Ash Millard grabbed the thin yellow frame of his five-speed bicycle and hulled it down the stairs which lowered from the outside of his two story apartment. It clanked against the iron handrail with each step he took. On the ground, the sidewalk reached around a circular enclosure of grass and disappeared into an alleyway tunnel of citrus trees, bougainvillea and wooden backyard fences. Ash climbed onto the thin seat and pedaled into the alleyway, coming out on a brick road with stop signs and oak trees at the other side. It was a cool morning, and he felt the ocean drifting through the air.
He wore a blue shirt tucked into khaki pants. A black tie was shoved into his pocket to be put around his neck later, and thin black leather shoes covered his feet. He didn’t carry a bag, but had a bottle of water attached to the frame of his bicycle, and he would sometimes carry a notebook in one hand, if he needed documents. His favorite black-ink pen was clutched in his teeth, sticking out of his mouth like a cigarette.
Waving to a fair-haired girl jogging with a standard poodle, he made a turn down an adjacent street and wound past some large, Spanish style villas and homes. Each had a fence or a tall bush enclosing it into the property, and the road opened back up at the Intracoastal, where an avenue moved along the river of salt water and sea grape leaves. He took a sharp right and zoomed by the water, staring into its ripples and currents to see a jellyfish or a manatee or a sea monster.
He found none of these and proceeded along the palm trees until his bicycle clicked over a jut in the cement path, and he flew off, headlong into a rather large mangrove shrub. He lay still, defeated.
“Hullo there,” said a voice jovially.
Lifting his head slightly, Ash saw an older black man with a curly beard staring into the body size hole he just made in the plant.
“Are you okay?” the man asked.
He pulled a tangle of branches out of his hair.
“I’ll help you out,” the older man remarked, grabbing the only part of Ash he could reach, his ankle, with two large hands and readying himself to pull.
“Wait. Don’t . . .”
Without a pause, Ash was yanked from the plant and he fell, out of breath, onto the dirty ground.
The man stared at him with wild eyes, almost Ancient Mariner eyes.
“I have something to tell you.”
“Oh?” Ash responded, not sure how to take the intense gaze of this stranger.
The older man wore a toothy smile, which made him feel ‘not fully there.’ He had on a slightly worn pair of blue trousers and an off-white button up that hung loosely against his chest. Bits of white streaked through his dark hair.
“No fish come out of that water that don’t want to.”
“That’s very interesting,” Ash stated with a pause.
He noticed a long fishing pole leaning against the small wall that separated the Intracoastal from sidewalk. This man, thought Ash, must be one of those fishers who are always sitting along the water, watching things jump and fall into the waves. The man’s eyes were squinted at the ends as he continued to smile obsessively.
“So,” Ash began, “Why do I need to know that?”
“It’s an important thing to know.”
Ash leaned down and grabbed his bicycle from the ground. Its front tire was bent slightly, enough to keep him from being able to ride it. He nodded at the stranger before walking off with the trailing device.
“Well, have a good one.”
It was a very small sailboat, with a small step ladder leading into the cabin at its center. On the stern, gold letters spelled Windswept in cursive over the navy blue surface. The craft glided up and over waves as it moved along the coast, the sea water shimmered brightly against his eyes. He knew he just needed to keep sailing on, adjusting the mast slightly to keep the curtains full. There were dolphins and spotted rays that dipped out of the water for brief moments to catch a glimpse of his fleeing boat.
He noticed in the elevator that he was covered in grass stains and dirt. He muttered a curse and tried to wipe the markings from his outfit. Once the elevator opened on the second floor, Ash reached into his pocket and pulled out a name tag and pinned it to his shirt. It read,
A storm began forming along the horizon. It was time to steer in toward the shore, and maybe bring it through a jetty to some calmer waters. He peered along the beach that he’d been riding along for some time now. It no longer looked like the subtropics of Florida and the sand had darkened. He knew he had traveled far. Somewhere very far. Maybe he should have turned in a while ago and found a place to rest. He slanted the rudder slightly and the mast leaned against the sky.
“I think you’re name tag is misspelled,” a soft, old voice said suddenly.
Ash looked up from a drawer of bright yellow admission tickets. He was behind the front desk of the Museum of Art and History, the largest one in the state of Florida, and there was an old woman with fluffed out grey hair and a flowery sweater standing in front of him, holding a few crumply dollar bills in his direction.
“Well it says ‘Ashington.’ It should say ‘Washington.’ With a ‘W’.”
“Oh, no ma’am,” he said directly, “My name is Ashington. Or Ash.”
“How interesting. I’ll just have one ticket, please.”
He took the cash from her hand and counted out one too many bills, before giving her back her extra dollar and the yellow ticket.
“Does your name come from George Washington?” she asked.
“No. It’s my Grandpa’s middle name.”
“Oh really?” she murmured.
“But,” continued Ash begrudgingly, “Someone could’ve made a mistake at some time and left out a letter.”
“Ah yes. That would make sense.”
The woman with fluffy grey hair closed her dollar in a baby blue handbag and walked to the right, where the section “European Modernism” began. Ash deposited the money into the register and tapped his bored fingers against the counter.
In the water, long fish darted in colonies and schools under the boat, looking for shelter past the jetty. It was raining hard and the hull swung back and forth from wind and waves. He held onto his seat tightly, reading a laminated sheet with pictures of cartoon people in boats, fastening strands of rope about their waists. The top read Storm Instructions and had numbers along each picture, very similar to the safety procedure booklets on airplanes. He tossed it into the cabin and shook rain from his body. He hadn’t come out here for safety. The boat leaned diagonally into the wind, still soaring towards the jetty. Crashing water sounded in all directions.
“Are you going home already?” asked Mr. Holiday.
“Have you scheduled time off for this evening?”
Ash sighed at having been seen before he could sneak out of the tall glass-door entrance.
“Are you feeling sick?”
“I’ve been feeling sick for a long time now.”
Mr. Holiday stared at him.
“Well unless you’re unable to work, I want you to stay till your shift ends. Also, when you come in tomorrow, please wear something clean,” he gestured to the dirt on Ash’s elbows and pant legs before striding off.
Ash sat down again behind the empty counter. The museum’s lobby was a very wide and tall room with some abstract shapes painted into the walls and a couple of sofas in one corner, but, for the most part, plain white. A clock ticked painfully slow on the wall behind him and the woman with fluffy grey hair walked by to exit, waving to him as she passed. The room, after that, seemed void of sound and people.
He smiled in the soaking wind. “No,” he figured, “It wasn’t time to go in yet.” There were miles and miles of coast before he’d make it to Maine, and no storm was going to change that. Momentarily, he pictured Acadian mountains along the Atlantic and a port town with wooden houses and green land. He turned the boat and sent it careering north, away from the jetty and past the dark clouds which covered the sky. Because of the storm, he managed to pick up speed and flew up the tide, the sheet of sails tense in the wind. It seemed the only thing he could do to stay alive.
Joey is an assistant editor for a magazine on corrections in Alexandria, Virginia. After living in Florida for most of his life, he recently moved to Virginia to follow Love, Dreams, and those sorts of things. His own writing has been published in the Albion Review, Clare Literary Journal, and Living Waters Review.