Every Little Breeze Seems to Whisper Louise ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp
Already a little seasick, Ellsworth declined to eat or drink on the first day out. Instead he stayed in his tiny but functional cabin until he thought most of the other passengers would be occupied with dinner and cocktails and then he put on his coat and hat and went up onto the deck, like a thief in the night, without making a sound. He was pleased that he met no one, and, when he was standing at the railing in the cold night, alone, he looked down at the rolling water and tried to dispel the wave of nausea that crept over him. He closed his eyes, breathed deeply of the clean air, and, when he was certain the sickness had dissipated, withdrew from his coat a small canvas bag that had no hard edges.
The bag contained the ashes of the dead. Looking over his shoulder to make sure he was not being observed, he dumped the ashes into the sea, element to element. He watched the ashes until they dispersed into the air and water and then, as an afterthought, dropped the canvas bag over the side, too. With one stroke, it was all over, so simple and clean. The last earthly vestiges of a life, gone in an instant. He hadn’t realized until that moment how satisfying it would be.
He was about to return to his cabin when a strange man came and stood beside him at the railing.
“Bon voyage,” the man said.
“What?” Ellsworth said.
“I said those words today for the first in my life.”
“Oh. Yes. We’re on a big boat, aren’t we? And we’re on our way to an exotic foreign destination.”
“Care for a smoke?” the man asked.
Although Ellsworth had never smoked in his life, he reached for the cigarette as if it was the most natural thing in the world for him to do and put it in his mouth. The man lit it expertly with a shiny lighter and then his own.
“I just said goodbye to my mother,” Ellsworth said with a little laugh.
“Push her overboard?”
“In a way, I suppose I did. I just dumped her ashes.”
“According to her wishes?”
“No. She had no wishes concerning her ashes. I don’t think she would have cared what I did with them. She never saw the sea or was anywhere near it, so in a way it’s a new experience for her.”
“Release her to the elements.”
“Exactly what I was thinking,” Ellsworth said. He took a puff on the cigarette and looked at it as if at the fuse of a bomb.
“Are you traveling alone?” the man asked and Ellsworth turned and looked at him in the dim light. He wasn’t young but not exactly old, either. He wore an expensive-looking wool coat and a brown hat that perfectly matched his physiognomy. Everything about him seemed in perfect harmony: the placement of his nose in the middle of his face and his perfectly arched lips. Maybe I have a new friend was the phrase that went through Ellsworth’s mind.
“Yes, alone,” Ellsworth said, repelled, slightly, at the forwardness of the question.
“Your first time at sea?”
“Oh, yes! I’ve never been anywhere or done anything in my life.”
“So now that your mother is gone you’re striking out on your own.”
“Something like that.”
“Good for you!”
Ellsworth was a little surprised at himself that he was opening up to a stranger on such short acquaintance, but that didn’t stop him. “My mother was always very, uh, domineering,” he said. “I always had to bend to her will and now that she’s gone, the only will I have to bend to is my own.”
“And it’s a little frightening?”
“I hadn’t thought about it in that way, but I suppose it is.”
The man threw away his cigarette and right away lit another one. Ellsworth looked at the side of his face and found the little laugh wrinkles around his eyes most agreeable.
“I just had a wonderful idea!” the man said.
“I’m traveling with my sister.”
“Your sister?” Ellsworth said, disappointed for a reason he didn’t at the time comprehend.
“Yes,” the man said. “Her name is Louise.”
“That’s funny,” Ellsworth said. “That was my mother’s name.”
“Well, maybe that’s a good omen!”
“What exactly is it you’re saying?”
“She’s unattached and you’re unattached. I think she would be awfully interested in meeting a nice fellow like you.”
“I’m not a nice fellow,” Ellsworth said. “I’m really a very terrible person.”
The man laughed heartily and slapped Ellsworth on the back. “That’s a good one!” he said. “My sister loves that kind of humor!”
“I don’t know what your game is, but I don’t think I’m interested.”
“Never had a girlfriend?”
“I don’t think that’s any of your business.”
“Hah-hah-hah! Don’t be that way!”
“Some people want only to be left alone,” Ellsworth said.
“Hah-hah-hah! Well, still I’ll introduce you to Louise one day very soon and you can decide for yourself.”
“Don’t bother. I won’t be interested.”
After the man was gone, Ellsworth spit into the ocean to try to get the taste of the cigarette out of his mouth.
When he returned to his cabin, he wasn’t surprised to see his mother sitting in the chair beside the bed.
“You disgust me,” she said.
“You’re not here, mother,” he said. “You’re dead.”
“You certainly enjoyed disposing of me in that unceremonious way, didn’t you?”
“It gave me a certain feeling of completeness. Finality.”
“You might as well have flushed me down the toilet.”
“I thought about it.”
“That man got you to smoke a cigarette.”
“Yes, it was my first cigarette ever.”
“And it made you feel like a big man, I suppose?”
“I plan on doing a lot of things on this trip that I never did before.”
“None of your business.”
“You won’t do anything because you don’t have the nerve.”
“You won’t know because you won’t be there.”
“Why didn’t you want to meet Louise, that man’s sister?”
“The way he sets her up, it sounds like she’s a whore.”
“What do you know about whores?” she asked, laughing.
“You can just shut up now, mother. You’re not even here.”
“Why don’t you go up to the deck again when nobody’s around and jump over the railing?”
“Why would I do that?” he said. “You know I can’t swim.”
“That’s the point, dumbbell! You know you can’t function without your mother. You never have before and you won’t now.”
“I’m going to enjoy spending your money, mother. I can’t tell you what a thrill it’s going to give me.”
“You think you’re so smart, don’t you, now that I’m dead? You’ll find out, though, Mr. Man of the World. You’ll find out in a big way.”
“I’m going to the lounge now to have a drink, mother.”
“You never drank before!”
“Now seems like an excellent time to start.”
“I’m coming with you.”
“No, you’re not! You’re going to stay here and when I come back, you’ll be gone. Goodbye, mother.”
The lounge was smoky and crowded. He took a seat at the bar and ordered, first, a pack of cigarettes, and then a drink. When he told the bartender what he wanted, he didn’t even stammer or hesitate. It was as though he had been ordering drinks his whole life.
After his third drink, he saw that at least two women in the place were looking at him. They were both by themselves and not bad looking. Certainly not gorillas. If women had ever looked at him before, he had never been aware of it.
He held his drink up to where the light was shining through the glass and squinted at the beautiful amber liquid inside. “I think I love you,” he said, and, giving the bartender an affectionate smile, ordered yet another one.
Copyright © 2016 by Allen Kopp