Many times in life we are just passing through a moment. A place where temporary things happen, and there is no expectation of remembering the fleeting glimpse of a stranger’s life. So the first time we saw each other it was no big deal. She was just this unconventional somewhat skinny girl who wore a black tee shirt that advertised a country music station. She drove a pickup truck, wore nerdy glasses, and talked with a slight southern drawl. Her tone and verbal style was more than any man from my crowd could imagine, especially, coming from the mouth of a girl who grew up on the other side of the tracks. Michelle was, is, and always will be an enigma.
We crossed paths several times in college. Our first academic encounter was in an English literature class. The class opened my eyes to literature far beyond the chronic symbolism that represented a repressive past of enlightened humanity, to literature written in a different voice. Our class read and discussed short fiction. Michelle and I read and critiqued, The Gilded Six Bits, by Zora Neal Hurston. A short story about deception— love and loss of trust—and the sadness that fuels desperation, prevalent in poor small southern towns. We had a few more encounters in college. There was the class on teaching diverse populations. When I walked into the class, late, I saw her on the other side of the room, sitting by herself at a large table. There she was, the enigma, wearing a black tee shirt with a confederate flag blazoned on the back and the caption, Hell No We’ll Never Forget!. No one could figure her out. Does she think she’s a southern girl? For the other students there was too much risk sitting next to her, this girl who seemed to show southern pride—my pride.  But for me, she was a magnet, an attraction of ubiquitous desire that I had to be near. We both nodded recognition, as I took my seat, and smiled at one another. Once again we were partners, but this time we shared personal goals and opened up to each other, as we worked on class projects.
After college, we didn’t see each other for several years.  I got married, started a family, and got divorced. During the divorce, I lost my job. After a period of unemployment, desperate for any income I accepted a sales position with a local supply house.  The Hammons family owned six stores selling plumbing supplies to various contractors. I missed the first party that they threw at the end of every year, but I made it the following years. That year I also brought my kids with me. I never shielded them from the type of people I now loathed, haters, and this party was full of those kinds of people. Venomous false prophets of love and unearned respect. It was always a drunken country bash complete with hay bales, tin roof gazebos, and the smell of cow and horse manure wafting through an open barn, full of unusable broken equipment.  That was where Mr. Hammons handed out the meager bonus check and feigned appreciation for his well underpaid employees. I never fit in, with my boss, a heavy drinker, or his employees, amongst them, former Klan members, haters of life that always blamed another race for whatever they felt like blaming them for: after all, it made their inferiority vanish. So I wandered through the party, hundreds of people, dancing, joking, using a rich man’s money for a free good time. As I walked and listened, I thought about who I once was. How I used to talk with them agreeing with them. Being on their side and thinking. Yeah, they’re lazy alright. I wondered towards the music, hearing an old song I liked, Love in the First Degree, by Alabama. I put my hand up to a post and rested my foot on a hay bale, then glanced over the crowd. There she was—the enigma—leaning on the far wall by herself. When the music stopped I walked over to her and we began to talk.
She told me the whole story, the tale of why she was there. It was a fable of life—for one poor family that had become intertwined——with a seemingly generous man. Her father had worked for Mr. Hammons on the farm. Now her brother worked there. She told me they were nice to her family. Mr. Hammons still helped her mom with bills and paid her rent for the beauty salon that her mother owned. She tapped her hands on her knee while she spoke; creating the imagines of benevolence that flowed from her tongue and through her lips. It was a strange moment for me. I was listening, partially, but my mind was wandering. As I watched her lips move, and saw a gleam in her eyes, I could only think about the taste of her skin, kissing her lips while staring into her eyes, and listening to that soft voice tell me her version of tales of entanglement. She still didn’t have any serious relationships to talk about. She wanted someone. She told me she wanted someone, as her eyes, dark and sensual as her skin, focused on my eyes, piercing blue of master race builders. I looked at her while images of her body filled my fantasies. Then my kids found me. I left.
The next year went by quickly. I was hell bent on getting another job, but was unable to find a better position, with a better class of people, so I stayed, hating every minute of every day I spent at work. Then the announcement for the party was made on December first. I was still single, and … Will she be there? Will we talk? Of course we will.  
I arrived on time. In previous years I’d show up right before the bonuses were handed out then leave. But last year changed that, now I had a desire to stay, to chase a fantasy of forbidden desires, lust, and pleasure with the woman who spoke in tones, foreign, but sensual. Michelle was walking through the crowd, alone. We saw each other. As we walked closer, the weight of our stare prevented any distractions from revelers. We embraced. Together we walked towards the spread of gloriously fried southern food, and raised a few eyebrows, as we passed through odors, malodorous, that emanated from food and people. Permeable odors that I could wash from my clothes, but never from my psyche. Michelle liked the aroma in the air. Maybe my memories would be different this year. We sat down in the center of a table, ate our okra, fried chicken, and fat swelled mash potatoes. I asked her to dance. She smiled at me, and then took my hand. We stepped onto the dance floor while Don’t Close your Eyes played over the loudspeakers. The band was on a break, and everyone cleared the floor and headed to the bar. It was just me and her. Do it now! Kiss her now. Don’t wait. An announcement came over the public address system— meeting in the barn.
 I got my bonus. When I walked out of the barn she was waiting. The hecklers started, but we didn’t care. They’d all trade with me for a piece of that smooth ass in the darkness, and run at the first sign of light. My heart was racing, pounding in my chest. She stared and watched me, the man, the man who knew and understood race, but didn’t care, the fool who would let his lousy job go for a kiss, a touch, anything. We walked away from the crowd, the sly reserved hecklers that used to burn down houses of hard laboring families had gone back to dancing, and booze.
There was a full moon that night. We stood alone in the pasture. Her skin a luscious illumination under the light. She put her hand on my chest to feel my heart. We embraced, kissed, and took each other’s breath with deft compassion and held that breath, allowing that precious air to fill our lungs, as if a nourishment to unending hunger, then we let all the years from our past, catch us in the moment. Our clothes fell to the ground and the kisses flowed over two bodies that became a congealed mass of emotions, lust and an unforgiving release. Did I betray my own kind? She’s as American, as I am. We laid on our pile of clothes, bare to the world, two souls under a bright white moon, as we caressed, kissed, and talked.  We talked about the revelers, the family of perceived benevolence, and her father. I told her I knew who her mother was, that I knew about the agreement with the Hammons family. She laughed and told me her mother was no fool. I asked her, “Do you know about their past?” ‘Yes I do.’ Was her response while she stared into my eyes. Do you really know what those people have done in their past?”  “Yes I do,” then she got up and added “let’s go back.” My answer came in my actions. Once, is not enough. I kissed her breasts, her lips, and worked my way around her body and massaged her warm smooth ass that so many others wanted. I felt their envy, feigned desires, and concealed hate. Their suppressed wrath, cloaked in drunken smiles, while I, the man of a perceived moral compass, guided by right and wrong, pursued passion and a love they never had the courage to ask for. We finished our rite of passage into unknown thoughts, love, and emotions, then dressed and walked towards the party together.
   We stopped at the edge of the pasture, just before we emerged from a seductive cover of live oaks holding a grand drapping vail of southern moss, kissed again and held each other’s hands, then, as one being, self-possessed, re-entered the world of illusory unions and placed ourselves among the unforgiven.

Final version. 
Proof again before adding to book. 
(c) copyright 2017  Artemis J Jones 

The Florida Straits ( First three chapters )

By Artemis J Jones

The Wind
          When you go to the beach in the morning, what do you feel and see? If you are on the east coast of Florida, the moments before the sunrise beget clues of a new day. Low clouds clinging to earths vista are transformed by the precise beams that poke through the agile dull gray mist. Backlighting creates billows and shapes that engage your imagination. As the glorious ball of fire creeps above the horizon, your senses absorb the changes in temperature, and your eyes adjust to the powerful light. The air around you changes. It becomes warmer. Transcended in a personal experience, you feel the warm air creating movement, wind. 

For centuries, man has tried to tackle the wind, to control it, and has had some success. The wind lifts, carries. The wind has multiple faces, faces of comfort and terror.

I was a young man, once. The powers of youth swelled through every void in my body. But I’m older now. My formative years have come and gone. Each day I watch my children grow and I stare at their youth, while they play with innocence and I remember that summer.

Our Lives
          We referred to ourselves as “Bro’s”.  We were always brothers in that state of mind. A state of mind that envisioned comradery as the only staple required in friendship. Telling ourselves that the bond would be forever strong. We were together for the good times, the parties, the toasts to the winner.
I was part of the pack, and knew both of them—Chad and Marcus—way back in middle school. We all played baseball on summer nights. Chad was always looked out for Marcus. When they were together we had a nickname for them. C & M, constant motion. And here’s why.

Chad liked to be low in the batting order to give Marcus a chance to get on base. Then Chad would take the plate, face-down the pitcher, and get ready to swing. Batting gloves on, tight grip, thirty-six once bat and the arms that could power it through any fastball, he’d eye up the pitcher getting a read on his movements.  The pitch came, a dropping fastball, then a swing a swoosh and contact. The ball went over the fences ever time and with Marcus on base, it was nothing but dust and lighting. Pure speed, dust swirls as he flew by the bases and slid into home plate.

But Marcus was given other skills, perception being his greatest. He pushed Chad through classes in his own way. Marcus is the one who spotted Haley, and made sure Chad talked to the girl who would get him through all his science classes, but more about her, later.  High school was the place you made plans for a good-time, well for some of us anyway. Chad lived in both worlds. He liked the parties, but school mattered. Chad had big dreams. Marcus was different. Different, but not odd. Marcus enjoyed the social times, but there was always something, some idea engaged in his mind. He had to learn about everything by touching, seeing, and listening. He was way more curious about stuff than I was. Marcus did things his own way. He was pushing against something or searching for something that I didn’t understand.   For an entire summer, most of us all thought we were embracing our visions of life—that were beyond our youth—while Marcus took aim on life’s promise of adventure.
The Boats
            Chad and Marcus came from families that had the ability to provide a lot for two young energetic men. They lived in an upper middle class neighborhood, two streets apart. They had easy access to the beach for sun and volleyball, the lagoon for sport fishing and shared similar interests in the ocean and all the desires it conjures up in your youth. Chad’s father had two boats. The first was an awesome fishing boat.  The second was a thirty-three-foot sailboat named—Destinies Shadow. Both boats were well equipped and Chad took the Coast Guard safe boating classes with his father when he was in eighth grade.

Marcus’s father, Doug, saw where his son’s attention was going. It was obvious Marcus liked the water, especially the ocean. Doug loved the water but never devoted the time to learn about boating. So, he sought out the advice of many people, which included Chad’s father, Brian, about buying a boat.  Brian discussed many things with Doug about boating and asked him several questions.
            “Why do you want a boat? What type of boat do you want? What will be the purpose for purchasing a boat and where will you keep it?”
Doug thought about a family power boat. I know this because I was in their house during the discussions. Marcus kept talking about a sail boat and he must have had an impact on the decision. Because his father eventually came around to the same conclusion. A sailboat would be perfect, large enough for the family, so Doug put his time, money and efforts in that direction.
In the late spring, while Marcus finished up eighth grade, his father purchased a new thirty-five-foot sailboat. Doug spent more than ninety-five thousand on the blue water beauty with small oval shaped tinted windows, smooth lines and a large teak deck around the helm. He named the boat—Devolution.
Devolution was a fractional sloop, very fast under the right helmsman, and equipped with full electronics, gps, battery backups and a gale rider, to help control the boat in storms. He and Marcus took the Coast Guard safe boating classes and, together, they learned basic maneuvers like tacking. Soon they were ready to take on the seas, but only on clear weekends with a lite off shore breeze.
Shortly after Marcus and his father completed the sailing course. I saw them one day while I was at the end of the jetty fishing. I spotted the large red and blue main sail of Devolution, as they were on a dead run through the inlet going back to the marina. The wind—onshore—pushed hard on the sails while the wake created from her bow smashed on the rocks of the jetty. As she passed, her metal mast stood tall and was held strong by stainless steel cables of the standing rigging, with sails tight, her bow pitched up and down in three to five seas, while Marcus cranked on a winch to tighten the genoa. The white tipped waves against her being rebuffed by the massive fourteen-thousand-pound vessel and turned into a wake of good fortune for a tiger shark chasing bait fish through the water. I watched them go by, maybe at six to nine knots, a seamless steady force of wind, water and bright sun. And Marcus, focused, living in the moment, learning new things.
Marcus learned as much as he could about sailing in those early years.  He related to me one time when I was over his house his thoughts on sailing. ‘I have trouble just reading a book about sailing. I need to get out there on the water and learn by doing.’ And that is what he did.
Often he put himself in the moment. One time I went with him and recall Devolution in a close hauled position. Wind over the sail, the tell tales straight out at the top of the main, the vessel heeling and the water splashing up on deck. Marcus watched everything. Example he pointed out to me the water flowing past a channel marker towards shore. ‘That’s the tide coming in at about one knot.’ From that day on, I could tell his instincts were firmly in a stage of development.
By the time they were seniors, they had taken each boat out separately. Friendly competition started and they both discovered the art of showing off. But let me tell ya— Chad excelled at this more than Marcus. There were moments of dazzle for the attention of two classmates—Haley and Jennifer—although, it was clear, at least to me, that Haley didn’t need any more showmanship, she liked Chad. Meanwhile, Marcus started to talk about more serious competition, something he was not ready for. He learned a lot, but had never been seriously challenged by the sea and the weather at the same time.  At the marina restaurant Marcus proposed a race to Chad.
             “Let’s have a race next month up to Hillsborough inlet.”
“Sounds good,” Chad replied. 
“It’ll be a practice run for a race later this summer to the Bahamas.”
“Suddenly, we have a new fearless captain in front of us, Captain Marcus, wants to race to the Bahamas. Okay, you’re on. We’ll do it. Hillsboro next month. Bahamas, before the end of summer. You know I’m going to whip you.”
“Just boastin’ for Haley. Nothin’ but a show-dog”
Haley stared and shook her head at both of them. While the rest us stood locked arms in a circle and yelled out, “When constant-motion hits the seas, what we do? Party. When constant-motion makes the play, what do we do? Party.  Yeah, we the Bro’s made sure of a good time. Chad and Marcus laughed. Through the laughter, Chad stared at Haley. He gazed at her every day. Many times when she was not looking.
She always told Chad, “I can feel the weight of your stare.”
Haley had long dark hair, was five-foot-nine inches tall, very athletic and proved to be very challenging for Chad, sometimes she was more than he could handle and during those times, Chad hung with us.
Haley was more than any of us “Bro’s” could handle, she was straight—A—with honors. She had her choice of colleges to go to.  She chose to rest during the summer at home before college in the fall and to be with Chad. You could say they were in love.

As talk of the race progressed, we proposed a party at the finish line for each race. The party—any party— was a strong force that pulled at Chad. It meant good times with friends and a chance to celebrate victory in front of Haley. 

Thank you for reading the first three chapters of this short story.

The Florida Straits, a story inspired by Jack London's To Build a Fire, is in  the process of publication

A link will be posted soon where you can read or listen to the final version.

© Copyright Artemis J Jones 2016