Every Little Breeze Seems to Whisper Louise ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp
Already a little seasick, Heaton declined to eat or drink on the first day out. Instead he stayed in his stateroom 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 roiling water and tried to dispel the wave of nausea that crept over him. He closed his eyes, breathed deeply of the ocean air and, when he was certain the sickness was dissipating, he withdrew from his coat a small canvas bag.
The bag contained the ashes of one recently deceased. 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 stateroom when someone came and stood beside him at the railing.
“Bon voyage!” a man’s voice said.
“What?” Heaton asked, a little irritated at having his privacy intruded upon.
“I said those words today for the first time in my life.”
“Oh. Yes. We’re on a big boat, aren’t we? I suppose the right word is ship. And we’re on our way to an exotic foreign destination.”
“Care for a smoke?” the man asked.
Although Heaton 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. He put it in his mouth and the man lit it expertly with a shiny lighter and then lit his own.
“I just said goodbye to my mother,” Heaton said.
“Push her overboard?”
“In a way, I suppose I did. I just dumped her ashes.”
“According to her wishes?”
“No. She had no wishes regarding 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,” Heaton said. He took a puff on the cigarette and looked at the end of it curiously.
“Are you traveling alone?” the man asked and Heaton 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.
“Yes, alone,” Heaton said, resenting only slightly the forwardness of the question.
“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!”
Heaton 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 a very strong and forthright woman,” he said. “Even as an adult, I always found myself bending to her will.”
“And now that she’s gone and you’re on your own, 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. Heaton found himself looking at the side of the man’s face and at the little wrinkles that radiated outward from his eyes.
“I’m traveling with my sister, you know,” the man said.
“Your sister?” Heaton asked, finding the idea rather appalling.
“Yes. Her name is Louise.”
“Well, that’s funny!” Heaton said. “That was my mother’s name.”
“Well, maybe that’s some kind of omen.”
“I don’t believe in omens.”
“Louise is 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. I don’t know why I’m even standing here talking to you. Nobody likes me. I’m a terrible person. My mother would tell you so if she was here.”
The man laughed and slapped Heaton on the back. “Is that what you call ‘self-deprecating humor’? My sister would love you for it!”
“I really hadn’t planned on meeting anybody this trip. It’s been a long time since I’ve been truly alone, and I’m just looking forward to some solitude.”
“I would guess you haven’t had much romance in your life,” the man said.
“I’ve always been very busy with my work. I never had much time for that sort of thing.”
“I hope you’ll at least have a drink with us. Louise and me.”
“Thanks, but I don’t think so.”
“Well, I’ll see you again,” the man said. “If you change your mind, let me know.”
After he was gone, Heaton spit over the railing. He found it hard to believe that anybody would like the taste of cigarettes.
When he got back to his stateroom and turned on the light, he wasn’t surprised to see his mother sitting there in the dark.
“Go away, mother!” he said. “You’re dead!”
“You make me sick!” she said.
“So you’ve told me many times.”
“I heard every word that man said to you, and you’re too naïve to see what his game is.”
“I thought he was very nice to talk to me. I wasn’t aware that he had a game.”
“He knows you’ve got money!”
“Now how could he know that?”
“You’re traveling first-class on a luxury liner. Take a survey and see how many of the people in first-class are millionaires.”
“I’m not going to take any surveys, mother.”
“A funny little man traveling by himself in first-class. They smell you from a mile off. They smell money.”
“I wasn’t aware that money had a smell, mother.”
“They know you’re lonely and shallow and naïve and know nothing of the world.”
“People can tell all that just from looking at me?”
“They know you’d be vulnerable to the charms of a woman because no woman has ever paid any attention to you.”
He couldn’t keep from laughing. “I think you’d better go now, mother. Satan is probably wondering where you are.”
“You think you’re rid of me, don’t you?”
“I just poured your ashes into the sea, mother.”
“Why didn’t you just flush me down the toilet?”
“I thought of that, but I thought dumping you overboard into the sea from a moving sea-going vessel was more dignified and more final.”
“And now that you’re on your own, what do you think you’re going to do with yourself?”
“Did I tell you I quit my job the day after you died? I’m not going to work anymore. I’m going to take a vacation now, a real rest.”
“On my money?”
“It’s not your money anymore, mother. It’s my money. You’re dead. Dead people don’t have money.”
“If I had it to do over again, I would sign all my assets over to charity.”
“Hah-hah! Too late now!”
“You’re in the middle of the ocean. If you had any sense at all, you’d jump in.”
“Why would I do that?”
“You know you can’t get along without your mother.”
“I’m going to have such fun spending the money that used to be yours but is now mine! I’m going to see all the sights and experience all the things I’ve missed out on in forty-four years on this earth, and you can’t stop me. That’s why you’re so sore at me.”
“You’ll end up squandering all of my money!”
“You don’t need to worry about it, mother. You’ll never know. You’re dead.”
“You will never be rid of me!”
He kicked the chair she was sitting in with such force that it turned over backwards against the wall.
“You stupid ass!” she said. “Are you trying to kill me?”
“You’ll never call me ‘stupid’ again or anything else!”
When he saw her struggling to get up off the floor, he laughed and, like a child playing a game, ran into the bathroom, closed and locked the door and turned on the water. When he came out a few minutes later, she was gone. Gone forever this time, he was sure.
Now that he had her taken care of, he was going to put on his pajamas and get into bed and read for a while, but that’s what the old Heaton would have done. The new Heaton would get out and overcome his squeamishness and his seasickness, mix with people and have some fun.
He checked himself in the mirror and went out of his room again and went to the cocktail lounge. He took a seat at the bar and ordered a pack of cigarettes and 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.
“First time across?” the bartender asked as he lit his cigarette for him.
“Yes, and I’m celebrating my freedom,” Heaton said.
“Divorce?” the bartender asked.
“Oh, no! I’ve never been married. It’s a different kind of freedom.”
The bartender smiled at him and he drank his drink in one gulp and ordered another one. Over to his right, someone was looking at him and when he turned his head slightly, he saw it was a woman with breasts exposed in a plunging neckline. She smiled at him and lifted her glass and he looked away quickly and took a nervous puff on his cigarette. He didn’t know how interested he was going to be or if he was going to be interested at all, but nobody had ever looked at him before and he found that he liked it more than he ever thought he would.
Copyright © 2018 by Allen Kopp