SEA SALT
by Red


He was lost...AGAIN...

"Damned maps! Who drew this one—Amerigo Vespucci?!?" grumbled the grizzled old sailor as he pulled his pickup over to the side of the road. Exasperated, twisting and turning the oversized map in his hands (trying in vain to find the yellow-brick road amidst the lines and curves), he gave up and tossed the offending maze aside, slapping the steering wheel in frustration.

On the water, Murdoch always knew where he was, but on land, could never seem to get his bearings. Street maps baffled him... "Give me a compass, a sextant, the sun and the North Star...that's all I need," he always said—at least when he was sailing. Landlocked, however, Murdoch couldn't find his way to the corner grocery store without getting turned 'round at least once. Not that he'd ever seek advice from any of the locals...that would be admitting to the rest of the world (and himself) that he was, as the Captain on his first sea duty had said, "cartographically challenged." Every woman he had ever known got upset when he refused to stop and ask for directions, usually mumbling something about it being in a man's DNA to be so stubborn about admitting he was lost.

All of a sudden, a blue Chevy passed by him at a fast clip, and Murdoch quickly started his truck back up. A small boat! On the trailer attached to the Chevy! Murdoch figured if he followed, he had a pretty good chance of ending up somewhere near water's edge, so he put the pedal to the metal and raced to keep up with the almost vanishing blue blur.

Sarah glanced in her rear-view mirror and noticed the white pickup behind her. She could barely see the bearded face of the driver, but knew that he was following her. "What the heck?" she wondered, but continued toward the harbour. The man maintained a safe distance, but Sarah was now curious, so she pulled over and stopped. The pickup abruptly braked to a halt, and she could see a rather sheepish grin peeking out from the full salt & pepper beard as she walked toward the driver's side of the pickup.

Sarah was not the shy, retiring type... "You want something, fella?" It was kind of comical, this ample-figured woman with arms akimbo, demanding an answer from the embarrassed Murdoch, who was now trying to slink down under the steering wheel. "Uh..." he began. "I was just trying to find my way to the harbour. I'm supposed to meet someone about buying a sailboat, but I don't seem to be heading in the right direction," confessed Murdoch. He surprised himself. He'd never been quite so candid about what he called (only to himself, of course) his "defect." Too late to take it back now; the lady was laughing. "I certainly hope you're better with directions in the water than you are in the city, or you're not gonna have that vessel for long! You see that?" Sarah pointed at the sun in the late afternoon sky. "That's the sun...You know...as in 'it sinks slowly in the west'?" Murdoch silently nodded, feeling the blush run from his neck up to his forehead.

Feeling sorry for the man who had obviously never intended to have to face his human bread-crumb trail, Sarah just chuckled and shrugged, "Look...I'm on my way there. Just follow me. What slip are you supposed to be at?" Murdoch madly rustled the papers on the seat next to him, pulling out an envelope with the information scribbled across the back. "Uh...number 22...name's, uhmmmm...can't seem to read my writing..." He could feel his ears burning. Sarah waved her hand in the air..."Doesn't matter—that's Willie's. I know where it is. I didn't know he was planning to sell the THALIA, though." Sarah's eyes glassed over for a moment, and her whole face softened ever so briefly, but in an instant was all business again. "Just follow me—not too close, now—it'll take us about 15 minutes to get there." With that, Sarah took a few long strides and was back in her immaculate blue Chevy. Murdoch looked at his untidy, "it's seen better days" pickup, and for the first time, felt uncomfortable in its disarray. He didn't have time to reflect on his newly-developed concern for the orderliness of his vehicle, because Sarah was pulling back onto the road.

"There you go," said Sarah, pointing toward the long row of sailboats, yachts, sharpies, sloops and the varied array of pleasure cruise vessels. "The THALIA's about halfway down." She smiled, waved and strode purposefully away. Murdoch stood and admired Sarah from behind, and as if she knew he was staring at her, she turned back, shading her eyes from the last of the day's sun. "You want something else?" Red-faced yet again, Murdoch shouted, "No...uh, yes—name's Murdoch. Thanks for your help!" "Sarah," she shouted back. "No problem," and waving once again, off she went.

"HEY! YOU MURDOCH?!?" The loud, gruff voice startled him and Murdoch stumbled as he turned 'round. To his credit, Murdoch did manage a, "That's me," without falling flat on his face. "I'm Willie, and you're late—THALIA's over here. Follow me, it's gonna be dark soon."

The large sailboat was perfect. The white, golden and blue colour scheme was crisp and clean, and the boat itself was in great condition. Although Murdoch sometimes let his truck get shabby, and didn't always take the greatest care of himself, anything that floated in the water that he stepped into was always, well...shipshape. The THALIA was just small enough that Murdoch could handle it by himself if he wanted, and large enough that if he decided to take someone on board, they wouldn't trip over each other every time they took a deep breath. Murdoch sometimes hired young ex-Navy men or boating enthusiasts to help out on long trips. He wasn't exactly a young pup any more, and as much as he liked sailing for weeks on end alone, he liked being around to watch another sunrise and sunset a whole lot more. Murdoch's long-lived MARIANA, after over thirty years of faithful service, had finally been dry-docked, and the THALIA looked like she was going to be the vessel to see him through to the end of his sailing days. "Let's get the paperwork done, Willie. The THALIA's just what I want." As they closed the deal, Murdoch couldn't help thinking of Sarah, and wondering how she'd look against a wild, South Sea sunset against the background of the THALIA's white and golden sails.

"She's a damned great girl—you take care of her, now..." Murdoch jumped at the voice on the dock, and twisted his feet even more into the tangled ropes on deck. He didn't dare move, for fear of falling down on his keister. He could feel the blood rushing to his face and thought to himself, "Can't this woman ever show up without me falling all over the place? She must think I'm an absolute idiot." Murdoch didn't stop to wonder why it mattered to him. He hadn't given a second thought to what any woman thought of him since his tiny, sweet Addie had passed on more than fifteen years before. He couldn't help admiring Sarah—this big, buxom, straight-talking woman so different from Addie—she had completely captured his attention. He'd watched her working with Willie that morning—everything from stitching sails to repairing a generator that wouldn't give Willie the time of day, but that she was able to get humming in no time flat.

"Of course I'll take care of her!" replied Murdoch. "Want to come aboard and see how she's shaping up?" Sarah looked away for a moment, a wistful look on her face, "No thanks..." She was just about to disappear again, when Murdoch surprised both of them by asking, "Say, you feel like some lunch? I'm starved. My treat!" Sarah thought for a very brief moment, then laughed. "Sure... But I'm driving. I'd like to have lunch before sundown!" Her hearty laugh got Murdoch going too, and soon they were chatting like old friends. "How old are you, anyway?" blurted Murdoch, halfway to their destination. "Pretty cheeky, you old salt!" retorted Sarah. "Older than twenty-one, younger than sixty. Pick a number in-between, and even if you're right, I don't plan on telling you!" Murdoch couldn't remember laughing so much in years.

All through lunch, and their walk after, Murdoch couldn't stop watching her. Every move Sarah made had a purpose. She was energetic, forceful and confident...yet had a femininity that startled him. Murdoch had always been attracted to Rubenesque women, even though his beloved Addie had been petite and fragile. He was her protector all their married life. Not that he ever regretted it. She had been his best friend, confidante and to the last, understanding of his first love, the sea. When he looked at Sarah, though, he saw someone with the same wanderlust and curiosity about what lay beyond the horizon... Without even realising it, Murdoch began to look forward to their daily chats and lunches. While working on the THALIA, getting her "just so" for his first outing, he found himself checking his watch over and over during the mornings...waiting for Sarah to arrive.

"Why don't you ever want to come aboard?" queried Murdoch one late afternoon as they walked along the shoreline past the docks. Sarah froze for a moment—like a doe caught in a car's headlights—then her shoulders slumped and she turned away. Murdoch could barely hear her when she said, "The THALIA was very special to me..." She put her hands in her pockets and walked away from him, closer to the water's edge. She looked out at the setting sun and Murdoch watched as one lone tear made its way from her eye down her cheek. "What is it?" he gently asked. He never expected this. His hand tentatively touched her shoulder, and at his touch, Sarah's self-control gave way. Copious tears flowed, and for many moments they quietly stood together at water's edge.

"I'm so sorry," began Sarah. "I...well...I'm just sorry, that's all..." Sarah was about to walk away when Murdoch took her hand. "Not so fast, princess." Sarah quickly turned and said sharply, "Why did you call me that?" Taken aback, Murdoch stammered, "Uh...why...because that's what 'Sarah' means... princess... Ever since I found out that Murdoch meant "sea man," names have been a kind of hobby with me. I didn't mean to upset you." Sarah's resolve dropped. She sat in the sand and hugged her knees, looking out on the horizon as if searching for the secrets of the Universe. "It's just that I haven't been called that for a lot of years..." Silently, Murdoch sat next to Sarah and they watched the sun finish the day with an explosion of gold, red, purple and pink, until the mantle of the night sky's indigo blue, peppered with tiny white specks, fell upon them.

"So..." began Murdoch. "You want to talk about it?" Sarah patted Murdoch's hand that was resting on her knee, saying, "I've taken up enough of your time. Thanks, but I've got to go home. Besides... You've got a big day tomorrow. You're taking the THALIA out for her first run, aren't you? You need your rest, fella... And better make sure you've got your compass handy." Sarah managed a small smile, and was about to get up, when Murdoch reached over and put both of her sturdy hands into his rough, weathered ones. "Nope. Not until you talk to me. You've been hanging onto something for a long time, and it looks like you've finally got a pair of broad shoulders you can unload it onto. Talk to me, woman."

The last bit of her resolve to stand alone inside the wave of loss abandoned her. She told Murdoch about the THALIA...how she and her husband had built the sailboat together... How the two of them had the perfect, idyllic honeymoon on the smooth summer seas... And that they had named her the THALIA after one of the Three Graces whose name meant "the blooming one." Her late husband had always said that what you named your ship or boat was as important as its hull... A name gave the vessel her life and purpose... Their lives had flourished, just like a beautiful, well-tended garden. She talked of his illness, and how helpless she felt. She'd always been able to fix things, but she couldn't "fix" her treasured Thomas... He "gave up the ghost" sitting on their porch, looking out at the horizon, and Sarah had closed his eyes after his last breath... She had sold the THALIA to Willie because she couldn't bear to keep her, but couldn't face letting her go completely. The usually reticent Murdoch then told her about Addie, their life together, and how he blamed himself for not being able to protect her in that split second the drunk driver had careened onto the sidewalk...

"A couple of old wounded seagulls, aren't we?" mused Murdoch after their respective soliloquies. Sarah stood, brushing the sand off her round rump and thighs, and placed her hand against Murdoch's bearded cheek. "Thanks... I..." and shook her head and walked away. Murdoch watched her go, wondering if he would ever see her again. He wasn't used to talking with women... Never really understood any of them except his Addie. Sarah was still a mystery, but one he hoped he would get the chance to unravel.

The next morning, Murdoch was surprised to see Sarah coming down the wharf, a determination in her stride. She looked at the THALIA and then down at Murdoch. "Okay, 'Sea Man'—that offer still stand? I'm afraid if I let you go out there alone, you'll never find your way back. I can't let that happen—not when I'm just beginning to like your bushy old face. Permission to come aboard, sir!" A beautiful, teasing smile began in her eyes and washed across her whole face as she sharply saluted.

Murdoch grinned as he reached to take Sarah's hand and help her onto the deck. "Then get yourself down here your highness. We've got ourselves some sailing to do!"



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