Disclaimers: Please See Chapter One
The women spent the remainder of the day trying on the extensive wardrobe filling not only the master bedroom closet but the spare bedrooms as well. They finally settled on floppy shirts and baggy shorts. Then barefoot, they settled down with iced tea on the back porch in adjoining rocking chairs and watched the shrimp and fishing boats chug by periodically.
Both were deep in thought. Their personal lives had changed forever. There was no longer anything about them that they could relate to, or that even seemed to make sense. They felt immense loss; loss of families, loss of friends, loss of their previous surroundings and vocations. Most of all, loss of their sense of belonging.
“There is a pressure in my chest, I know I am upset but, I am not sure how to even describe the emotion I am feeling. I just haven’t been handling everything as well as I thought I could. I now realize I have just been suppressing it all and it has now all come to the surface.” Lenora’s voice barely above a whisper, all tranquility was gone.
Muriel’s heart had begun to beat in what abruptly turned into a angry, irregular tattoo. “Me too. Here is what I do know, Lenora. I know that what is going on with us right now is not our fault. And, even though I’m thoroughly pissed at your aunt, I don’t believe she could have prevented this either. I believe it was predestined and she did her best to prepare us for this.” Muriel’s hand reached over and gently rubbed the forearm of her lover.
Lenora’s eyes glanced in Muriel’s direction. “She could have warned us, or something. She set us up.”
“What would have happened if we had gone out on that research trip without Isabelle’s foresight about our futures?”
Lenora went silent for the longest time. “I’m not sure I would have gone out, if I had known what would happen. But,” she turned to face Muriel, “I would have not met you and for that reason, I’ll do my best to accept what has happened. Perhaps, just perhaps, one day, I’ll even forgive Aunt Isabelle.”
“Maybe, we both will forgive her. You’re still feeling constricted and…”
“Muriel, I’ve always considered myself strong. I was stupid enough to think that I would be able to handle everything and anything. I feel as though my heart is pumping and beating so fast it is about to beat out of my chest. I am so upset that my head is just boggled.”
“I know what you’re feeling, hon. I can’t think straight either. I feel like screaming, yelling, crying, dying, giving up, giving in. I can’t explain it any words... and that is all they really are is words.” Muriel‘s fingers entwined with Lenora’s and tightened.
A long time passed before either spoke. Neither of them knew what to say, but they knew they would be there for each other. What else did they have now, except each other?
“Lenora, I’ve had hallucination, in the past. Some of those visions, and this includes those from early years on, had me accessing and interacting with the past. The encounters all had a distinctly different feel to them. There was no mistaking the difference between the ‘here and now’ encounters and those that were bridging other times.” Muriel grip tightened.
Lenora returned the hold and lowered her head. “I’ve had some images or visualizations myself. Strange ones of me being in a different place and a different time,” she looked towards Muriel again. “And, I…I’ve had different images of being there with a woman who resembles you. Only I didn’t realize it was your features until last night in my dreams.”
Not surprised by the revelation of her lover, she only grinned and continued. “Honey, that makes two of us.”
“Guess we’ll have to figure this out together,” Lenora stood and pulled Muriel to her feet and directed her towards the double rocker so she could sit nearer to her.
“You’re the scientist. You have any ideas about how…” Lenora couldn’t finish.
The young marine-biologist placed her arm around Lenora’s shoulders. “I still have not figured out how this can be. Absurdities rear their heads every time I think about some of the encounters which were not just observatory but interactive. My feeling is that we must be joining or merging with someone already there or maybe another incarnation of ourselves in another time, if that is possible. Although the last is very hard to believe especially when you have encounters and are interacting with other people here who are also projecting into the past. Some times we were aware of wearing different clothes of the period involved.”
“You mean you feel comfortable in these old clothes, or at least they don’t feel so …so…”
“Outrageous,” Muriel offered.
“Actually, we may adapt to this time period better than you think,” Muriel leaned in and kissed Lenora’s ear. “Besides, what could be better than having a lot of money, knowing what will happen in years to come and a beautiful woman beside me?”
“Mmm,” Lenora’s head leaned over onto her lover’s shoulder. “Let me think, well, all that and being in the time period we were in three weeks ago would be better.”
Lenora awoke to find herself in bed alone. She stirred about, and called Muriel’s name. No answer. She went into the bathroom and grabbed the robe of the back of the door and pulled it on as she made her way into the kitchen. There on the table was a note propped up between the salt and pepper shakers. Gone for a run, be back soon. Coffee would be nice. Love, Muriel
Folding the note and placing it in the robe pocket, she looked out the kitchen window. Not seeing Muriel, she moved to the side cupboard and pulled down the glass jar that held the coffee beans she had seen her aunt remove the day before. Lenora placed the coffee pot lid under the grinder and inserted the beans. A few turns later and the ground beans were forced onto the lid. “That ought to be enough for a pot,” she said as she dumped the coffee into the metal holder inside the pot, then held the percolator under the faucet and let the water run until the lid began to rise on the pot and coffee grounds ran over the brim.
“Damn. I don’t know if I can get used to not having modern appliances. Nothing like popping in the filter and pouring in the water.” Lenora took the pot outside and poured the mixture on top of a flower bed surrounding the porch. After cleaning up her mess, she filled the pot half way up and placed it on the counter. Her hand wiggled the stem until she found the slot in the bottom of the percolator and placed the round canister on top of it. She ground more beans, this time using a soup bowl to catch them. The canister was filled and the top placed over the beans. After plugging in the contraption, Lenora wiped the counter down and rinsed out the bowl, turning it down on the sideboard.
Taking another peek out the window, she saw her lover come into view on the other side of the cove. “Just enough time to get dressed I guess.” Her hand pulled the sash on the robe loose as she headed back to the bedroom.
“I’m back,” came the call just as Lenora walked back into the kitchen with a towel over her shoulder.
“Good morning. Did you have a nice run?”
Muriel bent down and placed her hands on her knees and inhaled deeply several times. “Yes, thanks.” The runner looked up. “You’re dressed. I was thinking maybe you could take a shower with me and wash my back.”
Lenora kissed her lover, slipped the towel from her shoulder and draped it over her lover’s neck, then walked to the cupboard, removing two saucers and cups. “You don’t need help, and besides, I’m still tired from last night’s three showers.”
The coffee came out of the spout in a strong dark color.
“But, I might be tempted to get all hot and sweaty,” Lenora’s eyebrows wiggled up and down in a suggestive manner.
Muriel growled, as her lips turned into an unconsciously tender smile. “You better had.” She wiped the towel over her wet face and neck.
“Want to drink our coffee first?” Lenora asked as she set the two cups on the table and pulled out a chair for Muriel.
Smiling, the runner placed the towel around her neck again and sat down.
Muriel shook her head and forced herself to swallow the brew. One sip was all it took. She placed the cup back on the saucer.
Lenora closed her eyes and swallowed hard. “Phew, that will cause hairs to sprout on your chest.”
“I believe you’re right on that, but honey, I don’t want you to have hairs on your chest. Guess I need to teach you how to make coffee in a percolator, huh?”
“Guess you should,” she frowned. Standing, she removed the cups and poured out the strong brew. “Think half a cup of hot water would help?”
“It might, but why don’t we just use some milk.” Muriel stood and walked to the refrigerator. “Just pour half a cup, and we’ll top it off with this fresh cream.” She returned to the table and sat down, placing the pint bottle on the table.
They talked as they finished off the morning coffee and decided to bike into town and look around after their shower.
It was after lunch before they removed the bright, new bikes from the garage and peddled down the oyster shell drive.
“Dumb son-of-a-snail,” Lenora muttered and stopped her bicycle.
Muriel braked and straddled the bike. Backing up to where her partner was standing, she asked what was wrong.
Lenora nodded to the sign above the factory then pointed to street sign on the opposite corner. Each bore the name Benegan.
“Think they belong to your aunt?”
“Not a common name, even back in…,” Lenora said dryly as she ran her hand through her hair as was her habit. “Possibly, for somewhere in the back of my mind I seem to remember that my family had a shoe factory that produced boots and other military foot ware during WWII. Come on, let us check out main street and if you’re up to it, we can peddle down to the docks.”
“Sure. You want to check on your boat?”
“Ship, Muriel. It’s a ship. Yes, I want to check on her and my sailboat also.”
“Ship, boat, what the heck difference does it make?” Muriel stuck out her tongue at Lenora and pushed off.
The mariner just shook her head and took off after her companion.
“That building there on the left is the Daughters of Charity, Pensacola Hospital which was opened back in 1902. We know it as Sacred Hearts in our time,” she said as she caught up to Muriel.
“Isn’t Sacred Hearts over on…” “
It was moved from 7th in the sixties.”
“Yes, and over there on the right is the Pensacola News Journal which John Perry combined with the Daily News & Journal in the old Saenger Theater.” Without missing a beat, Lenora continued. “The theater was built for $500,000, using some material from the old Opera House.”
“Guess we won’t get to go to the opera house then,” Muriel pulled along side Lenora, who had stopped at the entrance to a modern looking bridge.
“We’ll go to the new opera house later on.” The sea captain let her gaze drift from one side of the bridge to the other. Escambia River Bridge to Milton had opened ten years previously with 10,000 cars crossing in the first 12 hours. They would take a trip down the newly completed highway in a vehicle soon, Lenora decided.
“The new opera house?” Muriel asked.
“Yes. It’s next to the library.”
They peddled on past Armstrung-Newport; later Armstrung Cork, which was also one of her aunt’s holdings, and to her later surprise, one of her own as well.
They slowed down as a fire truck pulled out of the old Fire Department which had received its first motorized equipment, a 55 gallon tank only ten years before, replacing all previously horse-drawn equipment. The building had been rebuilt five years before when a destructive hurricane damaged the old building, along with the wharf which they were pulling onto, as well as most of the ships docked there.
“Well, your ship looks like it did when we pulled up to the pier a few days ago,” Muriel said sincerely.
“Need to go aboard and see if the equipment we started out with is still there,” Lenora told her and flipped the bike’s kickstand down with her new deck shoes and walked to the edge of the dock.
“Good idea.” Muriel followed suit and parked her bike next to Lenora’s. “Hopefully, the laboratory, equipment and experiments are still intact. But the young scientist couldn’t shake her uneasiness. Her discomfort increased as Lenora hopped over the rail and extended a hand up to help her down.
“Don’t get your hopes up, darling. Even if everything is still as we left it, its doubtful any of the equipment will work.” Lenora squeezed her lover’s hand as they walked to the secured hatch.
They stood there, not daring to move that cover back. Finally, Muriel pulled her hand free and moved to the side of the hatch. “Please help me push it back, Lenora.” She clenched her hands into fists several times to try and keep them from shaking.
“Okay,” the captain bent down, “we push on the count of three.”
The hatch cover moved quickly back on its rollers. Muriel ran her hand across her forehead but did not make any attempts to move down the steps.
Lenora nudged her shoulder, “I’m going to check out the wheelhouse while you’re below. Come up and join me after you complete your survey.”
The scientist’s tongue moved across her dry lips, as her head nodded.
Lenora turned and walked up the side of the ship towards the wheelhouse, where the mariner found all the equipment still in place as it had been prior to their trip into the gulf. However following an intensive examination of all the modern equipment, the captain recognized that nothing worked, except the original equipment aboard the vessel. Her thoughts were confusing, but realized the up to date nautical equipment hadn’t even been invented yet. She began to get a pounding headache.
Below, the marine biologist was making some discoveries of her own. Because the experiments had been sealed in seawater, Muriel realized she could still salvage most of them, even if she didn’t have the expensive testing ability the laboratory equipment Isabelle had supplied for her weeks before would have provided. The lab equipment simply wouldn’t work. The marine-biologist clutched her hand written notes to her chest as she moved up the stairs and pulled the cover back into place.
They silently sat on stools in the wheelhouse. Deep in thought, they wondered what they were to do with the knowledge they possessed. What were they to do about with both the marine and laboratory technology that hadn’t been invented yet? Both women were filled with questions that did not seem to have an answer…and possibly never would. But somehow each knew that Isabelle was the key and probably knew most of the solution to their questions, their lives, and the uncertainty that surrounded them. Although they were still peeved with Isabelle’s setting them up for this back step, they were gradually coming around to the idea that the banker had probably done the best for them under the circumstances.
They stepped onto the pier and stopped beside the long, sleek sailboat. Muriel asked if she wanted to go aboard, to which the mariner replied not now, maybe later. Going aboard the sailing vessel would only lead to more disappointment and confusion.
On the way back to the house, Lenora took a short cut and stopped briefly at a construction site that was to be the Spearman Brewing Company, which would open the following year. “Well, we’ll have thirty years to acquire a taste for this brand,” the captain said, turning back to her bicycle.
Muriel gazed at the sign. I’ve only seen her drink a few times, but I’ve never heard of this brand, she thought. “Acquire a taste?” The woman looked surprised, but refused to give this new discovery another thought as she peddled quickly to catch up to the fast peddling partner.
“Yeah, it was only a favorite here in the South, and disappeared before either of us we were born.”
Muriel looked back at the sign. “If that’s the case, why did you stop there?”
Lenora threw out her arm to indicate a right turn. “I was surprised by the construction in progress.” The mariner glanced both ways before she speeded up and made the turn.
Checking out the traffic, Muriel also sped up to catch up with her partner again. “Surprised by the construction?”
“Yeah, kinda. You see, I built a gypsum plant and warehouse on that property six years ago. Aunt Isabelle gave me the property for my twenty-first birthday and I had all the buildings torn down for the new enterprise. Thought the new industry would help the economy and jobs for the area.”
“Well, perhaps in thirty years you can do the same,” Muriel said.
If Lenora felt distress over the discovery, she didn’t let on.
The women exchanged looks, but decided not to utter assurances or insecurities. After all, they were beginning to accept that whatever the future contained and it would come about in its own way.
Several days later, both women were back at the boat removing the equipment and instruments that hadn’t been invented yet. The nautical equipment was boxed and taken to a sealed locker inside the shipyard in Pascagoula, Mississippi that belonged to Lenora.
The laboratory paraphernalia and the bio-marine experiments were sealed into airtight containers and removed to the new marine Laboratory that was being built adjacent to the old ice house. The cooler that once produced ice for the outgoing shrimp and fishing boats, had been converted to a cooling room for the sealed experiments with which Muriel would continue her research sometime the later part of the year.
Isabelle picked them up for dinner at her home, asking them not divulge any of the past two weeks of their life, as Rose Marie was not a part of the repeat process and would find the tale not only unbelievable, but very upsetting. When Muriel asked why and how she was going to explain them away, she was told her life mate only knew that her niece would be moving from San Francisco with her partner and they would all be going on a trip to Europe the following spring or fall.
Their stomach churned at the sight of the lovely, Jean Harlow looking teacher. Her platinum blonde hair shone in the moonlight as she waved to the arriving women. Her bright blue, slinky dress was cut on a bias. It had spiral seaming and was backless. She was not only beautiful, but extremely intelligent. Neither was certain they could pull the deception off, but because of Isabelle’s last minute plea, they both agreed to the deception.
Rose Marie Teabor held her hand over her mouth as if, Lenora thought, it had somehow stuck to her lips, but at the introduction, her demeanor altered radically. “My gosh, you look so much like Isabelle’s photo of her sister, that you could be sisters instead of aunt and niece.”
“Sweetheart, there is only a year difference in our ages, but I assure you, I am her aunt.” Isabelle slipped her arm around the taller woman’s waist. “Aren’t you forgetting your manners? After all, we did invite them to dinner.”
“Oh, my! Forgive me,” the teacher said, grasping Isabelle’s arm. “Please come in and welcome to our home. “I’ll pour the four of us some wine, and you can tell me all the gossip of Seattle and your long car ride here.”
Meeting Rose Marie’s gaze, Lenora said, “Thank you for having us,” and switched her eyes to those of her aunt’s.
Isabelle nodded and led the way up the stone steps of her prestigious home. At the front door, a fierce, unexpected wind tugged and pulled at them. As the front door closed behind them, the wind’s roar diminished.
A fire blazed brightly in the outside fireplace as they stepped on the terrace. In the absence of wind on this side of the home, the place seemed welcoming. Lenora said lightly, “You have added a wall on the south side of the terrace. It looks great.”
Startled, the teacher quizzed, “You’ve been to our home before?”
Isabelle responded before Lenora could answer. “She was here ten or so years ago after my graduation, and the year after the original terrace was built. She hasn’t been here since then and the terrace has undergone several changes, as have other parts of the house.”
Rose Marie nodded and smiled.
The women enjoyed the terrace meal, and Muriel and Lenora found themselves enjoying the bubbly individual that kept patting Isabelle’s hand and refilling their wine glasses. Each knew they would all become very good friends, and eventually, the teacher would know about the mist and the time back step. That she would understand was still uncertain.
They talked for hours about the situation in Europe and the up and coming trip, with Rose only being told that it would be a combination business and pleasure trip for Lenora as she was going to attempt to get an engineer and a biologist to move from Germany and France to work for them here.
Lenora’s puzzled look towards her aunt was answered when Isabelle leaned over and whispered, “I’ll go over that with you later.”
The younger woman only shook her head and picked up her wine glass. Best not to know just what it is I’m going to be up to next year, I guess.
The wind began to pick up, and Isabelle suggested they take coffee in the sitting room.
“Please tell me why you two would want to go on a sailboat to Cuba by yourselves?” Rose Marie asked as she set the coffee laden tray down on the table.
“Cuba?” Muriel asked and looked towards Isabelle.
“Oh, my! I’ve spoiled your surprise, Lenora. It was suppose to be a secret, darling. My niece wanted Muriel to experience her masterful sailing skills and to visit the Island as, well…a honeymoon type trip.” Isabelle said with what might have been a twinkle of humor.
Lenora picked up on the irony and merely shrugged and picked up Muriel’s hand.
Muriel turned sideways on the sofa and gazed at her lover. “Honeymoon? Cuba?”
“Yes, I thought we should have some time together and this will be as good a time as any, since we’ll be living here for a few years. You said you wanted to meet Hemingway didn’t you?”
Silence followed, but Muriel did not attempt to break it, knowing Rosie was a little confused by the conversation.
Outside the storm raged. Rain, flashes of lightning and booms of thunder pounded against the stout stone walls as if the wind, fire, and sound would devour them. Inside, silence reigned a few moments longer, and Lenora continued to finger Muriel’s hand.
At last, Muriel nodded and said, “Such an arrangement would provide a number of benefits, including some snorkeling on the south side of the Island.”
“Snorkeling?” the teacher asked.
“Swimming with a mask on to see underwater, darling,” Isabelle answered placing her cup on the table and taking her lover’s hand in her own.
“What about the honeymoon we had in the Gulf, Sweetie?” Muriel said with an edge to her voice, squeezing Lenora’s hand a little tighter then necessary.
“Well, nothing can ever be better than that, but I thought you deserved a special trip for our official commitment. Don’t you?” Lenora asked, with perhaps the slightest touch of irony. “May I take it then that you have no objections to the arrangement?”
Three of the women seemed to stop breathing as they awaited Muriel’s answer. In the silence, Lenora glanced at Isabelle, but her aunt had wrapped her arm around Rose and kept her eyes on Muriel.
Taking a deep breath and exhaling, Muriel said, “I do want to discuss one other matter with you, Lenora, a matter that is of importance to me; nevertheless, ‘tis a proposal that, if put into action would meet with little resistance.”
“GOOD!” Isabelle jumped up, almost knocking her lover on the floor. “Good, now it’s not a secret and I’m out of the doghouse. Right?”
Lenora leaned in to touch Muriel’s lips softly. “You need not guess, darling. I want your hand in a commitment, marriage or whatever you will consider. I love you, and I vow that I care for you more strongly than I have thought it possible for any woman to care for another,” she whispered so that only Muriel could hear.
“So it is love between us now, is it?” Muriel whispered back.
Another silence fell before Lenora said, “From the moment I laid eyes on you, I believe so.”
Muriel smiled, and then leaned in for a deep kiss. Her lips continued to the side of Lenora’s face and to her ear where she whispered, “It is love, and yes, I do love you. But we need to talk about this marriage idea, don’t you think?”
Lenora abruptly stood, pulling Muriel up beside her. “We had a wonderful dinner and we’ll have you over soon, but could you please take us home, we have some issues to discuss.”
Isabelle eyes went from woman to woman and stood. After hugs all around, the three women drove down the long lane.
Around nine-thirty the next morning, Isabelle stepped into her niece’s kitchen and handed each woman a passport, which also had a birth certificate, folded neatly inside.
Unfolding the certificate, Lenora studied the document briefly before she nodded and said, “Well, at least I kept my true age, even if I seem to have now been born in Charleston. How about you, Muriel?”
“Yes, same age, but my birthplace is San Francisco.” They both looked at Isabelle who was shifting her weight from one foot to the other.
“This is all well and good, Aunt Isabelle, but don’t think for one moment you are back in my good graces. You could have warned us about this time warp thing and you didn’t. I’m still very angry with you.”
Isabelle turned to her niece. “You have been my only concern since you were ten, Lenora. You would have fought this, and not been prepared for any of your future. You might not forgive me now, but as time passes, you will see that I had only your best interest at heart, and nothing, and I repeat that, NOTHING would have stopped this from happening.” The banker sighed and turned to Muriel. “I’ve cared for your well being since you were in grammar school and have directed your affairs and future from afar and you too will forgive me in time.”
Muriel looked down at the documents in her hand. “Perhaps you’re right, Isabelle, but….”
“But I gave you no warning and did not allow you to choose.”
The scientist’s head bobbed up and down. “We might have chosen to do exactly as we did,” she tossed the documents onto the table, “but, we’ll never know, now will we?” Her hand reached to the chair for support. “Apparently, we’ll just have to live with it, and make the most we can to do well with our lives.” Muriel pulled out the chair and sat down. “I have to give you credit, Isabelle,” she picked up the documents again. “These are beautifully forged credentials.”
“Well, it was the best I could do and keep the facts as true as possible. If you look at the passports, you’ll see they are about a year old and ready for the trip next spring. Hey, it’s all official. I had them in my safety deposit box, and couldn’t get to them until the bank opened this morning.” Her shoulders shrugged as she picked up her purse from the table and motioned for the women. “Did you study those driver’s handbooks I left on the table Saturday?”
“We read them, but study them…no!” Muriel swatted Isabelle as she headed for the door and the drivers license exam. Fortunately, for the young scientist, she only sat behind the wheel of the shinny, new, green Packard and the examiner sat in the seat beside her and never had to start the vehicle. It was a good thing for she had never driven a straight shift in her life. Lenora on the other hand drove her aunt’s new Packard around with ease.
Isabelle never revealed the arrangements of the test. However, the examining officer would be seen driving around town in a new pickup truck, which he said was given to him by the estate of a deceased relative.
Lenora pulled the Packard slowly onto the scenic highway. Today, Muriel was going to learn to use the straight shift of the beautiful car. A few miles down the road, the mariner pulled over and changed places with Muriel.
The gears grinded into place and the vehicle jumped forward as Muriel let off on the clutch too quickly. “Not a word, Lenora. Don’t you dare say anything,” the driver hissed.
Hands went up into a defensive position. Almost snickering, the passenger turned her head to look out the window just as the car made another lunge forward.
“Damn, when do they invent automatic transmissions and power steering? Never mind, don’t answer that,” Muriel floored the gas peddle and the car burned rubber and swerved back and forth on the right side of the road.
Before long they were on a subsidiary highway along a creek. The name Crooked Creek did it no justice at all. It was more than a sandy trickle of a stream. This was a gorgeous, tree-fringed, full-blown river, a place of breeze and birdsong and, that rarity in Florida, perfect peace. The women were enjoying the view and the peace, for they knew it would not last much longer. Crooked Creek was scheduled to be the outer edge of a huge new airport, the size of Tampa’s, serving a community that did not even exist yet. Crooked Creek was in the heart of the Panhandle, the part of Florida the visiting hordes didn’t know yet, and the two women wanted to keep it that way for a long time to come.
They stopped by the creek and ate a picnic lunch before heading back into town.
It still amazed Muriel as she looked out the passenger window of the slowly moving Packard. Lenora had taken a different way home for the last few days, giving the scientist a good background of the area she loved. Most of Pensacola’s past can be discovered in the Pensacola Historic Districts. They explored Pensacola’s past in the museums and among the restored historic buildings, restaurants and shops in these districts. Pensacola’s historical district was divided up into three sections. The first was the North Hill Preservation District which occupied fifty city blocks and contained architectural style homes and buildings of Queen Anne, Neoclassical, Mediterranean Revival, Art Moderne, and Craftsman Bungalow. Muriel wasn’t certain, but the second, the Seville Historical District, which occupied a 36 block area and included Victorian homes, Restaurants, museums and shops was becoming her favorite. The last, the Palafox Historic District was the commercial heart of Pensacola which included a combination of entertainment, services, substances and shelters was her least favorite.
Yesterday, the four of them had gone to the Pensacola Historical Museum. Isabelle had helped finance the historical exhibits, which ranged from the prehistoric to present. Muriel found the exhibits astounding and didn’t want to leave, but Rose Marie had made reservations for them at Quina House for an authentic Creole supper prior to going to the theatre.
They attended the Saenger Theatre, which seated 1794 and was located in downtown Pensacola on Palafox Place. The theatre was built during the days of Vaudeville and silent films by New Orleans architect Emile Weil who also built other Saenger Theatres in Mobile, Alabama, Shreveport, Louisiana, and New Orleans. In 1981 it was re-opened after being restored by contributions from the Pensacola Community. Its Spanish and Renaissance architecture made the historical theatre an elegant show place for Broadway touring shows, contemporary jazz artists, the Pensacola Symphony Orchestra and other shows. It was to be a favorite haunt of the quartet off and on for the next three years.
Bank accounts and letters of credit had been established for both Muriel and Lenora and the sailboat had been stocked to the brim with supplies for the two month cruise.
“You sure you want to venture off to the Caribbean with my niece?” Isabelle stood on the dock with her arm around Rosie’s waist.
Muriel pulled the tarp over the extra boxes of supplies and fastened the cover in place. She winked at Lenora, who was fastening down the other side of the tarp. “Well, if you don’t hear from us in a couple of weeks, send out the Coast Guard,” she laughed.
“You call us when you get to any port, you hear me?” Isabelle demanded.
“You got it,” Lenora waved and headed for the cockpit. The motor roared and the captain motioned for Isabelle to throw the last tie line aboard the vessel.
Lenora stood beside her lover and waved as the boat moved away from the pier. They would motor out to the gulf before they raised the sails. As the two women standing on the dock became smaller, Muriel tucked her arm around her lover’s waist and turned to see Fort Pickens on the left. Built in the early 1800’s to fortify the Pensacola Harbour. It was contructed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and was located at the west end of Santa Rosa Island. Little did they know, that on the return trip Muriel would sail the Empress right into the sea wall of the fort. The Empress would have to have extensive hull repair and it would cost them a bundle to renovate the Fort’s sea wall.
“Last chance to change your mind, Muriel.” “
No, we need the time together. I love those two back there,” her head swung in the direction of the dock, “But we need to get to know more about each other and try and accept our new lives.”
“Yeah, we do. Muriel, I’m going to teach you as much as I can about sailing these first few days as we stay close to the coast. You need to know how to handle the boat by yourself, in case.”
“In case what?” Muriel asked, running her hand through Lenora’s hair, then pulling her ear gently.
“Several what’s, honey. If I fall overboard, am kidnapped by pirates, or die from all the sex,” she laughed and bent over for a kiss. “No seriously, you need to know how to maneuver the boat into channels or rivers we might want to investigate, or handle the wheel while I’m trimming sails.”
“Okay, Captain, what first?” “
First, know that below in our cabin, is a loaded pistol and in the galley you’ll find a carbine.”
“What? Why do we need firearms, Lenora, we both know self defense?”
“It’s just a safety precaution. Don’t worry about them. Just know, if you need to use them for any reason, they are there for our protection.”
The scientist brushed her hair back out of her face and nodded, “Okay, but only for safety, right?”
“Correct,” Lenora stepped aside. “Take the wheel, and keep it on this course,” the mariner tapped the compass and sat down on the padded cushion on the side of the craft. “I know the rules of right away on the open sea, honey, but up and down the coast there are so many tributaries, rivers and other channels that I’m unfamiliar with, especially in 1935.”
“That’s another one of those just what ifs you’ve been talking about?” Muriel asked as Lenora lay down on the cushion.
If a barge was in a channel, or making its way up the coast and didn’t see them at night, they could easily be killed. They were at the beginning of a section that would see a steady increase of commercial traffic, from what Lenora had read and the charts on the areas she had thoroughly studied, she knew it would be mostly barge traffic.
“If you see an oncoming barge you are supposed to ask what side they would prefer you to pass. They say “pass me on one”, which means ‘one whistle’, each boat turns to starboard, and we pass port-to-port, or ‘pass me on two’, which is ‘two whistles’ meanings each boat turns to port, and we pass starboard-to-starboard,” she shaded her eyes and turned to look at her lover. “You think you can remember that?”
“Huh,” came the reply.
“We’ll go over it again in the morning.”
“It may take more than two times,” she said.
“As many times as it takes, okay?”
Muriel nodded agreement.
“Honey, we’ve have been warned to anchor well off the ICW, as these barges travel by night and could run you down and never know it.” Muriel gave Lenora a concerned look but went back to the check the compass again.
“Any other little tidbit you want to toss out for my nautical learning?”
The mariner laughed and stretched her arms above her head. “Your nautical training has just begun, sexy one. We won’t be going very far today though, and will anchor up at Pitt’s Pier. It’s a small, very sheltered marina, near the Seville historic district. Aunt Isabelle told me there’s a Crawfish Festival in the adjacent park-lots of music and people. We’ll have lunch at the festival, and walk around looking at old houses; then walk through downtown, and up to the “North Hill” district, where there are some very nice old, late 1800’s, mostly, some ante-bellum houses. It’s not Charleston or Savannah, though. But I think we’ll enjoy it.”
“The scenery will be nice. But, be warned, I’ve never eaten crawfish and I can’t see me eating some squishy, gooey…”
“Just think if of the poor man’s lobster, only juicer,” she chuckled and pulled her arms down to rest on her waist as the sailboat chucked towards the inlet on the horizon.
Later, as the sun began to go down, and they walked about the Festival, Muriel nudged Lenora to a tent vendor and bottles of orange drink.
“That was a most interesting tour,” Muriel tipped the bottle to her lips and drank heavily.
“Yes, not anything like the festival in …” the mariner set the bottle down on the grass under the moss covered tree Muriel had selected for the shade.
The young scientist patted her arm. “That’s one of the things we need to discuss, Lenora.”
A cheerless expression covered the captain’s face. “I kind of thought that was what you were talking about that first dinner at Aunt Isabelle’s.” Lenora stood and offered
Muriel her hand. “We’ll continue this aboard The Empress.” She picked up the untouched soda. “We need to get out beyond the breakwater and far enough off the coast to miss any on coming barge traffic tonight,” she nodded towards the pier.
“Why don’t we just dock her tonight and get an early start in the morning? That way, we can sit under the mast and watch the moon and starts come up for our first night on the water, and talk.”
”Okay, but we do have to get started early. You want anything more to eat before we go aboard?”
“Didn’t you see my plate, Lenora? I ate four different kinds of shrimp. There must have been two pounds of various fish on the side.” Her hand rubbed her stomach area protectively.
“Well, you didn’t eat one crawfish, but you did put away a lot of slaw and fried squash with the shrimp,” her body was pushed off the path as her companion snickered.
They sat on the bobbing boat with their backs against the main mast.
The inlet gave way to rich moss covered shrubs and forest. The scenery was lush and varied the people friendly and welcoming. If you had the time you could spend a long periods exploring its waterways without getting bored. The bayous and the land cuts were wonderful and make you feel like you discovered a forgotten country that you could explore for a long, long time.
This unusual gray, hanging moss is actually a wispy, thin relative of the pineapple. While found throughout Florida, it prefers damp, shaded forests. Its primary means of reproduction is vegetative - with sections of its’ feathery growth breaking off in the wind and drifting to another tree branch to drape across. It usually doesn’t have roots, except for small plants which start from seed. In the spring, the faint aroma from the small, inconspicuous pale-green flowers are a welcome gift of spring. Contrary to popular belief, they are not parasitic plants.
The weather was getting hotter and getting closer to hurricane season. A made shift sign to the side of the pier read, ‘38 days to hurricane season. Are you prepared?’
The barges were growing. One quadruple, a 4-long barge, loaded with coal came by. Muriel found their contents most interesting; they carry coal, oil, old tires, various chemicals, huge drainage pipes, you name it, and it passed by before dark
This was a beautiful section of the coast, exposing big sand dunes, islands, small towns, with a laid-back country feeling. There were lots of bayous to explore, but that would have to wait for another time for the two women. In a few days, they would be down the coast, with wooded shores, and no development - the women would have it all to themselves.
“Lenora, I want you to know that I love you. You are my life mate. I don’t want anyone else, not in this time or any other.” Muriel sighed. Then with a straight look at her lover, she added, “But I’m not a free-loader, and I can’t live off you. I have to find something, some way to provide for myself.”
Grinning boldly, Lenora lifted Muriel’s chin, determined to show concern about her lover’s declaration. “You don’t have to look for anything, honey. You’ll be too busy running four research facilities.”
“What…what are you talking about?” Muriel turned and was almost in Lenora’s lap.
“Well, it seems, Aunt Isabelle has funded in your name, four facilities to do various bio-marine studies, laboratory experiments, development and research. You will be visiting the first, the original Marine Laboratory outside Miami when we leave Cuba. You own the property and have to lay out a plan, a…a schedule of what ever you want to happen in that facility for the next few years.” Lenora placed her hand on Muriel’s cheek and continued. “You’ll have to keep on the skeleton staff and or hire additional technicians, the laboratory experts, the scientist and researchers to make the Marine Institute the best darn facilities in the world.”
“What? I …I don’t know if I can,” she said, her mouth was suddenly dry and the words emerged in a harsh whisper.
Lenora shook her head in an affirmative nod. “Just try and reduce your thinking from your running the institute before we went on the research trip to what it is now. Make it what you want it to be, in say, fifty years from now.”
Damping her dry lips, Muriel tried to swallow, to look away from Lenora’s spellbinding gaze, but she seemed to have lost control over such actions. “Running an already established facility is one thing, but I’m not sure I’m cut out for starting one, or even if I have the expertise to…”
“Yes, you can. You have a historical, general idea what happens in marine research for the next seventy-five years. You have to lay out a plan to keep the explorations on target.”
Muriel stiffened and squared her shoulders, saying sharply, “I’m not qualified!”
“Yes, you are, Muriel. It’s your destiny. You know what needs to happen. You can make it happen. You are the spunk, spark and pizzazz that the scientific world needs.”
“My God, Lenora, that takes money. We’re back to the same point I was attempting to stress before,” Muriel frowned.
Lenora leaned in, “You have millions in your name in a dozen different banks, including several in Switzerland, and two in Australia. Isabelle has been investing money for you for over seventy-five years, the same as she has for me. You are independently wealthy, and your destiny is to use that money, your know-how to bring about discoveries and findings in marine research to benefit mankind for generations to come,” a low voice murmured near her ear. Lenora’s breath caressed the side of her neck like a warm breeze but was scarcely as soothing as the lips that would soon be nibbling gently at her ear.
Muriel squirmed, but did not pull away. She looked at the top mast to the small pendant flipping gently in the breeze and sighed. “How long have you know about this?” she whispered.
Lenora straightened up, “Since the trip to New Orleans with Aunt Isabelle to examine…my holdings there,” again her hand went to Muriel’s face. “Seems I have a preplanned destiny also,” the mariner shrugged.
“Then I suggest you begin at the beginning and tell me everything,” Muriel stated, her patience apparently undiminished.
Looking almost as bewildered as Muriel had, Lenora began relating not only the New Orleans trip, but several other conversations with her aunt; including serving as a pleasure and business trip to Europe, both women would convince several individuals to uproot and move to the States prior to the outbreak of the war.
Lenora would be instrumental in having a German Jewish engineer with his family established a vital role in her shipping facilities in Mississippi that would lead to some of the modern day marine equipment, such as sonar, radar, and various other navigational instrumentation Muriel would arrange for the services of a Danish biological oceanographer working in France to run her Pensacola research facility for over forty years, who would augment modern day bio-marine laboratory experiments and developmental advancements that would remain in practice for the next hundred years.
Isabelle had filled her niece in on most of her life’s details, but one big detail she kept to herself, except expressing her lifelong desire for medical breakthroughs in science, believing that Marine-biology research would lead to a find, or cure of many dreaded diseases. Neither could she allow Lenora or Muriel to suffer needless for her by knowing the wonderful, European holiday the four of them would enjoy would be short lived. Later on, would be time enough to learn why Isabelle would spend the remainder of her life dedicated to the ratification of all diseases. They don’t need to know every detail, every hurt. They will have enough in just coping each day, she had thought as she tightened her arm around Rosie’s waist earlier that day on the pier and waved to Lenora and Muriel. I’ll some wonderful years with you, my darling, she thought, with tears slowly ran down her face, but that will never be enough.
Looking at Lenora, Muriel felt something sir within that she had felt almost continually since coming into the mariner’s presence. Lenora’s eyes had a bewitching, message-sending clarity, her voice a rich musical resonance that was deeply sensual. She has a bit of a temper, too, Muriel smiled slightly, but life, any life, without her would be unbearable.
It was almost midnight, when Lenora spoke again, “We didn’t know the fog would come,” she pointed out, “but, it did and we can’t go back, Muriel. We have to accept and live now.”
Muriel stood, extended a hand to her life mate, and gave it a loving squeeze as the mariner rose. “No, we had no control over the mist,” she pulled Lenora closer to her. “Thank you for trusting me with our future. I don’t feel so un-empowered anymore.”
“Good!” Her lips came close to Muriel’s. “You ready for bed?”
They went below.
There was no one about, and you could hear only the slouching of the water gently against the bulkhead and pier. Even the lagoon was silent. Frogs and night birds had ceased their murmuring, and those of the daylight slept. Above The Empress, the dark sky blazed with millions of stars, for the moon had set, and beyond the bay opening, the water of the gulf lay mirror calm, reflecting each twinkling point of starlight.
“Shut up, Clyde. Watch where you put those big clog hoppers of yours. You don’t want those two pretty things to hear us do you?” The beer breath of the first drunk filled the air.
“Listen, I wasn’t the one to trip over my own feet back there at the steps and dropped the crowbar into the water. You made enough noise to wake the dead.” The unshaven man whispered when the two hunkered down behind the trash barrow at the end of the pier and looked around to see if anyone might have seen them. They watched the sailboat at the end of the pier bob up and down for several minutes before they began to creep down the planking towards The Empress.
Lenora was brought to wakefulness when she heard the faint sound of scuffling footsteps on the bow of the boat. Sounds like someone is moving along the railing and not sure of the footing. She guessed as it became apparent someone had misjudged the slipperiness of the deck and had either stepped off the boat or slipped and their foot had hit the hull making a thump. Her body moved closer to Muriel. Her hand went gently over the sleeping woman’s mouth as she whispered into her ear, “Wake up, Muriel. We have uninvited company moving towards the main cabin door.”
Muriel was instantly awake and reached for the hand over her mouth. “WHAT?” She mumbled between tightening fingers.
“Quiet,” Lenora whispered again. “Slip on your robe, and get the pistol while I go to the door.” Her finger went to her lips as the boat bobbed once more allowing the moonlight to enter the porthole permitting Muriel to see the jester.
She quickly reached for the robe while tossing the sheet to one side. “Be careful,” Muriel said, barely above a whisper.
Lenora nodded and stepped quietly through the galley, pulling the rifle from its hiding place. Knowing the gun wasn’t loaded, she turned it around and gripped the barrel to use it as a battering stick for the uninvited guest. Standing to one side of the door, she listened and caught the sounds of two muffled voices just outside the door.
Next, the door level was wiggled just so slightly. “We’ll have to force it open,” she heard one man say while perceiving he had pressed his weight against the door.
Muriel appeared with the pistol in her hand and stood about five feet in front of the door. “Why don’t you unlock it and let them fall in,” she whispered.
Lenora nodded her head and twisted the lock, then stepped back and raised the rifle. CRASH, the door flung open and two bodies fell forward. At that moment, Muriel switched on the light above the stove and cocked the pistol at the same time.
Two startled drunks glared up at the light, but before either could move the rifle butt came down on one head with a thump, then the other.
“How do you propose to get this riff raft off the boat when you’ve knocked them senseless?” Muriel let down the hammer of the pistol and lowered the gun to her side.
“I don’t propose to move them at all. We’ll let the law handle this,” Lenora bent down and checked each mans pulse.
“They till alive?”
The mariner rose from her crouched position and waved the air in front of her face. “They’re dead drunk, but breathing.”
“Good, I thought you might have killed them.” Muriel leaned against the stove.
“Guess I need to go up on the bank and ring that damn alarm bell,” the captain put the rifle on her hip for a moment before she started for the body filled doorway.
“Lenora,” called Muriel.
The mariner finished putting one foot over the bodies before she turned. “Yes.”
“Uh, I think you might want to rethink ringing that bell just now.” An ear to ear grin covered her face.
“Why’s that, Muriel. You don’t want the law to handle our guests?”
“Yes, I certainly do, but I don’t want the law to see you in your all togetherness. I want that pleasure to be reserved for just me, well, our two guest didn’t get much of a look-see,” she chuckled.
Lenora looked down at her body before she realized she was standing there naked as the day she came into the world. “Hmm, guess you’re right. You watch them while I go slip on a pair of jeans and tee shirt. If one of them so much as twitches, you shoot him in the…”
“I’ll just knock them on the head again,” she interrupted her partner.
The local constable had just pulled into his driveway when he heard the bell. “Now what?” He put the car in reverse and sped to the dock to see a jean clad woman step away from the bell and head back down the dock.
He open the patrol car and shouted as he exited the vehicle, “Hold up there, what’s the emergency?”
Lenora turned and yell back, “Intruders, sailboat end of dock.” She turned and ran the remainder of the way and hopped over the railings and disappeared below.
Constable Ned Nash grabbed his bully stick and took off after the fleeing woman. He had to stop and step over the boat railings as his weight would not permit him to leap over it as Lenora had. He slipped on the wet deck and fell. He quickly got up and made his way to the galley doorway to find two of the community’s drunks lying on the floor with their hands behind their necks. “Looks like you two have broken into the wrong place.” He looked at Muriel who was holding the pistol with both hands but had it pointed towards the floor.
“Before you ask, we have an Escambia County Sheriffs’ approval for the weapon,” Lenora stood beside her partner.
“You want to prefer charges against them?” He asked.
“No,” Muriel answered. “Can’t you just lock them up for the rest of the night.”
“I think we should sign a complaint against them,” Lenora interjected. ”They didn’t have socializing on their minds, Muriel.”
“That would take days, Lenora, and we have to be in Cuba.”
“Yeah, I guess you’re right.” She turned to the constable, “Hold them until tomorrow, then let them go. I think the entire community responded to the bell and the pier is full of town folk.”
“Only problem with that, is our one cell jail burnt down a couple months back and we haven’t rebuilt it yet.” He explained. “
Well, take them to the county seat,” Muriel suggested.
The constable scratched his head and started to grin. “I think I have an idea,” he chuckled. “Why don’t I handcuff them together around that big cypress tree on the bank over there and let them sit there until tomorrow night without anything but a cup of water at noon tomorrow?”
‘Isn’t that a little harsh?” The scientist questioned.
“They need to be taught a lesson and putting them into jail won’t do it. I’ve had them for disorderly and public drunkenness for more times then I can count. They would only sit around the county jail getting fat for a month or so. This way, everyone in the community would get a look at them tomorrow before the festival closes.”
“Sounds okay to me, but I don’t want to give them the chance to break into someone else place and do them harm,” Lenora stated with concern.
“After I un-cuff them tomorrow, I’ll drive them to the county line and put them out at the work camp. They’ll either go to work on that public bridge, or the sheriff will arrest them for vagrancy and they’ll do thirty days at the camp anyways.” He laughed at the idea.
“Okay, that sounds fine.” Muriel said. “Now get those two drunks out of…” before she could finish Clyde threw up on the floor. “Oh, Lord, that stinks.” She opened a galley drawer and tossed the lying man a towel. “You messed it up, you clean it up,” she demanded.
“She told us she’d blow a hole through us if we moved Constable. How am I going to clean it up?”
Nash’s boot went out and he kicked the man in the side. “Shut up, Clyde and get your mess cleaned up.”
Later, the two women stood on the deck looking at the men being shackled around the tree. To add to the penalty, Ned went to the faucet at the steps and filled the bucket under it. When it was full he carried it back to the tree and poured half of the pail over each man’s head. The constable addressed the small crowd, informing them of the failed assault. Upon hearing this, two of the men volunteered to stand watch until morning and assured the officer they would douse the prisoners once an hour with a bucket of water. The crowd clapped and shouted “serves them right” before they disbursed and headed back t o their homes.
Muriel moved closer to Lenora. “I don’t think anything else will disturb us tonight. You ready to go back to bed?”
The mariner looked at the cypress tree once more before she turned and held the galley door open for Muriel.
Grayness nudged the dark away at last, and then, slowly, golden fingers of sunlight stretched from the east to touch land and water as the large sailboat got underway.
The Gulf Stream was running at its best, strong current. Although the winds were favorable, they were gusty and the seas were lumpy-like moving snow moguls that followed the sailboat. The cockpit got pooped, a few times, although Lenora had the jib trimmed perfectly. Muriel laughed at the captain’s wording of pooped, when she knew the proper the nautical term was waves over the stern, but she liked pooped better. Lenora was making the trip fun, and Muriel’s tutoring was often interrupted by long bouts of heavy necking or lovemaking on the deck.
“I don’t understand why you didn’t learn to sail in California.” Lenora pondered.
“When you have surf fifteen or twenty feet high, and speed boats galore, you go with the flow, hon. Besides, I didn’t have an aunt to show me how and my family…Well, you had to be wealthy to learn to sail.”
“That’s okay, you are doing just fine. I think I’ll go cast for a few minutes. Maybe I can catch our dinner.” Lenora moved from the wheel and allowed Muriel to take over. “Just keep her steady and watch out for the barges.”
“Okay, okay. One toot steer right, two bear port together,” her tongue came out and was promptly caught by Lenora, who wiggled it and let go. “Go catch our supper,” she shooed her partner away.
Presently, Lenora sat on the side of the boat with one leg draped around a rain, she three a long cast to the side and started reeling in slowly. Within three casts she landed one nice size blue.
She is everything you could want in a partner, Muriel though as she watched her partner remove the fish and place it in the bucket sitting behind her. I couldn’t have found anyone as perfectly suited for me if I searched the world over, she smiled at her good fortune.
On her fourth cast, she heard a long boat whistle and turned to see a barge a few hundred feet to her right. At that moment her reel started spinning with its catch. She began to reel the fish in, hearing another long whistle from the barge. She looked toward the barge and back to her lover at the wheel. Muriel looked as if she were in a trance and obviously wasn’t concentrating on navigation. “One whistle means right, Muriel,” she called as the barge sounded another long whistle.
Absent mindedly Muriel turned the wheel left.
The rod jerked again and the reel started spinning rapidly, but Lenora was watching the barge come closer and closer towards them. “MURIEL,” she shouted and pointed towards the barge. “Turn right, Muriel. Right!” She yelled again.
The scientist’s eyes widen when she realized she was headed directly in the direction of the barge. Quickly, she began to turn the wheel to the right as her eyes darted back and forth towards the oncoming barge.
Lenora stood and jerked the end of the rod upwards cutting the line. She tossed the rod and reel on the deck and scampered towards the cockpit. “HARD RIGHT, Muriel. You have to turn it hard,” The mariner hopped down off the cabin top to the deck next to her partner.
“What in the blue blazes do you think I’m trying to do,” she spewed as the bow of the boat slowly turned.
They watched as the barge pushed pass The Empress with only a foot between them. When the tugboat that was pushing the barge came past them the captain stepped out of the roundhouse, shouting profanities and shaking his fist at them.
“Phew,” Lenora sank on the cushion seat, “That was close.”
“You shouldn’t be sprawled out on the deck like that with those shorts up to your…” Muriel was trembling. “You’re such a distraction, and I just wasn’t watching the waterway.”
“You obviously weren’t listening either,” Lenora placed her hand to her forehead. “That was too close, Muriel.”
“I know,” her partner whispered. “I almost got us killed.”
“Well don’t think like that, but we sure would have had a long swim and those banks are filled with snakes.”
“Here,” Muriel stepped aside. “You take the helm; I’m going below and take an aspirin.” She walked away before Lenora stood.
The next several days, she wouldn’t allow Lenora to leave her side when she was at the wheel. There were no further incidents with barges, but Muriel had a tendency to get into trouble without trying when it came to being aboard a sailboat.
The wind vane worked great, even in 6-foot waves. In Tampa, Lenora had changed the wind vane’s bearings, a steering device that looks kind of like an extra rudder. Muriel was informed the wind generator appears like a windmill and makes electricity for the boat without using the engine. The mariner had made recent adjustments to both devices while Muriel looked on.
Yesterday the mainsail ripped near a seam while the women were reefing it. They thought it got caught at the lower shroud, but it happened too quickly to know for sure. There are no obvious rough spots on the mast or rigging, but Lenora hoisted Muriel up in the boson’s chair to check it out and hopefully prevent another tear. They had made arrangements via radio to meet with a sail repairman in Key West the following day.
Isabelle informed them when they called her from the Keys, they would be met at the marina by the customs and taken to the hotel, where arrangements had been made for their stay. Turned out, Lenora’s aunt knew many people in high places, and Hemingway was not only a close fiend, but had agreed to take them under his wing while they visited his adopted home.
They had been in Cuba for about 24 hours, but had been sleeping almost half of that time. Due to sea conditions, they didn’t get much sleep during their Florida-to-Cuba crossing. They left the Keys on Thursday afternoon and arrived at the marina, which was slightly west of Havana, at noon on Friday. Not only was it the writer’s favorite marina because of his boat being tied up there, but it was a short walk to his much loved hotel. The experience of checking into customs and being cleared by numerous authorities wasn’t exactly as outlined in the guide book, as Isabelle had intervened on their behalf and they had been treated almost as royalty. It certainly wasn’t the hassle and time consuming clearance they would have had in their other life.
Lenora turned over and screeched at the repeated taping on the door, “Go away. Can’t you read? I distinctly remember placing that ‘do not disturb’ card on the door.”
The tapping continued.
“Go on, Lenora, answer it,” Muriel turned over and pulled the cover over her head. “Don’t forget a robe; I don’t care to share your body with some Cuban hot blood.”
“Grrummp,” Lenora muttered, as she tossed the cover back and set up, her eyes still shut. Once again the taping began. “Hold your horses, I’m coming,” the lean body stood and pulled the robe after her to the door. Slipping off the chain, the mariner cracked the door.
The Cuban almost swallowed his tongue as the unclad, beautiful body stood in the opening. “Uhhh…I…I’m suppose to remind you of your early dinner with Mr. Hemingway, senorita.” His eyes swept over the firm body and came to rest on the closed eyes of the young woman standing there. “You should wear evening attire, ma’am and be down stairs promptly by seven.”
“Mucho gracious,” Lenora shut the door. She turned and the robe slipped from her hand as she wobbled back to the bed and scooted beneath the covers. Her eyes never opened as she snuggled up around the warm body of her lover. Within moments, deep breathing filled the room and neither woman would move until late afternoon.
They had been indoctrinated into the Cuban nightlife of the writer, and both had learned to play a decent hand of poker at the local casinos. Ernest was thrilled at being allowed to take the wheel of The Empress, and had them aboard his sailboat a half dozen times the last fortnight.
Muriel has insisted they visit some of the near by islands and do a little snorkeling and exploring. “We’re all set,” she fanned the entry papers for Tortuga and Los Roques as she sat down next to Lenora at the cantina were she had left her playing chess with the writer two hours before. “Who’s winning?”
“Who do you think,” Lenora grinned and moved her knight, “Checkmate!”
The writer bit down on the cigar and shook his head. “Your aunt told me you were good, but she forgot to mention you were a master,” he motioned for the white clad proprietor to bring them more rum.
Lenora held up her hand, “None for me. Need to check the refueling of the boat and make sure the supplies are board.” She stood, but bent down and kissed the famous writer on the cheek. “Thanks for the games.”
“I’ll expect a rematch upon your return,” he said, and pulled Muriel down for a kiss also.
“You’ve got it,” she waved to the friendly proprietor, and tossed a silver coin to the castanet dancer that clacked her covered fingers as they walked past only to be hipped warningly by Muriel as they entered the street. “What? You think she moves her arm adoringly too.” “
It wasn’t her arms you were admiring,” she hipped the mariner again and swished ahead of Lenora mocking the dancer not only with the swaying hips, but the seductive eyes.
Lenora laughed and clapped the performance. “Teaser,” she snatched at the entry papers being swirled above the scientist’s head.
Playa Caldera on Isla Tortuga is a phenomenal half-moon of sand. Playa in Spanish for beach, but not the white crystal beach they had become use to as they scavenged up and down the white sand of Pensacola. The lovers walked nearly the length and back that morning which was almost a good hour’s effort. The anchorage itself wasn’t so nice. The Empress was rocked by swell all night and the women realized all they would be able to enjoy on Playa Caldera would be the leg-stretching walk of the morning.
Before noon, they hoisted anchor and motored the short distance to Los Palanquinos, a small group of reefs and rocks just off Tortuga and anchored there.
Snorkeling was great and the coral was alive and lush with sea life. Muriel pointed to the walnut-size jellyfish; their drifting translucent forms thickening the water in places to nearly opacity. It was heartbreaking for them both, for they knew that in seventy or so years, the coral would be bleached and dead, with sea life scarce.
Lenora tapped Muriel’s shoulder and directed her attention to a shaggy octopus, which swam through a cut in the reef as soon as it saw them. It plummeted to a corner of coral and pretended to be a clump of seaweed. Only its large eye, opening and closing, betrayed it as a living creature.
The next day they moved to Las Tortuguillas, where the snorkeling was truly beautiful, twenty-thirty foot visibility over a bottom strewn with a magnificent coral reef.
Not only were there schools of blue jacks and red fish, which buzzed through followed by fish with orange, yellow and green variations of all kinds. Some of these fish would live in this area for fifty years before they would seek the less polluted areas of South America and the peninsula of Mexico.
Muriel shot at a jack, but it managed to shake of her spear and flee. They would, however, eat three lobsters Lenora had bagged as they scooted along the side of the coral.
Their conversations went on for hours and sometimes into the early mornings. They discussed everything imaginable and some things that weren’t. While sitting on the deck one night, Muriel relayed her feeling of concern about her family and was worried how they had accepted her disappearance.
“I’ve thought about that too,” the mariner sighed. “I wonder how the old Aunt Isabelle is handing my being back here with her younger self and what she might have said to your family.”
“The sadness must be maddening for them,” Muriel exhaled slowly.
Following a long silence, they went below. Tomorrow would be another day.
Over the past week, the winds had been incredibly light; fewer than ten knots most of the time. Accordingly, the lovers planned to leave around noon for the eight-five miles to the eastern entrance to Los Rogues, which would put them there with good light if they averaged between four and five knots with the sails.
The breeze was almost nonexistent while they snorkeled, and they discussed staying another day. As they returned to The Empress, the wind picked up, and they decided to leaven even though it was a little earlier than their planned time. If the wind didn’t fill their sails, they’d motor a little to make up the time if they had to and arrive before dusk. Fortunately the wind was mostly behind the large sailboat, but the big waves still tossed the craft around, and with the rigging and sails clapping and groaning and banging and crashing, the women were kept busy. Even with well-reefed sails, the vessel cruised along at close to seven knots. This meant they arrived at Boca de Ebastopol well before dusk, but the entry was still hairy and the sleek sailboat almost got blown right onto a reef when they took the channel a little too far to one side.
Since they couldn’t go spear fishing as the water looked too cloudy inside the reef, and too rough outside, the women opted for another beach walk.
The islands were barely connected by the merest sliver of sand. As they crossed, their ankles, and sometimes their knees and often even thighs, were washed by waves splashing in from both sides. A northerly swell and the interference patterns caused by reefs and islands caused five-foot breakers from the west, roaring in against the wind, curling and crashing on the coral shoals and sending long fingers of salt water up onto the beach.
Ghost crabs scurried out of their way as the women strolled. Ahead of them, a family of half dozen little birds ran along the wave line with a funky stiff-legged stride, stopping every so often to poke a beak awkwardly into the sand, searching for goodies; then they’d skitter back abruptly before an encroaching wave could get their little feet wet. Pelicans wheeled above them, while boobies glided just above the waves.
The sand was sugar-fine, soft and a light brown. In some places the wet surface was hard and packed tightly, with a cross-grained pattern like a woven blanket, and their feet barely made marks. In others, their feet sank deep into goopy ooze. When they ran out of beach, they slipped on their deck shoes and picked their way across the boulders to the easternmost tip of the island. Nestled amount the rocks and coral, Muriel found a perfect dowries shell, the size and shape of a large egg, a pale cream color with steaks of caramel. A bit further on Lenora found another one, then a third. It seemed miraculous to find these beautiful shells unbroken on the hard shore after what must have been a violent journey on the waves. Then again, in the weeks and years to come, they would experience many miraculous discoveries. Their new lives seem to be taking on a new meaning.
Hemingway had spent many evenings weaving a web of intrigue about Paris for the two women. Having lived there for many years and only having come to Cuban a couple of years earlier, he was most willing to lend his knowledge of the nightlife and hot spots for them to visit the following year.
The days went by quickly, with sightseeing, picnics, short trips around the island and evenings fill with night activities that could only happen in Havana.
After a month in Cuba and several weeks on various nearby islands, they were now sailing for the harbor at Homestead Beach, prior to their final Miami destination.
Lenora, a seasoned sailor, was pleased with Muriel’s efforts aboard The Empress and grew comfortable with her ability at the wheel and navigation when she needed a rest. When the captain was at the helm and the scientist needed relief, she would go inside the cabin and take a nap. Although there was the theory that staying below deck was the worst thing you could do, it had little ill effect on Muriel as she found the boats motion more like a rocking chair and often curled up and sleep like a ferret in a corner. Of course, the younger woman could sleep almost anyplace at a moments notice, with the mariner finding her in a tight ball on the galley floor on more than one occasion.
The weather vane and Muriel finally came to a truce earlier in the week. “It doesn’t take physics major to understand this device,” she grinned as she adjusted the line successfully. The little paddle above and one below the water, with lines like horse reins that adjust the tiller had flip-flopped or taken a nose dive previously, until the novice acquire the hang of adjusting the line just at the right time. Just when the scientist thought she had it made, a turning block snapped. Fortunately, they were just about to lower the anchor at Homestead, where the repairs could be made.
Muriel was feeling proud and cocky as they got under way and her eyes watched the wind vane twirl.
Lenora looked around and chuckled as she watched the harbor disappearing behind them. There were heading more toward Cuba again, than Miami.
“Uh, Hon, I think you’d better cut the motor,” the captain urged gently.
Muriel glanced at her partner, “Why?” she asked.
Lenora’s thumb went up and in the direction of the land behind them.
“Oh, hell! What have I done now,” Muriel snarled, hitting the anchor switch and cut the motor just as quickly.
A quick dive over the side by Lenora discovered attached seaweed that was influencing the wind vane’s pull and their incorrect course. It only took three dives for the mariner to remove the entanglement and they were back on the proper course.
Muriel squealed with glee as the sails flapped and caught wind. Although she had been around water off the coast of California all her young life, she remembered standing on the pier at San Diego and the petrified feeling that filled her when she saw her first big wave splash over the boardwalk and cover her. The scared stiff feeling would change almost instantly as she had jumped up and down and waving her arms like a sea gull in heat. Now, as she looked at the ten foot swells, she smiled at the wonderful vessel Isabella had purchased for her niece. Turned out, Isabelle had the sailboat built the year before in New Haven and sailed down six months prior to their mist encounter.
Lenora has sailed windsurfs, lolings, sloops, ketches and yawls, but beyond a doubt, The Empress was the best sailboat she had ever owned or handled. It was a piece of her future that made the present seem real. They would spend many days in the future aboard the vessel, and it would become their refuge when things seemed to get too unacceptable. By the time they tied up at the Marine Research Institute’s pier, the vessel had become their second home. They spend their days going over details of the operation of the facility and their evenings aboard The Empress, getting to know each other more and coming to terms with the newness of their lives together.
The women had a number of things going in their favor besides being in love. They took time nearly every day to talk about their opinions, differences and ways to make their present lives work together. They seemed to handle emergencies well together when something went wrong with the sailboat, the engine, or even their wardrobes-neither whined or yelled. Although, they did find themselves quiet and sad at times, and frequently held each other for the occasional tears. They cared about the other person’s feelings, and we both want to promote the other person’s inner growth and happiness. There were no longer any doubts that there was a new life; even if there were still questions, they seemed to find solace in being with each other.
Several weeks had gone by, with Muriel often bringing paperwork aboard the boat for study and thought. Lenora was thrilled to have this woman in her life, and often just set on deck and watched her lover sake her head or run her hand through her hair at some procedure or policy she had just red-lettered for the Institute.
The young scientist would look up at the sky as the sun began to set and put away the paperwork for the day. She never wanted to neglect Lenora and the evenings were for her lover. They often found themselves going for long walks on the beach, watching the sunset, sitting in the cockpit, or, enjoying a conversation after their evening meal. Talking was a rare and cherished treat at sea, since one person is usually on watch while the other one is either sleeping or performing chores. They were making up for the times on the water, when talking was limited. Sometimes, they would feed the dozen or so seals the Institute had released at the dock after saved them from a bankrupt carnival where they had been neglected and nearly starved.
One night, Lenora had gone below to grab a couple of soda’s for them while Muriel remained topside. The mariner heard her lover making a hissing sound at dusk, as she went out into the cockpit.
“What are you doing?”
“I’m hissing at a seal.”
“You’re hissing at a seal?!” Lenora asked incredulously.
“He’s trying to get into the dinghy. He stinks, and he’ll make a mess inside of it.”
The captain had cleaned off bird droppings from their previous uninvited guest, and did not want to clean the inside of the dingy, so she began hissing too.
“Perhaps we should just explain that we don’t have a bed and breakfast license,” Muriel hissed again.
“They are trained seals, sweetheart, and I don’t think our hissing will deter his making the dingy his personal….”
“Well, you can let him stay, but you have to clean the dingy before I go out on it again,” the scientist took the soda from her lover and sent to sit atop the cockpit facing away from the dingy.
The seal crawled inside the dingy and curled up for the night. Lenora joined her life mate. She’d clean the dingy tomorrow while Muriel was busy at the laboratory.
The next morning, while sipping hot tea, Muriel noticed birds skipping along the top of the water with their feet. She called for Lenora to come topside to see the strange waterfowl.
Without meaning to sound sacrilegious the mariner said, “They’re called Jesus birds.”
“Really?” asked Muriel.
“Yes. They walk on water.”
Muriel believed her, and they both laughed.
Later, when they were getting ready to take the dingy to the restaurant across the bay, Lenora said, “I need a fresh water bath. I smell worse than a seal’s breath!” They laughed again and hissed as both the bird and seal followed them across the lagoon.
The major lesson that they had learned is that you cannot count on things staying the same on a boat, even after a few months. Flexibility and a sense of humor were imperative.
Muriel and Lenora were both developing a great sense of humor. At times, they both blushed wildly at some event of their new life, or at some amusing incident. Each tried to make the other have at least one good laugh each day…even if it meant sitting in a smelly dingy.
Upon their return to Pensacola, the women settled down to what was considered a semi-adjusted life. Even if they still found themselves looking around from some modern convinces that didn’t exist yet, they were adapting to the period. Both went to work. Muriel at the new Marine Research Center, Isabelle had put in her name years before, and Lenora found herself trying to run several ship building enterprises along with two salvage facilities.
After much prodding, Lenora had given in and agreed to Muriel designing and supervising the remodeling of the home they shared. The mariner would become frustrated when Muriel presented her with this fabric or that color swatch and often threw up her hands in disbelief at the selection made when she refused to give her input. After the bedroom was painted three different shades of pink, the captain put her foot down and suggested some shade of light blue might be a bit more appropriated for them. After that, she would look at the selections placed before her and give each thought before she informed her partner she didn’t care for any of them.
Isabelle and Rose Marie were over often, and marveled at the renovations coming to life before them. Rosie was so excited with the remodeling, she convinced Isabelle their home could stand some beautification in several areas also. Muriel was solicited to help with the task of transforming the veranda and massive dining room before strong willed Isabelle would be allowed to tackle other parts of the most elegant home.
Time-tested traditional touches abound in the redecorated bay side home. The main attraction was the living room, which anchored the home and hosted a tremendous fireplace that was installed to Muriel’s explicit instructions. Even though it seldom got cold enough for a fire, the couple would open the windows and toss on a few logs before settling down on the soft rug in front of the blaze and spend hours just talking and forecasting how they would embark on the next avenue of this new life. Access to a quaint little porch was just a step away from the reconfigured living area of the home.
Intriguingly shaped dining room border the sunny kitchen, where you’d find a cozy pantry and plenty of space to whip up a culinary masterpiece!
When the couple was ready for a good night’s sleep, they appreciated the new master suite, which offered a quiet sitting area for either of the night-owl spouses. A lovely corner window brightened the secluded sitting area during the day, and both women would spend hours reading all the latest tour guides publications for Europe, and drooled over anything that emphasized the night life around Paris and Berlin, before heading out for the days work, or before retiring. The master bath was impeccably adorned, flaunting a stunning, huge, cast iron, corner tub that had been especially cast and shipped from Atlanta to the couple. The expanded glassed in shower was tiled with Italian marble and could easily handle the bathing antics of the lovers, who often ended up on the bottom of the enclosure making passionate love. Muriel had insisted on two walk-in closets and a sink for each of them.
The modern, U-shaped kitchen featured a handy corner pantry and a versatile snack bar with wicker stools, but the table used for so long remained in place and was used for most of the women’s meals. The adjacent dining room area provided access to the new backyard deck through heavy French doors. Lovely outdoor planters lined the deck and had flowers and greenery that fell gracefully to the cypress deck.
Lenora only sighed, and shook her head unbelievably, given that the old house was taking on a different look altogether. However, if it made Muriel happy, then she would adjust, even if somewhat unenthusiastically.
Outside, Muriel decided the yard needed to be updated as much as the house. Being especially hyper and not interacting with their neighbors yet, she simply wasn’t willing to think ahead with dramatic changes in the landscape. She only wanted to keep busy and the running of two labs just wasn’t keeping her busy enough. She never wondered if any of my neighbors have imagined a March featuring funnel clouds and patio furniture flying through the air, or the placing of Spanish moss in the large oak trees that coved the bay side property that would certainly creep over onto their splendid old oaks.
When she had Lenora dig up an orange tree that looked dead from apparently been too close to the salt water, and saw the rootstock shooting up stems, she had to plead with the mariner to replant it. The captain grumbled, but Muriel assured her that she was “certain the replanted tree would produce fruit and they could make use of the oranges, and if nothing more, they could learn to make marmalade”. Lenora looked at her as if she was nuts and stated there was no way in torment she was learning to make jelly.
During the renovations, Lenora found a stray skinny six month old, blue heeler mix puppy, at the dock, and brought it home. She received the surprise of her life when Muriel took an instant liking to the pooch. After they gave it several baths and cut some of the matted fur, it really had a sweet face and licked the both of them constantly. Lenora was a bit leery of the animal sleeping at the foot of the bed, but after several nights it only seemed natural. Hannah had found a home. Not sure where the name came from or why, but several days after the mutt arrived, Muriel got up on morning and asked Lenora to let Hannah out for her morning run, so, Hannah became a member of the family.
Hannah loved all the plants in the yard, and had a go at pulling it up. The women caught her while she was just testing her pulling and digging techniques and tried to keep an eye on her, so she didn’t bring the plants, shrubs and small trees into the bedroom to discombobulate.
Lenora didn’t completely freak out when Muriel tilled an eight foot diameter circle in the front yard. The mariner just shook her head and said, "All that perfectly good grass, ruined".
Personally, Muriel didn’t see much use for the solid grass front yard. We’ll replace it with mostly edible perennials, and with some annuals to fill in the gaps, she deduced silently, then turned to her partner. “Next year after we get back from Europe, we can capture a few more feet of yard.” Muriel proclaimed.
With that announcement, Lenora dropped the shovel, stepped over the tool, and went to the garage. She grabbed her tackle box, two reels and a small tin foot tub and waved to her partner as she rounded the corner and headed for the new run-a-bout tied up at the dock.
“She’ll come around,” Muriel chuckled and went back to the digging.
Part IV Chapters 8, 9 & 10
About The Author
Odds & Ends
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