On her daily morning walk with the dog along the ocean, Joanna finds him face down in the surf. At first, she thinks the naked fellow is dead, his arms out at his sides and ankles crossed like Christ fallen from the cross. Her instinct is to take out her phone and dial 911, but Rogan nudges the man’s shoulder, and he starts to move.
Joanna takes off her cover-up and thinks she will wrap the man in it. He pushes himself out of the water and moves his head up toward her; she sees a chiseled chin and aquiline nose under the wet sand covering his face. Using the edge of her garment, she wipes the resilient sand from his eyes. When he opens them, they are cobalt blue with deep wide pupils. He stares at her as if blind, moaning slightly, reaching a hand out for help.
Her oceanfront home is not far away, and she manages to get one rubbery arm around her shoulder and guides the fellow swaddled in her flimsy robe that at least covers his privates, even though her closest neighbors are half an acre away on either side of the house. Rogan dutifully follows behind them in his loyal Labrador Retriever way, yellow ears flopping and orange nose snorting as he sniffs at the man’s legs and feet.
Upon entering the enclosed front porch, Joanna lets the man fall onto her wicker loveseat, a place where she once cuddled beaux who long ago disappeared from her life. “You stay here; I’ll get you something to wear.” The man grunts and nods, his face and body still covered with wet sand. She looks back at him and says, “On second thought, let’s give you a shower.”
Joanna guides him to the outdoor stall, built decades ago by her father to facilitate a sand free house by mandating a quick rinse for those returning from the beach. She helps the man into the stall, turns on the faucets, and hands him a bar of soap. The man stares at it momentarily as if it were something unknown to him, but then his eyes blink and he mutters, “Oh, soap.” She shuts the door and allows him some privacy.
While the man showers, she and Rogan go into the house, and she rushes to her father’s room where everything is carefully preserved – the mariner’s barometer and clock, silver ship anchors, and ship’s bell all hanging quietly on the walls. She grabs some of his old clothing, returns to the stall with it and fresh towels, and soon the man is dressed and staggering into her house through the kitchen door. She leads him to the sofa in the den, turns on the television, and hands him the remote control. He looks at it as he did the soap. She asks, “Is the news okay?”
The man stares up at her, his eyes icy blue now, almost translucent. “Yes, please,” he says softly.
“I’m going to make you some tea. Are you hungry?”
He touches his stomach with a shaky hand. “Yes, please.”
Joanna goes into the kitchen and prepares sandwiches and puts the kettle on the stove. She looks up at herself in the mirror over the counter, primping her blonde shoulder-length hair a bit. She thinks she still has her looks, but at 38 believes they will start slowly fading. She stops to apply lipstick and some blush, wondering how she can even think of this guy as a prospect; however, she remembers that her mother met her father after she hit his bicycle with her car. As the old gal used to say, “You have to be ready when opportunity knocks.”
As she prepares sandwiches, she thinks of how handsome the man is, though in an unusual way. His features are almost too perfect, and she could not help but notice his manhood; even flaccid it seemed much bigger than anything she knew from previous lovers.
Joanna tries to shake off any romantic notions and sets the sandwiches on a large floral-patterned plate, placing it on a tray – the tray which she used to bring her ailing mother countless meals and snacks – with teapot, cups, milk, and sugar. As she goes back into the den, she sees that the man has mastered the remote and has been switching channels, stopping at C-Span as she places the tray on the table in front of him.
He stares up at her, and she thinks it strange to see anyone wearing her father’s familiar striped polo shirt and white pants. “Please help yourself to something.” The man sits forward and examines the tray. “These are turkey and cheese; these are ham and cheese, and these are cheese and tomato,” Joanna says pointing to each choice.
“No meat?” he asks looking up at her almost innocently.
“Yes, no meat.”
He takes half of a cheese and tomato sandwich, brings it to his lips, and seems to be negotiating how to open his mouth to get it inside. Joanna sits and flattens her pink paisley skirt and leaves both hands on her lap, noting that the sandwich remains suspended before his lips.
“Are you a vegetarian?” she asks almost in whisper.
He glances at her and nods. “Yes, I never eat animal flesh.”
“Do you like milk and sugar in your tea?”
He stares at the sandwich before his mouth and says, “Please, yes.”
Joanna busily pours his cup of pungent tea, adding a spoonful of sugar and a dash of milk. Rogan barks and she looks up; the sandwich half is now completely in the man’s mouth, and he chews it quickly and swallows.
“My, you were hungry.”
“Yes, hungry,” he says as he chews.
She puts the spoon on the saucer next to the cup and hands it to him. He smells it and then places the saucer on the table. He lifts the cup, extends his pinkie, and sips slowly.
Joanna studies him as he focuses on the teacup. She appreciates the preternatural beauty of his face, the lines smooth but mouth and eyes somehow rigid. His skin is alabaster yet glowing, and his reddish hair becomes stiff as it dries after the shower. She thinks she could fall in love with him even though she realizes the insanity of it all.
“So, what is your name, if you don’t mind me asking?”
He stops sipping the tea and looks up at her, blue eyes glowing. “Anderson.”
“Oh,” she smiles, “but what about your first name.”
He puts the cup down on the saucer on the table, places his hands on his knees, and says, “That is my first name.”
“I see,” she says.
“And what is your name?” he asks.
“Joanna,” she says as he stares at her, and she feels herself blushing, “Joanna McCrae.”
“How lovely,” he says. Anderson looks around the room as if for the first time. “I see the many nautical items on your walls. Do you negotiate the waters?”
“You know, do you sail on the ocean or have a boat?”
Joanna smiles and sighs, “My father was the sailor; everything here was once his.”
He nods stiffly. “I see.”
“Where did you come from? I mean no offense, but I did find you lying naked in the ocean. Did you fall off a ship?”
“A ship?” Anderson stares up at the ceiling. “Yes, yes I came from a ship.”
“How did you get in the water?”
Anderson looks at her, but it seems as if he sees through her body and is looking at something far away. “My ship was on fire; I had to jump into the water to escape.”
“That’s awful,” Joanna says. “Were there other people on board?”
Anderson stands, walks stiffly toward a shelf, and lifts a picture of her father. “This is the nautical man?”
“Uh, yes, that’s my father.”
“I see the resemblance,” he says lowering the picture to the table. He turns to her and smiles for the first time, exposing teeth that are Hollywood perfect. “I was alone on the ship; I have come a long way.”
She knows he has an accent but cannot be sure where he is from. “Are you from England?”
He turns away and looks at the world map on the wall. “No. Very far away.”
“Oh, my, you are far from home.”
He turns to her. “Yes, far from home.”
“Do you need to call someone or send anyone an email?”
“I have no need for correspondence,” he says dryly.
“But you must have a family….”
Anderson’s eyes and face soften. “I did once, but they are no more.”
“I am so sorry,” she says.
He touches a crucifix on the wall above her father’s picture. “What is the significance of this tortured man?”
Joanna gets up and walks over to him. “This is a crucifix; it depicts the execution of Jesus Christ.”
He studies it more closely. “Yes, I know the name, but never have seen this image before.”
“I take it that you are not religious,” she says.
He turns away from the wall and stares at her with eyes that seem heavier now, almost sleepy. “Religion is something I rejected many years ago.”
“Well, I believe in God and go to church every week. I believe Jesus to be the Son of God.”
He glances back at the crucifix. “And your god allowed his son to be treated this way?”
“It’s a long story; perhaps we can discuss it another time. You look tired.”
He staggers a bit and stops himself from falling by grabbing the back of a chair. “I am tired; may I secure a place for resting?”
“Oh, sure, I’ll show you to the guest bedroom.”
He smiles and says, “Thank you for your kindness. I won’t forget it.”
Joanna takes him up the stairs and helps him into her father’s room. Anderson looks around and nods. “The nautical man’s quarters, yes?”
“Yes, this was his room,” Joanna says.
The man moves toward the bed and touches it almost lovingly. “I will sleep well here.”
Joanna opens a drawer and pulls out a pair of her father’s pajamas – anchors, ship wheels, and sailboats are printed all over the cotton material. She hands them to Anderson and says, “These were my father’s.” She points to a door behind them. “That is the bathroom. I hope you have a good night.”
Anderson takes the pajamas and looks up at her. “I will. Thank you.”
Joanna goes out of the room, and as she starts closing the door she feels as if he is willing her to stay the night, but she fights the urge to go back into the room and shuts the door.