Grant Erikssen likes women, but he doesn't claim to understand them. He can only chronicle his encounters, and their long-lasting effects, as he seeks to unlock their secrets. In Adrift on the River of Love, author Erik Granstrøm presents a collection of fi fteen fi ctionalized short stories as a tribute to many of the girls Grant knew as a boy, the women he met later as a Lieutenant in the army and, still later, the women he loves as a man.
In this work, covering more than sixty years, each vignette illustrates women who changed Erikssen's life forever, as they kindled his emotions and gave him rare insights into life. Combined with the themes throughout of affection and desire, Adrift muses about unrequited love-the kind of love that, as the days dwindle down, we come to cherish most of all.
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Adrift ON THE RIVER OF LoveA COLLECTION OF FIFTEEN SHORT STORIES
By Erik Granstrøm
iUniverse, Inc.Copyright © 2013 The Legacy Chronicle
All right reserved.
The whole thing is going to take less than thirty seconds—maybe twenty.
It is a beautiful, windy mid-September afternoon on Lake Minnetonka. With the temperature at about sixty-five degrees and a steady thirty miles per hour wind out of the north, the three nineteen-year old boys in cut-off jeans and sweatshirts—Pete, Buzz and Grant—are slicing through the water aboard Grant's class D Johnson Boatworks racing sloop carrying two hundred and fifty square feet of mainsail and a jib run up on a thirty foot hickory mast.
In two weeks the boys will be college sophomores.
Grant is the skipper. He is looking for maximum speed. To get the most wind against mainsail, he has brought the boom almost to the center of the boat.
The bright blue sky is full of large white clouds rolling and billowing, driven hard by the wind, shot through with long golden beams of sunlight, and here and there they are edged in dark and almost forbidding gray, a reminder that autumn may be only days away.
On the D boat the three boys are making due west about half a mile off Pillsbury Point and its mansions, moving fast, perhaps up to twenty knots, and having a wild—and scary—time.
Grant is at the rear of the cockpit with the dual tiller in his hand; behind him Minnetonka's dark green water is boiling up white from beneath the boat's dual rudders; Pete is forward in the cockpit crouched below the mainsail boom with both hands on the jib lines controlling the forward sail; and Buzz who started out sitting on the port railing is now holding the railing tightly, his arms and wrists stretched almost out of joint as he holds as much of the rest of his body as possible out over the water, trying to use his weight to keep the angle on the mast from dipping any more to starboard and dumping them all in the lake.
With this much wind and this much sail, Grant knows—he knows he needs to make the best possible use of Buzz's weight to keep the boat from turning over.
Grant is six feet tall and one hundred and sixty-five pounds. He is looking at Buzz, who weighs about two hundred twenty five, most of which is now hanging out over the water, and he is thinking that with two more like him they'd have a better chance of keeping out of the lake.
In the back of his mind Grant is aware that at the speed the boat is moving they are fast running out of lake—unless the boys would care to join the Pillsburys for afternoon tea and cake.
Moving from the back of his mind to the front, Grant is becoming more conscious by the second that very soon—very soon—Grant is going to have to bring the boat about, and sharply.
What happens next, happens in the space of seconds, over a stretch of water of no more than fifty yards.
Still racing at high speed toward Pillsbury Point, the boys come up on a forty-five foot cabin cruiser which is lying off to starboard and parallel to them, only about thirty yards away. It is idling slowly, it is almost at a stand-still.
The boys are not in danger of a collision, but in seconds the D-boat will overtake the cruiser, racing by within twenty-five yards.
The boys see clearly that on the fore-deck of the cruiser there is a woman sitting in an aluminum folding-chair. At this point the cruiser is no more than twenty yards away. In the bright sunlight the visibility is excellent. She is wearing blue Madras-plaid Bermudas and a cranberry cardigan sweater.
The woman seems to be reading a magazine, apparently not noticing that the D-boat is about to race past the cruiser, but suddenly she lays her magazine on the deck next to her chair and rises.
Even at the D-boat's considerable speed, with the wind nearly howling past the boys' ears and the wake from the bow rolling up green and folding over in a white spray that streams past their faces, each of the boys sees two things. So clearly in that nearly frozen instant of speed, yellow sunlight, blue sky and green water each of them sees that the woman rising from the chair on the fore-deck of the cruiser is about sixty years old.
And they see that she is incredibly beautiful.
She looks like a queen and moves like a panther.
Tall, trim and very tan, with a heavy mane of softly-waved, iron-gray hair mixed with a still darker gray, she has a full, sensual mouth outlined in cranberry to match her sweater. Her large dark eyes show utter, total, absolute self-assurance. Yes, there are some lines around her eyes, and even her forehead, but they only add more to the impression of queenliness.
As the boys on the D-boat speed past the cruiser in a torrent of wind and water, the woman calmly unfastens the one button that is holding her cardigan closed, and in what seems to be a single, flowing, incredibly sinuous movement, she slips off her sweater and drops it to the deck. She has revealed the top of a very generously filled-out dark blue bathing suit, and the neck and shoulders of a classical ballerina. Finally, she arches her back, raises her long, firm, tan, arms upward in a delicious sweep—resulting, the boys cannot fail to see, in thrusting her generous breasts forward and upward, and she runs her long, slim fingers faintly sparkling with conservatively-sized diamonds back through her rich, heavy gray-on-gray hair, her cranberry lips widening in a half-smile, half-yawn over perfect, white teeth.
The idea that her entire movement and final pose was right out of Hollywood flitted somewhere across the back of Grant's mind.
And now, with Grant's nineteen-year old gaze riveted on the woman, the following seven things happen in the next five seconds:
1. out of the corner of Grant' eyes he sees Pete and Buzz contemplating the woman with eyes the size of half-dollars;
2. over the rush of the wind and the swirl of the water Grant sees Buzz staring at the woman and hears him shout, "Oh my God!!;"
3. one of the six woven-metal guy-lines running up from the deck of the D-boat to near the top of the mast comes loose from its mooring on the deck, resulting in a dramatic shift in the tension on the mast;
4. fifteen feet up, the mast snaps in two;
5. the top half of the mast—fifteen feet of it—with the top fifteen feet of the mainsail, shoots out to star-board and smashes into the lake with a splash like a shell from an eight-inch naval gun;
6. from the remaining fifteen feet of the mast that is still upright, a cascade of white canvas tumbles down over the three boys; and
7. almost instantly the D-boat is dead in the water.
By the time the boys struggle out from under the sail, the cabin cruiser has moved ahead a good fifty yards, and seems to be picking up speed.
The incredibly beautiful woman has retaken her chair on the fore-deck, and doesn't seem to be looking back at the D boat at all. The cruiser is fast getting smaller, and she with it. As Grant watches, in a few seconds she is nothing more than a blur of silver-gray, dark blue and cranberry.
And then she is gone.
Grant is still clutching the dual tillers of the D-boat in his hands. He looks up at the jagged shards of the mast fifteen feet up, he looks out over starboard into the windy green lake and sees the top half of the mast bobbing in the water, and he doesn't care.
He has just seen the most beautiful woman in the world. He has just seen the most beautiful woman in the world, and she is sixty years old!
It is clear to Grant that she is sixty years old, and still his nineteen-year old heart is pounding.
The mast of his boat is broken, it will cost five hundred dollars for a new one, and he'll never get it before the end of the season. He knows that he has lost as many as thirty days of sailing, depending on when autumn leaves begin to fall, and he doesn't care!
He has seen such beauty that his heart is flying for the rest of the afternoon.
It is weeks before Pete, Buzz and Grant can stop talking about the beautiful woman. They wonder if they will see her next summer, and they hope that they will.
But they don't see her next summer.
They don't see her the next summer even though weekend after weekend they spend hours sailing off Pillsbury Point on Grant's D-boat with its new mast of a new design. The base of the mast is hollowed slightly to accommodate a steel ball on the deck of the boat—it looks like the ball for a trailer hitch—that allows the mast to twist an inch or two to port and starboard depending on the force of the wind, thus greatly reducing the stress on the guy lines and the mast itself.
They spend hours and hours on many weekends sailing off Pillsbury Point, but they don't see the beautiful woman that next summer.
They don't ever see her again.
* * *
My God, she was beautiful, Grant is thinking. He is sitting at his kitchen table. He lives alone. Over his shoulder, on a nearby wall, there is a calendar that says October 1991.
Grant is forty-nine years old now, only months away from fifty. The years are quickly slipping past.
Outside the window there is a tall maple tree laden with orange-gold leaves.
The autumn leaves drift past my window The autumn leaves of red and gold ...
A radio is playing softly in the background, so softly that Grant can barely hear it.
"That was pianist Roger Williams' famous version of Autumn Leaves, from 1959, where the downward-drifting leaves are given sound by Williams' fingers flying down the keyboard."
But Grant's thoughts are not on 1961, when he saw the beautiful lady, although she is somewhere, floating in his head.
Grant's mind has slipped back to the day before Thanksgiving 1952, when he was ten, in fifth grade in the old two-story dark-brown-brick school building that had been built before World War I.
He loved that building. Each of the four classrooms had fourteen-foot ceilings and a wall of tall, many-paned, double-hung windows that went up almost as high.
His teacher was Mrs. Arends, a plump lady in her fifties, who always wore suits. She was strict, but beneath her strictness there was a reserved kindness.
"Jim", she was saying, "why don't you get the stepladder out of the cloakroom, and set it up next to the widows. "And Loretta, would you please get the broom and the big dustpan out of the closet and bring them out."
Jim was the tallest boy in the class, and Jimmy was the shortest boy.
Six weeks earlier, Mrs. Arends had asked her students to bring in leaves that had fallen from the maples around the edge of the playground.
She chose the freshest leaves and showed the students how to put a loop of Scotch tape on the back and attach them to the glass of the windows using the stepladder.
With the light behind them, the leaves looked nice and, since the windows faced East, in the mornings with the sun shining through them, they lit the room with their red and gold.
I wish I could see her again, Grant is thinking.
Mrs. Arends let the kids have turns on the ladder pulling the leaves off the windows. After six weeks attached to the glass, the leaves had become dried and brittle, and as the kids pulled them, they crumbled into tiny fragments and fell to the worn wood floor beneath the windows.
"Autumn Leaves was originally a French song," the announcer says quietly. "The original French title of the song would be translated as ...
... the Dead Leaves."
Jimmy swept the leaves into the heavy steel dust pan that Mrs. Arends asked Janice to hold. Grant watched from his desk. Janice held the dustpan higher than necessary and let the fragments of dry fragments of leaves tumble into the wastebasket.
Chapter TwoMichael's Aunt
For a long time it seemed to Grant that there were probably only three likely explanations for what Meredith Brackenhurst did with him:
1. She was suffering from a mental or emotional malady which manifested itself in the form of sexual aggressiveness;
2. She was not ill at all, but rather, notwithstanding her detached Ivy League coolness, her cashmere sweater, dark muted plaid wool skirt and perfectly arranged chestnut brown hair, she came naturally equipped with an incredibly powerful sexual desire; or
3. She had a perfectly ordinary sexual desire—perhaps it was even a bit on the weak side—but she found him absolutely, overwhelmingly irresistible.
It happened on Thanksgiving weekend 1966, although he often thought of it as having happened in September because it always came back to him when he heard the song Try to Remember. It's the one that has the line that goes:
Deep in December
It's nice to remember
the kind of September
when you were a young and callow fellow
He thought of it in connection with Try to Remember because Thanksgiving weekend 1966 in southern Illinois was much more like a warm late September fall weekend, with the leaves still on the trees in gold and red and auburn and the blue of the late afternoon sky carrying with it only a hint of the grayer blue of late fall, and because he heard the song on the radio with Meredith next to him, and because eventually he came to realize that he had indeed been a young and tender fellow—and most certainly callow.
At the time he was twenty-four, he was a brand new Second Lieutenant taking a six-month course at the U.S. Army administration school at Fort Benjamin Harrison near Indianapolis, and with his Army style hair just barely long enough to part, his freshly-scrubbed face, and his eagerness to please he realized later that he must have seemed more like a candidate for the rank of Eagle Scout than a recent college graduate commissioned out of ROTC.
It was one of the first times he had been away from home for longer than a summer, and he knew that being away from his parents on Thanksgiving Day was going to be tough. It would be a three-day weekend, and he was anticipating hollow, melancholy days hanging around a post which almost everyone else would have deserted.
Michael Van Brock, his roommate in the Williamsburg-style dormitory of double rooms for young officer students, must have noticed it.
"Why don't you come down to Springfield with me and have dinner with me and my folks?" he said. He was tall and dark-haired, with a cherubic face—if cherubs have five-o'clock shadows. He was talking about Springfield, Illinois.
He said, "It's more than a hundred miles, but they'll never know." He was talking about the Army not knowing that if they actually went to Springfield, they would be going beyond the one-hundred mile limit for a three-day pass.
He said, "We can sign out for Champaign-Urbana, take the train over there but keep on going up to Peoria. Then we'll transfer and go straight to Springfield. Hell, I've even done it on a two-day pass."
Grant must have looked dubious.
"It's not like we would be lying," Michael went on. "We are going to Champaign-Urbana. We're just going a little farther, that's all."
Grant looked up from polishing his almost new Second Lieutenant's bars with a cloth dampened with paste from a nearby can of Brasso.
"Well," he said, "we're ... supposed to be setting an example ... for the enlisted men ..."
Michael said, "Hell, the Army doesn't give a damn how many miles we go, that's not what they're worried about. They just want to be sure we're back here by Lights Out on Sunday night. It's an old regulation left over from when they didn't have airplanes."
He went on. "And we're sure to be back here by Sunday night, because we're taking the train. You can always get a seat on a train, not like an airplane, and they're not stopped by bad weather or anything."
"You really think it's a regulation left over from the old days?" Grant said.
"Sure. They probably just keep it around because a lot of guys coming back here on Sunday night try to fly standby so they can fly at half price and then at the last minute they can't get a seat. But we'll be taking the train. We're sure to get on board. I've already done it. Twice, actually. Nobody cares as long as we're back here on time."
Grant continued to look dubious.
"I'll tell you what," Michael said, "just to make sure you're back in time, we'll get the Saturday night train in Springfield and we'll be back here Sunday morning. We'll be here practically a whole day ahead of time—eighteen hours at least. You can study or polish your bars the whole afternoon and night."
* * *
They got the train in Indianapolis on the Wednesday night before Thanksgiving. A few miles out of the city Grant went into the men's room and changed out of his uniform into light colored chino pants, a blue oxford cloth shirt, light brown crew neck sweater and penny loafers. He thought he could pass for a civilian, but he saw in the mirror that the civilian clothes made his hair look even shorter.
Michael had called his parents to tell them to plan for a guest at Thanksgiving dinner, and had asked to be picked up at the station in Springfield. He had neglected to tell Grant until they were coming into Springfield, however, that his parents lived in Vandalia, a town of five thousand a good hour's drive south of Springfield.
Excerpted from Adrift ON THE RIVER OF Love by Erik Granstrøm Copyright © 2013 by The Legacy Chronicle. Excerpted by permission of iUniverse, Inc.. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
2 Michael's Aunt....................9
3 Pull Out All The Stops, Dorothea....................21
4 Black Nylons....................25
5 You Oughta Be In Pictures....................45
7 Jaclyn and Carolyn....................89
8 Burger King Girl....................99
9 The Women of a Summer in Paris....................107
10 The Lieutenant and The Lady Nakamura....................141
12 Emily's Mother....................159
13 Auburn A Story of Teenage Love In Four Parts....................169
15 Mexicali Rose....................231
End Notes The Music Of The Stories....................253