Oceanside in the early 1970s
Tom Bowman walked the nearly deserted California beach whilst looking out to the endless sea and sky. Sometimes it would set off memories of his previous adventures in Asia or Australia that were somewhere far beyond his current shore; but mostly he didn't think of anything at all...He would become a part of the cool breeze and soft sand that he felt on his face and on his feet respectively, transform into an element of the surf washing on the sandy shore that he heard and smelled, or merge with the seascape that he was seeing that had as many colours as his own moods. On the other side of the beach was the land where he was now living that he was temporarily escaping from.
When he was free from his work he was drawn to the sea. He felt that if he was away from the shore he was missing something...something he had no idea of what it was, but something important and something necessary.
His expeditions to the coast gave him the opportunity to escape his peers and so called superiors. None of them understood the beauty of a seashore. They would talk to fill in the silence, talk and not say anything...talk merely to kill the beauty, as if they could display the stuffed head of something beautiful as a death trophy on their wall next to their black velvet tapestry of the dogs playing poker that would give them an excuse to talk again of how they had killed the moment that threatened their very own mediocrity...'it was it or me!'
His peers called the town he was in 'Oceanslime' due to its seedy quality. He had travelled enough to realise that grimy looking towns and slimy acting people had spread throughout the United States like a plague when suburban shopping malls had sprung up and the downtown districts had died and decayed. The haves who formerly lived in the area had moved away, the have-nots who 'had not' because they spent their income on drugs, parties, and impressing each other rather than supporting their own families then moved in to replace them, for nature abhors a vacuum.
The city had an extra repulsive reputation as it was next to a large military base that visibly manifested itself when the usual stores of an American town were selling military goods, hosting barbers offering cheap zero to three inches haircuts and the town cinema changing from ordinary family, comedy, action and Western movies to pornographic films. He wasn't comfortable using the word 'adult' theatre or 'adult' shops as though their patrons were over 17 years old, they acted like naughty children imagining they were getting away with something. He was still used to the word 'adult' meaning intelligent and sophisticated, as it had in his childhood where he believed the game show What's My Line? was the template of how adults were supposed to act. Most of the locals believed that had it not been for the adjoining large military base, Oceanside would have been another successful City of Long Beach to its north.
A bright feminine voice that came out of nowhere broke the timeless silence,
'Bobby Shafto's gone to sea,
Silver buckles at his knee;
He'll come back and marry me,
Bonny Bobby Shafto!'
The long forgotten nursery rhyme made him turn from his coastal vigil. The woman's smile and her blue eyes made her even more entrancing...it was one of those moments like his first parachute jump where the three seconds between his leaving the safety of the airplane and the security of his parachute opening expanded into three minutes in his mind. How had she come so close to him without him hearing her or sensing her? It wasn't all that long ago where it would have been fatal to him if he had not reacted to anyone suddenly coming that close to him. 'Swift' and 'silent' was always followed by 'deadly'...
Beneath a light coloured straw hat her dark blonde hair was unkempt and one with the ocean breeze. She wore a hippie type dress that was ablaze with colour, like the inside of a brightly lit aquarium or as if Walt Disney had vomited, in what Australians called a 'Technicolor yawn'. Her fingers were covered with rings; he regarded one ring as being a gentleman, two as being a fop, and any more being Sammy Davis Jr., but she seemed to be wearing an entire jewellery store's wares on her fingers and around her neck and wrists. The baubles, bangles, and beads as well as the rings were as colourful as her dress and blue eyes. She didn't have to bother with any make up, she naturally exuded genuine allure that no money could ever buy.
Like him, she was barefoot and holding her sandals. Had she been younger, he would have imagined her as a runaway from the heart of America seeking what she imagined was the freedom of the coast and the blue Pacific beyond it. He wished an artist could capture her image forever more with the ocean to her back and her bare feet in the water softly breaking on the shore, so he could look at her as she now was for eternity.
He found himself answering her without thinking,
'It was many and many a year ago,
In a kingdom by the sea,
That a maiden there lived whom you may know
By the name of Annabel Lee;
And this maiden, she lived with no other thought
Than to love and be loved by me...'
Her smiling serene expression exploded into rapturous bliss.
'You're a poet and you show it! Did you write that yourself?'
'It be Edgar Allan Po' boy', he replied in a mock American black accent, then spoke like the man on the Quaker Oats box. 'But thee inspired me, Annabel Lee.'
'My name is Leigh, but like Janet Leigh.'
'Janet Leigh's my favourite actress!'
He wasn't making that up.
He had never seen anything sexier in a film than Janet Leigh in lacy lingerie having an afternoon delight with John Gavin in Psycho, and when she picked up the broken pieces of a shattered Frank Sinatra in The Manchurian Candidate. Janet's eyes never left Sinatra as she soothingly spoke to him in a mixture of corny jokes and the amazingly abstract, making him memorise her telephone number and building him back up into a man who could solve mysteries, take action and bust up the joint. Would she be his Janet Leigh?
'Then you must be Robbie Shafto Redford.'
'I will be for you, but my code name is Tom Bowman.'
'What do you do for a living, Tom Bowman?'
He liked how she said both his first name and surname as one word; as if he were an Indian brave.
'Can you guess by my haircut?'
'What do you do for a living, Tom Bowman?', she repeated.
'I'm one of Uncle Sam's Misguided Children.'
She laughed, 'Whenever I ask that question I get one of two answers, either "I'm in the Marines" or "I'm a Marine" that tells me a lot about the person I'm talking to because the answers have a different meaning. Your answer is the first I've heard, where you use your initials to mean something else, but something true.'
'What does that tell you?'
'That you march to the beat of a different drummer.'
'Lady, I march to the beat of my own symphony orchestra.'
'I'll bet you do.'
'And what do you do?'
'I'm a sea witch, but I have a job at the Carlsbad Mall.'
'What do sea witches do?'
'Notions, lotions, potions...emotions...'
'And we're by the ocean.'
'And I've a notion, we have a caffeine potion...I know the best place in town.'
What she declared the best place in town was her flat in a dilapidated neighbourhood. She was true to her word as she had an Italian espresso machine.
She lived over one of the older buildings in Oceanside where she had decorated her realm like a child's version of a cave beneath the sea or the Octopus's Garden song. He reflected that the Marines weren't all that different in that way for they still used naval terminology when they weren't all at sea. Rather than being off duty, he was ashore on shore leave from the Fleet Marine Force, though he hadn't been afloat since before he returned to Camp Pendleton where he had originally been trained. He would eventually finish out his current cruise, or term of enlistment.
Fortunately her home smelled of a variety of aromatic and exotic fragrances rather than dead fish or rotting seaweed.
Her bed was a four poster that had a canopy of netting...like a hovel in a fishing village...or a camouflaged fighting hole or a gun emplacement...or a spider's web...
He carefully watched her make the coffee as they chatted, lest one of her large stone rings contained a drug or poison. He was the first to admit that he was a paranoid, he believed that it had kept him alive in Vietnam and he would tell everyone that he wouldn't be paranoid if everyone wasn't out to get him...An optimist could never ever be pleasantly surprised as he was when his potential living nightmares didn't come to pass. Every town outside a military base had its scum who lived off what they presumed were the gullible servicemen. Unlike the military bases that conducted basic training and had newly graduated recruits unconsciously wishing to be shorn like sheep, Camp Pendleton was a different story. On the rare occasion a robbery, beating or scam against a Leatherneck would occur, the Marines would sweep into Oceanslime like the death wind of the Lord's vengeance against Pharaoh's Egyptians who gave Moses a hard time. The streets would be savagely swept of anyone who even looked remotely guilty or anti-military.
His peers had told him that he was too much of a loner, and loners were stragglers. They were picked off one by one, silently stabbed, strangled or had their throats slit if they were lucky, otherwise they'd be captured and would be found tied to a tree with their sliced off sexual organs stuffed in their mouth. The civilians would then wonder over their newspapers why Marines were prone to carry out 'war crimes' in retaliation...In his time in Vietnam he had never actually seen that occur, but it served the purpose of motivating Marines to never, ever deviate from the fold. He wondered if his father's generation of Marines had seen that in the Pacific themselves, or if was scuttlebutt passed down by the Old Salts.
Their conversation had continued nonstop from their walk along the beach to her home, and over coffee. He excused himself to use her toilet.
He was surprised when he returned...
She lay in the bed and invited him with her smile.
He sighted an American flag flying in the sea breeze with his peripheral vision outside the window. He turned to salute it, then saluted her.
'Permission to come aboard, Ma'am.'
Leigh pulled the covers off her with her left hand to reveal her divine naked body and returned his salute with her right hand.
'Permission granted, Marine...permission granted...with pleasure.'
He amused her with a parody of a strip tease, she giggled like a teenager at a slumber party watching her best friend's Truth or Dare. When he climbed on top of her, her expression changed into one of frightened horror as she held both sides of his head and looked into his eyes as if her eyes were laser beams boring through him. Her facial expression was if she were going down for the third and final time in the ocean, he felt her body stiffen.
'Semper Fidelis, amans mea...I know you know the difference between "Semper Fidelis" and "Semper Fi".'
'My Dad was a Marine in the Pacific in World War II. He never talked about it much until he was dying with cancer and we bonded over it together. I couldn't wait to leave my stepmother and come out here to the Pacific, but I never found any Marine who could measure up to him until I saw a certain someone on our beach...'
She pulled his head to hers and kissed him as he never had been kissed before. He kept kissing her as he felt for his trousers by the side of the bed, grabbed his wallet, then removed and unwrapped one of the condoms inside and placed it on his expanding symbol of manhood, all with one hand.
* * *
He awoke to the sound of Leigh singing without words to a beautiful tune he had never heard before but would never forget.
'Tea, my darling?'
'I've always wanted to be someone's darling...not counting my mother of course.'
She mounted him and kissed him as she had before.
'I love you, Tom Bowman!'
Their affair continued, though during the week he couldn't sleep with her as he had his uniform, gear and the squad he lead to square away and keep his eye on.
Though she was wonderful company, he had come to the conclusion that the reason for her happiness and enthusiasm for nearly everything was because she was a child who had grown up physically, but not mentally. She explained her positive spirit had everything to do with being a sea witch, though she called herself an 'ondine'. She described to him in a gentle manner that sounded as if she was reading out of a children's story book that her life was based on raising energy from the sea beating on the coast, the storms with their thunder and lightning, the colours of the sunsets, even the fogs and mists that came in the morning. After his time in Vietnam he accepted everything that came, Leigh was Leigh and Leigh just was...
He neither fully believed, nor disbelieved what she said, but he always listened and tried not to sound confrontational when he asked her questions. In some ways it was like living with a child who actually believed her games in playing faerie princess.
Once she told him that being with him gave her a soul. He seemed surprised by that as he thought everyone had a soul, whether they knew it or not. She grabbed his head with both her hands again and gave him the most intense look since when they first made love; she vowed that if he was unfaithful to her he would die. He recounted funny sea stories to her about the Marines posted to or on shore leave in Subic Bay and Olongapo who were threatened and chased down the street by their Filipino girlfriends with machetes. She laughed like a child, but he caught a very determined look in her eye for just an instant. The excitement seemed to make her more passionate in her lovemaking.
One day he dropped a bombshell on her.
'My company commander told me I'm being shipped out to Okinawa sooner than you think for about a year on an unaccompanied tour.'
'I can't go with you?'
'No, not even if you were my wife. Would you like to marry me anyway?'
'Why are they sending you to Okinawa?'
'The Third Marine Division needs bodies. You knew this could happen someday.'
'I didn't want it to happen.'
'No one does, but shit happens. Will you marry me?'
'Whether we're married or not, you'll be away for a year! I'll lose my soul!'
'You'll never lose your soul as long as I'm around, no matter where I am, I'm only a kiss away.'
'You don't understand Tom Bowman, there are forces that will take my soul!'
'Nobody takes your soul without your permission. If we can't tough it out for one year then we really haven't a relationship, have we? Semper Fidelis goes both ways, Leigh.'
She was half screaming half crying like a child having a tantrum.
'You don't understand! They'll take my soul as soon as you leave me!'
'Who'll take your soul? Samantha on Bewitched? The Wicked Witch of the West from The Wizard of Oz? Tell me!'
'You've accepted that I'm a white witch and wouldn't harm anyone, except you if you'd betray me, but there are dark witches who live on souls like vampires feed on blood!'
'The Marines have people who feed on your souls too, but you learn to stand up to them, move away or live with them and let them know you won't take their shit. Don't you have relatives you can stay with outside of California?'
'I've told you I've burned my bridges behind me.'
'Why don't you join the National Guard or something? Man, if you joined the Marine Reserves your D.I. would beat the shit out of any soul stealing witch and turn them inside out!'
'It's not funny!'
'I'm serious, you're afraid someone or some force is going to get you in the one year that I'm away. I'm saying sign up for the Reserves and for at least six months training you'll be safer than anything, because NO ONE will be able to get at you! You could probably go active for another six months until I came back, we'll be together and I'll either find a job or re-up! In the meantime you could go on a retreat with one of the Catholic Churches, man, those nuns can throw any witch over the fence! I've lived in your world, why don't you have a go in living in mine?'
'I don't believe in war, the military, or religion.'
'Well, you'd better believe that they can smash evil and protect the hell out of you!'
'You're crazy, Tom Bowman, but I love you because you believe me!'
'Love means never having to say you're normal.'
She sobbed in his arms as he held her.
'I knew you were the man for me when I saw you on the beach and you were a part of it!'
'Now, I'm a part of you! Marry me and every Devil Dog will protect you when I'm gone from your view, but not your heart. You can see your soul every time you look at the ring I'm going to put on your finger!'
Sergeant Bowman had known a policeman who told him they handled schizophrenics who swore they heard voices in their heads by giving them a lead pipe to place under their pillow that would stop the voices. As they believed in the policemen, they believed in the power of the ordinary lead pipe. He could never bring himself to lie to the childlike Leigh, she would have to find strength somewhere without him.
They married in an old wooden chapel on the base with the Marines from his company on one side of the aisle and half the eccentrics in Oceanslime on the other, for it was the only place on the ocean where you could live for the proverbial song. He was in his dress blues, she was in a drop dead gorgeous blue dress with sea creatures tastefully embroidered on it in gold and wore a floral tiara. She had her landlords, Mr. and Mrs. Dieso who rented her the room where their own daughter once lived as her father and the matron of honour respectively. The chaplain adlibbed 'these two worlds' after 'these two people' during the ceremony. Afterwards they had a rousing Marine party.
She wasn't keen to attend a Roman Catholic Retreat or enlist in the Marine Corps Reserve, but she did as she trusted him and he demanded she prove it by doing those two things, for he could think of nothing else to protect her if her fears were real.
He was clever enough to cover his tracks by posing his queries for outside advice as a 'what if'. As he predicted, none of the priests would even play Devil's Advocate to the idea of witches stealing souls, though they had asked their own parishioners to believe a lot of things purely on faith. Even worse were his fellow Marines who would always have at least one 'expert' based on knowledge gained from seeing a trashy film or reading a dopey comic book. They all wore heavily starched faded green utilities and spit shined combat boots instead of pyjamas and bathrobes with an embroidered HOME FOR THE CRIMINALLY INSANE emblem.
He had only confided the entire matter to one person, his company Gunnery Sergeant.
'You think I'm a bullshit man, Gunny?'
'I know you've gone Asiatic, Bowman, but I believe you're as serious as a King Cobra and twice as deadly.'
His Gunny, who had acted as his best man had also been his platoon sergeant in Vietnam. He accepted Bowman's story one hundred per cent. He swore above and below that he'd watch out for her, and he had others who would watch out for her. That's what Marine war buddies did....
The day came when he was shipped out, and soon after she kept everything at the Dieso's once she shipped out for her own Marine boot camp and military operational specialty school. From the distance of Okinawa, he somehow felt as much as a father to her as he was her husband.
He read the letters from her that were identical to every letter written by every Marine in boot camp. First she was afraid that she was going to die, then she was afraid that she wasn't going to die, then before her graduation she imparted the feeling that nothing could kill her.
The letters continued over her military trade school, then she was back in Oceanside and sometime after she was promoted to be a manageress in her store. There was none of the fears that she had been worried about.
The day came when they finally met again.
He was in his dress green uniform, she was colourfully bur conservatively dressed and coiffed. Her eyes were somehow different.
Their bedroom was their first stop...
* * *
'I'm so proud of you, Leigh. You survived the Marines.'
'I had my doubts at first, but they gave me confidence. Once I had that, my life fell into place.'
'So that's what's in your eyes! I knew something had changed...and now you're a manageress.'
'And the Diesos want to sell their house, they want to move East to be with their daughter who's expecting. Can we buy it?'
'That sounds perfect! While I was in Okie I applied for the Oceanside Police, I'll be taking the tests while I finish out my cruise. Nixon brought in some new programme to give Federal funding to police forces to hire Vietnam vets! I'll be here to stay!'
They lovingly and longingly kissed each other.
He looked into her happy and confident blue eyes.
'So the black witches and boogiemen didn't get you after all!', he laughed.
One night I was walking on the street when a car pulled over and some creeps threw me in the back of their car.'
He was panicked, she was as cool as her icy blue eyes.
'Praise the Lord, Murray and his date were driving behind us and followed them.'
'Murray the drag queen?'
'Murray the drag queen! I had no idea where we went, but the two of them tailed us and saw where they took me.'
'Then what happened???'
They took me inside and tied me down to a sturdy table they called their altar and had a creep convention. The place was full of them, everything from black witches to devil worshippers to lawyers.'
'Then what happened????'
'They told me I could scream all I wanted because no one could hear me, so I asked them if they could hear me. They said "yes", so I politely asked them to please go fuck themselves and the horses they rode in on. Boy, that pissed them off, I was a real party pooper. I had a lot more funny phrases I learned from the rough girls in boot camp to tell them, but one of the witches gagged me...don't you get any ideas, Mister!'
'Then what happened????'
'Simple Simon the Kingshit of the Witches pulled out a dopey knife and they began chanting like Imbecile Bandstand . I just remembered the time when you told me they acted like kids playing games in the basement after seeing a scary movie and I broke out laughing, that really stopped their fun for a bit.'
Bowman was more frightened than he was in his first firefight in Vietnam, she was smiling and in control as if she were telling a ghost story to a child that she was babysitting.
'Then what happened????'
'The cocksucker cut me with his knife, not very deep, the scar's gone. I closed my eyes and began to pray.'
'Murray or his date called the police?'
'Oh better than that, Tom Bowman. I heard the door busted down with a battering ram, then I heard Denise my sergeant scream, "GIVE YOUR SOULS TO GOD, BECAUSE YOUR ASSES ARE OURS!" The room filled up with Women Marines with baseball bats and they went to town on them all like they were piñatas. Murray was with them too. Did you know he used to be a professional wrestler? I never knew that until he started mopping up the floor with a bunch of the devilettes.'
Bowman forgot his panic and recalled a memory.
'Outside our wedding I saw a group of young leathernecks giving Murray heaps about his dress. He laughed and smiled until one of them touched his dress and he threw him to the deck with a piledriver, then every one of them started gushing in compliments...but then what happened???'
'Alejanda untied me, then gave me her baseball bat and said "get some, girl!" and I did! Tom Bowman, I never felt so good in my life when I hit home runs on two of them. Then I paid my respects to Simple Simon...'
'Did you thank him for a lovely time?'
'I told him to "eat shit and die", then I gave him the grand slam. I was as mad as hell, then I was as glad as hell, then when all the shitheads were lying on the deck like busted balloons, all the girls hugged me and I realised I'd never have any better friends in my life. Is that how you feel when you go to war and why you won't admit that you love that feeling of doing a job against nasty people with your brothers and sisters?'
'That's it in a nutshell, Leigh', he was calming down, 'then what happened?'
'Oh we all went out for pizza. Murray went through their purses and wallets, he said he used telepathy to take up a collection with their blessings.'
He breathed a sigh of relief, then looked back into Leigh's eyes that now seemed sad.
'You still love me, don't you Tom Bowman?'
He kissed her intensely.
'More than ever, leatherneck! What makes you think I don't?'
She became pensive and turned away from him. Her eyes looked sadder.
'You know, when you're a Marine, you talk, and you listen, not only to your buddies and your sergeant, but your chaplain as well. He said that when a lot of Marines go away on floats or deployments they come back to find their little wifey is now self-sufficient and doesn't need him to change a fuse or fix something in the house. They go into ego overdrive because they can't take it, first they fight, then they leave...'
A tear came down her face. He pulled her head back towards his.
'I'd never leave you. Leigh. My Church and my Corps gave me faith in you when I was away and now you've come up stronger!'
She looked in his eyes, the tears were flowing.
'I'm not the same person that I was.'
'Then I'll get to fall in love with you all over again! You're better than the same, you're the best of both worlds!'
'I've heard about so many divorces when the Marine husband comes home...'
'I march to the beat of my own symphony orchestra, remember?'
She radiantly smiled,
'Let's make some beautiful music together!'
Author Notes: I am the author of three Extra Dimensional/Ultraterrestial military science fiction novels MERCENARY EXOTIQUE, OPERATION CHUPACABRA and WORK IN OTHER WORLDS FROM YOUR OWN HOME! as well as two travel books THE MAN FROM WAUKEGAN and TWO AUSTRALIANS IN SCOTLAND (all from Lulu.com). I live happily ever after with my wife in paradise (coastal Kiama, NSW Australia).