Rock Harbor

I’m posting a section of a book I’m working on, called Rock Harbor. Halem is a barista in the coffee shop. She has her regulars and tourist that come through their little, isolated harbor village. One day a stranger, Winston, rows in. He is very unique and has the uncanny ability to see people’s souls and to help them out of their self-imposed labyrinths.  In this scene, his is confronting Halem, whose mother died of breast cancer when she was twelve. Her father had sent her away, near the end, to spare her the pain. She therefore never grieved as the whole event seemed surreal to her. Winston had been talking to her about the need to grieve properly before she could move on.

This is a very rough draft (first of about ten drafts). I am asking, am I able to capture the moment and how can improve this scene? The first man mentioned is not Winston. Yes there are typos. I wrote this as fast as I could (which is normal for me, since the only time I have to write is between seeing patients in a busy medical practice). I will do many passes of corrections.



Chapter 8: Rain

The next day, the coffee shop was a busy as usual. The loud San Diego flotilla had sailed off with the previous evening’s gales. Halem remembers a group of boats going out through the rift just before sundown. But the winds also brought new sailors to town. The motorboats, Nordic Tugs and others come and go whenever they want. But, for the first time ever, the wind was a fearful force for her. She knew why. It would eventually carry Winston away as well.

That morning the coffee shop was full, yet to Halem, it seemed empty. Winston did not come. She felt nervous. She felt, deep in her soul, that she didn’t have closure with Winston yet. He could be gone on the next gust coming down the mountain side, and she would never see him again. You only meet a few remarkable people in your life. Winston was one of them. Several times she exited the shop, to look down into the harbor. She wind coming down the mountain side and in from the sea, was stirring up that salty-musty smell that Pugetians were well familiar with. Her heart felt a wave of relief each time her eye visualized his boat, still moored at the same spot.

Jamie walked in, more subdued than normal. The only belligerent comment he made this morning, was him saying to Halem that he told his mother what she had said, that she wasn’t anorexic. His mother’s response was, “Well, she could gain some weight. She doesn’t look good being so tall and walking around looking like a skeleton.” She didn’t respond to that comment, although it stirred up a subliminal fear that her lack of better looks, may not keep Winston around. Maybe if she were a five foot six, busty blonde or blue-eyed brunette, who was the life of the party, he might stay longer … and who knows, take her with him. Then she had to chuckle to herself with that thought because she had just described the blonde from San Diego, whom they all despised. But really, she would go with him, if asked. At this moment in time, especially with the fear of him leaving so pertinent, hell yeah, she would go with him.

Closing time seemed to never come. Sandra came to visit, at the end of the day, carrying two gallons of fresh, mainland, milk. She walked up on Halem standing in front of the shop. “He didn’t leave did he?” she asked, as if she had been reading Halem’s mind.

Halem turned her gaze from the harbor and looked at Sandra, “Nope. His boat is still here, but he didn’t come to the shop today.” Sandra just stood beside her and looked over the harbor. Halem turned to her and asked, “So, what time did you get in last night?”

Sandra looked down and back up with her facing carrying a guilty smile. “Oh, it must have been 3 a.m. I know I left the harbor in Anacortes at 2.”

“Isn’t that dangerous crossing over at night and alone?”

“I think it’s safer. There are fewer boats. No ferries and those boats out there are well lighted. My only fear, as I’ve said before, are the dead wood in the water. It’s hard to spot a long in daylight, and at night impossible.”

They entered the shop together and Halem noticed a man, a newcomer who came into the shop that afternoon for a simple pour-over. He was standing at the counter. “May I help you?” She asked as Sandra put the milk away.

He only wanted to order another coffee, an Americano, “to-go.” She made his coffee and then rang him up. Sandra waved as she went back out the door. As this man, (and he said his name was Will), was leaving, Halem started to do her last clean up. She started the dishwasher and stepped outside again. It was a minute after closing time and there was no sign of Winston anywhere. As she turned to go back into the shop, her eyes caught a motion up on the highest level of the village. There was a figure running across the small area of parked cars and then to the stone stairs. The figure, which now she observed was Winston, was skipping down the stairs to her level and then turned right, rather than continuing down to the harbor at the bottom and was heading directly at her. Her heart was warmed. It really was him and he was coming in her direction. She watched him closely. As she caught his eye, a big smile came to his face. He looked wonderful. She was caught, arms folded and leaning back against the front of the shop. She was—irresistibly—staring at him, like his face was some type of tractor beam holding her in its grips. She couldn’t move.

Winston walked up and asked hastily, “Am I too late?”

“Too late for what?”

He looked perplexed, “Uh … coffee?”

“Oh, no. I was just closing but I can make you some coffee.” She turned to go back to the door and he walked beside her. She looked at him, “I was worried about you.”

“Because I didn’t come in this morning?”

“Sure. I thought you had probably sailed off, but your boat was still here.”

“I’m sorry. I told Jamie this morning where I was going.”

“He was here but he never mentioned it to me. He doesn’t have a very good memory about passing on messages.”

They entered the shop together and Halem locked the door behind them. Winston was the only late-comer she wanted to have. She came around the bar and put new beans into the grinder. She asked, “Cappuccino?”

“I’m still savoring the memory of that Turkish cup from the other night. I know that’s a lot of trouble, but it was fantastic.”

Halem shook her head, “That’s alright. I don’t mind.” As she was changing the settings on the grinder to fine, she looked back up, “As you were saying about where you’ve been?”

Winston continued, “Oh, when you’re cooped up in a small boat, sometimes for weeks, your lower body starts to atrophy. I do use my legs when I row. But when I make landfall, I have to get some different type of exercise, so my legs don’t get weak. So, I headed out before day break and walked the logging road up to the top of Mount Constitution. Then I hiked around a bit up there. I was thinking my decent would be faster, but it wasn’t. That’s why I’m late.”

“Was it pretty up there?”

“You don’t know? Have you never been up there?”

Halem laughed, “Believe it or not, I have not. I was never much of a hiker. I grew up as a city girl and did all my walking in downtown Seattle.”

“Well, then I will take you up there for a picnic before I leave.”

A warm smile came to Halem’s face and she hit flipped on the grinder.

Halem made two, well-crafted, cups of Turkish coffee the same way she did the night that Winston stayed for the roasting. She came around and sat at the bar, beside him. She reached down and was rubbing her foot. “My feet are really tired today. I think I made thirty trips outside.” Then she caught herself and regretted saying that because Winston never lets a hanging thought to hang very long.

He looked down at her feet. She had her thin slippers on. “Why do you wear those? They have no cushion for your feet.”

Halem blushed a bit and answered, “Well, when you’re a girl and you’re almost six feet tall, you do everything you can to not look any taller.”

“That must be why short girls wear those crazy high heels,” Said Winston.

“Yeah, … and to make their asses look tight.”

Winston looked at her, “Are you serious?”

“I am.”

He tried to sip his coffee, but it was too hot. Then he looked at her again. “Why so many trips outside?”

She decided to be honest, “Uh, well, to check on you for one. I was really worried that you had fallen in or something.”

Winston began laughing. “It would somewhat of a story if I survived a capsize in the stormy Southern Ocean east of Cape Town, and then fell off the dock in the peaceful waters of Rock Harbor and drowned.”

“Really, you capsized?”

Winston looked up into the air to gather thoughts, “I did three times. Once in the Indian Ocean and then Cape Town. The scariest one, was 200 Kilometers east of the Fernando de Noronha Island, dead center in the Atlantic. That time it wasn’t a storm but a rogue wave. The weather was calm that day, nothing like the thirty-foot swells east of Cape Town. But a fifty foot rogue wave came out of nowhere and literally blindsided me. Maybe it was tsunami or something. But, there was no chance of rescue there. I wasn’t even near a viable shipping lane. I was completely alone. That one caught be by surprise too. After my first two capsizes, I had my boat modified in Cape Town to make it safer.”

Halem looked puzzled, “How can you make a small boat like that safer?”

“We added some weight to the bottom. The boatyard had done this before. They shaped an iron plate that bolted directly over the keel, adding 200 lbs. to the lowest point. My original deck cover, was made of canvas. It was okay when you were storing your boat in a harbor or dry docked. But it was worthless during bad weather as it leaked and flopped around in the wind. They created for me a neoprene deck cover that secures tightly around the boat, leaving an open space for me to sit and row or to hold the tiller. It was almost like the cover of a kayak cockpit. That modification was a godsend on that last capsize. I was even able to right the boat and crawl back in. Without those modifications, the boat may have sunk, or I could have died clinging for weeks the hull of an overturned boat, with nothing to eat or drink.”

Halem shaking her head, “I’m glad you’re okay.”

“Anyone at sea for long will have stories to tell.” He sipped his now cooler coffee. He closed his eyes and sloshed it around inside his mouth to savor the taste. Halem sipped her coffee as well.

Winston sat his cup down and looked at her and said, “Now, let’s talk about you.”

Halem smiled and looked down into her cup and back up, “I don’t have many stories to tell. I mean, I’ve lived a pretty quiet life as compared to you. I have no adventures.”

He rolled his lips inward and gave a slight grin to his pursed mouth. Halem didn’t know how to interpret that expression. Was he irritated?

“Halem, you have endured one of the most treacherous journeys any human can survive, as a child, losing a parent.”

Halem sighed in frustration. “Do we have to go there again? I’m more than that. I’m more than someone who lost a mother. As they say, I won’t let that define who I am, and I don’t want others to do either.”  Her rising intonation seemed to express annoyance.

Winston listened calmly and then responded, “You’re exactly right. You’re far more than a grieving child. You have tremendous talents and things to offer this world. However, those gifts to the world are being held back. You are being defined by your grief.”

Halem finally erupted in frank anger, “How can you say something like that!  I’m not sitting around moping and feeling sorry for myself. Like I told you, I never even cried at my mother’s wake. I moved on. Some people would consider that very brave for a twelve-year-old.”

Winston sipped his coffee and turned to look out the big front windows. It was like he was going to let the conversation go. But, to Halem’s disappointment, he didn’t.

He turned back around and looked her squarely in her eyes. “Halem, if you had cried for weeks or months and couldn’t even find a way to dress yourself, after loosing your mother, I would have no qualms with how your mother’s death impacted you. That would have been a healthy grieving process. It would be time to move on now. But, from what you have told me, you did not grieve. Those facades of self-preservation must come down. You must grieve, before you can move on.”

Halem stood up and walked around the bar, rinsing out her cup and then putting it in the dishwasher. She looked at him across the bar and said sternly, “Are you done?”

“With the conversation?”

“No, with the damn coffee!”

Winston took one last sip and handed her his cup. She rinsed it and put it in the dishwasher. She turned to look at Winston again, eye to eye. Raising her index finger and pointing it in his direction, she said, “Who the hell are you that you think you can come into my coffee shop and tell me how to run my life! You don’t know me. I only met you four days ago. This is none of your damn business. Haven’t you heard that you should never tell someone how to grieve.” Halem was realizing that her angry tone, maybe closing the door, permanently, on any hopes of a more romantic relationship with this man. However, at that moment, that place in time, her anger was stronger than any romantic aspiration.

Halem was expecting, as any normal conversation with any normal person would have gone, that Winston would apologize and end the pursuit of her grief. But Winston wasn’t normal. He said to her, “I’m afraid that I cannot let this go. There’s too much at stake. I saw that tear yesterday … you know, when Jamie said he would like to meet your mother. I sense a real potential here for you.”

Halem, now washing out the ibrik and putting it away, suddenly turned and slammed the side of her right fist on the bar top. She yelled, “What do you want from me! It has been ten years since the wake. Do you want me to cry? Would that make you happy?”

Winston stood up. “I want you to embrace your grief, head on. Yeah, you need to cry.”

Halem seemed despondent. She walked around the end of the bar and out to the window and looked down on the harbor with her arms folded across her chest. She could see Winston’s white dory bobbing in the water, riding on the wake of a trawler making its way out to the rift. All day long she was hoping it was still there. Now, she honestly wished that it was gone, that Winston had sailed off with the San Diego group. Winston remained silent, sitting at the bar. She was hoping he would leave. Most men would have after such a display of anger. But he didn’t. He just sat there like a wart that you wanted to go away but doesn’t.

Halem saw her reflection on the inside of the glass. She felt ugly. Jamie’s mother was right. She was too tall and too skinny. Her hair never looked good. Not grown out or chopped off as it is now. The thought passed her mind that if she were prettier, Winston might not be talking to her this way. He may have been seduced into her smile and working to bury any rough spots. That’s what lovers do. That’s what she did with Finn for almost two years. She tried he best to bury his faults. He had no interest in hers, only her in bed with him in thoughtless love making. Maybe if she had been in Winston’s league, that’s where this would be going. Not him seeing her as a pathetic stray puppy who needs help.

Winston remained quietly at the bar. Finally, since he wasn’t leaving, she walked back with a sense of emotional exhaustion. “What do you want from me?” She asked again.

He gave her a warm smile. “Sit down here and tell me all about your mother.”

She slowly sat on the bar stool, one removed from his. She faced inward, at the Lira. “I think I’ve told you everything. She was thin, beautiful, and full of music and life.”

“Was she tall like you?”

“No. Not like me. Not six feet. No, I remember her being a good head shorter than dad, and he’s about six-foot one.”

“What color was her hair?”

Halem had to think for a minute. “I would call it auburn. Or, as some would say, a ‘dirty blond.’”

“What was her favorite music?”

“She listened to all kinds. She, like everyone of that era, loved the Beatles. She loved the Mommas and the Papas. She used to sing their songs. I can hear her singing as she did dishes, ‘gonin to the chapel, going to get married.’ Her favorite song of all songs, was Fields of Gold by Eva Cassidy. They played that at her wake. But the music she performed with dad was more folk music. Some Dylan and Seger stuff and a lot of stuff they made up. They were silly songs, that children liked.” She smiled. “One song, dad had written, was called ‘Katie the Caterpillar.’ It was about a caterpillar that loved its life climbing around in the trees and eating leaves so much that it, unlike her brothers and sisters, did not pause to build a cocoon. So, while her brothers and sisters came out as beautiful butterflies, she stayed in the caterpillar state. I can still remember the chorus, ‘Katie, the caterpillar lady, didn’t build a cocoon, because her schedule had no room, so she couldn’t leave the leaves and fly to the blooms.’ I know, that sounds corny, but with the music it was very catchy.”

“What do you miss about her the most?” asked Winston.

Halem smiled quickly and then frowned. A furrowed brow was barely visible as she looked down at the floor and mumbled. “Everything, I guess.”

“How would your life be different now if she had never died?”

Halem looked up at Winston and he could see that her eyes were turning watery. “It would be totally different. She was not just my mom … she was my best friend. She used to come into my bedroom every night and talk. When I was little, she would read me a story. But as I got older, she would talk about my day. I could tell her everything. If I had a crush on a boy. If girls at school were being mean to me, when I had my first period. She always knew exactly what to do. Dad wasn’t bad at those talks either, in those days. He’s so different now.”

“You lost him, too didn’t you?”

“Yelp.” She said with a smile, looking back down to avoid eye contact.

Winston added, “So, in a moment, you went from this loving family, full of life, security and safety … a safety that seemed to never end … and, for no good reason, it was taken away from you. That, no matter what you believe about an afterlife, you will never see, talk to, or hold your mother again. You will never, ever feel her kisses, her soft cheek against yours, the smell her perfume, see her creative touches to your house and the world around you. You will never hear her songs again. You will never get to introduce your Prince Charming to her someday, or to help you pick out a wedding dress. She won’t be there, when you give birth for your first baby or feel the joy of holding him or her. A joy so strong that the two you, mom and daughter, are filled with tears. Halem, your life has been cheated. It was not fair.”

“Stop!” shouted Halem with her hands over her ears. She was still looking down at the floor. “If you are trying to make me cry, you are doing a pretty good job of it. But I’m afraid … ” and she left the sentence hanging.

“Afraid of what?”

“If I ever start … I may never stop.”

“They will stop, when it is time.” His voice seemed strained and raspy.

Then she looked up at Winston, sitting on his barstool but leaning in her direction. Down his face was a stream of tears. As almost a reflex, a blitz of her own tears began to pour out of her eyes as if by some outside force and to her own surprise. She quickly wiped her face with her hand and they continued to flow out. There was a continuous dripping from her chin, like the rain drops from the trees after a spring cloud burst. Her wiping with her bare hand could not keep up. The stream of unhindered water was soon followed by sobbing. Her whole body was shaking as in an epileptic fit. Winston handed her a wadded-up bunch of napkins off the counter and reached out and took her hand. It was limp. She was shaking and crying and began to bellow out loud. “Why?” and in an almost desperate and angry tone, “God, why? I want my mommy back, God please! God please! God, damnit why?” Her sobbing was uncontrollable crescendoing in its effects. She could no longer sit and slumped to the floor, with Winston holding both her hands to lower her gently. In an extremely strained and high-pitched voice she screamed out, “I never got to say goodbye! I never got to be with her when she drew her last breath! I had so much to tell her, about school, about my friends. I never thought I wouldn’t see her again. But then it was too late!”

Winston slid down the front of the bar, beneath the Lira to sit beside her. She fell onto him and he wrapped his arms around her, holding her like a baby. She was shaking so hard, that Winston could not contain it. He too, was sobbing too hard to speak. He held her tight. Her shaking was so intense, that the whole bar was shaking and the cups on the top of the Lira clinking together in the rhythm of her sorrow. She knew that Winston was continuing to cry too. She could feel the drops of his tears on the back of her head as she succumbed to his lap.

They laid in that position, her laying across the floor with her head buried in his lap and Winston stroking the back of her head. He said nothing, or at least nothing that you would expect. He never said, “Stop crying now,” or “It’s going to be okay.” Just now and then he said the same mantra, “I’m here, I’m with you.”

They kept this position for over two hours, during which Halem never stopped sobbing. Winston had his back to the bar facing the big windows and watched as the shadow of Mount Constitution meticulously came down the side of the village until it overtook the harbor itself. Once Sandra came up to the glass and looked in. He assumed it was because Halem never came home and she was worried about her. She pressed her face up to the glass and shielded her eyes above with her hand, so she could see inside better. Winston watched her look around the room until she spotted them, beneath the front of the bar. She looked horrified at first, probably assuming that Halem was injured, or maybe the two of them were being intimate. Winston smiled at her and nodded, then he flashed and ok sign with his hand. This did seem to dispel her concern and she walked away.

At 10 p.m. Winston slid from beneath Halem who was now quieter. She even seemed to be drifting in and out of sleep, only to awaken and start to sob again. She looked up at him, her eyes so swollen that they could barely open beyond mere slits. He kneeled back down in front of her and whispered, “Can I get you something? Some milk or water?”

“Milk,” she said in a horse—barely audible—voice. He opened a jug of the fresh milk and poured, both of them, a glassful. He helped her to sit up on the floor so that she could drink hers. He drank his quickly and returned their glasses to the dishwasher. He sat back under the bar and she laid her head back on his lap.

At 4 a.m. she woke again. Winston was still seated with his back to the bar and her head on his lap. He said to her, “Let me walk you home so that you can go to bed.”

Looking up at the clock on the wall, she said in a weak, low voice, “I need to open the shop in three hours.”

“I don’t think you can. You’re in no shape for that.” In a moment he asked, “Didn’t you tell me that Sandra was a good barista in her own right?”

Halem didn’t immediately answer and he continued, “I’ll talk to her about filling in for you.”

He walked her home, his arm around her waist to support her. They got to the door of Sandra’s house and he helped her in. She looked at him and said, once again with tears dripping out of the slit of her engorged eyes, and down her rosy cheeks, “Please don’t leave me. I don’t want to be alone.”

He helped her to her bedroom and promised that he would sleep on the couch just outside her door. Her hand slipped, gently, out of his and she closed the bedroom door between them. That night, the grief that had been chasing Halem for over ten years, finally caught her.


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