I am writing to you from Fred’s Marina with a strong cup of coffee and a 6B pencil just like we used to do before emails took over. Call it nostalgia, if you will, but black coffee on the deck always puts me in mind of letters.
I heard you’d been asking after Lester.
You won’t find him. As you may have guessed, he never stays anywhere for long. He’s known (as well as one can know Lester) here at Fred’s, but that’s just because he’s taken to spending more time than usual here and everyone knows me, of course. But still, he keeps mostly to himself.
I’d send you a picture, but the best I’ve managed to capture is a blurry silhouette with a sunset backdrop. He made me promise never to share it because it makes him look a little soft.
He and I know that he really is a big teddy bear inside. Or at least he is around me. But he does have a reputation to uphold, you know?
He retired—I think you got the memo? And I know his replacement isn’t quite as competent or intimidating and is given to millennial shrugs of “It’s all good, man!” Drives Lester crazy (or as crazy as he gets these days), but not crazy enough to actually go back into the business. So if that’s what you’re after, you may as well give up. He’s done.
You’d not think it to look at him, but he keeps the houseboat mostly clean and neat. I think all those years working for you rubbed off on him. The orderliness, I mean. Not the cooking. Lester can’t cook to save his life. I bring him his favorites when I can.
Last time we hung out, we had crab cakes. As usual. And we shared a lemon meringue pie. I ate a slice. He ate the rest of the pie (in the pie dish) and washed it down with water. He stopped drinking alcohol a few years ago, did you know? He says it’s because pie is better. But I know the truth: alcohol and coffee gave him heartburn. He’s loath to give up his coffee. Alcohol is easier.
He’s mellowed. He wouldn’t appreciate my saying so. But it’s true.
He laughs. Big belly laughs and occasional snorts. He covers his mouth when he does. Not to stifle the sound (as if he could), but he’s a bit self-conscious of the missing teeth.
He regrets nothing and, given a chance to do it all over again, he would. We talk about it sometimes. Did you know that he used to keep a notebook in his overall pocket? Every time a body was thrown into the water, he’d time it and write how long it had taken to reach the water. Who knew? He showed me the notebook. I’d tell you what the average speed was, but his penmanship is so atrocious that even I couldn’t make it out. I asked if he kept track of all the girls he’s been with, too. I knew you were curious. He said he stopped counting when he turned 16. So I guess that will remain a mystery.
He still wears flip-flops and they still wear out on the left heel. Remember how he sometimes looked like he was tilted? He was. It’s gotten more pronounced now. He favors his left side.
I’m so glad you introduced us. I know he can be dangerous, and I know he’s more than a little wild and any taming would’ve ruined him. But he loves me. Dearly. And if there’s one unquestionable thing about that man it is that he’s loyal to a fault.
So I think I’m safe.
I know he misses you, but he’s wary of going inland and not good with technology. The idea of zooming not only baffles, but straight out irritates him. I try to keep our time together unfettered by the things that set him off on a dark cloud path (last time celery and orange beets came up he wouldn’t talk to me for a week).
We stick to conversations about migrating birds, lemon meringue pie, and his grandma’s cooking. He told me that until he met me, she was the only woman he’d ever loved. So I have the debatable honor of being a surrogate grandmother to a terrifying man.
Life is strange that way.
Call me sometime. The number hasn’t changed. Some things never do.
Amy Marques grew up far from the sea and only recently moved to a coastal city. She has never stayed in a houseboat, but she does love crab cakes and lemon meringue pie. She penned three children’s books, barely read medical papers, and numerous letters before turning to short fiction. Her work has been nominated for Best of the Net 2023 by Streetcake: Experimental Writing Magazine and published in many journals including Star82 Review, Jellyfish Review, MoonPark Review, Flying South, and Sky Island Journal. You can find her at @amybookwhisper1 or read more of her words at https://amybookwhisperer.wordpress.com.