block of shops, with apartments on top. She took off her jacket and bandana and hung them on the handlebars. After a quick and a lovely glance she said 'Won't be a minute.'
And she clomped up the stairs, leaving me in a silence that was accentuated by the birds in the pine trees.
'Legal Services,' said the sign in front of the office under Amber's apartment and the associative images gave me the creeps. I dashed up the stairs and found Amber's door ajar.
'It's all right dear, I'm ready to go,' she said.
She looked dazzling. Her dress was as simple as one could possibly imagine. A black cocoon of what seemed to be sprayed on latex, following every curve of her body.
'Well,' I said, 'that's very Harley-like!'
'No, no, I'll put on my jacket,' she said.
'Here's my ideal hostess to ride me around,' I said. 'You look great, really great! But don't you have boots?'
'Yeah sure,' she said shyly, 'but I never wear them.'
'Well then, it's your day too,' I said. 'Nice apartment you have. I'd never leave this place. It's all here, wonderful, almost heaven I'd say. I've been here several times, although I've not been in the East Hamptons because I just loved it here and the Hamptons seemed so barren and flat and decadent. I always ran into somebody with whom I forgot my time and schedule.'
'Mystic you said,' said Amber with a smile, 'is nearby if you were a bird. It's right across the sound. We could easily take the ferry not far from here, so you needn't make this whole trip via New York, and I can tell you, roads will be crammed, in this weather. I go there regularly to do some shopping. In fact I bought this dress there.'
I laughed out loud, 'Yeah, I thought it came from a diver's shop. I happen to know there's a submarine base in close proximity.'
We went down the stairs.
'Aren't you glad that I pointed out the ferry to you?' Amber asked.
'Sure,' I said, 'it's the uttermost welcome connection in my lifetime.'
'But tell me,' she asked, 'what's your business in Mystic? Or is it mystic? But seriously, I'd like to keep you here somewhat longer.'
'Seriously, since when have we known each other?' I said. 'It seems that time is playing tricks on me.'
She gave me that smile again, that made me feel encouraged to kiss her inviting lips, but I didn't dare to.
'I have this feeling that I've known you for a very long time, well at least since I left home, that is my parental home.'
She gave me a broad smile but did not say a word.
'Well then,' I said, 'let's hit the road.'
Amber put on her jacket, slung a little rucksack on her back, and this time put on the helmet that she had taken from the house, and threw herself behind me on the bike and held herself tight against me.
We drove off with spinning gravel, me not being used to the titanic power of the FatBoy©. Since I knew that we were not far from the ferry I didn't ask the way but kept close to the coast would be. In situations where I could choose from forks in the road I chose the left. On the way we saw signs with the names of Mattituck, Cutchogue, Pecunic, Southold, Greenport, and I loved them, Orient, and then Orient Point.
I had waited for a sign with a symbol of a ferry, or with a ferry with the name Mystic on it. Amber had remained quiet all the while, but I just felt her, intimately. It was quiet on the narrow roads. The sound of the Harley had turned the landscape into a perfect dream, although pleasant, yet pronouncedly legendary old American. Then suddenly the sign came into view and the road sloped slightly and the ferry came in sight. I stopped prudently. Amber got off and walked into the shade of a little cabin.
'This morning I was in Woodbury,' I said. 'And now, all of a sudden, out of the blue, here I am in an entirely different phase in my life, and a higher octave.'
The Long Island Sound was a subtly moving mirror of serene waves, changing patterns, caused by a slight breeze.
'Look at the waves sparkling in the sun,' I said, 'flashing for a split second and gone forever in eternity.'
The ferry was halfway across, and there were no other sounds than the rustling leaves in the bushes. Amber walked up beside me, and put an arm around me.
'I'm on a business mission,' I said, 'that's not a secret one, but difficult to explain.'
'Try me,' Amber said, curling her lips again, in an irresistible way. She took off her jacket, putting into view her transparent skin with the delicate, barely perceptible patterns of veins underneath.
'I'm a salesman in legends,' I said. 'Now, that's what an arms salesman can say as well, or a movie mogul for that matter when I think of Marilyn Monroe, but my business card will make clear to you that this really is my livelihood. As it seems I am a traveling salesman.'
Amber sat down on what looked like driftwood. She looked a bit mystified.
The top of her dress had slipped down somewhat, probably because of the perspiration underneath.
'I'll tell you on the boat,' I said, 'what the purpose is of our trip. Let's enjoy this view in silence.'
The Sound looked majestic. Many yachts were sailing to the West, probably heading for Manhattan, a few sailed East. Three speedboats speeded in curves, towing skiers. Seagulls escorted the ferry, which was coming closer. Their shrieks having become audible cut through the blue sky. A few clouds drifted over Connecticut. Amber stood up, corrected her dress and we both walked to the bike.
'What's your plan,' she asked.
'Well,' I said, 'before making a serious decision I'll tell you what my plans are for the upcoming days. First I'd like to see the Mystic Aquarium. It's still early, so we may make it back in time to consider with other choices. That's the first item I had noted in my plan.'
'It'll be cold in the Aquarium,' Amber said, shivering.
'We'll run through the Aquarium in quick strides fast enough so I'll get an impression of what's on display. Well, that's it to begin with. Then I'd like to visit the bookstore in the main street that leads to the bridge, to check out some books I may be interested in, that they will doubtlessly have in stock. From there we'll see what is most convenient for both of us.'
'Okay,' said Amber, 'that's what we'll do. You know, I have confidence in a joyful prolongation of our trip on the other side of the Sound. Luckily I have packed my woolen jumpsuit in my rucksack for the evening, in case it would get late.' She gave me a kiss on the cheek.
'Don't you have a feeling,' she whispered in my ears, 'that we have known each other for years longer than a couple of days? I have so many questions, like I think you probably have, like what the track record of this silly nymph will be. For me it's the first time in my life that a meeting like this is happening. Without knowing who you are, and what you represent, I think I know you quite well, looking at your eyes, and the type you cast.'
The ferry had increased the revolutions of her propeller in the process of mooring and a few minutes later the passengers went up the ramp. I again noticed the clouds drifting over Connecticut. We rolled down in near silence and stopped on the far side of the ferry.
'I'm hungry,' I said.
Amber made gave comforting pat on the black fabric that showed the contours of her stomach and said, 'I'd rather be a bit hungry and not miss this adventure! Now tell me somewhat more about your business on the other side.'
'I can tell you the story in a short version or a longer version,' I said. 'The business I'm in is legend making. No, let's say it's more like the exploitation of legends. No, no, I help those who want to become a legend to attain a reputation, just like dead artists.'
She laughed. Gulls swerved around the ship. Passengers threw up things from paper bags. Something like leftover hamburgers.
'To put it simply, I am in public relations, like you are. So, now you know.'
'Oh, now it's all clear!' Amber said with a sigh, seemingly not too convinced.
'Okay,' I said, 'I'll take the somewhat longer version. Some old friends and people I know, who had been professionally involved in writing and book publishing, in art, in marketing, in public relations, came up this idea of publishing books and art on the internet, including photography. The initiator is Jan van Buuren, an éminence grise in these fields. You know what an éminence grise is?'
Amber looked at me in wonder, and smiled again, freckles in the sun, light blue eyes. She waited calmly but eagerly.
The ferry landed with a thump.
'All those who work in public relations are having difficulties explaining what their business is,' said Amber, with a hearty laugh. 'It's a highly diverse profession.'
We thundered up the ramp and stopped in front of a café. It was sunny and warm, and it was time to eat a bite. We sat down on the terrace and for a time watched the traffic that was coming from the ferry.
'Let me rephrase what I've been trying to say,' I said. 'gimme another chance, dear. We're building an organization that will print the first appearance of books, novels and poetry for naive and promising writers, yes, and we attract attention to the work of artists, painters, free masons, conceptional artists, all not yet legendary artists and photographers, via our website, and via the media, in Holland and the US of A as the first nation in the rest of the world, old and new legends. The maiden journey of the Titanic to her grave and a trip through the country of a couple that's falling in love.'
I would have loved to make a photograph of her hands, the little blond hairs in the sun, to kiss the frail veins, the complexion of an elf. I'd certainly do that soon.
'Throughout our lives we, I mean the group of men I just mentioned, have been dealing with the reputations and legends of companies, organizations and products. The time has come for us to enter a more poetic territory, as a form of consolation after a hard life of hard work. You've got the potential to become a legend, at least in your own circle, and far outside. That's what my first impression was seeing you on the porch.'
'That was light years ago,' she added.
Without saying a word magnetic impulses were exchanged and we slowly rose and hugged each other, heartily and then we touched our lips, slowly, and kissed, deeply, until I lost my breath and the stability to stand up any longer. We stood there until we became limp and sat down, looking each other in the eyes. We were silent for some time, and then I continued.
'Harley-Davidson, Bugatti, Charles Eames, Ray-Ban Sunglasses, the DeLorean Sports car, all objects and persons and lives in the same league as Hemingway, but also Ben Hecht, Picasso, and also not to be forgotten the photographer Ernst Haas, who made a most wonderful and famous photograph of the harbor of Mystic on a misty morning. Wouldn't it be wonderful, I've been thinking, to experience the same sensation in making the same picture? It's hazy, misty or foggy these mornings. Some time ago, I saw that the same old ships are still lying there, and since when? Must have been seventy years ago when Haas took the picture.'
'So,' said Amber, 'so it's that picture you're after.'
Again her earth moving smile, obviously she wasn't disappointed.
'But I've indeed made a picture like the Haas photograph some time ago,' I said, 'although there was no mist. To remake the picture one has to wait for comparable circumstances, the mist, the light, and the waves.'
I seemed to have gained confidence in my project.
'Are you by the way related to Nicholas Sparks?' she asked.
'No,' I said. 'I read The Rescue, but apart from my reading him, he's no kin, to my regret, for he's a real page-turner. Though I should like meeting him one day. How about it, shall we get our butts moving?'
We walked to the bike and made ourselves ready for a few more miles.
'But let me mention one more thing, I said. 'This year a line of falling dominoes resulted in meeting you this morning. Is it sheer luck, or is it my eye for your emotional impact on me? I've got a strong feeling that I should get deeper into this, this chance of meeting you, to find out, whether this is a fairy tale, another interesting legend, or something coming true.'
Amber dear gripped me tight when we started on our lovely last leg to Mystic Seaport, first across the tall bridge that bridged the water that split New London from Groton. This would become a short ride. I felt her lean but muscled creamy thighs against mine. She held on tight and gave me a nudge when passing a beautiful scenic spot, by pressing stronger and crushing my ribs. The lanes of Seaport, rustling shade and sunspots through the leaves of the plane-trees on the sides of the road, white porches, well kept lawns, so neat, so very Saturday Evening Post.
With a raised voice I said to Amber: 'Norman Rockwell Country!'
'I'm so glad,' Amber yelled back, 'that you're so old fashioned, isn't it pathetic!'
Main Street. Bookshop. There was the old green bridge in the distance. I hit the brakes. We stopped in front of the show window displaying the books that I remembered having seen there before. They were still there, books on nature, coffee table books of legendary photographers, books on planes, trains and automobiles, and ships. And three, four, no six monumental books on the Titanic we standing there on the ridges.
Amber glanced through a book on dolls houses. I watched her eyes from the corners of mine and felt my cheeks flush, seeing her sleek fingers moving tenderly across the paper. She took in the images with loving eagerness, like I took in her. I bought three books on the Titanic. For Amber the books would be quite a load to carry on her back.
'You know,' I said to her, 'another legend that intrigues me, is the iceberg that sank the Titanic. What became of it? Does anyone know what happened afterwards? Did it drift to the Equator? Such questions, after all these years are still unanswered! All information seems to have disappeared, and went under with the Titanic.'
She gave me a long pensive look, and after putting back the book she had been leaving through, she slowly turned towards me, held out her slender, divine hands, nicely polished silver nails, and veins that I imagined visibly pulsated her precious blood to the tops of her fingers. She brought them up to my face and moved them across my cheeks, stopping at my ears, holding my face, by slightly pressing them at my temples, while the floor was slowly descending.
Her light blue eyes zoomed in on mine and switched from left to right and back, to and fro, her nostrils trembled, I started counting her freckles and lost track of them, losing myself between some of them, while my past faded away from me. Her moist lips parted and she uttered with a low timbre.
'Have you seen all you wanted?'
The shop was swerving and I lightly held on to her, limping to the counter and said goodbye to the shopkeeper.
'We'll see you soon, thanks!'
We walked up the street toward the bridge, Amber taking small steps, careful not to tear up her narrow dress, or if it was strong enough, not to work too hard against the pressure of the material. When passersby approached us, speechlessly, I trailed somewhat behind and took pleasure in watching her elegant legs parade in decisive strides, drawing attention from all sides, from families whose boredom was shoved aside when they saw what I saw.
We bought ice cream and walked on to the bridge.
'Last time I was here,' I said, 'the bridge was open and that took quite awhile, so I stepped out and bought an ice cream, yes vanilla, as always. It's about time I said I love your legs!'
She slowly licked a lot of cream inside, and laughed.
'Let's get back to the cycle,' she said, pronouncing the word like 'sickle'. 'If we go on in this direction on foot, we'll be standing in front of the Aquarium before our ice cream has finished. How ye doin' mate?'
Aside from being struck by her dazzling beauty I had become an admirer of her wit and had become extremely fond of her as well. I embraced the innards of her skull. It had a sucking effect. Riding across the bridge loose lying timber made a sound that made me think our Harley was more a tank than a bike. There was Aquarium was simmering in the sun. More families in their Sunday outfit walked from the entrance, discussing getting their cultural shot.
'Yes,' Amber said, 'it's getting late.'
We parked the Harley next to the door and quickly bought tickets.
'Do you happen to know,' I asked the cashier, 'whether mister Ballard's in town?'
'I haven't seen him for some time,' the lady said. 'But if you want to know for sure, you'd better ask the people of the Institute. That's where he works.'
Amber put her left hand on my left shoulder and I laid my right hand on her right and entwined we walked past the windows. In front lay a big bass, motionless watching us with a fishy look. I kissed her until I was out of breath and felt like the bass must have felt watching us.
'How long ago is it,' I uttered trembling, 'since we met?'
'That's a good question to put here, in the Aquarium,' Amber said. 'From this end of evolution.'
'You mean to say,' I said, still gasping, 'millions of years?'
'Time is too relative to put into words what has happened to us,' said Amber, stroking her right forefinger on my lips.
'It's out of season,' I said, 'so there's bound to a room available in my old hotel.'
Amber smiled, and said 'Possibly.'
'There's a shed for the Fatboy©,' I said, feeling firm ground again, 'that is, if it's still there.'
We pottered slowly to Main Street and to the hotel, The Mermaid, still looking as if owned by descendants of the settlers. White painted wood, and a black balustrade on the porch. Elegant reception. The Fatboy© could be parked inside the shed, behind locked doors. A nice room was available, a very nice room, nicely detailed with English looking fabrics. Food could be found up the road. I had no problems at all with a stunning and lovely lady by my side and I had all the time in the world. Amber wriggled herself out of her black cocoon and made a step forward and there she was, all mine and closer than I could have possibly imagined. I was at a loss of words, unbelted my jeans, took off my Gant shirt, and felt the nice deep-pile carpet encouraging me to move in even closer. In a flash I realized that it was still a bit early for all this but I embraced her all over. We both were again swept off our feet and fell onto the soft bed.
We had been exhausted, but then we were not really too exhausted at all to fully enjoy the interlude, and came out energized. Wrapped in abundantly rich white towels we stood in front of the window, and were silent for some time, stroking each other lightly, trembling and evidently happy.
'You're a quick mover,' she said. 'Gradually it's become quite clear to me what you've got in your bag. It's simply, if I may say so, transport and fantasy that you're carrying around and all the resulting legends.'
I laughed out loud, as if it came from deep down from my belly!
You lovely shrink,' I said, 'you shrunk all my life's living and thinking and efforts and results into those three words. But then I guess you are way smarter than I am. I haven't thought of it that way and I suppose your intelligent insight is correct and truthful. My gawd! You're some kid! Oh yes, it's certainly true, movement, and that what moves us, not just me, that's all, that's me indeed full scale!'
I kissed her and this time purely out of intellectual delight.
'You are sweet and lovely,' I said, 'but this is greater than life as I know it! More and more I wonder where you came from. I haven't seen anything like you all my life, at home nor abroad. Not even have I seen you in my dreams, or as a fancy star in a movie.'
A bit shaky and trembling we strolled to the restaurant. It was still too early for dinner we discovered, so we walked back to the harbor, no not directly to the harbor but first across the bridge, which had an effect on me like a magnet, past the bookshop, which was closed and then to the left to the seaport, where we sat down on a bench. Gulls swerved in the sky, which had become less blue but more orange. The gulls accentuated the timelessness of the place and the silence over the water. Now and then a yacht sailed into the harbor with just its foresail, another boat slowly propelled by with a quiet outboard. No birds other than gulls. A boy on a moped passed by, turning his head round until he disappeared.
'I had been thinking about your background,' I said. 'Wondering what man your brother would be. He definitely has class, I'd say.'
She had gotten a stern look in her eyes. 'Walter also has his other sides. At home as well as in his business circles he's called PeePeeKay, after the legendary German Walther pistol,' she said.
'I love my brother,' Amber said, 'Not only is he president of the club, he's a great man.'
'Sounds good,' I said, 'but then this proves I'm right in my assessment of the cultural background of your family. Even loners originate from somewhere.'
She gave me a long warm kiss.
'You're moving me,' I said, 'I can even feel that down to my toes.'
'You called yourself the Main Lubricator,' I said.
'It's a pet name,' Amber said, that was given to me after I had solved some conflicts in the group. Just a biker's joke.'
We walked back to the restaurant. There were some people around. The menu was a bit French, and the food was not at all bad, more French-like than expected. Amber had put on her fleece suit, but in this simple outfit she looked ravishing in the candlelight.
'Now I wonder what I haven't told you?' I said, 'It's almost impossible to arrange a meeting with Dr. Ballard, of the Institute for Exploration. As a passerby, which I am for the Institute, it's almost impossible to get past the operator.'
'I was so surprised to hear the lady in the bookshop call you by name,' Amber said.
'I had passed her my card,' I said, 'on which she would find my tri-band number in case she wanted to contact me. As a professional shopkeeper she memorized my name. I would have done the same at home.'
'Where's your home?' Amber asked.
'Home,' I said. 'We have no time for the whole version. When I am over here my home is in Upper Montclair, near my Harley dealer's shop in Essex County. But now I made it too complicated, for I have no Harley around here.'
She smiled, but waited eagerly for me to continue.
'I'll patiently wait for the whole story,' Amber said. 'But in court you would have a problem.'
'What intrigues me,' I said, 'is that a con man could have arranged this meeting of ours much the same way, and the whole scenario could have rolled pretty much the same way, and we would be chatting here, and looking into each other's eyes in quite the same manner.'
'Oh no,' Amber said, 'there you are quite mistaken, cause I would have sensed something unreal, missing or wrong, or rattling, by what one might call a woman's instinct.'
She continued looking at me with even deeper and wider eyes, while her right foot stroked my left leg. And I checked out her wise and radiating, yet dissecting eyes. '
'What second home, where? You continue to amaze me,' she said with a low voice.
'When all is told, it'll be all simple and logical and legal,' I said, laughing.
'Oh, I never questioned the legality,' she said with a smile, 'but then it's all very amazing and vague.'
'After I said that my second home is in Montclair I should have added that it's my brother's house, that I may regard as a second home. Then you would have asked how he came to live there, and then I would have told you that Allen's not my real biological brother, but we feel that way. I have no brothers, but one sister.'
'So that's clarifying the whole maze,' Amber said. 'But then we've still got plenty of time.'
'If you are looking for my mind map,' I said, 'or when you put the question to someone who I am, you'll probably be told that I am someone who is like Zelig in Woody Allen's movie bearing that name, but that I am really Walter Mitty, the main character in the movie made of the book by James Thurber, the writer and cartoonist. And that's why I called your brother Walter.'
'Now you really have a talent to obscure matters,' Amber said, 'by making crossword puzzles out of daily life! I've read the book, which is a classic in American literature. But why do you
call my brother Walter?'
'Some time I'll connect all these loose ends for you, given time,' I said. 'In that case we'll be together for a long time!'
She smiled, I thought in agreement I guessed, and encouragingly.
'Meanwhile I'll try to clarify matters just now, and show you how it works. Short of fantasy to write imagined prose I've always stayed devoted to my initial profession, which in my trade is called visualizer, which it really is, making ideas or concepts visual. And I never made up stories like a conman does.'
'You come from Holland,' Amber said, 'from across the ocean, and you are so familiar with so many peculiar facts about my environment that you seem to have played in our backyard.'
'Tomorrow,' I said, 'we'll walk up Pearl Street, on the West side of the harbor, left from this hotel. I'll ring the doorbell of the house just opposite the old ships, on the corner of the street, and I'll say "Hello mister Hill," when Pete opens the door. "It's some time ago. How ye doin'?" I'll do that to impress you. "Well, look who's here. Roger," he'll say after a long brooding look. "I got your letter, but I never responded, cause I wouldn't know what to write." Those will be his exact words. That to my surprise were the words of most of the American people I wrote letters to, like for instance the letters I sent to the man in the Tiffany house, or the girl in Cleveland with whom I toured the city for two days and confided in me as if I were an older brother. It's always schluss when I'm gone. I'd better stick around if I can't bear to miss you.'
'Who is this mister Hill?' Amber asked.
'When this story unrolls, you'll see that I sit in the middle of a web of coincidences,' I said. 'Pete Hill's a retired submarine builder. The wharf he worked for was in New London. And the base of Bob Ballard, the world's best-known submariner is based at Mystic's Institute. It's him I want to meet.'
'Yes,' Amber said, 'I know people who've worked there, on submarines.'
'I had been standing in front of his house,' I went on, 'when I wanted to make a picture of the old ships on the other side of the harbor. When he came out of the house he greeted me and we discussed all kinds of subjects, but not submarines. A great man he was, although a builder he had the look in his eyes of an ancient mariner.'
Dinner had been nice. Dessert was ice cream for me, as always. For Amber it was'mousse au chocolat'.
'Why this plan to make that particular photograph,' she asked.
'In Holland I had been working for Time-Books. My company designed mailings for the books. One of the series that appealed to me most was photography, and the picture that appealed to me most was this picture by Ernst Haas, these ancient boats in morning mist. Whenever I am in this neighborhood I then decided that I'd like to make the same picture. My contact at Time-Life was an American and we became friends. He moved back to his homeland and we kept in touch, which proved to be exceptional, considering my later experiences. We wrote each other and he repeatedly invited me over, which I did, but so many years. Since that first visit I looked him up once or twice a year. That was Allen.'
Amber listened attentively. She was the most wonderful audience I ever had.
'When Allen wasn't home I took the key of the house from where it was hidden. Then I went into town, to eat a local hamburger. After some years his wife declared our relationship as being brothers, and that was no joke, it really felt that way.'
Amber gave me a spoonful of chocolate mousse and I returned the gesture with my vanilla ice cream. This was even more tasteful than anything I ever tasted.
'There's clearly nothing mysterious about all my vague adventures,' I said, 'if I only had had the chance to tell you all.'
'I wouldn't consider for a second that you're making things up,' Amber said with a spontaneous open smile. 'But I think that in general you should be more careful not giving too much information.'
'While conman ship,' I said, 'hasn't been far from my door, that is, being a victim. But that's another long story, or rather at least three long stories.'
'Shall we go back to our room and stop talking for a while?' Amber asked questioningly, looking a bit tired.
'The ride wasn't a long one,' I said, 'but then this day was at least worth a week full of the usual experiences.'
It was quiet in Main Street of Mystic.
A Caddy passed us, and a Cherokee, fully loaded with a large family, heading home after a nice weekend on the boat.
'The kids in the Cherokee will be rosy after a weekend in the sun and the wind,' I said.
'Like us,' Amber responded with a low voice, clinging to my arm.
In our room she opened a window. A slight sea breeze came into the room, but not the cries of seagulls. It was dead quiet outside.
'Feel my cheek,' Amber said, offering her face to me. 'My face glows, although I'm not at all nervous. On the contrary I feel very, very relaxed and comfortable. It must be the nearness of you, and not the wine. The day has been an exciting day. She had taken off her jump suit and the sight of her was endearing and stunning. We engaged in n the chaiise longue in front of the window and fell a long fall, glowing and trembling, and we heaved a long sigh.
'It's been not too long a ride,' I said, out of breath, 'and we've come a long way. And it was worth the journey, all those light-years.'
She spread-eagled below me and it took me awhile to take in what I saw and all that what I was seeing in her. She nodded and I saw a tear on her cheek and she laughed and grabbed me and we soared off on a long flight to heaven.
In the middle of the night we both woke up at the same time and silently we softly stroked each other. Like I couldn't keep my eyes of her in broad daylight, I could not keep my hands off her in the dark of the night. She wasn't a dream, but was actually right there beside me. To dream my most precious dream the only effort it would take was to just to touch her or to open my eyes. This had been mutual so it seemed, for in the dim light I saw Amber open her eyes and glance and smile at me, and we engaged in another trip into the ecstasy of recently discovered dimensions in life. It dawned upon me that Amber embodied all that I had dreamt of.
'How unimaginably satisfying,' I whispered, 'and gratifying and inspiring and consoling this all is! I'll tell you something. Won't take long. I've never been worried, that my aloneness would be infinite. No, I've never been lonely, but then, oh my! I've always sensed that at the end of my own narrow path I could expect you. And that's how it happened.'
'Don't talk so much,' Amber said, people ought to sleep.'
'Ha, ha!' I said, 'You woke me up, really awakened me since you joined me on my trip through life.'
She looked at me for a long timne.
'I've waited a long time before you came along,' she said in a low voice, 'and I grew older, well, past the age one ought to settle down by the old rules of our society, past the moment when one flutters through life with a giggle now and then. Now my time has come, since you have come along. Our time, I hope.'
'Don't be so modest,' I said, 'I'll give you all the time I can spare! We'll share this precious time.'
At daybreak two seagulls flew past our window and cried out loud. Amber woke up with a smile.
'We shared a dream,' she said. 'And today we'll continue our endless serial.'
'That's us!' I said, pointing at the birds. 'Early birds, and we're not too late.'
She smiled, and laughed. We slipped out of bed and together we slowly walked towards the window.
'It seems to be two hours earlier,' I said, 'than my alarm would have awoken us. Let's enjoy the morning awake.' We circled around each other, touching, caressing, fondling, petting, and moved towards the window and watched the birds. I kissed her.
She kissed me. We shared a long kiss and then we returned to the bed and I disappeared into our world of blissful ecstasy.
Still early enough for the light to be just ideal and nature to be still we left the hotel and crossed the bridge and walked down Pearl Street. In front of the corner house number 57 we stood still and watched the boats on the other side of the water, tranquil and silent against the emerging daylight. No mist, no fog, no haze. The sun was still vague, just as Turner could've painted her, as Ernst Haas could have photographed her had there been sun that morning, delicate and in pastels.
Amber broke the pastoral city silence with a prudent volume.
'Nifty little camera that is.'
'Bought that on Manhattan,' I said, 'Last Friday. In my perception that was years ago, decades even. It's a mini light machine, but then thanks to the formidable quality of the lens it makes pictures as great as I otherwise shoot with my heavy gear that I leave home when I want to travel light.'
'Contax,' she says out loud, 'Never heard of.'
I handed her the Contax TVSIII to let her have a closer look.
'Titanium, is it?' she asked.
'Yes it is, ain't she a marvel?'
'Looks like a precious instrument indeed,' she said with a smile.
I gave her a light kiss. And then I made some pictures, zoomed to various focal lengths, and saying so when I did. Then she cried out loud in surprise.
'Well, look who's here?' said a man's voice behind us.
There was Pete Hill! He still knew my name! He looked at me with a smile but thoughtfully.
'It's you,' he said amiably, 'and so early in the day, and out of the blue. Which reminds me that I got your letter, to which I never responded, cause I didn't know what to write.'
'It's so simple to write when one is used to writing,' I said, 'But then I like seeing you again, and I hope we can walk up to the café and have a coffee.'
'It's true what you say,' Hill said, 'Oh yes, you sent me the photograph and your memo. We loved it.'
'There's always people here,' said Hill to Amber, 'taking pictures. In summer it's crammed, they even park their cars up my driveway. It's a famous view indeed.'
'I've come back in relations to submarines,' I said.
'No, that's a thing of the past, for me,' Hill answered. 'Definitely.'
'I'm trying to get into touch with Doctor Ballard,' I said. 'Could you tell me what kind of man he is, and how I could get in touch with him?'
'You bet,' Hill said, 'he isn't easy to approach, you know, he's a kind of astronaut of the deep. It's still so early I wouldn't bother my wife right now, but if you care for coffee, let's walk to the diner.'
'Ah, the wooden diner on the other side,' I said.
'Shall we?' I asked Amber.
'Sure,' she said, 'convenient idea.'
Amber trailed behind, making a phone call, it seemed with Walter. ...And please let him keep an eye on the Mustang. Yeah, great time, I can tell you!'
With some lighthearted steps she was beside me and grabbed my hand and squeezed it with a warm grip.'
'I'm curious, you wanting to see Ballard,' Hill said. 'More than anywhere else he's is a hero around here, as John Glenn was in Houston, or Canaveral, or The White House.'
'The world,' I said. 'As a boy I would have added the galaxy.'
'Please call me Pete,' Hill said. Turning around Pete asked Amber to do the same.
'Amber,' she said with a smile.
'Where are you from,' Pete asked her, 'Amsterdam?'
She laughed and said 'Stony Brook.'
'Oh, how elegant!' Pete said, 'Just across the Sound, we've been there often, my wife and I, and the boys from the wharf. Been there several times when there was a gathering of antique motorcars. A miniature Pebble Beach, but a wonderful event for the island.'
Before we left for the diner Pete went inside the house and showed us a picture that was hanging in the hall. Amber was delighted to recognize several friends in the picture. The diner was as it was when I last saw it, a large wooden cabin with windows all around, more like a pancake house on the beach boulevard in my homeland, with checkered red and white cloth on the tables. A pancake would be delicious right now. Or French toast.
'I know what Roger's business is,' Pete said, 'but what's your profession?'
'I work as a gofer for my brother,' Amber said. 'He's a lawyer and I do a lot of desk research and groundwork for him, and I get his sandwiches. In fact I am a lawyer myself.'
It was to be French toast for Amber and myself and just coffee for Pete.
'Last time I saw you,' Pete said, 'you spontaneously told me what you had been doing on the island, but if it's a secret this time and if you're working on, a law case or something, then just forget I asked. It seems to me you're doing well, so relaxed, and in good company.'
Under the table I felt Amber's leg and I felt myself blushing.
'How long have you two known each other?' Pete asked.
'Time flies,' Amber said.
'I don't want to be inquisitive,' Pete said, 'I was just curious.'
'Oh, you may ask us anything you like.' I said, 'I have been thinking you even might give me some advice on a subject I'm working on, which will amaze you, having been deep into submarines.'
Amber watched me absorbedly, with big eyes. Without makeup she looked even more attractive, seeing her eat the French toast was astonishingly sweet, with honey on her lips.
'I'm curious, shoot!' Pete said.
'You'll at once see the connection with Ballard. But first, do you think it is technically feasible to make trips in a submarine to the Titanic?' I asked.
'Trips already are made to the Titanic regularly,' Pete said, 'There's a steep price to be paid, but that's logical. But, it can be done indeed.'
Amber looked pleasantly intrigued.
'This plan came up recently,' I said, 'following other plans we've been tinkering with, taking down a ribbon to be ceremonially draped across the Titanic, on April 14 in the year 2012, one hundred years after the day she went down.'
'Yes indeed,' Pete said looking at Amber, 'for years the underwater world has been my field of work, by that time it will feel as if I've been down a hundred years. In my below sea level world the withstanding of pressure has been elementary, whereas in Ballard's field is the world of corrosion and erosion.'
'Pressure and corrosion, rust and rest,' I said, 'that sums it all up, and while for me life is more the brevity of the sparkles of the sun on the waves in The Sound.'
'All this is about time and timing,' Pete said.
'As it was a well timed meeting in front of your door,' Amber said.