The Off Port Cruise
Moonlight was reclining on a coiled line on the bow. Three days out to sea, out of range of man-made haze the stars could be seen in their undiluted magnificence.
The sea was calm with just the light break of the bow wave slapping back from the beam. The full moon light was strong enough for surgery.
“ You'll catch a case of moon madness, Albion”, Mac said.
“ Don't believe in it. It's just an old sailors myth”.
Mac was throwing bottles over the rail. Each bottle was capped with a cork, and inside a tiny scroll. On each an inspirational message of hope translated into 6 languages.
“ I'll bet I've got a cork for any bottle ever made”, Mac boasted. “There's a place in Singapore keeps me stocked up”.
Mac kept cardboard boxes marked BOTTLES out of the way near some busy intersections in the crew's quarters. Most had no idea why they were wanted, much less about how they would be used, or where they might end up. They just put them in because it was easy.
“ I'd think you'd have to. How many bottles like these do you think you've thrown over the side?”
“ Oh, thousands. Tens, hundreds of thousands. I have no idea. I've been doing it for 30 years”.
Moonlight rose, stretched ,lit a cigarette and walked over to lean on the rail, to Mac's right, with a cardboard box full of bottles ready for throwing between them. He grabbed one in each hand, tossed the first, then held up the other to examine it in the light. The scrolls were 6”x6” squares of beige heavy rolled bond paper, each tied with a small red silk bow. He tossed it over to his right throwing hand and heavied it out to the belly of the ocean.
“ You ever hear from anybody that found one?” Moonlight asked.
Mac paused, not so much to remember but to review it in his mind before he spoke.
“ One time”, he began.” Must have been about 15 years ago. Some guy wrote an article about me. Got sent all over, one of those Sunday supplement things that go out with the papers. Parade, I think it was”.
Four dolphins were riding the bow wake, the phosphorus rich water spraying them with gold sparkles. Mac watched them for a while with the patience of an old sailor and a serene smile on his face.
Show me a man who could not smile at the appearance of these angels of the sea and I will show you a dead man, or one who'd be better off that way. The totality of the beauty was overwhelming, humbling and wondrous beyond description. It smelled of salty freedom and infinity. This awesome expanding coverlet that we ignore or slough off or forget.
“ About 7,8 years after that,” he continued, “this guy wrote to Parade and enclosed a letter for me. Of course he didn't know it was me, but somebody at the magazine remembered, and they sent it along.”
The air in mid ocean is pure. Intoxicating. Moonlight took a deep breath, smiled down at the dolphins for a second.
“ So this guy the bottle found, he was in a sorry state. He was no bum, an American, believe it or not. Picked it up in Andros, you know, in the Bahamas. Used to be a big pirate getaway.”
“Arg,”, Moonlight grunted. ”We're a mixed up species, don't you think?”
“ I wouldn't argue that”, Mac said. “Never said what he was doing there. Something about money. He'd been going through one of those times where everything turns to shit. Some poor souls never lose the yoke of their bottom sorrow. Darkness like that can kill a man, if he lets it. Doesn't matter if he's got money or not. If hope goes, it's the end. Inevitable as the tides.”
Mac had lived long hard years at sea, but he had a kindness untouched by the rough elements that come of men living without women, in close quarters. A sailors lot can get ugly sometimes. He fought his battles when he had to but nothing could ever sour his innate sweetness and turn him mean.
“ A man's a fool if he thinks he knows what he wants, he continued, ” Too many think too much about if only. Be it romance, money or a life of leisure. If only this, or that. But those things can never fill, were never made to fill the emptiness, the God awful loneliness of a soul in deep despair. When people get what they think they wanted and it doesn't work, well, if they don't take that into consideration, they're doomed.”
“ Anyway, this fellow got himself as drunk as he could, all screwed up with false courage and started to take a long walk off a short pier.”. Mac thought that was a good one, but he didn't seem to care that Moonlight seemed to missed it.
“ So there he goes, wading out to deep six himself, when one of my bottle floats up, he was about thigh deep when it came right to him. He told me that at first he didn't pay it any mind, thought it was just another piece of flotsam. But then he noticed the scroll.
Held it up to the light, like you did before.”
“ A man can only deny so much serendipity,' Moonlight said.
“ That's exactly what happened,” Mac agreed.” He said it stopped his mind in mid thought. He grabbed the bottle and walked back to the beach. Uncorked it and shook out the scroll. He read some, but he said the message really wasn't the thing. It was just the miracle of it coming to him at that particular moment in time that amazed him back into wanting to live.”
They stood there for awhile in the easy, patient way sailors sometimes get when they are far out to sea. As if they took comfort in knowing their place, so small and insignificant against the vastness of sea and sky, but full of the best parts of themselves at the same time.
“ That's one helluva story, Mac. I don't think I'll ever forget it.”
Mac bent over to shield the wind and relit his pipe.
“ Most likely you won't. But thanks. I mean, what's the point of going to sea, if you can't get a pile of good stories out of it.”
Moonlight laughed, knowing he felt the same way. “ I've got some good ones, but so far nothin' that can top that.”
Mac's blue eyes sparkled when he smiled. “ It's not a contest, Albion. You've got a life you're living full in. That's what matters. Just keep havin' as much fun as you can, every time you get the chance. And if you don't get the chance, have some anyway.”
The sky and sea enveloped them. It was all much too large to think about.
“ Might as well,” Moonlight agreed. “ We're probably all fucked anyway.”,
Mac laughed in innocent joy. “ Maybe, ultimately. But right now, we're not.”
Moonlight lit a cigarette and he and Mac stood there happy and unafraid, puffing smoke into the big bad Universe.