by James Foley
Martin Trent remembered crashing that Iraqi
stone farmhouse—past midnight, March, 2016. Inside, tapestries draped those
stone walls. Four men: two at a table and two on a beat-up green sofa. Rifles?
Low-voiced preparations for rocket-grenade strikes against Government forces?
No, it shouldn’t have been like that. This was
supposedly a routine patrol. But back home now in Virginia, those Mideast
memories still stabbed Martin’s head. And, besides, at the present moment his
cell phone was ringing.
What he always remembered was the thwoomp-thwoomp-thwoomp of circling
chopper blades—like some great old Pink Floyd disc. Meanwhile, one of those
guys on the green sofa must have told a joke—the men’s four voices surging,
boisterous and noisy. Brimming with laughter and delight in danger? Then it just
all went to hell.
Martin shook his head hard—to toss memories
away. Head didn’t work right now. And his phone was still ringing.
harshly—grabbed the phone. “Yeah’ello?”
Alex Beatty’s hyper-educated alto: “Hola, dude! Eight o’clock . . .
“I’m here already, Alex—at the café.”
“Yeah, sorry. We’re running late. Look. This
morning Irene met Judith Angleton. She’s in town for three days. Irene
convinced her to join us tonight.”
Now Martin didn’t say anything at all. He
didn’t feel anything at all. For an instant, he didn’t exist at all. Then Alex
said, “Judith Angleton—remember, Martin? The sister of the girl who almost
Martin spoke: “Where’s Judith been?”
“She told Irene, ‘in California somewhere.’ By
the way, Christine Richards wanted to come tonight. But not a good idea with
Judith along. We all know your old feelings for Judith.”
“Yeah . . . feelings.”
“But you should see Christine more, Martin.”
“She’s a nice girl.
“She’s not just a nice girl. One day, she’ll be
millions nicer. Martin, think of your future. Those special ops days are bye-bye.
You were wounded out. One hundred percent disability. My advice? Marry
Christine. Get fat and affluent working for her father."
“Selling half-million-dollar yachts to
“You could do worse. And Irene says that
Christine craves you.”
“Does Judith know I’ll be with you tonight?”
“I don’t think so. Irene didn’t know you’d
come. Judith may be there already. Have you seen her?”
“That’s right. She said she’d wait in her car.
She didn’t want to go in alone.”
“What kind of car, Alex?”
When Alex returned he said, “Irene says, ‘Just
a car car—gray.’ With two doors,
Yeah. The silver
Mercury Cougar was easy to find, parked under a live oak. But no one in the
car? Was this even her car? Those wheels had to be like year ’97. So, she
hadn’t married anybody rich yet? Then he saw her, unmarried or not—standing
alone in the darkness of the ocean beach near the café.
The first time he’d seen her she was in the
ocean, off Virginia Beach. Some Viking poet might have named her The Water Girl, The Sea Maiden. She was becalmed in her catamaran, its small sail
dangling helplessly as an offshore current pushed her slowly towards Portugal.
Martin, in diving gear, ducked under the pounding surf and swam out to her. He still remembered that pale-green
water churning white in high-noon
brightness—on that not so long-ago
summer that seemed a thousand years away.
Above him, the
shadow of her sailing cat had quivered in liquid light as his fins kicked him higher. Rising lungs struggled
up through dim watercolor . . . his head exploding out into air dazzle. And all
these hours later, he thought that the first thing he’d ever said to her was:
“You lost out here, beautiful?”
something like, “You free-divin’ out here?”—her slacker Southern syllables
lingering indifferently, as if speech on this earth was sweet and slow but
“There’s no wind at
“Why keep callin’
“Just one reason.
You usually go sailing offshore with no motor . . . and no oars?”
“I thought the surf
would . . .”
Like that? Too long
ago to really recall. He’d towed her in—that much he remembered. The
catamaran’s hulls knifed through the water: no resistance, no real bow waves .
. . until near shore the big surf had grabbed them, tossing them high and onto
the sand against each other. She’d helped him up.
Yeah, he remembered.
And now here at
this seaside café she was looking out at the same old ocean as Martin said,
“Judith”—hoping that when she turned she’d turn smiling.
No smile. Same face, though—there in the manic
flicker of the café-front neon. Dark hair framed a broad pale forehead. Eyes wide-slanted:
miming some Cossack horseman’s sister’s black eyes? All images dredged up from
old memories—made real again on this unexpected night.
And that same look of abnormally sensitive
awareness. Always thirsting? But more quietly—not her sister’s agitated,
months,” he said now hoarsely.
“No, thirteen,” she
“So, you do
But immediately she
was moving away towards her silver Mercury.
“Wait . . .
please,” he said.
“I've got to go
now. I didn’t expect this.”
“Judith! Stay a minute. Just five minutes.
You've got to give me that after twelve months.”
The moon was down and the night air was heavy
and growing damp. A thick, chilly mist was beginning to solidify into a
drizzle. Taking her hand, he ran with her into the shelter of the café’s awning
as it began to rain. But she said, “I've got to go. I don’t want to stay here.
I can't talk to you. It just brings it all back.”
Then suddenly she was pointing out over dark
water. “That last night we were together: little offshore lights, same as now.”
Yes. Those small shimmering lights of the
nearby yacht club glowed softly. Piers and finger piers shone between slips.
Silhouette land: tinkling masts and antennae standing out dark against the less
dark sky. Her voice came back dreamy—bitter:
really got to us was that you didn't even come to her funeral!”
“I was overseas, Judith. I never knew.”
“I've got to go!” But he stopped her, holding her arm and taking his wallet out.
“Wait. Let me show you something. Please. Just
“Do you see this photograph, Judith. It’s been
halfway around the world this past year.”
“Where’d you get that?”
“Erica had it. I took it. She didn't know.”
“Damn you! You've been carrying that photo all
year? And not hers? My sister died for
you and you didn't even have her picture? Just my picture!”
“Judith, you know
it was always you. And you always knew that—from day one. And you liked me too.
I’m sure of it. Then you put me on to Erica because she was disturbed and had
nobody. And when I stayed focused on you, you felt guilty—as if you’d taken me
“It was the
opposite, Judith. Because you were so concerned about Erica, you wanted her to
have me. It was Erica who took you away from me, because as long as Erica
wanted me, you wouldn’t be with me.”
A smile—the shy kind. “You tellin’ me you were
that crazy about me?”
But she turned away again. “All right. That’s
no news flash.”
“Don’t belittle it.
Most people would give anything to be wanted the way I wanted you. And you
knew. Why did you keep pushing me on to her?”
“Because she needed you.”
“And you didn't?”
“Damn you. You broke her heart!”
“That shouldn't make you stop telling the
truth. You know what was between us. You’ll never forget.”
“You dropped her. You shattered her.”
“It was a mistake from the start. She was sick,
Judith. In some kind of deep depression. Emotionally, it was way over my head.”
“Yeah. That wouldn't make it deep, Martin.”
He smiled. But at that moment, as Alex Beatty’s
BMW M5 rolled into the café’s parking space, Martin suddenly felt rushed. His
voice tightened as he said, “Don’t throw this
away. It can be ours now. Days and nights—oceans,
seashores warm under the stars. Don’t lose it again. Believe me, Judith: happiness
But she seemed wholly doubtful. “I might
believe in it if I knew what it was.”
Her voice wavered—vague, listless: “Your
reckless life scares me.”
“I'll give that up.”
“You can't. You love the edge. You'll always be
there. Never with me.”
“That’s over, Judith. I’m out of the military.
Stay with me and I'll never need it. Alex and Irene are here now. They’ll tell
She seemed to hesitate. “Is that what you're
He nodded, wondering if he really was. And she,
now at the abyss of trusting, kept her stare locked on his—Mexican standoff of
But as he turned away for an instant to greet
Alex and Irene, he heard Judith cry, “Look, I'm going. I can’t see them now.”
And she was already in her Mercury and racing away.
Martin had rushed to the BMW, pushing Alex over
to shotgun position, almost on top of Irene.
“An emergency, Alex. We’ve got to catch her.”
And as the M5 roared, running the Route 1 light
without slowing, Irene screamed a little. Yet she seemed amused. “We’re chasing
a girlfriend? Christine would swoon—you did this for her.”
“We can’t follow her,” Alex said. “Too many
cars. Who knows which of those lights are hers?”
“We’ll find her. There’s a bed and breakfast
here on the beach. Judith’s family always stayed there. She’s got to be at that
“And if she’s not?” Irene asked.
“I’ll find her.”
“Where? In California somewhere?”