I sit now in a large plaza in the town of Maó, the largest town on the island of Menorca. Pigeons strut about in idle hunger or relax on the warm ground; they take no notice of the older one in their midst. The elder bird scruffy and worn, but the others do not see their own futures in the other bird; they are not reminded of their own mortality. They are just pigeons, after all.
I am partially in the shade, with my legs protected but my black sweatshirt soaking up the sun. I sit, uncommonly comfortable, and I ask myself, “what happened last night?” I’m not sure, really, but something happened on the boat between there and here (whoever here is). Alcohol happened, that I know. A pretty girl cried on my shoulder. I stood in the wind watching the sea slide past. All those things happened without a doubt, but I think maybe something else as well. I just can’t put my finger on it.
Alcohol happened, and plenty of it. Alcohol on a boat, on a moonless night. On deck, near the bow, I the professor (“Is that Mars?” “Actually, that’s Antares, who’s name means ‘Not-Ares’, the greek name for Mars.”), enjoying the night with Cassius and Brutus, and of course dear sweet Emily. (Some characters in this little drama may have appeared previously in this blog under different names, but that’s not important.) We gathered, a tight little bunch. Emily is a proper and well-spoken English girl, and the rest of us, well, we are who we are, only last night all the more so.
We met Emily as we marched out to board the bus that would take us to the boat. Brutus was immediately very solicitous and helpful (as the married member of our little trio he obviously knew more about how to treat women than Cassius or I), and we learned that she was coming to Menorca to be with her family, and that she had just broken up with her boyfriend two days prior. As Professor, I prescribed her medication: alcohol. She was already ahead of me, and specified gin and tonics.
Alcohol happened. We sat in the bar for a while, then adjourned to the walkway outside, standing in the warm Mediterranean breeze and mist, chatting and laughing. The bar closed, we covered our rather astonishing tab, and still we stayed out there. After a while Cassius disappeared and returned a short time later with more beer. I received this bounty with joy, and didn’t ask too many questions. Cassius, crafty and fearless, had found a way to overcome the classic “Closed Bar” problem, a conundrum which no member of Star Fleet had ever managed to win before. And so, alcohol continued to happen.
As did Emily. Emily happened; dark-haired, blue-eyed, witty and intelligent, she happened. Brutus connected with her easily, attentive and helpful, friendly without being forward. Cassius, well, there’s a price to be paid for being crafty and daring — it leaves one cynical and acerbic as well. Not the way to win over the ladies, which just feeds the cycle. Finally there was Professor, me, exercising my limited knowledge of astronomy and other subjects, a roller coaster of lugubrious prattle and long silences. In the course of things, while alcohol continued to happen, Cassius left to liberate more of the beer unfairly trapped behind the closed bar’s bars, and Brutus went to bid farewell to some of the beer that had already served its purpose. I was alone with Emily. I asked a question — I don’t remember what — and she began to cry, happening in great sobs. She missed her ex. She was not happy about the breakup, not at all, and had been soldiering on with strength and courage before my question broke through her crumbling defenses.
Awkward, uncertain, I stood close but very far away, wanting to offer comfort, baffled, afraid. This is where you make a gesture, this is where you give someone what they need without thought of yourself. But, but… She’s a stranger, she’s a pretty girl, she’s a wounded bird, vulnerable, and anything I do is open to misinterpretation. (And, come on, let’s be honest here, it’s not like the thought of sharing a bonding moment with her didn’t spin enticing possibilities deep in my head. I’m not dead.)
I did what any silver-tongued smooth operator would do. I asked her permission to give her a hug. Holy crap, of all the things I could have done, short of pitching her over the side of the boat, that had to be about the lamest thing possible. Pathetic.
She didn’t answer, so I bit the bullet, swallowed hard, and hugged her. She really let loose then, and there’s nothing to say but she loves him and they’re broken up and she feels lost and alone and she wants him back and he was supposed to be traveling with her and and and…
Things I didn’t say: “It’ll be all right.” “I’m sure you will get back together with him.” “You’ll feel better in the morning.” I couldn’t say those or a hundred other things. Empty words, signifying no more than do the grunts and squeaks of a monkey at the zoo. Or, at best, lies. So I held her, searching for something to say that would make her feel better, but there was nothing, nothing but pain and contact, tears and silence. It was an honest silence, though, and it was the best I could do.
Brutus returned and immediately offered up the phrases I couldn’t. Perhaps she needed to hear them, perhaps they would even turn out to be true through some blind chance. Who was I to say? At that moment, however, his words felt hollow. Cassius returned, beer-laden, and after a couple of attempts Emily recovered her game face and banter slowly got back to safer topics. When she pulled away from me I felt the place she had been, empty now. Again.
What happened last night? Perhaps the question seems strange, since I just told you what happened, but there, alone in the darkness, it seemed like something else had moved, something I still can’t put my finger on. Alcohol happened, and a pretty girl cried on my shoulder. In the end she was grateful to all of us (especially Brutus — cheerful, giving Brutus). After everyone else went to sleep I returned alone to the walkway. I, Professor, stared ahead into the moonless black, and failed once again to determine if the sea foam was luminescing or just reflecting the last of the lights on the ship. The answer was inconclusive, as was the answer to the more pressing question: what just happened?
She had asked for my email address and this morning I gave it to her, but I don’t think I will hear from her again — unless, perhaps, she knows the answer to my question.