So it is official: virtually everyone I know is out of town... Beach, California, kayaking trips, family visits, Europe, the Great Outdoors. This is great as it well serves my need for isolation. I can take the phone off the hook, turn off the cellular, put a brief message on my email server saying I am, figuratively, spending a little vacation time in my head. Not the safest of places, I admit, but always entertaining; sort of like one of those old-timey roller coasters held together with lag bolts and duct tape. If you decide to ride one of these, life-safety is not a major concern.
Captain Roderick Stuart’s return home was as lonely a voyage as he’d ever undertaken. Even his mistress could not lighten his mood and, after awhile, ceased trying.
When the ship was berthed in its home slip, he spent two days dealing with headquarters bureaucrats who interrogated him pitilessly until it could be proven to their satisfaction that none of the events that had besmirched the Isadora were his fault. They weren’t his fault, of course, he knew that as well as they did, but he was the Captain and, in a very real sense, everything that happened aboard his ship was his responsibility.
He took a cab home. The driver was a dour man who complained about the weather. There had been a week of unabated rain that left the streets and back roads flooded, and the driver seemed to take this elemental insult personally, banging his vehicle through pond-sized puddles in what Captain Stuart felt was a very unsafe manner. He dropped the Captain in front of his house and sped off.
Captain Stuart stood in his small front yard under as sullen sky and eyed his home. Nothing had changed. The curtains were drawn as always (his wife did not allow much sunlight into their home, claiming it faded the upholstery) and it looked as if shingles had fallen from the roof. He sighed, squared his shoulders, knocked on the door.
He always did this when returning from a voyage. Mrs. Stuart did not like surprises, they frightened her. After a moment, he knocked again. His car was in the driveway; the decrepit Morris Minor owned by the detestable Mr. Winfrey was not. He waited two minutes, found his key, fitted it to the lock.
The house was empty and smelled slightly musty. It was cold. Obviously someone had turned the heat off, which was unusual. Mrs. Stuart always complained about the dampness of their home and kept the thermostat at an even 78 degrees.
The letter addressed to him was on the kitchen table. It was dated ten days earlier and read:
I trust you are well. Mr. Winfrey has accepted a teaching assignment in New Zealand, and has asked me to accompany him there. I am doing so. I have advised the children of my decision and they agree that it will be for the best.”
She had signed the letter with her maiden name.
A slow smile spread across the Captain’s face. He reread the letter twice to make sure the message had not been a trick of his subconscious. Then he folded it carefully and replaced it in its envelope. He took a turn about the house. He carried his travel bag upstairs, carefully unpacked it, hung the shirts and trousers in the closet, put his two uniforms in a plastic bag to be dropped off later at the cleaners.
Then he picked up the phone and very carefully dialed his mistress’ number.