My sister’s ship was due to arrive in San Francisco about four days after the aborted grand reunion. By the time it was due in, I had finally extracted a little information about that event from my flatmate.
Picture a very nice hotel room. Not a dump, something rather fine and expensive. Imagine it furnished with beautiful flowers, champagne on ice, tasty and luxurious things to eat. The reunited couple enters. The man is confused. He has not received the sort of warm passionate greeting he was expecting.
Once the door is closed, the woman breaks the bad news. She isn’t ready for commitment, it seems. She needs time to find herself, to be on her own. She has rental property in the port city they are in, and one place has a nice mother-in-law apartment over the garage. She is going to live there. So sorry, but you understand, etc ad nauseum. And so, sayonara sucker.
Disappointed lover feels like leaving her with the champagne and the food, but chivalrously provides her with transport back to her ship. Then he heads back to his own home, where he has to look at her sister for the foreseeable future.
Needless to say, having been given his walking papers, Jim wasn’t anxious to spend a lot of time in her company. But he also wasn’t going to tell me that I couldn’t visit with my sister, whom I had not seen in a couple of years. So, he graciously prepared us a lovely dinner (completely unpoisoned), and told me he would sleep on the ship for the duration of her visit. She was only going to be in port a few days, so he wouldn’t be that inconvenienced. He left.
Shortly after his departure, my sister arrived at my doorstep, delivered by a taxi. We had a fine reunion dinner, shared some wine. She told me stories of distant ports, I regaled her with tales of the conservatory. The next morning, she mentioned to me that she had a lunch date with a friend down town. Did I mind? She knew she was supposed to be visiting with me, but she really wanted to see this old friend. Well, I had a couple of classes to attend that day, so no, I didn’t mind. I asked her if she wanted a ride to her lunch date, but she told me no, she would just take the MUNI, and asked me directions on how to get down to the port area using it. Off she went to her lunch, and I went to school.
That afternoon I got home, put together some dinner, and waited for her to arrive home from her lunch date. I was sort of surprised she wasn’t there already. She didn’t arrive. She didn’t call. After a while, I called the quarterdeck of the ship she was on, and was informed that she had three days leave and they weren’t expecting her. I ate my dinner about 7:30, started to get mad around 9, and was furious and very worried at bed time. Still no call. I wondered what had become of her, I imagined all sorts of horrible things.
The next morning was Saturday; no school and no gigs. I got up and had a cup of coffee, and sat in my arm chair in the living room to peruse the paper. I wasn’t having much luck concentrating on it, because I was wondering how one went about filing a missing person’s report. Finally I heard a car pull into my driveway. I got up and took a look out the window to see who was there. I didn’t recognize the car, but I did recognize my sister, who was a passenger in the car. As I stood there, watching, I saw her begin to bid farewell to the driver. It turned into a very passionate farewell, and after a couple of seconds I sat down again.
Twenty minutes later, I heard the car start up and leave. I wondered if she was still in it, and if they were going off to find a room. But no, the door bell rang. So I got up, buzzed her in, left the apartment door ajar and went back in the living room.
“Hi!” she caroled cheerily as she entered the apartment.
“Hello,” I answered, not nearly so cheerily. She walked into the living room. I just looked at her. I honestly could not think of what to say. Finally, I asked, “So, was that the friend you went to have “lunch” with yesterday?”
She looked at me, obviously calculating how much equivocation she could get away with. “Well, yes, that was my friend.”
“Mm hm.” I waited to see if she was going to apologize for taking almost 24 hours for a lunch date. Nope. “Seems like you know him pretty well.”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, it took you an awfully long time to say goodbye, my dear. And it seemed like an awfully friendly goodbye, if you know what I mean. You seemed to know the guy awfully well. Even intimately.”
“Oh, you saw?” for the first time, I saw a little dismay.
“Yes, I saw. I usually look out the window to see who has pulled into my driveway.”
“Oh. Well, we met for lunch, and we decided to get a room. And I guess we got carried away.” I looked at her. “I lost track of the time.”
“Carried away?? There wasn’t a phone in the room? Surely you had to stop for a breather at least once. I expected you would come home for dinner. I was worried about you. I called your ship to see if you were there.”
“You called the ship? Why did you do that?”
“I was worried. I didn’t know where else to call. I even thought about notifying the police.”
“Well, I’m sorry you worried. But you know I’m a big girl now, I don’t have to account for my whereabouts.”
I couldn’t believe what I was hearing, but I ignored that, not wanting to get into a fight. After all, I hadn’t seen her for two years. A long silence ensued. Finally, I asked, “So, who was that guy, anyway? It wasn’t somebody you just picked up on the street. You’ve known him a while.”
“Oh, well, he’s a guy I met on my last ship.”
“What does he do?”
“He’s the chief engineer.”
Suddenly, it all became clear to me. So crystal clear. A rage filled me so deeply, I almost could not talk. “The chief engineer. Of the ship you were on. You were with him all along, weren’t you? You have been on that ship for a year, and you have been lovers with the chief engineer a long time. Right?”
“Well, yes, we’ve been seeing each other for a while.”
“Where does he live?”
“He has a place in Coronado.”
“You are not going to be alone to find yourself. You are going to move in with him.”
She was so astonished by the accuracy of my cross examination she was startled into admitting this was the truth.
“I can’t believe this. You knew this all along. You knew this when you called me from Tokyo and told me that cock and bull story about your fiancee and wanting to share a place with me. You knew! You knew you were going to dump Jim when you made that call.” Her white face told me I was on the true path at last. All she could do was just nod at me.
I stared at her, in complete disbelief. Finally, I could only think of one thing to say. “WHY? Why did you set us up like this?”
“Well, I knew he wouldn’t take it well, and I wanted someone to be there for him.”
I digested that for a minute. “You wanted someone to be there for him? What about Pete?”
“Oh, well, I forgot about him,” she answered dismissively.
I just looked at her. Finally, I said to her, “I think it would be best if you leave now. You should go back to your ship. I don’t want to talk any more right now. I’m afraid if I do we will both say things we will regret later.”
“If you think that is best, I’ll go.”
“Well, how am I supposed to get back to the ship?”
“You can take the MUNI the same as you did yesterday. Get a cab. I don’t care.” I sat in my living room as she picked up her bags and left the apartment. After she was gone, I sat there and breathed deeply for a very long time.
She was still living with the chief engineer when Jim and I got married. She was my “Best Woman” at that ceremony, as Jim’s brother was his “Best Man.”