The Gulf of Love
A Rick Beck Story
Editor: Jerry W.
Lord of the Flies
Sitting in J.K.'s across the table from Ivan's father, certain truths became evident. This started my heart pounding furiously.
Ivan went with the Russians late last year. The Russians took Ivan to Boris. Ivan was in the process of getting Boris home. Mr. Aleksa came home to be here when his sons got here.
Which meant, Ivan could be home any time.
My brain couldn't process the rush of thoughts. I took deep breaths. The air had become too thin. I told myself to move slowly. There was no point in getting worked up over something that hadn't happened.
“Where are they now?” I asked with apprehension.
“Waiting for the papers so Boris' family can be in America. I heard nothing after I'm coming to the Panama Canal. Communication is not so good. I am only talking to them on the short wave radio.”
“Ivan?” I asked.
“He is staying by Boris until they are home. He is telling me a week or two to get the papers to travel in America. He was told that.”
“Boris being absent from the military?” I asked.
“Ivan is saying this is not the problem,” Mr. Aleksa said.
Like me, he wouldn't completely believe it until he saw his sons.
“I want you to meet my son, Mr. Aleksa,” I said.
How did I do this without having a major misunderstanding?
“Oh, yes, you are having the son. Your wife, she is dying so young. I was sorry when I'm hearing this, Clay,” he said, putting his hands on mine and looking into my eyes with great sincerity.
How do you introduce your nearly ten year old son to his grandfather? This was one of a million questions that were flashing through my mind.
After ten years, things were moving at light speed. Ivan could be home already and I'd never know it. He hadn't called. He hadn't told me he was back in the country.
How long would it take for him to get around to Dylan and me?
I was up before dawn the next morning. I was up before I was up and I was up before that. I was really up when first light began to appear in the double doors that opened onto the porch outside my bedroom.
The doors I kept propped open with two barnacle-covered bricks I liberated from my reef, were only closed during storms or harsh weather.
There was no storm and the light was bright. I'd been watching it develop.
There was something Dylan and I had to do.
If we went to the marina early, Mr. Aleksa would be sitting on the deck of the Boris drinking coffee.
I'd thought a lot about what I'd say if I ever saw Mr. Aleksa again. I rehearsed a speech like the ones I gave to Harry's donors. It was all cut and dried and a simple matter of fact.
Nothing about Ivan and me and Dylan could be called simple. Nothing I rehearsed was going to be said. Life didn't work that way. Dylan needed to meet his grandfather. One look at Dylan and the truth was evident. I didn't need to say a word.
There was no way to know what Mr. Aleksa's reaction would be. I was sure Dylan would be petrified. He knew about his father. I'd talked about Mr. Aleksa, but it's difficult to know what he'd processed. My son had all the family he needed. I didn't know what he wanted. Whatever that was, it was up to him.
I was looking forward to seeing old friends. I took Dylan along.
“What do I call him?” Dylan asked as we parked the car at the marina.
“I call him Mr. Aleksa. I'd start with that. He's Ivan's father, so he's your grandfather. Pop is your grandfather, but I haven't had any luck getting you to call him that.”
“No one else calls him that,” Dylan objected.
“He isn't our grandfather. He's your grandfather.”
“Pop is,” he said, cocking his head to give me a smile.
“So, you can work it out with Mr. Aleksa. He's a nice man. He treated me like an adult when I was fifteen.”
Dylan kept looking at me, expecting more, but I had no more.
“Come on. They'll be drinking coffee on deck about this time. You'll like Mr. Aleksa. His first mate, Kenny, is cool.”
The marina was quiet at just after seven in the morning. Dylan followed me down the dock.
It was a shock to see Mr. Aleksa's new boat. It was sleek and looked longer than the Vilnius II. His slip was three slips before you came to the Sea Lab. It sat higher than any boat in the cove and it loomed over the boats in the slips.
“Clay!” Mr. Aleksa said, standing up to come to greet me. “I can't believe I'm back. It's like I was never gone. Good to see you.”
Dylan fell in behind me. He pressed close to me.
“You been to the house, Mr. Aleksa? I keep an eye on it. It's fine. I put the shutters on it after Ivan left.”
“No, I didn't spend all that much time there. This is where I live. That’s Ivan's house. My father intended for Ivan to have it once he was grown. It's where they spent summers together.”
Dylan stayed behind me. I knew Mr. Aleksa hadn't seen him yet.
“Permission to come aboard, Captain,” I said. “Welcome home, Mr. Aleksa.”
“Will you never call me Nick, Clay?” he said, keeping his eyes on mine.
I stepped onto the stern plate and down onto the deck. Mr. Aleksa put down his coffee to give me one more hug. Ivan's father was happier than I'd ever seen him.
It was a short lived greeting. Dylan followed me onto the deck of the Boris. He finally moved to where he could be seen.
I knew when Mr. Aleksa's eyes met my son's for the first time. He stiffened and stepped back away from me. His eyes never left Dylan. He knew immediately he was seeing his grandson.
“Oh my God!” Mr. Aleksa said with wonder.
Now Mr. Aleksa was stunned and speechless.
“This is Dylan,” I said.
Mr. Aleksa stood stunned by what he was seeing.
“I don't understand. How?”
“Because you disappeared from my life and didn't have a chance to know Ivan's son. I married his mother. She was already pregnant with Ivan's son.”
I could see the wheels turning.
“He is to your father what Pop is to me,” I told Dylan to remind him. “He isn't sure what he should call you, Mr. Aleksa. I'll let you two work that one out. Go say hello to your grandfather, Dylan.”
“When...? ...How?” Mr. Aleksa stammered.
“Sunshine was pregnant when I met her. I don't think I need to explain any more. I married her so she'd have a husband and our son would have a father. I didn't know Ivan was his father when we got married. It has become obvious over the years.”
“Ivan! He said you were married. Popov told me when your wife died. He said she left you with a son.”
“My son wants to know what to call you,” I said, making sure Mr. Aleksa knew where I stood.
Mr. Aleksa turned to face Dylan.
“You call me Nick. Would you like to see my boat? The one your father sailed on with me sank. This is my new boat. People in Chile had this boat built special for Nick.”
“Yes, sir! I'd like to see your boat,” Dylan said excitedly. “It's nothing like the other boats I've been on.”
“I'm not showing you until you are calling me Nick.”
Dylan smiled at his grandfather and he looked back at me.
I nodded for him to go ahead.
“OK, Nick,” Dylan said.
Mr. Aleksa put out his hand and Dylan took it.
“This is the latest design for the fishing boats in South America. It's got everything a fisherman needs. Come and I'll show you. Would you like a soda? It's too early to be drinking the soda, but I'm your grandfather and I'm allowed to spoil you.”
“Yes, sir,” Dylan said, following Nick inside.
That had gone just fine.
The Boris was nothing like any of the boats Dylan had been on. It was designed to cut through rough seas. The narrow back deck stretched out well behind the galley and the bridge. The holds weren't nearly as large as those on the Vilnius II, but there were more of them and they stretched for two thirds of the length of the craft.
Kenny came over after Mr. Aleksa took Dylan inside.
“You grew up, Clay,” Kenny said.
“Didn't we all,” I said. “You look good, Kenny. You were a good looking kid and you're a handsome man. I always admired you.”
“Thank you, Clay. I did my best. I owe it all to Nick. He was father, mother, and teacher to me.”
“You are loyal,” I said, realizing Mr. Aleksa had probably saved Kenny's life by taking him in.
It may not have been legal to raise a twelve year old homeless kid, but Nick didn't know much about the law. He did what was right.
“What happened to Arturo?” I asked.
“We were fishing out of Santiago, Chile two years ago. Fishing was good. We'd been out two days. The holds of that old fishing boat were loaded to the gills. Nick's father built that rear stern section with extra large holds. We had four to five tons on the stern.
“The storm caught us fifty miles west of port. I'd never seen a storm like that one. A wave took the hatch covers off the port holding tank. We began taking on water. I mean we were listing thirty degrees to port in two minutes. We were going down.
“Arturo bought a new Panama hat in Santiago before we left port. He looked like a million bucks in that hat. He went below to get it. The Vilnius II went down with him on it.”
“Jesus!” I said. “I'm sorry, Kenny. I know you two were close.”
“Died for a fifteen dollar hat. I'd have bought him a dozen, a hundred. What a waste,” Kenny said.
“There were other boats. They had us out of the water pretty fast. They searched the seas for two days. A fisherman doesn't leave his own behind, but the seas were smooth as glass the second day. Arturo was at the bottom of the Pacific.”
“Coffee, Clay. You look tired.”
“Oh, yeah,” I said. “I could use a cup of sailors' coffee. I was up most of the night worrying about this.”
I sat in Mr. Aleksa's chair and Kenny and I talked about the good old days when we fished together.
I could hear Mr. Aleksa talking to Dylan as he showed him the boat. They came outside and climbed the ladder to get to the bridge. A few minutes later the engines rumbled to life. Their purr was similar to the sound the Sea Lab engines made.
“You guys must have been catching a passel of fish to afford a first class boat like this,” I said. “This is nice.”
“We did. We were one of the top fish catchers out of Santiago. When the Vilnius II went down, and we lost Arturo, the entire fishing fleet came out to have a ceremony to mark his passing.
“They took up collections all over the city. The boat builder agreed to build a boat for the city at cost. The city gave it to me. It was for Kenny and Arturo too, but Kenny didn't want his name on it. “The first time we sailed the Boris, we went to the spot where we lost Arturo. Left roses on the water. He was a fine boy. Good worker.”
“Some good people in this world,” Kenny said. “Nick deserves to have a good boat under him. He knows his business.”
“He does,” I said.
“Daddy, Nick wants to take me fishing with him. Can I go?”
“You're on spring break. He's your grandfather. You can do anything you want as long as it doesn't include booze or women.”
My son was happy.
“He said, 'Yes,' Nick,” Dylan said. “I can go.”
“I'll have my papers later today, Popov is telling me. We'll go overnight tomorrow and come back the next day. I don't suppose I could talk Clay into going fishing with his old boss, can I?” Mr. Aleksa asked.
“I feel like a couple of days off. I work too hard. We'll be here tomorrow morning at whatever time you say, Nick,” I said.
Nick laughed and patted my back.
I was now an Aleksa and the Aleksas were Olsons. That's what I saw coming out of Dylan meeting Nick.
Now there was one more introduction I wasn't sure how to make, or when I'd get to make it.
My son and Nick were fast friends. When Dylan wasn't doing anything else, he was with his new grandfather.
I asked Nick not to tell Ivan about Dylan looking like him.
“You and Dylan needed to work out what role you'll take in each other's life. Ivan, Dylan, and I will need to do the same thing. Let us deal with that relationship. Talk about Dylan all you want, Nick, simply leave out that he's my son's father.”
“He'll be home in a couple of weeks. I can't call him and he has no way to call me. It's not my place to say what you and your son will be to Ivan.”
”Pop, did you know Mr. Aleksa was home?” I asked at dinner.
“Yes, I did,” my father said unenthusiastically.
“Aren't you gong to go say hello?” I asked.
“I didn't plan on it,” Pop said.
I'd known my father for some years. The only friend I could say he had in all those years was Mr. Aleksa. Now that he was home, why wasn't Pop going to renew an old friendship?
Ivan was in San Francisco when I met with Nick. I knew what was coming. In a way I hoped Ivan wouldn't call. The closer his homecoming came, the more I dreaded him being home.
I had my own life and I liked it. Dylan was relatively satisfied with the life he had. I knew Ivan would change everything.
I'd had enough. Ten years of anything was enough. Nothing mattered except Ivan's coming home to stay. I didn't want him to say anything but that and I was afraid he couldn't say it.
At ten Dylan went diving with me, fished with Ivan's father, and he had a basic knowledge on the operation of three substantial boats. His world had expanded far beyond the conservancy house.
It remained to be seen when Dylan might meet his father or what would be the result of the meeting.
“Clay, Ivan's on the phone,” Lucy yelled from the foyer.
I still was unable to resist racing to the phone to hear his voice.
“Hello,” I said, taking the phone from Lucy as she laughed and then giggled over something Ivan said to her.
“I'm back,” Ivan blurted.
“For most of a week according to Nick,” I said.
“When did you start calling my father Nick?”
“You've been back a week, Ivan? I check your house every day.”
“Yes! A million things to get done before Boris and his family can travel, babe. Didn't want to upset you without being able to tell you I'll be there in three days. I can't wait to see you, Clay.”
“Upset me how?” I asked softly. “By telling me you're alive? I already heard that from your father.”
The tears were already running. Dylan put his arm around my waist and rested his face against my shoulder. I didn't realize he followed me downstairs.
“Ivan, are you listening?”
“I hear you, babe.”
“I want you to listen carefully now. Don't call me again. I don't want any more phone calls. When you're home, if you ever are home, you know where I live. I'm very busy, but I'll try to make time for you. I don't want to hear from you again until you're home to stay. Do you understand, Ivan? I don't want to hear from you until you're home to stay.”
“Yes! I hear you, babe.”
I hung up.
After dinner, I went upstairs to lie on my bed. My life was good and Dylan's meeting Nick had gone far better than I hoped it would. It added new texture to Dylan's life and he liked Nick and Kenny.
I had no hope that Ivan's coming home would be as easy.
The thought of Ivan coming home was more exciting than the actual event. I wasn't anxious to see him or for Dylan to meet him. We'd been doing fine without Ivan and now he was coming home.
“I'm not going to like him,” Dylan said, sitting on the edge of my bed with the new book he'd picked out to read together.
“You don't know him,” I said.
“I know what he does to you. I don't like that and I won't like him. Who does he think he is? I've gone ten years without him. I'm willing to make it twenty.”
“Dylan, you don't know Ivan. He's a good man. He's been gone a long time. We need to give him a chance. That doesn't mean throwing caution to the wind. We don't know what he's going to do. Remember, he doesn't know he has a son.”
“I know. Do we have to tell him?”
“He'll know. You are him, Dylan,” I said, stating the obvious. “When I met Ivan, he looked a lot like you look now.”
“I don't want to be like him. He hurts you, Daddy.”
“We were close friends. That's difficult to let go of. We were kids. We're grown men now. We have to see if we can be friends as adults. You're the best reason for us to do that. No matter what happens between your father and me, he is still your father.”
“I'll be nice. As nice as I can be anyway.”
“That's all I ask. I think you'll like him. I'm sure he'll like you. We need to let it happen.”
“Which book did you choose for us to read?”
“Lord of the Flies.”
“Great story about what happens to boys your age without adult supervision,” I said.
“Live happily ever after I bet,” he said.
“Not quite how it turns out, kiddo. Adults do serve some purpose. We'll read it and see how it goes. I saw the movie,” I said.
“There's a movie?”
“Yes, a very good movie. It's like watching a car crash. You can't take your eyes off it. It also is an example of how easy it is to fall under the spell of a dangerous mind.”
“I can't wait. You make it sound like a good read, Daddy.”
Turn the porch light on. Looks like a great night to read outside.”
I knew when three days passed. I had no doubt Dylan did too. If there was some apprehension on his part, I didn't sense it.
We were going about our daily routine. Mama did laundry and I was changing Dylan's bed after doing mine. I was in the midst of putting fresh sheets on Dylan's bed, when I became aware of voices in the next room.
Ivan came charging in through the double doors. Dylan was looking at some of my new slides with a hand held viewer I bought him the previous Christmas.
Seeing the motion coming from the porch, Dylan looked up.
Ivan stopped on a dime on the opposite side of the bed. He looked into Dylan's face.
“Jesus Christ!” Ivan blurted loud enough for me to hear.
“Not even close. Dylan Clayton Harry Olson at your service,” Dylan said each name carefully for his father.
“That's a lot of name for a kid,” Ivan said.
“I'm a lot of kid,” Dylan said, not thrown off in the least by coming face to face with his father.
“You know who I am?” Ivan asked, looking at a mirror image of himself and Boris when they were ten.
“I'd be pretty stupid if I didn't. You finally decided to stop by to see me, Daddy-o? Run out of fish to fry?”
“I... was...,” Ivan said.
Ivan went dumb. All he could do was stare at our son. I am sure the wheels were turning inside his head.
“I'm nearly ten, Daddy-o. You'd think you might have dropped by to say hello to your kid at least once in your travels.”
“Dylan,” I said, moving behind him and putting my hands on his shoulders.
“I have a son and you didn't tell me?” Ivan asked.
“I didn't know when he was born. When I did know, the way you were living.... We'll have this conversation later. We aren't alone and I've taught my son to be respectful of everyone. My telling you what I think wouldn't sound respectful, Ivan. I'll explain later.”
“Whatever you've got to say to him, I've already figured it out, Daddy. You don't need to sugarcoat things for me. I'm the one he never bothered to meet.”
“I know I don't, kiddo, but I don't want you to talk to Ivan the way I'm going to talk to him. He is your father,” I said. “If he hangs around, I want you to be respectful of him. I might not be.”
“I don't know how. Sunshine and I on....”
“Ivan! Let's agree, it's obvious you fathered him, but don't ever doubt that I'm his father in every way. We don't need to discuss the biology here. Right now you need to say hello to your son. It's time you two got acquainted.”
“I didn't know,” Ivan said apologetically.
“I know,” Dylan said. “I figured out who you were when I was five. You didn't once wonder about my mother's baby? Ask a question? Think, 'This kid looks familiar?'”
“No! I didn't.”
“I didn't tell him for my own reasons, Dylan. I could have but I didn't. It may not have been fair to him, but I wasn't worried about fairness when it came to him. You are my responsibility. I did what I thought was best for you.”
“I know, Daddy,” Dylan said. “You said you'd tell him if I asked you to. I didn't want you to tell him. I wanted him to find out. He just did. Didn't you, Daddy-o?”
“Yes, I did.”
“So, if you want to make a federal case out of it, Ivan, we can go to war. I did what was best for my son.”
“You could have told me,” Ivan said.
“You'd have done what? Left Boris where he was and come home to change diapers?” I laughed. “Warm bottles for your baby. Not likely. What you'd have done was break his heart the way you broke mine. Not on your life, Ivan Aleksa. You weren't doing that to him.”
“I feel like I've been sucker punched. I came home thinking I was going to... and I find this out. I wasn't prepared for this, Clay. Give me a few minutes to process it.”
“After ten years, take all the time you need,” I said bluntly.
“Make you feel like running away from home, Daddy-o? Take your time. I might grow on you.”
“Dylan!” I said. “He might be a butt head but he's your father.”
“Yes, sir. What do I call him? Daddy-O works for me.”
“What do you want your son to call you, Ivan?”
Ivan only needed a minute to think it over.
“Ivan. No point in calling me something I've never been to him. Just Ivan.”
Dylan cocked his head, looking back at me.
“This is between you and him. Ivan works for me,” I said. “He calls your father Nick,” I said.
“My father's met him?”
“As soon as he came back to the cove, I took Dylan to meet his other grandfather. I have a great deal of respect for your father. He was blown away when he saw Dylan.”
“He was cool. He took Daddy and me fishing with him. He's got a great boat. Nothing like Daddy's boat but it's totally cool. His other boat sank,” Dylan said excited. “I met Kenny. He's cool too. He said I look just like you,” Dylan fired off rapidly. “My uncle too. Kenny's friend drowned when the old boat sank.”
“At five, how'd you figure out that I was your old man?” Ivan asked.
Dylan looked at the picture of Ivan and me. His first grade picture was still tucked up under the frame next to Ivan's face.
“Oh!” Ivan said. “At five you figured that out by yourself?”
“Before. I didn't have a picture to compare our faces until I started school. I'd always had a strange feeling when I looked at the man with my father. Daddy told me as much as I could understand before that. Once he knew I knew, he told me the last thing my mother said to him.”
Ivan looked from Dylan to me. He looked at the picture on my nightstand. We stood across the bed from each other.
There was a lot of history we'd lived through. A lot of time had passed since then. I remembered he came home after Sunshine died, and he stayed.
“What were Sunshine's... last words?” Ivan asked carefully.
“She told me to take care of Dylan for her. She told me she loved me. Then, in a whisper I could barely hear,” I said, almost unable to get the words out. “She said, 'Dylan is Ivan's son.'”
“Jesus!” Ivan said. “I didn't know. I never thought....”
“ Sunshine knew that telling me Dylan was your son would make me love him all the more. And that's how I ended up raising your son, Mr. Aleksa. She died before sunrise on a Monday. The sun never did rise. It rained all day,” I said sadly.
“You know how sorry I was that I wasn't here for you,” Ivan said.
“Speaking of being clueless. I was so stupid I didn't know she was dying and telling me goodbye, but she was.”
“You never asked her whose baby it was?”
“No, Mama made me realize that Sunshine needed to be married when the baby was born. She said the baby needed a name and that's all there was to it. She was right on both counts.”
“Dylan knew you weren't his father?”
“Correction. I am his father. Dylan knew Sunshine was pregnant when I married her. It didn't matter to me who fathered him. The father obviously wasn't in the picture, which meant Sunshine and Dylan became Olsons.”
“I'm sorry, Clay. You didn't tell me. I didn't know.”
“So am I, Ivan. We'll have to settle this later on. I promised Mama I'd take her to Piggly Wiggly to get chicken livers for dinner, after I made up Dylan's bed. I won't be gone long. I suggest you two get to know each other.”
“I love your mother's chicken livers,” Ivan said.
“Me too,” Dylan said.
“If, when I come back, you two are playing nice, I'll let Ivan stay for dinner.”
“You aren't planning to take off before I come back, are you, Mr. Aleksa.”
“Clay!” Ivan said, hurt by my doubt.
“If you don't get between your father and the door, Dylan, you should be safe.”
“Clay!” Ivan objected.
“I'll be back in a little while,” I said, heading for the door.
“Didn't I tell you, Clay, I'm home! I'm not going anywhere! I'll be here when you come back. Take your time,” he yelled as I stood on the landing.
I wondered if I was doing the right thing.
Then Ivan yelled, “Take all day! All night! I'll be here when you come back.”
“Speaking of which, where you been, Daddy-o?” Dylan asked his father.
I laughed at my son's wit and I closed the door the final inch, until I heard it latch.
Ivan had his hands full. I went downstairs to the kitchen.
“Why the long face, Clayton?” Mama asked as I sat down at the kitchen table.
“You are fixing chicken livers tonight?” I asked.
“Yes, I got them at A&P. They were just putting them out. Fresh, Fresh, Clayton. Creamed corn, broiled potatoes with onions and green peppers, and cheddar cheese grits. I've taken a jar of my cucumbers and onions I put up in the fall. Everyone seems to enjoy those. I have some sour cream to put on them for added flavor.”
“Ivan's home,” I said, leaning my chin on the back of my hands as I processed what I'd just said.
“Your father told me. Where is he? I thought he was always here when he was home. I've got plenty to eat. Ivan's always welcome at our table.”
“He's upstairs with his son.”
Mama stopped in mid motion. I had her attention now. She turned to face me.
“He's not going to take my grandson,” Mama said firmly.
“Mama, I'm Dylan's father. Ivan needs to get to know Dylan. No court is going to let him take my son away from me. So they look alike. A lot of people who aren't related look alike.”
“I hope you're right. Just the same, you need to be careful.”
“You have any iced tea, Mama?”
“Sure, just put a bottle in the fridge. Why aren't you upstairs keeping an eye on them?”
“Because Ivan is his father and they need to get acquainted. I'm too angry with him to be fair. Don't forget, Dylan has rights here. He never knew Sunshine and that won't be true of his father if I have anything to do with it.”
“Be careful, Clay. I would not leave them up there alone for too long. Ivan's been gone a long time. Do we really know him?”
Ivan had been gone for a long time. I didn't know him any longer but he still had to get to know his son.