“Eighty percent, Andy. I’m not going any lower than that. She walked out on me.” Connor adjusted his tweed flat cap as he stared out over the expanse of ocean, the rumble of the ferry’s engine vibrating beneath his feet. He’d been living a nightmare since the day his wife surprised him with divorce papers, and if this kept up, there’d be no end in sight. “Fine. Just send the documents to my secretary and I’ll sign them when I get back. But get a date with the judge as soon as you can, you hear me?”
He clicked the phone off and shoved it back in his jacket pocket, sucking in a deep breath of salty air as he watched the waves swell and recede. He had always loved the ocean, the fact that you could watch it for hours and never see the same view twice. The ripple of the waves, the way the clouds drifted across the deep blue sky, an ever changing seascape.
The gentle breeze and rocking of the boat settled his nerves and fatigue began to wash over him. Turning, he went back inside and ordered a glass of Dead Rabbit Irish whiskey. Finding a seat near a window, he sipped from his glass, contemplating his new life, wishing things could go back to being simple. Between the latest disaster at work and his wife, he wondered why he bothered anymore. He downed the rest of his drink, settled back, and slowly drifted off to sleep.
A jolting sensation snapped him out of his dream, and a feeling of disorientation enveloped him.
“Sir, sir.” A voice broke through the haze as a hand continued to jostle his shoulder.
He shook the sleep away and mumbled, “Where am I?”
“You’re still on the ferry, sir. Everyone’s already gotten off. You fell asleep.”
“Oh, oh, sorry.” Clarity began to take hold. He rubbed the sleep from his eyes and stood, throwing his bag over his shoulder.
He disembarked alone and, keeping his eyes to the ground, walked in the direction of Main Street. He had no more than stepped from the sidewalk when the sound of a horn blasted to his right. He stumbled backward over the curb as a red and white Bel Air convertible full of teenagers singing “That’ll Be The Day” tore past him. The cobblestoned street was crowded with 1950s vintage cars. As the song faded with distance, he took a hesitant step forward, paying closer attention this time, and crossed the street without incident. He bumped elbows with a group of girls giggling their way down the sidewalk. He turned, taking in their poodle skirts and ponytails bouncing from side to side.
Spinning around to avoid another collision, he continued forward. “Shake, Rattle, and Roll” floated on the breeze from a doorway up ahead, drawing him like a moth to a flame. When he entered, he saw two teenagers thumbing through stacks of…were those record albums? In the far corner, a young girl with blonde hair and big blue eyes sat with headphones covering her ears in the glassed-encased listening booth.
He approached the rack closest to him and pulled out an album. Elvis’s baby blues stared back. He quickly tucked it in the stack and pulled out another. It was a sepia toned cover for Dion and the Belmonts’ “Wonder Why” album. He absently set it on top of the others and pulled his hat off, running a hand through his hair. What is going on?
He made his way to the door as a voice yelled out behind him, “Hey, Connor, I didn’t see you come in. Leaving already?” Connor spun around to see who could possibly know his name in this strange place. A young man wearing brown slacks and a crisp button-up shirt had emerged from a back room carrying a stack of records in front of him. “New shipment coming in tomorrow,” he continued. “You’ll want to get here early.”
Connor, confused by the familiarity, simply nodded as he made his way back to the sidewalk and fresh air.
“Good afternoon, Connor,” a woman walking behind a baby stroller greeted him with a smile as he exited the store.
He continued forward, reading the signs above each door, and stopped at the window of a Kresge’s Five and Dime. A mannequin displaying a ladies dress revealed a price tag of $4.95. A pair of sandals were marked $2.95, and a table on the left featured a box of Ritz crackers marked at 32 cents and a sewing machine for just $19.90. Trying to make sense of the prices and styles, he noticed a sign for a snack counter taped to the glass. He pressed his face close to the glass and peered inside.
In the right rear corner, red vinyl stools stood in a line before a long white formica counter. He wove his way through the displays toward the back of the store, passing two middle-aged women who were inspecting dresses on a circular rack while a towheaded boy of about five was playing jacks on the floor. The welcome scent of coffee wafted around him, pulling him gently forward.
“Hey, Connor, want your usual?”
He set his bag on the empty stool next to him and before he could respond, the waitress set a cup of coffee in front of him and a plate of blueberry pie. He took a sip of the coffee, surprised to find it was exactly as he liked it, lots of cream and a touch of sugar. Looking past the waitress, he spotted a payphone on the wall. Beside it hung a Griffith Seed Co. calendar open to March 1959.
“1959?” he mumbled.
In the background, Buddy Holly serenaded them from a Truetone Ivory radio that sat on a high shelf. “Oh, I just love this song, don’t you?” the waitress asked with a glint in her eye.
Before Connor had a chance to answer, a man a couple of stools down interjected, “This is not music. You young people have no idea what good music is.”
She leaned in as if sharing a secret. “Here he goes again,” she whispered. “I wish I could figure out why he’s always so grumpy. Just wait ’til old Jackson comes in…speak of the devil.”
“Henry,” the newcomer, Jackson, bellowed as he waved a rolled up paper in his hand. “Did you see the newspaper yet?”
“You’re usual, Jackson?” the waitress interrupted.
“Of course, Janie.” He turned back to Henry and continued his rant. “Taxes are going up again. He promised he wouldn’t do this, that’s what his whole campaign was based on, no new taxes. And here we are.”
Connor watched as she poured another cup of coffee and popped two pieces of rye into the toaster.
“How much do I owe you?” he asked when she came back to clear his plate.
“Eh, for you Connor, it’s on the house. See you tomorrow?”
“Uh, yeah, sure.” He grabbed his bag and left the two grumbling men to their debate.
Back on the street, two kids riding Radio Flyer red steel scooters pushed their way by him. “Afternoon, Mr. McCloud,” they said as they passed. He turned to watch as they scooted down the street. Two young boys in Converse sneakers and rolled jeans enjoying an early spring afternoon.
“Connor!” came another voice. A kid in his late teens with a pretty girl on his arm strolled up to him. “Say, I wanted to introduce you to Peggy.” The boy beamed. “She moved here recently from Connecticut and I’m showing her the local sights.”
“Nice to meet you, Peggy.” Connor smiled before turning back to the boy. “Can I ask you a question?”
“Sure thing.” The kid was still beaming.
“How do you know me?”
His smile faltered. “How do I know you?” the boy responded with a nervous laugh as he glanced at Peggy. “Everyone knows you, Connor! You feeling okay?”
“Yeah, yeah. I…forget it. Forget I said anything.”
“Okay, well, have a good day, Connor.” He wrapped his arm around Peggy and urged her along.
“You, too,” he muttered in response after they had gone. He looked at his watch. Time for something a little stronger than coffee. He kept his eye out for a place to get a stiff drink and spotted a sign for The Anchor Bar and Grille. Perfect.
He stepped into the darkened room and waited for his eyes to adjust. “Connor! I’m so glad you’re here. That new guy’s a no-show. I need you to play. The place is already filling up and it’s still early. Here.”
The stocky bartender reached beneath the counter and pulled out a guitar, shoving it into Connor’s hands. He gestured toward the stool in the corner.
Connor gripped the neck of the guitar, holding it out at arm’s length. “I, uh…I don’t…I don’t play the — ”
“Hey, Ernie, where’s my beer?”
“Keep your shirt on, Frank!” The bartender rolled his eyes before scurrying back behind the bar.
Feeling a knot of panic in the pit of his stomach and the tingling of adrenaline in his fingers, Connor sat on the edge of the stool and placed the guitar in his arms. It felt oddly comfortable. He looked out over the sea of bodies who were too busy mingling with each other to pay him any attention. He rubbed the sweat from his palm on his jeans and plucked a few strings, hoping to drown out the pounding of his heart. Not at all sure what to expect, his fingers took on a life their own and his shoulders began to relax. Knowing he couldn’t continue to pluck random strings all night, he started to pick out the notes of a song he’d heard earlier. The chords of “That’ll Be the Day” issued from the guitar as if he’d been playing it his entire life. He looked down at his hands in awe, amazed at his newfound talent. As he played, the music took over and he discovered he was beginning to enjoy himself. The crowd thickened and the cheers that rose between each song were as intoxicating as an aged bottle of bourbon.
An hour later, sweaty and flushed, he gently placed the guitar on the stool and allowed the jukebox to pick up where he had left off. He took a seat at the scarred mahogany bar and Ernie placed a glass in front of him. “On the house.”
“Thanks, Ernie. I was wondering…I don’t have a place to stay tonight. Do you know of — ?”
“What’d’a mean you have no place to stay? I just had the water fixed in the apartment.”
A look of confusion crossed Connor’s face, but he said nothing.
“You don’t believe me, just run upstairs and check for yourself.”
“Yeah. Your apartment? You feelin’ okay, Connor?”
That seems to be the question of the day. “Sure, of course, my apartment. Thank you.”
He glanced around the bar, looking for the stairs and saw a door in the far corner with a sign that read No Admittance. He threw his drink back and slid off the stool when he was accosted from behind. “That was great, Connor!”
He spun around to see a pretty blonde with red lipstick and bright green eyes smiling at him. “Uh, thanks.”
“I loved your rendition of Sea of Love.” Her hand rested on his forearm, a heat building beneath her fingertips. He grinned and his eyebrows arched as he thought, I’m really starting to like this place.
“I’m so glad you enjoyed it,” he said with amusement.
“Still on for tomorrow?”
“The parade. We were planning on watching it together, remember?”
“Oh, sure, how could I forget?” He chuckled, the energy of the night still coursing through his veins.
“Silly. Okay, I’ll meet you out front at noon.” She stood on her tiptoes and gave him a peck on the cheek. Connor watched as she walked out into the night, joining the group of girls huddled under the misty beam of a street lamp.
“That Carol sure is something,” Ernie said.
“You can say that again.” He grinned.
Connor slowly made his way to the door in the corner, leaving the music and steady murmur of voices behind, and slipped upstairs. He looked around the unfamiliar apartment, then pulled his jacket off and threw it over a flower patterned armchair. Exhausted, he plopped on top the white chenille bedspread, shoes still on his feet, and folded his arms over his chest. When I wake up, I’ll be back in 2018. This is just a dream, he chanted as he fell asleep.
He woke the next morning to beams of sunlight shining brightly through the gaps in the curtains. The chenille bedspread lay in a tangled heap at the center of the bed. A quick glance at his watch revealed he’d better hurry if he wanted to catch the next ferry out. He splashed cold water on his face, then threw his jacket over his wrinkled shirt. He bounded down the stairs and into the empty bar, taking one last look around.
He hurried outside into the bright sunshine and ran to the ferry dock, breathing a sigh of relief when he saw passengers were just beginning to board. There was a short line at the ticket booth and with only two people in front of him, he had plenty of time. As he reached for his wallet, he felt a vibration in his jacket pocket. He shifted his bag and pulled out the little phone he hadn’t thought about since the day before and glanced at the screen. His lawyer. Tension filled his shoulders.
He clicked the green button. “Hey, I’m about to get on the ferry. Better make this quick.”
“She said…” Static broke through the voice. “The house…” More Static. “or…settle.”
“You’re breaking up.” He pulled the phone from his ear and saw it only had one bar. He walked across the grass, to the water’s edge, trying to get a better signal, and put the phone back to his ear.
“…house or she won’t settle…”
Connor let out a long sigh. He looked at the ferry, then turned and glanced back toward Main Street. He thought about the bar, the apartment, the music, but most of all he thought about the kiss that the pretty young blonde had placed on his cheek.
He pulled the phone from his ear and stared at the screen. He blinked several times, a smile slowly spreading across on his face.
Putting the phone back to his ear, he said, “You know what, Andy, tell her she can have it. Tell her she can have it all.”
Without bothering to click the phone off, he cocked his arm back and, with all the power that would’ve rivaled Babe Ruth’s fastest pitch against the Dodgers, whipped it into the churning gray water. It felt good. Better than expected, as if a weight had been lifted from his shoulders. Putting his hands in his pockets, he turned and, with a smile and a spring in his step, he headed back to town.
This story is in response to Warrior Writers Prompt #10: Your character boards a boat and arrives at a completely unexpected destination.
Jennifer Harris (JL Harris) is the co-author of The Providence Series, Sincerely, Grace: And Other Short Stories, and The Catalyst Series. She’s also a writing coach and editor, and you can find her at www.jenniferlharris.com.
When Jennifer is not writing or working with clients, you can find her hiking, reading, or playing an Evanescence song on the piano.