The Thunder of Nautilus

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Marie and Nigel

A lone cottage covered with ivy and climbing roses sat not far from the coastal town of Bristol, in the green countryside of Wiltshire. The cottage, with its garden of flowers and herbs, was situated between a manor house to the north and a historic Gothic castle to the south. Down a narrow track from the cottage, a wide brook meandered gracefully from north to south and partly through 200 acres of forest belonging to the manor’s current owner

The cottage belonged to Nigel Wordsworth, who was gay in both senses of the word, and he was known to throw fantastic dinner and cocktail parties for his clients and a select circle of friends at his rented flat, which featured sweeping views over the river Thames. He told his close friends he’d looked for “Mr. Right” in his youth, and he’d been a total slut along the way, but as he got older he decided to be celibate and assured his friends that it was the best decision he’d made to date. Consequently he gave up on quitting smoking and drinking and was never seen in any fitness club again.

Instead of worrying about his non-existent love life, he invested time, energy, and money in the renovation of his cottage, starting with the gutting of the downstairs interior in order to create a generous open living space and finishing with two bedrooms and a new bathroom upstairs. The walls got a new coat of paint, the antique furniture a new lease on life, and the old kitchen a contemporary look, and new functionality.

Giving up on the naïve notion of finding Mr. Right was shared by his German friend, Marie, who’d worked as an au pair in his family home after she hadfinished school, and they’dremained in touch, after she’d returned to her home town of Hamburg. Within two months she told Nigel that she’d enrolled to study English literature, and detailed progress of her “fun days at University” followed.

Three years later, Nigel received a postcard from Western Australia, where Marie was spending a couple of months traveling, and she informed Nigel that she’d fallen in love with the blue sky, the Indian Ocean, and the red earth of the bush. Once back in Germany, she wrote to him that since her holiday she wished for nothing more than to discover that amazing oversized island, which had left a deep impression on her mind and soul and awakened her sense of adventure.

“PS,” she wrote, “have met suntanned Australian, getting married.”

She came to visit him in London with her husband before they took the train to Southampton, where a poor excuse for a luxury liner was waiting to take them to the other side of the globe. Nigel had instantly disliked the man his friend had married, and was therefore not surprised when Marie sent a letter not even a year later informing him that she’d separated, filed for divorce, and was continuing her Australian adventure with her best friend, a border collie mix. She further wrote that she’d scored a job as a travel journalist. For six years Nigel received letters, postcards, and the occasional phone call from around Australia until the day Marie called from Germany.

She told Nigel that her father had died suddenly and she’d returned for the funeral. After expressing his condolences, Nigel asked about her dog she’d never failed to mention in her travel reports, and she told him that he’d also died and she felt quite lonely without him. Her dad, she explained, had left her a little bit of money and she was looking for some solitude—an uninhabited island or a place in the country—since she wanted and needed time to just write for a while.

Nigel said, “I’ve got the perfect place for you. I have a cute cottage in the country, and you’re welcome to stay as long as you like. I hardly use the place, and it could do with a caretaker— you know, a woman’s touch.”

Marie thought it was a fantastic offer, and they agreed that Marie would come to England as soon as possible. Within a month she’d booked her ticket, and Nigel organized a welcome-to-London party for the day she was to arrive, a Friday. The friends had only a bit of time to talk before the first party guests arrived, and although Marie wished she had more alone time with Nigel, being a natural party girl she got into the mood quickly.

When she awoke with a hangover the next day, she vaguely remembered how Nigel had got her into bed dressed in pj’s ,with sleeves longer than her arms, and oversized pants, which immediately slipped down when she got up, almost tripping her. “Fuck,” she said and pulled up the pants. “Fuck, fuck, and fuck . . .” Then she stumbled into the bathroom and found a note from Nigel, written in red lipstick on a huge mirror with a baroque frame, “Morning sunshine—look for black bag, a little welcome present.” The bag contained a new toothbrush and travel-sized body lotion, face cream, and perfume by Dior. Only Nigel would be so thoughtful and extravagant, she thought.

After she dressed, she went into the kitchen and was greeted with “Hello there, Marie,” by one of Nigel’s gorgeous and obviously gay friends she’d been introduced to the night before. She’d forgotten his name. Charles, Edward, James? she thought.

“I’m Jim,” he said, smiling. “Breakfast?”

“Breakfast would be great,” she said appreciatively, and after a refreshing cup of Earl Grey, a slice of toast, and at least a liter of water and another of orange juice, she felt almost human again.

She was just about to ask Jim where their host was when Nigel came into the kitchen, greeting them each with a kiss on the cheek and asking, “Ready for some more booze?” which elicited a simultaneous “Why not” from his friends. Nigel took a bottle of California Zinfandel from the rack and asked them to come with their glasses out on the balcony, where they settled back, wrapped in soft cotton wool blankets, on comfortable designer rattan chairs.

“I just love this view, the grey on grey and the nuances of grey between the water and the sky,” Marie said, looking over the river.

“Don’t you miss the blue sky and forever sunshine of your beloved Australia?” Nigel asked.

“Sunshine is overrated,” Marie answered. Nothing wrong with grey skies and rainy days.”

“Well, that is just as well, ’cause grey skies and rainy days we have plenty of, and this is only the beginning of autumn. Hope you brought your Wellingtons for the country,” Nigel said.

“No, I haven’t—come on,” Marie said, feigning disgust “I won’t be seen in such unbecoming footwear . . . well, not unless they have bright red dots, or something.”

Nigel laughed, got up, and returned with black gum boots— with red dots. “I bought you these,” he said, amused. “Hope your feet haven’t grown since last time we went shopping for shoes.” Marie cracked up, put on the boots, gave Nigel a big hug, and thanked him for all the gifts, the great party, and for making her feel like a princess.

Jim, who’d sat quietly observing them, now asked, “And you two haven’t seen each other in how long?”

Nigel said, “Six years and a bit, but this girl is still my favorite kraut!”

“And he’s still the best poof in the world!” Marie responded. Conversation remained lighthearted until Nigel said that he’d ordered car and driver to take them to the cottage within the hour. He told Jim that he was going to spend the rest of the weekend in the country, getting Marie settled in, and asked if he would he like to join them. James replied that he’d love to come,

if it was all right with Marie.

“But of course,” she said.

She was feeling very comfortable in Jim’s company and very secure about an attraction she couldn’t deny, because she was convinced Jim was homosexual and thus had no interest in her. The fact that she was wrong didn’t become clear until later in the afternoon, when they arrived at the cottage and Nigel and Marie had a moment alone as they got firewood from a neatly stacked pile out back.

“Do I sense a bit of a thing between you and Jim?” Nigel asked.

“Jim? No, why? He’s gay, isn’t he?” Marie said, genuinely surprised.

“Oh, absolutely not—straight as a dial, and he likes you . . .

that’s more obvious than the Queen Mother without a hat,” Nigel said like he was sober.

“Not gay and the Queen Mother without a hat?” Marie burst out laughing, and kept laughing so much that she had a hard time to keep from pissing her pants. Nigel, while thinking the girl had definitely had one too many, became infected by the laughter.

Soon the two of them were giggling like a pair of high school girls, and when Jim came outside he said, “What have you been ingesting, and can I have some too?” This brought on further bursts of the giggles, and Jim started laughing as well, with no idea why.

The three spent another alcohol-fueled evening eating olives, cheese, and vegetarian quiche, and shared an alcohol-free but pleasant Sunday the next day. They started the morning strolling about the immaculate garden, and Marie told Nigel that she didn’t have a green thumb and could hardly distinguish between a flower and a weed. Nigel told her not to worry—the gardener who cared for the grounds at the nearby castle, a nice fellow by the name of Duncan, would come whenever needed.

After the casual walk through the garden, Nigel showed Marie and Jim a walking trail through the woods, and from the distance pointed out the manor, which stood somewhat sterile against a bleak horizon. He told Marie that he’d introduce her to the lord of the manor—an eccentric psychiatrist who’d sold him the cottage a year ago—the following weekend, when he intended to spend more time showing Marie around and taking her shopping in Bristol. Nigel had pointed out a small shop on their way to the cottage where she could buy fresh bread, some reasonably decent wine, and the paper. Everything else she needed was already stored in the pantry and the freezer. Before Nigel and James returned to the city, Jim asked Marie if it was okay for him to visit sometime, and she answered with a definite “Of course—just call and we’ll arrange a time.”

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