By Paulette Keister
It was Friday and he couldn't wait to go home. The day had been one of those days they call Murphy's Law, what could go wrong, went wrong. It was 1600 hours and Admiral Harriman Nelson was still sitting at his mahogany desk, knee deep in paperwork. Departmental reports, stores requisitions, financial reports, maintenance requests, invoices, faxes, proposals, and research requests for Seaview's services, both private and government research. He couldn't concentrate on sorting through any of it because of the constant phone calls. "If that phone rings one more time..." RING!!! He closed his eyes and ran his hand through his hair.
"Angie, will you answer that damn telephone!" Then he remembered she was gone. Dropping his head into his hands he muttered, "How could I let her blackmail me into giving her a two-week vacation?" A little voice in his head answered, "Remember Harry old boy, she threatened to resign if you didn't.... and you would've been up the creek without a paddle. Besides, she deserved it and you know it." She was the glue that kept NIMR running smoothly, his savior when Seaview and her crew were gone for weeks at a time.
Most of the crew had gone home to their families and loved ones; each had earned a well-deserved shore leave for a job well done. Lee had offered to postpone his excursion up the coast with his latest squeeze to stay and help Harry sort through it all. He told him not to worry, go and have a good time. Chip also volunteered to stay and help but the Admiral wouldn't hear of it. His XO was looking forward to seeing his parents, a visit that was long overdue. He told Chip in no uncertain terms that he was not going to let him miss it because of his mountain of papers. Even his wife deserted him. Jennifer was attending a week-long conference in Washington, at the request of the First Lady and wouldn't be home until Sunday afternoon.
"How did all these reports pile up so fast? She's only been gone one day!" He thought himself. "This is a lost cause." Harry got up, stretched his cramped legs and walked over to the balcony. He took a pack of cigarettes out of his shirt pocket, tapped it on his finger, took one and lit it. He stood there for awhile; watching the waves as they gently rolled over the sandy beach and feeling the cool, gentle breeze caress him as it floated into the room. Closing his eyes he listened to the sounds of the ocean beckoning to him, soothing his frazzled nerves. He felt the tension leave him and fade away. With a renewed sense of determination, he went back to his desk and put out the last of his cigarette in the ashtray. "OK, let's see what we have here." He decided to separate them into groups, starting with 'needs immediate attention' down to 'it can wait till later, much later.'
He picked up the first one and read it. "This one is government work" and laid it aside. The 2nd one was a request from the Geological Lab for maintenance work. The next one was a research proposal, which he studied for a few minutes. " Hmm, close enough for government work." Next was a requisition from the IS Department. "They want what? We just upgraded the computer system 6 months ago!" That one went into the 'much, much later' stack. After 45 minutes he was down to the last few. A loud knock on the door startled him. "Great, now what?" Moaning he said, "Come in."
It was Chief Francis Sharkey, the 'mother hen' of Seaview. He was surprised to see the Admiral still at his desk working.
"Begging your pardon Admiral, may I ask what are you still doing here?"
Giving the Chief a 'that's a dumb question' stare, he replied, "What's it look like Francis? I'm trying to sort through this never ending pile of paperwork."
Chief Sharkey was puzzled. "Didn't I hear Angie say that everything was taken care of just before she left yesterday?"
"You did, but these came in the morning mail. I've been trying all day to sort thought it. By the way, Chief, what are YOU doing here? Shouldn't you be on shore leave with the rest of the crew?"
"Well Sir, I...
Harry interrupted with, "Ah, the last one. Well, this one is close enough to government work," he sighed and put it on top of the others.
"Sorry. You were saying?"
"I just finished a final check on Seaview before heading home and saw your office light on. I was wonderin, Sir, that is if you're free..."
"Spit it out Chief."
"Would you like to join me for supper before you go home.... Sir?"
Harry got up from his chair. As he walked past, he backhanded him on the arm. "That's a great idea, I'm famished. Let me get my hat and coat and I'll be right with you."
The Chief walked over to the balcony door. "It's kinda stuffy in here Admiral. I'll open the door and let a little air in." Just as he opened it he heard, "No don't, I shut it because the wind was picking up and didn't want my office covered in paper." He started to shut the door but failed to close it in time. A gust of wind came in through the door. "Damn. Now you've done it Francis."
Harry came back into the room. He looked at the now pale faced Chief Sharkey and then at the floor. All of his hard work was now strewn all over his office. A low growling noise started to ascend from the Admiral's throat, which turned into a shout that could wake the dead. "CHIEF SHARKEY, DO YOU KNOW HOW LONG IT TOOK ME TO SORT THOSE PAPERS?
Meekly he answered, "Yes Sir. Sorry Sir. I'll get them picked up and sorted so fast it'll make your head spin."
"Well, then you better get busy. I'm getting hungrier by the minute and if you haven't noticed, I get grouchy when I'm hungry."
Swallowing hard he answered, "Yes Sir.... I mean no Sir." and started picking up the papers at a faster pace.
A little smile formed at the corner of Harry's mouth. "I did hear you did say you were buying, is that right Francis?"
He looked up, seeing the grin on the Admiral's face. "Yes Sir! My treat."
Harry shook his head. "Chief what am I going to do with you. Here, let me help you. Shouldn't take long if we both do it."
Twenty minutes later, Chief Sharkey had the last one but he wasn't sure which stack to put it in. "Uh Admiral, how about this one?"
Looking at it he answered, "Oh that goes in the close enough for government work stack, put it over there."
They were finally finished. Harry got up from his desk. "Let's get out of here before another disaster crosses our path." He walked across the room and picked up his coat. " Well, Chief what are you in the mood for? Mexican, Chinese, Italian, a good steak...name your poison."
"You choose Sir."
"Hmmm, I think I'm in the mood for Mexican. Sound good to you?"
"Yes Sir. Let's see.... There's a place on State Street called Chilango's. Have you ever been there?"
"Why yes, it's excellent."
Chief Sharkey opened the door to let the Admiral pass. Harry patted his shoulder. "Chilango's it is."
Chief Sharkey volunteered to drive. He still felt guilty for the mess he made in the Admiral's office. In no time at all they arrived at the restaurant, parked and went in.
A pretty brown-eyed brunette greeted them. "Good evening Admiral Nelson, Chief. Would you like your usual table?"
Harry smiled at her. "Yes Marie. That will be fine."
"Right this way."
She led them to a dimly lit corner table for two. When they were seated she handed them both a menu.
"What can I get you gentlemen to drink?"
Harry spoke up first. "I'll have a Double Scotch. Chief?"
"Ah, I'll just have a draft beer."
She wrote down their order. "I'll be right back."
Chief Sharkey leaned over his menu and asked, "Admiral, how'd you know her name? She didn't have a nametag on. Do you have ESP or do you just know every waitress in town?"
Harry gave him an innocent look. "No Chief I don't know EVERY waitress." He hesitated a few seconds than added, "Only the pretty ones."
Sharkey stared at him in astonishment. In a low tone he said, "Admiral! You better not let Mrs. N. hear you say that. She'll make you get up close and personal with the Tiger Sharks back at the Institute."
The Chief looked so serious. Harry began chuckling. "Francis, I know her name because Jenny and I come here often. She's our usual waitress."
He knew he'd been had and rolled his eyes. "Why didn't you just say so Admiral."
"Because Chief, you didn't ask."
"Very funny Sir. Let's just decide what we want, ok?"
"Whatever you say Chief."
A couple minutes later she returned. "Are you gentlemen ready to order?"
"Admiral you go first. I haven't made up my mind yet."
"Marie, I'll have the Mexican Broiled Steak with a side of hot rice."
"And you Chief?"
"I think I'm going to try this," pointing at the menu. "Mexican Catfish also with a side of hot rice."
She took the menus. "Thank you gentlemen, I'll be back shortly with you meals."
Harry sat swirling his drink, lost in thought. He was missing his wife and trying to think of what he could do to occupy his time until she came home. Maybe he would clean the attic. That should take up most of his time. She'd been trying to get him to do it for months.
Noticing that the Admiral seemed a million miles away, Chief Sharkey made an attempt at small talk.
"So Admiral, any big plans for the weekend?"
His question brought Harry back from his thoughts.
"Wha.... Sorry Chief. What you did ask me?"
I asked if you had any big plans for the weekend. "Man, the Admiral sure is bummed about something."
Harry took another sip of his scotch. "No Chief. Just going to stay around the house. Maybe straighten up the attic. Jenny has been after me to do that for months. Did I tell you she'll be home Sunday?"
"Uh, Yes Sir, you did." Then it hit him. "Sharkey, you can be such a dunce sometimes! He's distracted because he's missing Mrs. N."
He didn't know what to talk about next. Just as he was about to say something else, he saw the waitress coming with their meals. "Thank goodness, saved by the food." She sat the steak down in front of Harry and then the Chief's catfish.
"Thank you Marie. It looks delicious."
"I will get you another round of drinks. Enjoy gentlemen."
After about twenty minutes, Marie returned to remove their empty plates.
"Did you two save room for dessert?"
" Ah, no thank you miss, I'm stuffed," replied the Chief as he patted his stomach.
"Come on Francis. Live a little."
"I don't know Admiral..."
"You have to try piece of Margarita Pie. It's out of this world."
"So will my stomach if I eat anymore." Against his better judgment he said, "OK...just a very small piece," using his fingers to measure the size.
Marie returned with the slices. She sat them down along with the bill. "Have a good evening gentlemen," and walked away.
The Chief took a bite. "Hey, this is really good."
Harry gave him a devilish grin. "Told you it was," and continued to polish off his piece.
"What's in this pie anyway?"
"Oh, just a little lime, whipped cream, gold Tequila, Contreau..."
He didn't hear the Admiral finish his sentence. His stomach was starting to flop around like a fish out of water. "Tequila! Boy, I'm gonna pay for this one in the morning."
Harry had taken his cigarettes out of his shirt pocket. He pulled one from the pack, stuck it in his mouth and lit it. As he put the pack back in his pocket he asked, "Well Chief, had enough to eat?"
"Yes Sir...I sure have. Uh, Admiral, I thought you told Mrs. N. you quit smoking?"
Harry scowled at him. "It's called cutting back Francis. I tried cold turkey. Didn't work." He took another drag.
The Chief just shook his head. "And Chief, if you tell her you saw me smoking, you'll be scrubbing the torpedo tubes inside and out...with a toothbrush!"
Swallowing hard he replied, "Aye Sir...You can count on me, not a word."
"Good." After several minutes of silence Harry said, "Well Chief, it's late. How about we call it a night?"
"Yes Sir. I'll go pay the bill and then we'll go home."
Chief Sharkey pulled up in front of the Admiral's house. Harry got out and said goodnight and to be careful going home.
He walked up the sidewalk to the front door, put the key into the deadbolt, unlocked it and entered. With a sigh, he threw the keys down on the table that sat by the front window, then turned on the small Tiffany lamp. The house was quiet, too quiet. It wasn't long ago that he preferred it that way, along with his solitude, but not anymore. He longed to hear her voice, her laugh. He felt lost without her.
He wandered into the kitchen, turned on the light, sat down at the table. After a few minutes, he muttered to himself, "Might as well go to bed. Maybe I'll read for awhile." Getting a drink he went back into the living room. He made sure the door was locked then turned out the light. Water glass in hand, he headed upstairs.
Getting comfortable, he picked up his Marine Biology Journal off the nightstand and started to read. Suddenly he tossed the book down, threw the covers off and hurried into the bathroom. He opened the medicine cabinet door and stood there looking. "Now where is it? Aaah, there's that pink stuff." He opened it and took a generous spoonful. "Whew, I gotta quit eating that Margarita Pie so late at night."
At the same time, Chief Sharkey was in his bathroom getting ready for bed. He looked in the mirror as he held his stomach and moaned. "Man, why did I leave the Admiral talk me into having that piece of pie?" He went back to his room and started searching the dresser top. " Now, what did I do with the Tums?"
The morning sun was filtering in through the bedroom window. Harry awoke still feeling tired. Most of the night was spent tossing and turning. He threw off the covers and sat up. He sat there for a few seconds then stood up and shuffled his way to the bathroom. He stood in front of the sink and looked into the mirror. What he saw staring back at him looked like death warmed over. "Damn Harry, that mug of yours is enough sink Seaview." Maybe a strong cup of coffee and a short walk along the beach would do you good." Twenty minutes later, after a shower and shave, he went downstairs.
He decided to toast an English muffin while he waited for the coffee to finish brewing. After adding strawberry jam to it, he poured himself a mug of black coffee and sat down at the kitchen table. He finished his muffin, refilled his mug and went out the door. He started walking toward the beach. There was a chill in the air and was glad he brought his coffee with him. He ended up at the rocks. Deciding to sit awhile, he climbed up to one of the flat ones and sat down. The sights and sounds of the sea could always cure what ailed him. Watching the sunbeams dance on the water, the roar of the waves hitting the rocks, the sound of the seagulls. After awhile he looked at his watch. He'd been sitting there for almost 2 hours. "Good heavens, I better get back to the house and get started on the attic." He got up and walked briskly back to the house.
He changed into some old jeans and work shirt. Armed with a Shop Vac, window cleaner, rags and a bottle of water, he headed up the steps to the attic. Opening the door, he peered in. "Great Caesar's Ghost! Jenny was right, this room is overdue for a good cleaning." Putting down his cleaning tools, he went over to the window and opened it, letting the fresh air in. He decided to move things from one side of the room to the other and started sweeping.
An hour later, he had everything put back in place. "Whew, I don't work this hard aboard Seaview," and sat down on a crate to rest a few minutes.
He spied something lying on the floor by an old chair. He reached over and picked it up. "How'd these get up here?" He started to chuckle. It was a container of Tic-Tac's. "Must have fallen out of my pocket when Jenny and I were up here last time. Well, rest break's over Harry old boy, time to clean the other side."
It was already 2:30pm, well past lunchtime, but he was determined to finish the room before he stopped to eat something. Besides, last night's feast was still not sitting well on his stomach. He was almost finished when he spied an old trunk in the far corner of the room. "Where did that come from?" It looked familiar...then it came to him. "It's Mother's! She had kept her most prized possessions in it." Pulling it out, he wiped off the dust and lifted the lid.
" I can't believe I forgot about this." Moving a crate closer, he sat down and started to explore its contents. The first items he saw were several photo albums. Memories from his childhood years came racing back. He fondly remembered that he and Edith sat for hours with their mother, looking at pictures of all the relatives. Another album held pictures of them as kids, vacations they took and Christmas gatherings. He would have to show these to Jenny and especially Edith.
"Hmm what's this? I remember this hat. Mother told me she threw it away." It was his baseball cap. His father had bought it for him as a souvenir. It had been one of those rare times when they had a 'boy's night out'. Father had taken him to his first baseball game. The New York Yankees and the Boston Red Sox's were playing at Fenway Park. It had been one of the best times they had spent together. He had worn it constantly. Mother had to continually tell him to remove it when he was indoors. Harry shook the hat and put it on his head. "Well what do you know, it still fits."
Digging down further, he found something wrapped up in a cream colored Irish linen. He carefully opened the bundle, looked at it and smiled. "Mom's porcelain doll." It was dressed in a traditional Irish costume. Edith would beg to let her hold it until Mom gave in. Boy, will she be surprised when I give it to her." Wrapping it back up, he gently placed it aside.
Harry had taken the last item out of the trunk, a 1943 movie poster. "I can't believe she saved this." It was of the movie, "We Dive at Dawn". He had gone to see this movie about the Navy and submarines over and over. The theater had tossed it in the trash after the last showing. He retrieved it and hung it in his room. He longed to explore the sea, to discover her secrets. Shortly after that, against his father's wishes, he entered the Naval Academy.
He was amazed at what she had stored away. There were first edition books, which included Gone with the Wind, his mother's favorite. Edith's christening gown, love letters from father, postcards from relatives in Ireland.
"Boy, am I hungry." He looked at his watch. "No wonder. It's almost 4:00 p.m." He was about to start putting the items back in when he noticed the bottom of the trunk seemed to slope. It moved when he pushed on it. A false bottom! He grabbed a screwdriver, carefully pried up the corner and gently lifted it out. Hidden were two small boxes and two envelopes, one addressed to him and one to Edith. Seeing her handwriting made him realize just how much he missed her. He picked his up, opened it and started to read.
November 29, 1952
My Dearest Son,
First of all, I want you to know how much I love you how proud I am of you. It took a great deal of courage to go against your father's wishes to follow your dream. You inherited the love of the sea from your Great-great uncle Shamus and Great-grandfather Patrick, God rest their souls. So you see son, you're not the only one with a passion for the sea. I know in my heart that you will become a brilliant scientist someday. Don't loose sight of your dream. Follow your heart. I pray that you will find someone who will share your love of the sea. Who will comfort you through failures, celebrate your triumphs. Someone who will love you for who you are, not what you will and have become. When you do, love her, cherish her and you will be blessed with happiness for the rest of your life.
I have left two small boxes each containing a family heirloom.
The larger one is for you, Harry. It belonged to your great-grandmother Finnegan. It has been passed down to the first born for generations. I'm passing it on to you. Someday you can give it to the woman you love. The other box is for your sister Edith. Please see that she receives it. It is my diamond broach that she was so fond of as a child. I know I don't need to ask but please look after your sister. She looks up to you so much. Someday you will only have each other.
I hope these treasures I have saved will hold many happy memories for you both. Always remember that I love you.
Be happy my son.
Regaining some of his composure, he picked up the box and slowly lifted the lid. Nestled in a bed of black velvet sat a sparkling emerald and antique gold ring. It was exquisite. Whispering he said, "I love you too mom. Thank you." Gently closing the lid he placed it with the albums, picked up the other box and peered inside. His mother had loved this piece. Father had given to her for their 25th wedding anniversary. "Edith will be so surprised." He sat for a few minutes, remembering his mother's smile, the way she wore her hair, how she loved her children.
He placed items back in the trunk and pushed it out of the way. Picking up the two boxes and albums, he headed back downstairs.
Harry looked at the clock on the nightstand. It read 6:36 p.m. He had taken a relaxing hot shower, shaved and changed into sweats. Looking in the mirror he said, "Ah, much better. Now for some supper. I wonder what Jenny left in the freezer for me?" He picked up the precious items he found off the dresser, walked through the door, and down the stairs.
Going into the den, he turned on the light, placed the albums on the end table by his chair and walked over to the fireplace. He placed the small boxes on the mantle. The room was chilly from the cool night air coming in the open window. Even with his sweats on he could feel it. "Hmm, think I'll make a fire. That should warm up it up in here." He threw some logs in, lit them. After a few minutes he left the room.
Going into the kitchen, he went over to the fridge, opened the freezer door and spotted a plate covered with foil. There was a note on it saying, "Enjoy sweetie...miss you! P.S. Nuke this for about 5 minutes." A smile crossed his face as he removed the foil and popped it in the microwave. Five minutes later, he heard... Beeeep. He took the plate out and sat down at the table for a quiet supper.
Harry went back to the den and sat down in his favorite recliner. The fire emitted a soft warm glow, along with the sound of crackling wood.
He decided to wait until tomorrow morning to call Edith and invite her over to share what he had found, and surprise her with mother's gift.
He decided to read his favorite book, Moby Dick, for awhile. It wasn't long until the words became blurry, his head nodded and he drifted off to sleep.
Harry started dreaming. He was alone in a strange place. A thick fog surrounded him. With no sense of direction he started walking forward slowly. Suddenly someone called to him. He knew that voice. The figure of his mother emerged from the fog. She smiled at him and whispered, "Harry, tell Jennifer I love her too." He tried to reach out to her but she started to fade back into the fog. "Mother don't go!" He could smell her perfume. No, wait... that's not the kind she wore.... As he started to wake he became aware of someone shaking arm.
"Harry, wake up." She picked the book up from his lap and laid it on the end table.
"Harry, it's me. I'm home."
His eyes popped open and focused on her face.
It was her perfume that he smelled. She was standing along side his chair. He grabbed her hand and pulled her over the arm and into his lap. He gazed into her eyes. "I missed you so much," kissing her passionately.
Putting her arms around his neck replied. "I missed you too Harry."
"Wait a minute. What time is it? It's still dark outside. How'd you get here? You weren't supposed to be back until this evening."
"Sweetie, slow down. Give me a minute and I'll explain. The conference ended early. I didn't want to be away from you another night so I called Continental to see if I could change my flight. They had a non-stop leaving Sunday morning at 7:00 am. I was too tired to sleep so I threw my things into the suitcase, checked out and headed for the airport. I had a few hours until it was time to board the plane. So I called Chief Sharkey and asked him to pick me up at the airport."
"Francis knew you were coming home early and he didn't call me?
"Now Harry, don't be mad at him. I told him not to call you. I wanted it to be a surprise."
Stroking the side of her face with his forefinger, "Well, you surprised me all right." He tilted her face towards his and gave her another lingering kiss.
They sat there for awhile watching fire as it slowly died out. Harry noticed her eyes were getting heavy. He took her hand and kissed it.
"Sweetheart, you're exhausted. Let's go up to bed."
"Hmm? Oh, I guess you're right. It was a long trip home."
Not wanting to leave the comfort of his arms she asked, "So, what did you do while I was gone?"
"Well, I cleaned the attic for one thing.... And you were right as always. I should have done it along time ago. If I had I would've found my mother's trunk a lot sooner."
"Your mother's what?"
"Her trunk. She had kept her favorite belongings in it. After their deaths I put it in the farthest corner of the attic. I never opened it. I had intended to wait until Edith was older and able to deal with it. As the years went by, things were stacked in front of it and eventually I forgot it was there. There are so many good memories in that trunk. She left something for you."
"What do you mean, for me?"
"Let me show you." They both got up from the chair and went over to the mantle. He picked up the box. He opened the lid and took the emerald out.
"Mother left me a letter. In it she explained that this ring belonged to my great-grandmother. This ring has been passed down to the first born for generations. She told me to give it to the woman that I would someday love and marry. Taking hold of her hand, he placed it on her right ring finger.
He looked deep into her brown eyes. "I believe that would be you."
"Oh Harry, I've never seen anything so beautiful." She threw her arms around his neck and kissed him.
"I wish I could thank both of them."
Smiling he said, "I do too. I know they would have loved you."
Jenny tried to stifle a yawn but was unsuccessful. " Harry, I'd love to hear more, but I'm so tired. Let's go to bed, OK?"
"Let me put out the rest of the fire and then we'll go up." He picked up the poker and spread out what was left of the smoldering ashes. He put his arm around her shoulder and kissed her cheek.
"OK sleepy head, let's get you to bed."
Leaving the den they started up the stairs. Jenny stopped and looked into his blue eyes. "You know, I think I have just enough energy left to thank you for my present."
He saw that familiar twinkle in her eyes. "Oh you think so do you?"
She started running up the stairs. "Last one in bed has to make breakfast later!"
Harry smiled as he trotted up the steps after her. "It's so good to have her home again."
Authors note: The recipes and Chilango'sTums : SmithKline Beecham