Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Perhaps It Was…

Jack was a simple man with a humble dream. He grew up with a learning disability and was never able to be taught how to read and write, but he could understand the sea as if it was written in his first language. Perhaps it was.

Jack's father had given him all the education he ever received or wanted; a love of the water, an understanding of its ways, and an appreciation for all its splendor. He was able to give him little else before he died, and thus Jack grew into a man on his own in a hard and unforgiving world next to the sea.

What he lacked in even basic education Jack compensated for with a silent determination. He threw himself into projects with all the patience and violent conviction of the waves crashing forever against the cliffs of a shore until eternity would wash them away. It seemed fitting to all who knew him that his eyes were the gray of a sea-storm, but notably more forgiving. Years later his hair would change to match, but for now it was a sandy blond, content in its constant disarray.

His life long dream was near, he could taste it as palpably as the tepid beer in his mug. Years of saving and planning, dreaming and working towards the only thing he'd ever wanted in life. He suddenly couldn't remember the years of sacrificing every comfort or the endless hours of work for months at a time without a day of rest. All he could think of now was the way his heart raced and his head swam with excitement as he looked over papers placed carefully around the tiny bar room table. For a moment Jack's thoughts turned very quite and gentle as he thought of how his father would be proud of him for finally realizing a promise he died too young to keep to his only son.


Elizabeth was from a small town that she liked to refer to as 'a stones throw from nowhere.' Big plans and big dreams don't fit for long in a small town, if left there they turn into the dust that is as ever-present in farm houses as the sound of a chilly wind leaning against it. She spent most of her teenage years making sure she wouldn't have to live there forever. Fortunately, she had a voice that would make sure of it.

When Elizabeth sang the music poured through the air as though it were heavy clouds rolling over high mountain forests on a damp morning. It sat in a room and made every breath full and satisfying like eating a warm French baguette. Audiences loved her and connected with the uncompromisingly personal nature of her songs. Her voice was brave and commanding, but her manner was quite the opposite. She was shy, so much so that at times she appeared to be a paradox on stage, a trapped animal whose body wished to flee but whose voice could belong nowhere else. Each of her feet would take turns holding her up while the other would sway on its toes with the music. Her hands would often be seen escaping during moments they were not playing piano or guitar to dance with the music as she closed her eyes. Those fascinating hands almost had their own personality, when they rested on something there was an unassuming lightness to their touch, almost a politeness that was intrinsically feminine and beautiful.

It seemed an unremarkable event when Elizabeth sat down that night to listen to the act that would follow her. It bar was so full of regulars who came to see her performance that she had to take the last available chair left on the floor. She would always maintain to family and friends that she didn't know what got her started talking about her fear of all things new. More specifically as she would go on to say at great length in an attempt to prove she wasn't crazy that "it wasn't all things new, but rather that new things could be bad, so more a fear of all things bad that are new." As she carried on (and on) about this adorable eccentricity to a very quiet man she'd just met and who hadn't asked, ringlets of her auburn hair would fall from their perch and brush across her face. Apparently this was a regular occurrence, as those uniquely quiet hands would subconsciously sweep them back into place without as much as a pause in her conversation.

Jack never had a chance.


'Mo' didn't learn her real name until she was seven years old. The tomboy-sounding moniker suited her for much of her youth but surely would have faded away as her looks and intelligence blossomed and grew to define her, had she let it. Her real name was Elizabeth. She was named after a mother she never knew who died in childbirth. Her father Jack was a simple man who had loved her mother completely and could not imagine another name beautiful enough for the only thing she'd left behind.

It seemed oddly appropriate that she would be the product of a sobriquet derived from an epithet. Mo realized early on in life that the name Elizabeth hurt her father to hear, and more to say, so she told everyone her name was "Momur" which is what her father had always called her. Later she would shorten it to Mo because she was tired of people messing it up and her father refused to tell her how to spell it, or its etymology. When she asked him (often) what it meant, he would usually pause and look at her seriously to say, "It means I love you." Then he'd be even quieter than usual, which was remarkably, for quite some time.

Were it not for the disparity in age it would have been easy to mistake Jack for one of Mo's school yard chums rather than her father. For most of her childhood the two played and teased and carried on like best friends. Actually, more like Jack had a crush on her at that age before a crush means anything. When he would call her "Momur" it was often with the loving/teasing nature of tugging on her hair and running away on the playground. There were also times when he'd say it that it carried the weight of the world. Those were the times she would always ask again what it meant, and Jack would always say again "It means, I love you."

Jack never learned to become much of a disciplinarian as a father. Perhaps it was because he lost his own parents so early in life. Luckily for him, Mo never took advantage of it. She somehow was born with an odd sense of duty and importance to make herself all the things she knew her father lacked.

It didn't take too many years before Mo had far surpassed her father's educational level. However, in those years before, Jack had been the most patient and diligent teacher imaginable. Whatever knowledge he could impart was done with great care and application as if it was the most important thing to him he had ever done. Perhaps it was.


The last time Jack saw his daughter was the night before she went to college. Without a mother she'd had to grow up too fast. She had been acting as the woman of the house and making the decisions of a grown up since she was 13, if not before, and Jack missed his little girl desperately.

Mo's last night in town, her friends had taken her out to celebrate before she moved across the country and became an "Ivy League type." Jack had been asleep for hours when the doorbell rang. As he answered the door he could see his beloved Momur standing precariously leaning against the railing on the porch. He rushed forward and caught her as she was beginning to fall. He wasn't able to support her completely, but managed to get his arms under her back and support her to the ground gently, lovingly, as only a father is capable. He cradled her head with his forearm and her body lay limply over his knees. Quietly and tenderly he whispered her name repeatedly, trying to bring her back to consciousness without alarming her. Despite his concern, he couldn't help but feel a strange relief for a familiar comfort long denied. Now, holding her completely like when she was a child and fell asleep in the car rides home, he could realize he'd not only missed holding her, but missed her needing him.

She did eventually open her eyes; they looked at her father softly but didn't appear to recognize him. Jack carried her inside and placed her softly into bed. There was nothing wrong with her that she couldn't sleep off. Jack sat on the edge of the bed and watched for a few moments as she breathed. He considered sitting up and watching over her all night, but knew she'd be embarrassed in the morning if he did. He tucked the blankets snug around her neck and pushed the edges tight under her shoulders the way he used to when she was young and always tempted to get out of bed and ask for a glass of water. He knew if he made her too neat and cozy, she couldn't stand the thought of ruining the tuck and would stay as still as possible in her little warmth cocoon. She often made it, tuck still in tact, all the way to the morning, never tossing or turning even in her sleep out of pure determination. Something she would never admit, but got from her father. As he stole out quietly he knew that he didn't want her to go, as he'd always known he wouldn't. In all their years together, they'd never talked about what Jack wanted; which is what he would have wanted.

Despite his best efforts at tucking her away snuggly, in the morning Mo was gone.


It was only a few days into the first semester when Mo received the phone call about her father. She hadn't even gotten settled in enough at school to think to call home, something that would haunt her whenever she thought of Jack for the rest of her life. A long and tearful plane ride had her home by that Saturday.

The funeral arrangements were simple as he would have wanted. The family that came was all from Elizabeth's side and only a few of Jack's friends, who were really more co-workers then friends. In fact, they knew very little about the man but by reputation. Invariably their remembrances about him would be something like: "Not a smart man, but good at what he did, reliable, timely and an extremely hard worker. I'm sure I would have liked him, had he only talked a bit more. Kept to himself mostly, didn't really know much about him, not really." These were also men who made their livings with their hands, pulling it from the sea more with their hearts and backs then words or ceremony. They seemed a bit out of place, but had Jack been standing along side them, he would have seemed out of place there too.

When the last guest had left Momur crept upstairs in a house that was suddenly quieter then it had ever been before. She went into her father's room and laid face down on his bed to smell him in the pillows. She alternated between crying and studying the minimal decorations Jack had allowed himself. The one extravagant piece was the large cherry wood footlocker at the end of the bed which he'd had since before Mo was born. She investigated the lock and wondered where he might have hidden the key. As she stood to begin looking for it, she realized she'd never tried to look in it before. She lifted the lid, it was unlocked. It made her smile that Jack could have trusted her not to look enough not to lock it, and that no one else would likely ever be in his room.

The chest's contents were simply but neatly organized. Elizabeth was not surprised to see her medical records, birth certificate and all important papers a parent holds onto where housed within. She was however astonished to find every drawing, painting and art project she'd ever done filed neatly away in chronologically order. It made her heart ache that her father had kept them all these year, many of which pre-dated her own memory. After thumbing through each paper she noticed a tube on the bottom of the box which she knew she didn't recognize.
Mo pulled what appeared to her to be the kind of mailing tube architects use out of the trunk and took it to the bed. She pulled off the cap to retrieve the rolled up paper from inside, but before she could an old postcard fell out. She recognized the writing as French and having taken two years of it in high school was able to translate. "Please tell my friend Jack congratulations, the plans are complete. We can start construction as soon as he gives us the go ahead. She will be beautiful, his father would be very proud. Tell Jack to ‘say hello to the world’ for me. Louis."

Elizabeth was confused; the postmark was from nearly twenty years ago. She pulled the remaining contents of the tube out and unrolled it onto the bed. Her heart sank, her body felt suddenly too heavy to bear and her eyes flooded with tears. The schematics inside held the answer to a life long secret along with the blueprints for a simple but beautiful sail boat. The boat, the one true wish of her father's youth, bore a simple two word name in a language Elizabeth never suspected her father understood. "Mon Mer."

She fell on the bed, face in the pillows that still smelled like her father and cried softly to herself over and over, "My Sea."

Written 2010 © Charles L. Liotta

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