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Buena Vista

There are nights when I think to myself, everything would be better if I just dove off this deck and swam out to one of those ships. Floating cities, Walter used to call them. The way they glide across the water with such grace. To vanish and start over again. I could grab hold of a tow line and hitch a ride all the way to Japan or China, or wherever they come from.

If one of General Vallejo’s horses swam across to Mare Island – if a horse can do it, I can do it. For now, it’s just ice swimming in lime juice and gin. I call them gimlets. Walter used to call them giblets. To raise a toast for every ship that passed – that was our rule.

How we loved watching the ships together. All hours of the day and night. “Let’s go bark at the sailors!” Walter would say. You’d look out at three in the morning and see their lights reflected on the water, disappearing around the bluff.

We threw a party on the deck one night. The whole damn neighborhood was there, even the fishermen from out on the point. Walter went out with a bucket of beers and lured them back to the deck. It was all word of mouth. I thought for a second the deck would cave in and we would all slide off into the bay.

I remember how the light glowed that night, deep purple over Glen Cove. We lit candles and somebody played an out-of-tune guitar and we all sang along. Kids shot fireworks over the water. And that old neighbor Sam, with the boozy breath, gave me a squeeze and a kiss on the lips that night. That much I remember. Walter never knew. Or if he did, he never let on.

Now, it’s just me and the ships. Heart attack finally got the old bastard. What a lousy funeral. The priest saying all those things Walter never did, like how he loved to watch football and go to church. No idea where he got that from, probably the first wife.

Some nights I try to imagine how long these sailors have traveled. Walter used to say there were no laws out on the open sea – that anything goes, like the Wild West. When they finally get to Benicia and fill up with oil or drive all those Toyotas off the ship, surely they get at least one night of shore leave. They probably walk down to the Bottom of the Fifth and stumble back to the ship. What if they don’t make it back before the ship leaves? Or what if they commit some heinous crime and slip away in the middle of the night?

It could be one of those black-and-white movies on TMC. And I’m the old lady detective, like Agatha Christie, who starts to nose around. I realize that one of those same ships I watched disappear from the deck had the killer on it the whole time. Now he’s back in Japan or China or wherever and we have to go find him. Wandering through hazy street markets and back alleys, we have to bring him to justice.

It’s a movie Walter would have loved. But not starring me, more like Ingrid Bergman or Lauren Bacall. I would have been cast as a cocktail waitress at a bar where they rendezvous. Or maybe a telephone operator in that scene where they’re trying to track down the killer’s last known whereabouts.

The other day, one of the lawn guys was picking up trash down by the water. “Buena vista,” he said, taking off his cap and wiping the sweat. I invited him up for a drink. He seemed interested for a moment, even surveying where he might sit, but politely declined. Said he was the one driving the truck that day.

Tonight, another sunset over Glen Cove, and like clockwork along comes another ship – Morning Cindy or Nordic Amy or Atlantic Tramp. You start to know them by name: the Don Juan, President Cleveland, T-Rex, Shanghai Highway.

My favorite thing of all is to watch them disappear behind the bluff. You can’t see the bridge on the other side, streaming with cars in traffic. But you can imagine each ship gliding beneath it, doing the limbo. Oh how I loved to do the limbo when I was young. How low can you go? Everybody limbo.

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