The sky was autumn gold turning to twilight. The lights in the office cast shadows of the window grilles onto the paved lot. My father’s face was draped in hurt, the kind I’d seen only once before, the day my mother ran off, to wherever it was she went, and left him behind. He held me hard, like he was absorbing every molecule of me. I looked up and in the same scared little girl voice I’d only ever used once before I asked, “Daddy, what’s wrong?” He looked at me, “It’ll wait just a minute until we get over to the house with your bag.” It was the longest short walk I’d ever taken, forty feet from the office door to our back door and it felt like forty miles in slow motion. Once the light was on, and the door was closed, and we were sitting at the kitchen table, he told me.
Noah had an untreatable cystic kidney disease. He’d known for at least three years but he hadn’t told a soul, not even Ambrose. Noah had never finished building Free Love, had never found the women he hoped would crew his floating utopia of unlimited sexual gratification. After Noah was diagnosed with fatal kidney disease he never went back to the doctor. He read enough about it to know that, statistically, he had four years left. He spent some part of every day with Ambrose, often the last part, drinking and dreaming. Of course, the drinking part hadn’t been beneficial. Noah’s disease was genetic; he’d suspected all along his future might not be as long as the average future. He was a smart guy. He didn’t want to burden the people he cared for most, in the place he felt most at home. He did his research. Ambrose never questioned his interest in the antique pistol aboard Alice. When Noah asked to take it shooting Ambrose willingly lent it. At low tide Noah went beneath the wharf, tied his body to a piling, stabilized his head and neck, and did the most efficient, tidy, job in ending his life that a man could do. He thought of everything. He made sure he got the job done without disfiguring himself and he did it in such a way that nature would clean the mess. If it hadn’t been for Numbnuts II the loose slipknots he tied may have allowed him to drift off on the next tide. Numbnuts II found him not long after he was gone. Ambrose heard the dog barking and crying and carried Noah up to the yard. It was too late. Ambrose was in drunken anguish. There was no reasoning with him. He’d been drinking steadily since the hearse had taken Noah away. I’d gotten the first available flight after my father called, that had been roughly 17 hours from call to arrival. Noah died at 6 in the morning, counting for elapsed time and the different zones, my father hadn’t called me until about 11 so Ambrose had been drinking steadily for at least 20 hours, maybe more.
It puzzled me that Ambrose hadn’t called. We were close. I counted on him. I thought he would count on me too. I climbed aboard Alice. Ambrose was sitting in the dark, a bottle of 151 in front of him, the ashtray piled high with Bugler butts. I interrupted his reverie with a subdued “Hi.” Ambrose looked up. I sat down. I put my arm around him and his face crumpled like a little boy’s. We cried. We fortified ourselves with 151 and we cried some more. I can’t remember all that Ambrose said but what I remember is his pained eloquence. We toasted Noah’s unrealized renown and notoriety as Captain of what could have been a floating pleasure palace and most certainly would have been recognized as the unparalleled utopia of unlimited sexual gratification. Ambrose told me that Noah was a virgin. In the end he hadn’t been all that much older than I was. It made me sad to think that what I took for granted was something he never had. We toasted Noah’s splendid drinking career, that had resulted in only a few injuries, all of them heroic. We toasted his vision, his propensity for sharing dreams that were willfully misconstrued, in his mind, as truths. We cried some more. We peed. We passed out.