Authors: John Strauchs
He left briskly without looking back.
She glanced up at him as he left.
smiled faintly. He didn’t see the smile, but he felt it.
Good-bye Mary Thomas
,” he thought to himself, “C
ome another day
Would she evaporate after he left? He didn’t look back.
See you soon
,” thought Mary Thomas. Now Jared glanced back at her.
Jenny always looked forward to spring and this spring was especially glorious.
She was only twenty-seven and had boundless enthusiasm.
Spring was the year’s high
She would consume it and hunger for more. She was blonde, tall, fair
skinned, and had a strong Nordic build.
She often braided her hair when she was working.
She had full breasts that shifted slightly as she walked.
She hated that.
They attracted too much unwanted attention. Except for the occasional distant boat crossing the
bay, she hadn’t seen anyone all day. She was wearing a thin blue cotton shirt. The shirts
tails were tied in a knot across her midriff.
She had on very short white cut-off jeans.
She was barefoot.
Men were naturally attracted to her but once she spent any time with them they
tended to drift away. She learned to keep her expectations of men low. She sometimes
stayed in touch with them by e-mail, but that was like high-altitude bombing. It was safe
and impersonal. That was just fine with her.
She unpacked the ham and cheese sandwich she bought at Ashley’s.
cooler as a table, she moved her camping stool a bit closer.
She had been raking clams
out of the mud flats all morning and had built up a hunger for anything that wasn’t from
Her tanned legs were covered with the grey-blue clay from the intertidal flats.
The tide was going out as acre after acre of mud flats appeared below the rocky cliffs of
She ate quickly because the tide would be changing soon and there was
still much to do. She had fifteen buckets of clams that had to be sorted, measured and
weighed. She would scatter most of them along the flats when everything was done. She
wanted to finish before the sun set because the temperature would drop quickly after that.
Jenny hadn’t seen anyone all day. She didn’t bring a swim suit or change of clothes. She
thought that it would be all right to swim nude.
The water was cold, but a short swim
would be refreshing as long as the air was still warm. Anyway, it was also the only way
of getting all of the blue clay off. She didn’t want her Land Rover to get any filthier than
it already was. As she unknotted her blouse, something moved in the distance.
A man was climbing the cliff at the end of the cove. A chill ran through her body.
He was free climbing a shear portion of the face of the cliff.
The fool was at least fifty
From a distance Jenny couldn’t see what he could be possibly clinging to.
was terrifying to watch.
She wanted to yell out, to tell him to climb down, but she was
afraid that she might startle him. She didn’t know if he had seen her. She slowly moved
toward the cliffs.
He was hanging by one hand, dangling.
He was only wearing Khaki
shorts. His feet were bare. His arms and hands were white with chalk. He was magnificent. It was mesmerizing.
She pulled her field glasses out of her bag and watched him
As she inched closer, she could see his muscles tense, and in a virtual explosion
his other hand would shoot out to anchor in yet another crevice. His body glistened in the
It was both terrifying and fascinating to watch.
He was climbing much too fast.
She really didn’t know what fast was in mountain climbing, but it seemed to be much too
fast. Every now and then he would pause and then suddenly spring upward. For a brief
instant he would have no contact with the rock face. He just floated in mid air.
graceful and terrifying.
And then what she feared, happened.
She could see that his handhold crumbled.
Stones tumbled down. He lunged for the next handhold.
It shattered beneath his grip.
The rock came loose on his third grab. He fell silently down the sheer rock face.
was no scream. He simply fell. The only sound was from rock striking rock. The sound
lagged behind the vision of a tragedy. The quiet was horrifying.
Jenny couldn’t see him. He had fallen behind a crown of boulders.
across the flats as fast as she could. As she climbed over the ridge she saw him sitting in
a shallow tidal pool. His forehead was bleeding profusely. He quickly stood up as soon
as he saw her.
He sat down again and looked up at Jenny. “I’m fine. It’s just a bruise. Nothing
to worry about!”
Jenny was dumbstruck.
“I’ve had some medical training.
Can I check to see if
you’ve broken anything?” asked Jenny.
“NOTHING IS BROKEN, he snapped.
“Please look at me,” she said pensively.
She was looking at his pupils to see if
they were dilated.
“Concussions are serious. “I can’t imagine how anyone could fall
from that height, on rocks, and not have broken something…everything.
Do you have a
“I am very resilient.
I usually don’t fall.
It surprised me as well.” He settled
Jenny surveyed him without touching and except for the cut on his forehead she
couldn’t see any other damage.
Her adrenaline rush was ebbing and her voice became
“Listen, it’s none of my business I suppose if you like free climbing, but from
what I’ve heard about the sport, free climbers don’t live to an old age.”
“Thank you for your concern. It is reassuring to know that you were here to save
me,” he said. The sarcasm was meant to be obvious.
“I’m sorry. I’m sorry. It really isn’t any of my business. I just thought that I was
going to find a mangled body.”
She pulled a bandana from the back pocket of her cut-offs.
Put a little
pressure on your cut so that the bleeding will stop.
Scalp cuts can bleed more than you
would expect. I’m Jennifer Nilsson…Jenny.” She put out her hand.
He took her hand and stood up again. He stared at her for a few moments before
“I am Jared Siemels. Thank you for caring.” His voice was sincere this time. He
was pressing the handkerchief on his cut with his other hand.
“That is an unusual name,” she said.
“Yes it is,” he replied. “And shouldn’t yours be Nilsdotter?”
Her eyes lit up. “Wow. I haven’t heard that in years. Do you speak Swedish?”
He dodged the question.
“I guess the patronymic version is the generally accepted version of last names these days…yes, I speak Swedish.”
She waited for more. He was done.
“Don’t get anxious. I am not about to test your Swedish,” said Jenny.
She thought she might have caught him in a lie.
“I barely speak Swedish. I wish I was better at it,” she continued.
Their eyes met for the first time. She pursed her lips slightly and her brow wrinkled as she said hesitantly, “Listen, I have a car just up the rise.
Can I take you to an
emergency room to be checked out?”
“Thank you, but that won’t be necessary. I am fine. See. The bleeding has almost
She self-consciously realized that she had forgotten to tie up her blouse as she
caught his eyes darting to her breast. She was peeking out. She had been too panicked to
notice. Trying to be very casual, she turned away and gathered her blouse and knotted it
closed. She didn’t expect to run into anyone today and she didn’t know she was going to
be sprinting. Her nipples had hardened like pencil erasers and were poking through the
thin blue fabric. Her face flushed. She tried shrugging her shoulders a bit so that fabric
wouldn’t be so taut.
It didn’t help that much. She was embarrassed. She needed to get
Jared’s libido was very active but autoeroticism was usually enough.
years, he rarely sought out women. They always disappointed him. And to tell the truth,
it had little to do with gender.
He had no true male friends for the same reason.
Meaningful, rich relationships required sharing and revealing one’s self and one’s inner most
thoughts and feelings. They could never happen for Jared. How could it? It is like hoping to develop an intimate relationship with a goldfish.
No woman or man could ever
understand him or appreciate what he sees.
On the other hand, there was anatomical
Yes, there was that.
It only compounded the
frustration. Recreational sex was slightly interesting, but it was rarely as advertised.
always became personal and often clingy.
And…they were still goldfish.
to be understood.
He yearned to be loved.
Those things could never happen.
alone and would forever remain alone.
Jared wasn’t unattractive, but in recent years he had very little interest meeting
women. It was always disappointing. He had a brief period in his late teens when he experimented with pornography, and later, prostitutes, but that quickly became boring as
well. Jared eschewed morality. As far as he was concerned, all morality was subjective
and ultimately pointless. The more sides of morals you could see, the less rational morality became. Jared saw everything, every side. Mores—well that is entirely different. Social mores could be subjective as well as objective. Religions that advocated against the
eating of swine had a medical basis.
People used to die of triconosis.
That made sense.
Mores could be rational and logical—not always, but often enough.
Another mounting source of frustration for Jared was that be bored so easily, especially sexually.
Novelty was increasingly ellusive. As he grew into manhood, he was
mired in a morass of ennui. In that past few years he changed again. Jared began to experience periods of deep, dark depression.
Each subsequent episode lasted longer and
clawed itself deeper into his soul. It was a dystopian world.
Jenny aroused him.
That surprised him.
She was intelligent. She was beautiful.
She was interesting. He wondered if it was worth learning more about her.
He averted her eyes and asked matter-of-factly, “may I ask you what you are
doing in my cove?”
“Yes,” he said in a soft voice. “I own the land around here.”
Her eyes squinted and in a defiant voice she said, “Well, you know that the littoral
edge of the sea can’t be owned by anyone.”
“I am not questioning your right to be here. I was just curious about why you
came to this cove. It is rarely visited by anyone.”
I am studying soft shell clams.” “
Now, that was not a glamorous answer
,” she thought to herself.
,” he retorted.
She was caught off guard. “Well, yes. Exactly.” That surprised her.
He nonchalantly mopped his forehead. “I don’t believe that you are going to want
this bandana back.” Jenny was still off balance and wasn’t really listening.
“Are you a marine biologist, Jared?”
“No. Not at all. I just read a lot.”
“Then you must be very good at Latin.”
Not thinking that he really cared about what she was doing with the clams, she
“The longnecks have been having spotty seasons and we are trying to understand
what might be causing it. Tidal sediment seems to be very heavy in this cove. Clam landings in other coves have been low for the past decade but seem to be rebounding now.
We don’t understand that either. It’s contradictory.
I am surveying the results of a spat
fall last season.”
She felt trapped in his inane conversation.
All of the guys she intimidated and eventually drove away flashed through her mind like pages in a scrap book.
“We?” he asked.
“I am doing graduate studies with MIT’s Sea Grant Program. Ahh…sort of working out of a small motel room in Booth Bay. Camden is nice but the tourists make it impractical this time of year and the traffic in Rockland is impossible.”
“I went to MIT.”
“Really,” her eyes lit up.
She was relieved that he had changed the subject to
something he might be interested in.
Instinctively, she had decided that this was a guy
that had possibilities. Maybe?
He immediately regretted saying anything about MIT.
“Class of 84,” said Jared.
Funny, she thought. He looked like he was close to her age
He was telling too much.
She wouldn’t let it go. “Were you a graduate student?”
She pondered his answer.
“I was born in 1979.
that possible? You don’t look that old.”
“Then I don’t get it.”
“I was nine when I graduated.” It was almost a whisper.
He continued quickly so he could change the subject. “Booth Bay. Huh?
mostly back road driving to avoid the tourists isn’t it?”
She was still thinking about his answer.
She had never met a child prodigy before. “
It was interesting but aren’t they all sort of weird
,” she thought.
viously being a free-climbing crazy person, he seemed otherwise normal.
Except for obHe wasn’t the
kind of handsome she thought she was interested in, but his craggy looks were growing
on her. He wasn’t at all heavily muscled. She thought that the six-pack look was grotesque and unnatural.
Despite that he didn’t look it, he was obviously very athletic.
many men could free climb that cliff and then fall without killing themselves.
As she turned to walk back to her work, she nonchalantly called back to him.
“Since you seem to be just fine, I need to get back to work.”
“Jenny, I feel responsible for interrupting your work.
May I help you?” asked
“Sure.” She didn’t take the offer seriously, but was pleased that he was interested
in her. “There aren’t many people who would know the Latin name for soft shell clams.”
He tied the bandana around his head and walked behind her.
He lingered a few
“Saw you at Ashley’s around noon,” said Jared.
“Really. Yes, I stopped there for a sandwich. I don’t remember seeing you. You
weren’t climbing the roof or something, were you?”
“You were leaving as I arrived,” said Jared.
He surmised that she intended the
jibe to be funny.
He tried to calculate an appropriate response. Humor wasn’t his forte.
I’d love to help you with your work.”
His words seemed to be rhetorical and said out of politeness, so she said nothing.
It was like telling someone that we should really get together for lunch some time. They
were both silent for a while.
She walked up the bluff to her Land Rover and found an
extra scale and caliper.
They walked out to the flats and she showed him how to weigh
and measure the clams.
She recorded his readings as he made the measurements. They
worked diligently for the next four hours without much extraneous conversation. It went
“I really appreciate this, Jared. I didn’t think I could get this done before the light
failed even before you started playing Tarzan. Are you sure you should be doing this?”
He ignored the question.
After they finished all of the measurements, they scattered the clams along the
flats. As soon as the clams were released, they quickly disappeared from sight. Sea gulls
were flocking overhead, hoping to catch some stragglers.
She glanced at her diving watch.
The face was blank.
She had known for days
that the battery was going bad, but like many things in her life, she hadn’t gotten around
to getting it changed.
“Fudge…Do you know the time?” She saw he wasn’t wearing a watch, but asked
anyway out of habit.”
“I guess its late afternoon. Are you driving back to Booth Bay?” he asked.
He pressed farther. “And are you coming back here tomorrow?”
“Yes, I have to sample different parts of the cove and then do it all over again just
down the coast at the next cove,” said Jenny.
“I have a guest room. Why don’t you stay here?
As long as I don’t
have to wait on you, I would be pleased if you would accept the invitation. It would save
you a lot of time. It’s the least I can do for ruining your day.”
Her brow furled again. “Where do you live?”
He pointed across the sound.
“There, on Eagle’s Head Island.
It’s the only
She thought pensively. She didn’t know how to ask the next question.
“I live alone.
I hope that doesn’t concern you. Call a friend and tell them where
you’ll be. It has been years since I ravished anyone.”
She smiled at that. “Well, it would be a relief not to have to drive so many hours
The tourist traffic is worse on 95 each day. The construction seems to go on
forever. With Memorial Day coming up on Monday, it will be a zoo. I think…”
She had reserved computer time on Sunday.
She risked losing it if she was late.
She knew she couldn’t get her work done in time if she had to commute each day. Who
knows when she could get her data processed if she wasn’t finished by Saturday evening
-at the latest!
“OK, sounds like a plan. I really appreciate the hospitality.”
This wasn’t like her
,” she thought.
No one knew where she was.
She will call
Krissy as soon as she had a free moment.”
“Wonderful,” he interjected before she could say any more. “Why don’t you put
your SUV in the garage, grab your stuff and we’ll go over to the house?
You can get a
nice hot shower and if you’re willing to help, we might be able to do something for dinner.”
Oh…it just occurred to me that most of my things are still in
my motel room.” She sat on the curb and pulled on her socks and sneakers.
I’m sure you can manage for one night.
We’ll pick up some personal items in town.”
“OK. Thank you, again. It is very kind of you to go to this trouble.”
“No trouble,” said Jared.
They pulled her car into the empty side of the garage and drove into town in his
“Neat! The LS-460 is a fabulous automobile.
I looked at a Lexus recently but
couldn’t bear the price tag. I would have thought that you would have preferred an SUV
considering Maine’s winters,” she said.
“SUVs are the scourge of American highways. Have you ever tried to pull out of
a parking space with an SUV on each side?
It requires a leap of faith that you’re not
going to get creamed backing out.” He paused for a moment, “And, Land Rovers aren’t
exactly cheap either.”
“Yes, I suppose that’s right.
She glanced at Jared and noted that he hadn’t bothered to use his seat belt. She
clicked hers closed.
They spotted a Super Wal-Mart and pulled in. In case she needed to buy anything
that might be embarrassing, he volunteered to wait in the car. As soon as she walked into
the store, she took out her cell phone and speed dialed Kristin.
“Yea, what’s up, Jenn?”
“Tell Mom that I’m staying with someone tonight.
I won’t be at Comfort Suites
until Tuesday…maybe. They don’t take messages anyway.”