I was just eating my eggs at Flo’s Country Kitchen like every morning, when the door opened like it wasn’t the kind of door you have to touch with your hands, but an overpowered automatic kind, which is to say it sort of swooped open and they sort of swooped in and we all felt the breeze before we heard what the geezer was saying.
“We’re looking for whoever’s selling that ’63 Century Resorter.” The man said, lifting his cane in the air like those wands a king uses. He bowed and we saw he was wearing one of those little circle hats that Jewish guys wear except his was made of red sequins and I don’t know how it stayed on there because he didn’t have a hair to pin it to. The lady curtsied and her hat had red sequins just like his but also feathers that seemed to say hello just like her shiny lips and teeth did, all popping out of her dark black skin. “Hello?” She repeated, “We need us this boat.” She slapped an issue of Boat Trader on the counter. The ad I’d placed was circled with a smeared up heart that matched the lady’s mouth. The old man gave her a pat on the ass and she simmered down some. Her teeth were so damn white.
“That’s me.” I said. They were kind of like a tee pee, the way the parts lean on each other to keep the thing up. Her dress was green and red and it almost hummed, maybe Jingle Bells or Rudolph, probably Rudolph, but like a gospel version; though it was June. He wore a suit, dark, with those little stitched dots on the lapels that let you know it was real expensive. They were the oldest people I’ve ever seen vertical.
“Just the man we want to see,” the old man said, “I’m Max. This is Comfort.”
“Mike Digsby. Call me Digsby.” We shook. Their eyelids looked like walnuts, hers burnt, his toasted. The lady raised her hand up like she expected me to kiss it or something.
“Now why is a beautiful boat like that up on a trailer and not in the sea?” Max asked. Jesus, I thought, these two don’t know a thing about boats.
“Well, boat like that won’t hold up to the salt. It’s more for summer afternoons on a lake, towing a water skier, things like that…” …which I did exactly once. In other words, the Resorter is a pretty impractical boat for somebody who lives by the sea. Taking her on was my wife’s idea. She prefers lakes to the open sea. Preferred. I don’t know. Maybe she still prefers lakes for all I know.
“How long do you think she’d last out there?” The old man asked.
“Not very. Can’t take the salt. Engine’s not up to the sea.”
“I see…Yeah, me neither with the salt. Gives you trouble with the ticker.” Max put his fist to his heart and Comfort pressed her mouth to it hard. Her lips left an “o” he didn’t wipe off. They looked at each other and touched their foreheads together like I wasn’t even there.
“It’s not that I don’t want to sell the boat, but do you folks have any experience on the water?”
“Oh yeah,” Max said, “I grew up in Boston. Rode the swan boats on the Common at least once a summer. And we’re all—what is it—something like seventy percent water? So, sure Digsby, I suppose I have eighty nine years of experience with water, not counting the nine months in the womb, which is some kind of aquatic quality time, if you ask me.”
“Sure…yeah. I figure the boat you got on your truck down there looks like a kind a cross between that and driving a car.”
“There’s a bit more to it.”
“I’m sure we’ll be fine. You steer with the wheel, right? Nothing to it.”
“So the sign said nine thousand or best offer. We’ve got eighty-five hundred. What do you say?” Comfort was tapping her foot.
“You got a trailer?”
“No.” They answered together.
“How you going to get it out of here?”
“Eighty-five hundred. Take it or leave it.” Comfort said, and dipped her feathers quick and firm in my direction.
“Oh, she’s a sassy thing.” Max said and took her in, then winked at me in a you-get-my-drift kind of way that conjured up images I didn’t really want in my head.
“Not like she’s coming back for it.” Flo whispered, and touched my hand as she topped off my coffee.
“Oh no, is it a sad boat?” Comfort asked.
“Lake boat by the sea can only be a sad boat.” Flo said and I shot her a look but she was staring at the coffee pot. Max pulled Comfort aside and whispered something in her ear then gave it a nibble and she squealed like we were all invisible.
“Well, for a sad boat, I’m afraid we can only offer eight thousand.” said Comfort.
“That’s a little high ball, Comfort, for a sad boat.” Max added. “How about seventy-five hundred and we agree to make it a happy boat?”
“We can definitely rehabilitate it.” Comfort said.
“The boat is fine. It’s all fine. Seventy-five hundred is not a fair offer.”
“I think it’s very generous for a sad boat.” Max said, and rubbed Comfort’s stockinged calf with his cane.
“The boat is not sad okay? Boats don’t get sad.” I just kept stroking my chin like I was thinking, which I was, but only half about the geezer and the lady, the other half was all fake memories of the trips me and Sarah never took out to the lake. She water skied once. I pulled her along. “If you’ll excuse me, I have nets to mend.” I stood. I didn’t expect them to shrink so much when I did. I wasn’t trying to win.
Comfort reached up and put her hand on my shoulder. “Now you just sit back down a second son, we don’t mean to cause you no trouble, we just need that boat.” A little of the merry went out of her eyes.
“Well, I need more than seventy-five hundred for the boat. I restored it myself. There’s five hundred in shellac alone on her.”
“Is that sad shellac or happy shellac?” Max asked.
“Oh, that’s definitely some sad sack shellac.” Flo said.
“I’m not sure the boat’s still for sale,” I said. I couldn’t think of anything else to make it stop. Well fine then, Sarah had said, that’s my boat then, my sweetwater baby, closest I’m gonna get to sweetwater or a baby at this rate, she had said, with the tone that detergent commercial wives use on their husbands, like it’s amazing they can tie their shoes.
“Here.” Comfort opened her giant leather purse and pulled out a beige sack from inside it that had a green dollar sign drawn and bled out because they used the wrong kind of magic marker for the job. It looked like the kind of bag that might be used in a cartoon bank robbery.
“Ten thousand. Our final offer. Sad sack shellac and all. We’ll take it.”
I have never seen ten thousand dollars all in one place, all at one time. Seems that wasn’t going to change. Inside the bag were hundreds of scratch-off lottery tickets, all winners. The prizes ranged from two to three hundred fifty dollars, and the thought of adding them all up gave me an even bigger headache then I already had.
“Pardon my French, but what the hell is this?” I said.
“Cash, sort of.” Comfort opened the bag wide.
“Or equivalent, at least,” Max said, “You can cash them in anywhere lottery tickets are sold. Ace in the Hole is our favorite.” He pressed his cane a little harder to her calf, and more unwanted images came into my head. I tried to think about Sarah, and then not, then baseball, then mortgages. Max pulled a tattered card from the bag and the name of the game was, indeed, “Ace in the Hole.”
“Hush you.” Comfort said and put her finger across his lips, her bright nail hovering just above his cheek, “You know I’m a Triple Cherry gal.” Max touched his lips to her curvy fingernail and growled. “Meow,” she said.
“I’ll count em.” Flo said. “Anything missing, I’ll come let you know.” Flo has the biggest, bluest eyes you’ve ever seen, like those doll pictures from the seventies you sometimes see in a thrift store.
“Well I guess we should head down to the dock.” Max said.
“Hell yes,” Comfort said, “This place smells like old people.”
I was half surprised to find I still had all the keys to all the chains that held the boat to the flatbed. Right there on my ring. Only then I thought that probably I should have taken them off, but was glad I didn’t. You never know what’s going to happen, I always say, even though I usually do. What I mean is, things usually happen pretty much like I expect they will. That’s not me bragging, not at all.
I reached into the glove box of the truck and took out the pink slip that needed to be signed. Max asked Comfort to bend a little and she did and he signed it right there on her back. “You wouldn’t mind getting her into the water, now would you Digsby?” I thought he was talking about Comfort. Resorter don’t belong in salt. Comfort seemed altogether more given to saltiness in my opinion. “Now I told you folks, she won’t last you do her like that.”
“We’ll take our chances.” Comfort said.
She was called Celeste, the boat was, though I never got around to painting that anywhere on her or wasting champagne to make it official. I wondered whether I should tell them, wondered if it mattered that I’d named her, in my head at least.
Took no time at all to get her on the water. None of the locks had rusted shut, didn’t even need to pull out the WD40. Seems Celeste was ready to go. Caught in my throat some, laying her down on salt like that, but having her on that flatbed these three years gone caught in my throat worse. Maybe Max was right, maybe water was water. Salt, sweet, seize, float; maybe water was water. I remembered the day I learned in school that all the water in the world has always been here, like your sweat today was a drop in the ocean once, probably, or a salmon’s piss, or a snowflake, or Jesus’ tears on the cross when he said God why have you forsaken me? Or what have you.
So maybe Max was right. Celeste seemed to think so, she bobbed just as happy as an apple in a tub at a Halloween party, waiting to be bitten by some happy costumed kid, which I guess you could say was not so far from the truth of the situation, such as it was. I had to turn away. The sparkle on their heads was one thing inside at Flo’s, but here in the full sun, it was another thing altogether. That red dime store glitz put me in a little trance, I have to admit, and kept me away from Celeste’s own shine. Twenty-one coats of Helmsman over the original mahogany, over the years, painstakingly sanded in between, tenderly even. Salt’ll eat right through it. I’m not kidding, it was like they had a hundred little red mirrors, and they were trying to get my attention with all of them, or burn a hole through me.
No. I was just a guy with a boat to sell and an empty Sunday afternoon.
“Now I told you she’s a sweetwater boat. Don’t come back to me when she seizes up and wears out, because I told you fair and square.”
“Thank you, Digsby.” Max said, and his knuckles matched the seat because he thought he could get himself into the boat with all those hundreds of little hand bones that blended right in with the white leather upholstery but they didn’t have enough flesh on them anymore and he tried like it should be no problem at all but his fingers slid off the seat anyway and he fell back and landed on his cane. I should have tried to catch him, but I didn’t think, I just stepped back. He made a puppy sound and held it. His hat sparkled but didn’t move. Just as I got my wits back, Comfort shooed me away with her claw. “Comfort’s here, baby, Comfort’s here…” she cooed as she helped Max into the driver’s seat.
I moved around to take her arm so she could get in too, but she just flashed those teeth at me: “Gonna be fine, just fine,” Comfort said, “I love convertibles!” and fairly hurled herself into the boat, straightened her hat, secured it with two long pearl-topped pins, then pulled from her bag a bottle of wine, a corkscrew, and two glasses that she unwrapped from the sheet of plastic bubbles that protected them. Next she took out a tiny pirate flag, unfolded it, and raised it from the short front mast. When she finished, she nodded to Max.
“The key?” He asked.
“Oh, right, sorry.” I said, and had to tell my fingers a couple extra times to let it go. She began to uncork the bottle of wine. “There are laws against driving under the influence you know…” I told them. Max said, “Yup! Just like a car!” And he wasn’t entirely wrong about that either. The engine turned over fine and they started to move. I didn’t want to watch the back of those matching shiny heads get smaller, but I did. I watched and listened to the motor holding up just fine as Celeste took them out. They didn’t look back.
PS: There was actually 14,723 dollars worth of lottery tickets in the bag. Flo and I have wine from France and filet mignon and twice baked potatoes on Sundays. She really does have the prettiest eyes.