11,041 vagabonds plus:
Henry Perlman had little time to lose, ominous squall clouds rolling above, barometer skin shivering. The shortwave radio static reminded him of a wall of rushing water, heightening his excitement, causing the yanking of the splayed-wired microphone from its roots, the radio useless. The chain on the bicycle was broken. A woolen sweater pulled over flannel, galoshes on sideways, a shuffle off to help.
There was the glimmer of something on the water, the outline of a human being against sky, sea-sick bobbing on water, a white sail flapping, all witnessed from spyglasses tight against his eyeballs, the need for a good neighbor, Man! He tripped on the jagged edge of the cracked stone path, cracking his head, and goodnight, Marie. Screams of white birds overhead awakened the huge man at dusk, watery eyes set deep in a leathery, well-tanned skin, blinking alive. He managed a rise to his feet in time to see the floating survivor on the carcass of a stern fifty feet from shore. He rushed towards the wreckage, head throbbing with each step, walking into the waves, forgetting his natural calling in life to swim.
Late at night, in the calm after-storm silence of his old captain's chair beside the scorched fireplace, he softly closed his black cardboard-cover bible, questions unanswered, watching the rise of pipe smoke, vanishing before it reached the eggshell-colored low ceiling of his lodging, and thought it was all like a movie he'd seen once, the leading man talking in a thick Scottish accent, confident in manhood. And how he first saw her up close as he tugged the shattered plank. The girl, perhaps thirty years younger than he, sprawled out, clutching a dry bed pillow and empty water bottle, wearing the thinnest yacht club t-shirt, cream-colored short pants with large pockets, her waist-length golden hair matted and twisted horribly.
She was no burden as he lowered the unconscious lass onto his single musky bed. Henry thought he could carry her for a long chivalrous distance if there would be an entire island of puddles at the end of the earth for her small feet to avoid. He could not believe how white her thighs were in the candle light, her calender-girl breasts blushing pink after the peeling of wet garments was complete, or maybe he was in a startled, blushing mind, as he snapped the quilt and let it float on her delicate lovliness, safe and secure. Henry felt warm again around the eyes as he exhaled slowly, shifting in his chair, thinking about taking up the bible again. He did not touch the book.
Waking at three from a dreamless sleep in his neck-stiffening chair, Henry entered the sleep chamber, saw her hips shift slightly, and holding the candle closer was comforted by the normal calm breathing rise and fall of her chest. At one point, with his back turned and stooping slightly at the door-less hinges, he thought he heard the girl call his name in a breathless, forsaken sigh.
In the morning, a hard, pelting rain awakened her, and she saw the man standing at the doorway, two hands balancing a silver tray. After proper introductions - her name was Tatyana, no last name - she already knew his name, his heart stopping - she sat up with knees and blanket tucked under her chin. Henry set the tray on the cherry table next to her without making eye contact, leaving to fetch forgotten cream.
She lifted the warm porcelain oatmeal bowl and began to weep silently. Across the room she heard the stove spark to life and she dried her eyes thinking of the good, kind, gentleman. The room smelled of Carolina pine after a rain shower and it reminded her of childhood autumn days when her father tended mounds of burning leaves she helped him gather with a rake too big for her to handle.
Moments later, as Henry stood by the window looking up at the fading morning star in a sliver of pale green sky, Tatyana gulped heaping bites of steaming oatmeal, using a silver engraved spit-shined spoon, with an occasional suspicious side-glance, first at Henry, then at her drying clothes on display at the far end of the room. Henry turned, their eyes met. She looked down quickly, smiling, Henry gathered. And he decided he would ask for her hand after she was done drinking her milk.
by Andrew Wyeth
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