At The End Of The World – Snippet 18
The captain stood. “That’s enough. The only fighting I’ll permit is against the Argie thugs. As for how we’ll defend ourselves, I’ll explain that tomorrow. We’re in no rush. They’ve got a way to go and we are certainly not their first port of call. Now see if your next change of clothes are dry yet and get to your bunks. All of you.”
I thought that’s where the day was going to end, except I hung behind in the radio house to clean up: I had kitchen duty that day. Just as I was finishing, the door opens and Chloe slips in.
She looks at me, then at the floor, then at me again. Not her usual, bold-as-brass self.
“Hi,” she says.
“Hi,” I say back. “Leave something behind?”
She shook her head, and — I swear to god — she scuffed one of her shoes against the floor. “You’re a good teacher, Alvaro.”
I’m pretty sure I just stood staring at her for a minute. I couldn’t decide what shocked me more: that she thought I was a good teacher, or that she had called me by my first name. “Thanks,” I eventually replied in a virtuoso display of eloquence.
She looked around the room. “We’re going to be in it soon, I guess.” She nodded out at the bay. I knew she was really nodding toward an approaching trawler full of probable pirates, bobbing like a cork on the cold, dark waves at least two hundred miles west of us. “Things could get bad.”
“Sure could,” I agreed, continuing to showcase my rhetorical gifts.
“So I want more training.”
I think I blinked. “Chloe, you’ve done a fine job. Better than that, actually. You can handle any boating task as well as I can, now.” Well, that wasn’t quite true, but hell, no reason not to build some extra morale. “And your reading –“
“Screw that. I want you to teach me how to fight. The way you do.”
This time I know I blinked. “You want me to teach you aikido?”
She looked away again. “Look, I know I talk a lot of shit, but I’m no fool. A really big guy who knows how to fight — he’s gonna roll right over me. I won’t let that happen.” Her eyes and voice changed when she added that last sentence. The only adjective that comes to mind is that she looked and sounded ‘haunted.’ Then she snapped back to the here and now. “So I want to learn to fight dirty. Like you do. In case I can’t beat them with strength alone.”
So: Chloe wanted me to teach her how to fight . . . but because I knew how to fight dirty. Talk about leaving me with mixed emotions. “Even if we get in an hour of practice a day, you’re only going to have a few of the basics,” I warned her.
“I figured. I don’t care. I’ll take any edge I can get. Now teach.”
So I did. For all of ten minutes. Then she stood back. “I don’t want to do all this dancy stuff.”
“Chloe, this ‘dancy stuff’ will teach you how to move so that –“
“Damn it, I need you to skip to the part where I can keep someone from tackling me. From holding me down.” She didn’t look away; her eyes were wide and defiant. But they were also a little shiny.
Oh. I looked down. I knew she wouldn’t want to see the realization in my own eyes. “Okay. So, that means two things. Learning how to keep from getting knocked down. And how to keep from getting pinned down, if you’re already on the ground.”
She nodded. “Right. Let’s go.”
I figured we’d go over the basics, although this wasn’t really aikido, anymore; it was a really limited number of aikido moves converted into a basic self-defense course. She learned how to dodge, sidestep, even trip an onrushing attacker. How well she’d be able to use it — well, that was a different story. Then, to end the evening, I went over how she could break free from someone who was trying to grab her and hold her down.
On the second run-through, when I grabbed for her, she didn’t dodge. And instead of twisting my wrist and trying to shove me off to her left while she rolled up to her feet on the right, she just held my hand. I found myself looking down into her eyes, not quite a foot away.
It’s crazy how fast human situations can change. One minute you’re working on self-defense, and the next, you’re looking into each other’s eyes and wondering — really, really wondering — what it would be like to have sex with each other. And you don’t have to say it to know it. In fact, saying anything kind of destroys it. So we just looked at each other. I don’t know for how long.
“Thank you,” she said eventually.
I doubt there’s anything else she could have said that would startle me out of my sex-obsessed thoughts, but that did it. “Uh, sure. For what?”
“For sticking up for Johnnie today — and for the others.”
I guess my surprise showed on my face.
She can apparently read my mind, too. “Yeah, yeah, I know: I was a pain in the ass early in the trip. I went around making people feel like shit. I do that when I’m scar — when I’m with new people. Want to let them know I won’t take any of their shit.”
“Well, you got your point across.” I couldn’t help smiling.
She spent a moment studying my expression. I guess she decided I wasn’t sticking it to her, because she smiled, too. “What I’m trying to say is you kind of look out for all of us. Even the ones you don’t like too much. Like me.” The last sentence was cautious.
“I don’t dislike you,” I said, falling desperately short of the truth.
“I gave you plenty of reason.”
I smiled again. “Yeah, but since then, you’ve given me plenty of reasons not to. Plenty of really good reasons to like you, in fact.”
And again, something changed. Her hand grew tense in mine, but not like she was going to fight. Quite the opposite. She was looking at me really steadily now, and although she was smiling a little less, it wasn’t because she was less happy. I was pretty sure that Chloe’s state of mind had gone well beyond “happy” . . .
The door to the radio house banged open. Johnnie barged into the other room, yelling. “Alvaro? Chloe?”
Who chucked me off her like a bag of rice. Which was fortunate: that way, we were picking ourselves up from opposite walls. Johnnie stared back and forth at us. “What are you guys doing here?”
“Practicing,” Chloe said. She blushed ferociously as she said it.
“Aikido,” I added. Then I translated for Johnnie: “Self-defense. What’s up?”
“Chatter on the radio again. Captain wants you.”
“Your Spanish is better than his.”
I was careful not to look back at Chloe. I’m pretty sure she was careful not to look at me as I raced out.
And I’m pretty sure we each remained intensely aware of exactly where the other was for the rest of that night. I almost thought I could hear her breathing as I lay in my bunk.
Haven’t heard any more transmissions. Wouldn’t mind much if we had: too tired to care.
For the past four days, we’ve been working like dogs. Most of it has been readying more sheets of punctured steel siding and roofing. There’s also been a lot of dragging old struts and pipes and even light girders into the plant, all to hold up the I-beam support that braces the big doorway which opens out to the pier. It’s gonna have to hold a lot of weight.
We’ve also been building a pair of platforms, one on either side of the I-beam so that they flank the access lane that runs right out onto to the pier. We’re building these platforms like they are stools: solid and able to hold up a lot of weight at their center — unless you pull away one of their legs. Which seems to be the plan.
Meanwhile, poor Johnnie’s been out on the shallows in the Voyager‘s dinghy, lashed to either one of two sets of pilings about forty yards out along the pier. He’s been whacking away at them almost all day long, every day, with the biggest of the whale boning axes. He’s got them whittled down so much that I wouldn’t stand on that stretch of the pier on a bet.