Francis Meyrick


The Tuna Hunter Ch. 6 “The Labyrinth of Love “

Posted on December 27, 2008

Ch 6. THE LABYRINTH OF LOVE

 

Chris O’Dwyer, it could be said, had two great loves in life. She loved animals. Especially sick or hurt animals. And she loved sailing. The further away the better, and the faster the better. It was an instinct she had inherited from her grandfather.
He had been in the Merchant Navy for many years. Then he had retired, grown screamingly restless in six short weeks, and built his own boat. It was on this vessel that Chris had cut her teeth. It was here that she had first tasted the exhilaration of running before the wind, with salt spray stinging her face, and the wooden boards drumming beneath her. He had taken her everywhere, taught her all the skills, all the tricks, all the subterfuges, that an old mariner can collect in a rich lifetime. Chris could figure the weather like no other, could read the waves and the currents, had the perfect eye for the right sail to carry, and found a niche in competitive racing. Her Master’s License was an easy step; her examiner was amazed at her detailed knowledge. She collected trophies by the barrowful, and sailed faster and faster. Life seemed very perfect. Few sensed what bubbled beneath the surface…

There was a gaping hole in Christina’s life.
A deep sense of loss, failure even, which manifested itself in a puzzled introspective loneliness. There was nobody really special in her life. She wanted there to be. But love eluded her. She had fancied herself in love, at age nineteen, with a burly engineer, who was a lot older than her. Skilfully, he had wooed her, never rushing things, always quietly taking things one step further. On the appropriate night, he had plied her with wine, and watched with silent delight as she drank too much, ending up half seas over. She had thought herself merely ‘tipsy’ and quite in control of herself. Half her brain had told her that he was trying to get her drunk. The other half had acquiesced. She was after all, she reminded herself, in love with him. He was the greatest man in the world. Her man…
He had made love to her then, rather roughly, with lust exceeding love by a handsome measure indeed. She had gone along, trying to please him, trying – although she knew it not – to make him love her. He had hurt her, not intentionally, but simply by paying no attention to her feeble cries, even when they turned into the unmistakable cries of pain. She had ended up dry, and told him so, but he had carried on regardless, thrusting with all his energy. He had made her bleed, and it had really hurt. It had also been hard to breath at times, with his massive weight crushing her down. She had managed one or two gasping
“I can’t BREATH… ” messages, but he had taken not the faintest notice.
She had felt somehow inadequate, and been surprised at how lovemaking was less enjoyable than she thought it would have been.
When he had come, she had been amazed, in a timid sort of way. And when he lay beside her, recovering, still panting heavily and perspiring freely, she had for the first time, through an alcoholic haze, considered he might have made her pregnant. She had tried to ponder the implications, but not made much headway.
The picture of a tiny lamb, lying in a field, with Blackbacks crowding around, kept coming into her mind.

In the morning, he had made love to her again, without much foreplay. Again she had tried to enjoy it, but her insides had hurt from the drumming the night before, and again it had ended up hurting. Their relationship had lasted only six short weeks after that, and they had made love a few more times. Then, bored, he had drifted off, not bothering to return her frantic messages on his answering machine. One ugly scene later, where she had implored him face-to-face not to leave her, and he had smacked her violently across the face, and the affair was definitely over. As he boasted afterward to his envious mates at the bar:
“You gotta find ’em, fuck ’em, and forget ’em… ”

* * *

Now, many years later, gently manipulating the helm of the “Lady Annabelle “, staring out over the green and blue waters of the Solomon Islands, the memories brought back quiet pain. Her weather eye studied the horizon, checked the sails, glanced over the Global Positioning System readings, took notice of compass heading and speed, and fine tuned the helm. Her mind, 99% of it, stayed far away, half a globe away, and in a time gone by…

There had been other boyfriends.
Some had come, attracted to her athletic looks. She was not a beautiful woman in the sense of being a pretty doll, with exquisitely fine figure hugging dresses, perfect coiffure, and hours of painstaking make up. She was a natural looker, who was at home in tight jeans, a black and white striped T-shirt, sneakers and zero make up. Her raven black hair would billow in the wind, and her strong features, hand raised above the eyes, peering into the distance, would turn the heads of hot blooded males. They would furtively study her outline, her soft upturned breasts, her slender hips, her flat stomach, and then they would variously decide that they loved her, or that they wanted to fuck her. The lovesick ones would write her flowery letters, send roses, take her to concerts, and gaze adoringly at her with hopeful little puppy dog eyes. She would grow uncomfortable, and her iron will and determination would start resisting. They would try and turn her into a pretty lady, something to take home, show mother, impress the friends with. To Christina, people who tried, however subtly, to change her, were anathema. She needed to be accepted for who and what she was. A Tomcat, a wild thing, a crazy sailor, a wellington-boot-wearing shit-shovelling stable maid. She could never fit in into these nice houses, where she would be expected to sit, talk pleasant nothings, become all excited about Flaubert’s Madame Bovary, and pour the tea into dainty, fake Chinese porcelain cups…

One by one, the lovesick, gentle ones would drift away, finding fault with her. She was ‘too strong’, ‘too wild’, and ‘too independent’. Sometimes the mothers and fathers of the lovesick, timid ones would gently steer their offspring away, preferring instead the type of young lady that would be happy to serve tea and cucumber sandwiches. Especially in the yacht owning world, Chris would discover, snobbery and social graces mattered a great deal. Chris, whatever her failings, was no snob. She was uncomfortable in formal surroundings, and occasionally lashed out defensively, becoming snappy and quarrelsome. A fish out of seawater, she would attack when feeling threatened. She would speak her mind, when silence would have been more discreet.
Then there were those young men whose lust shone bright in their eyes. Whose dicks far surpassed their hearts in weight, size, and warmth. If there was anything Chris hated more, it was to be grabbed, or groped, or fondled like a helpless puppy. She regarded her body as
her own rightful domain, and woe betide any man who tried to cross the line without permission. Her stinging rebukes, not to mention the occasional right hook to the jaw, earned her the nickname in certain quarters of ‘Poison Penny’. One by one, the lustful, randy, Adonis-type macho men, full of themselves and their careers, would drift away, also finding fault with her. She was a cold bitch, a suffragette, a damned woman’s libber. Even, it was whispered maliciously at the men only booze-ups, a lousy lesbian.

Chris adjusted the helm very slightly, sniffed at the freshening breeze, and admired the flying fish that whizzed in and out of the water. The “Lady Annabelle ” sped along, her clean lines neatly chopping the waves in two, pitching and rolling easily. She was a fine ship, the
best, and had cost her owner, young Rick Distefano, close on half a million dollars.

There was a sudden stumble, and she saw him come on deck, late as always, sleepy, yawning, and clutching a cheeseburger.
Cheeseburgers for breakfast…
She studied him, feeling sorry for him. The poor little Rich Man’s son, trying very hard to live up to his father’s expectations of him. The father, the rich, debonair, successful, hard driving tycoon, with the manners and airs of a film star. The son, overweight, pink, with puppy fat spoiling his face, and a spare tire growing rapidly. It gave him a comical look, a roly-poly knock-me-down children’s toy look. Chris smiled. It was his clothes that really amused her. The expensive blue blazer his father had chosen for him. Now flapping wildly open, with a large tomato sauce stain on the left lapel. Within an hour, as the temperature came up, it would lie crumpled in a corner, Chris knew. The captain’s peaked cap, again an idea of his father’s. Now hanging at a precarious angle, creased and stained. The ridiculous white jodhpurs… The only legacy of another of his father’s ace ideas to turn his gentle son into a man: send him to a very expensive Polo Horse Training Academy… Poor Ricky Distefano, who could just about manage a pony
trekking expedition, on a fat old veteran hay bag, who plodded along steadily, and knew the way home with or without guidance from his rider. Who didn’t shy at cars, bright flashes, dogs or horseflies. And who was probably deaf as a post anyway.
The high spirited ponies at the Polo School had proven far too much for Ricky. He had been absolutely terrified of them, and they had treated him with utter contempt. They would stop – suddenly – at any morsel that took their fancy, often hurling Ricky straight over their
heads. They would jump sideways, or dive under stout branches. Ricky would be a mass of bruises at the end of the day, yet still he would bravely climb on the next day, determined to do his father proud. He ran a good risk of getting killed, but fortunately for him, his agony came to an end when the school’s owners, politely but firmly, over the objections of his father, sent him home. They were kind enough to arrange a diplomatic interview with Ricky, stressing how impressed they had been with his efforts. They promised to tell his father, a promise they honored. When they saw him off, he received a present of a dozen fine bottles of Austrian wine, and a box of chocolates from the ladies. They waved him farewell at the airport with a mixture of sadness and relief, and returned to the school with anecdotes to amuse countless new students for years to come. Ricky for his part arrived home dead drunk and a little fatter. If he thought however that his ‘A’ for effort would pacify his father, he was proved wholly wrong. His father had thrown a ‘wobbly’, shrieking about the family name, and accusing his son of dishonouring same. Ricky had been devastated.

A fishing boat was going to pass on the starboard side, a mile away, and whilst she kept a watchful eye on the purse seiner, she continued her cerebral meanderings. Chris both winced and smiled as she remembered the sequel.
The subject of the Polo riding school fiasco had not been closed. Even after a new idea had cropped up, namely for Ricky to use some of his trust funds to buy a yacht, and go on a sailing expedition around the world, the matter had not been let drop. Ricky had duly bought the finest yacht for the stiffest price the dealership had dared to ask, and had then advertised for a skipper to take him and two friends around the Mediterranean Sea.
The first captain had been a disaster. A stiff old salt, with a humorless grin, who had run the yacht like a battleship. Ricky Distefano had finally interestingly and uncharacteristically lost his temper, and fired the man summarily in Piraeus. Without notifying his father, he had
advertised urgently for a replacement, knowing full well his father would have been choleric again. Through some convoluted twistings of fate, Chris had applied for the job by fax, received an affirmative reply the following day, and plane tickets the day after. They had sailed most enjoyably around the Mediterranean, and then landed at the parents’ holiday home at Malta. Mooring in the bay where once St Paul had been shipwrecked, they had trouped up to the luxurious villa for a triumphant homecoming.

The purse seiner passed safely to starboard, and Chris watched the rusty hull glide past, noticing the bristle of aerials thrusting up from all over. Some crewman waved cheerfully, and she returned the greeting gaily.
Yes… the homecoming.
The memory was discomforting. The meeting with his father, about whom Chris had heard so much from Ricky. The father, who had of course long since heard from the disgruntled former captain. A man who Mr Distefano had secretly hoped would knock some steel into his offspring. She remembered the crumpled face of Ricky, who had taken the onslaught full in the face within the first five minutes. Mrs Distefano, a timid little woman, dainty and pretty, who had beckoned urgently for Chris and Ricky’s two friends to vacate the living room, and leave father and son to it. The two friends, scurrying out of the room, eager to get away. And Chris, who had left reluctantly, feeling desperately sorry for Ricky, his crumpled face haunting her.
And then…
She flinched at the sharpness of the memory.
Then… she had suddenly found herself back in the living room. She had flown at the man, eyes blazing, mouth motoring like a dynamo, teeth and lips slashing verbal fury. A fury that had him totally flabbergasted…
“You stupid, ignorant, heartless,MONSTER…
You self opinionated, insensitive, brainless, blind, STUFFED SHIRT! “

In the stunned silence, she had opened all the taps. She had accused him of complete disregard for the feelings of his son. Of trying to mold Ricky into an unquestioning clone of himself, instead of letting Ricky become his own man. She had screamed, stamping her foot, that Ricky had tried and tried and tried to please his father, to the sum total best of his abilities. That that simple fact merited some fatherly affection, not never ending belittling sarcasm. That she knew he had been looking forward for days to coming home, because he thought he had done good, achieved an adventure, and pleased his father. And here he was, home barely five minutes, being verbally whipped and shredded like a little puppy that just wetted on the carpet. And she was DAMNED if she was going to stand there and listen to it, and DAMNED if she cared a fiddler’s curse WHAT he thought about it…
Mr Distefano, never before in his life addressed by a woman like that, had been stunned. It was as if he had been thumped in the solar plexus. He had eventually roared that she was fired, and that she would never sail on the “Lady Annabelle ” again. She for her part had
retorted, still at high decibel level, that she had never worked for him, never would work for him, and that if he was the last man on earth, she would rather starve than work for him. As far as she was concerned, she worked for Ricky Distefano, who was more of a human being than his father would EVER be. And that if Ricky wanted to fire her, she would be pleased to go. She had plenty of better things to do with her life, than watch a medieval ogre with the emotional warmth of Genghis Khan beat the living spirit out of his only son. And now that she had got all that off her chest, she wasn’t being fired, she was JOLLY WELL GOING, of her own free will, out the door, and thank you all, Ladies and Gentlemen…
And she had picked up her bag, and marched straight out the mahogany and oak front doors…

She punched the ‘zoom out’ on the GPS Chartviewer, and admired the picture. Here she was, sailing along, East of the Philippines, North of the Solomon Islands, which were north of Australia, on a course that would take them to the coast of Papua New Guinea. Ricky had decided he wanted to see Wewak, a small harbor on the coast there. They would be there the following night, with a favorable wind…

She had been still angry when she had checked in at a small hotel near the airport. The girl at the reception desk, sensing her anger, and struggling with broken English, had become confused and frightened, misunderstanding the direction of all that angry energy.
It had taken Chris a major effort to compose herself, and sweep the scars of dark anger from her face. She had smiled then, a thin, strained smile, accepted the keys, and gone to her room. There she had flung herself on the bed, and cried bitterly. Half an hour later, she had gotten up, washed her face, and telephoned the airline. With her seat booked she had felt better, and taken out a book she was reading. She had barely started, when a timid knock had come at the door.
She had opened it, and to her amazement seen Mr Distefano standing there, hat in hand. He had fumbled awkwardly, and asked permission to enter. She had shown him in, astonished, over awed.

Wewak… she looked at the chart of the harbor approaches. It looked a pretty small place. Hopefully they had a few decent shops. She could murder for some marmalade and tinned fruit…

He had apologized, with the clumsy, faltering words of a man not used to acknowledging faults. He had thanked her for looking after his only son so well on the long voyage. His only son, and the heir to a sizeable fortune. There had been something suddenly old about him, something tired, almost broken. She had sensed it, and her heart had softened a little. She, stubborn as an alley cat, knew only too well how hard it could be to apologise. He sensed her mood change, hesitated, and decided to tell her a little more. In his curiously accented English, at times very good, at times grammatically imperfect. About the other son, the one who died, little more than an alcoholic drop out, a flunked student at the Sorbonne. He told her about a father’s fears for his only son, about the hard, cruel, merciless world of business and intrigue, where the sharks preyed on the gullible and the weak. He ended with a strange statement, delivered quietly:
“I see now, why my son likes sailing with you so much. You are strong, where he is still weak. But already I see changes. He is better… ”
Then he had chuckled quietly.
“…for the first time, he stand up to me. Full in my face. He was angry. Very angry. Maybe… that is good. ”
Then he had looked her straight in the face.
“He must learn, but… so must I. You… look after my son… ”
He had squeezed her hand gently, and left.
She had been bemused, but had also understood.

F.M.
(c)


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