Retired couple James and Martha Newcombe were using their sudden heaps of time to do and see new things. They had five children who were no longer children and long ago moved out to start lives of their own. James, a former physician, and Martha, a former high school history teacher, would often dream and hypothetically speak about the journeys that would take place once they had the time. More than once, usually over morning coffee or evening wine, they would be walking the Valley of the Kings in Cairo or admiring the astonishing views of the daunting El Capitan.
“My dear,” said James one morning, “I am in agreement about wanting to see the world. But sometimes I feel like we have hardly left Delaware. There is so much of our own country that I have never seen.”
“That’s not true at all. We went to your niece’s wedding not too long ago.”
“Are you feeling well, my love? That wedding was six years ago. And it was in New Jersey.”
“Oh my, how the years do pass us so quickly, don’t they James?” Martha thought nothing of her incorrect recollection.
James had started to notice more lapsus linguae lately from his beloved wife. The slips were more concerning as of late, the occasional misremembering of names and events. He had started to take the lead when it came to buying groceries. For thirty-six years of marriage, they had one percent milk in the house. Every morning when he would prepare his coffee, James would be greeted by the blue label on the refrigerator door. “Martha, my love,” he remarked one morning when he noticed a yellow label on the milk. “Are you trying to put me on a diet? You bought skim milk.”
“Oh, dear me,” she would respond. “It looks like I did!”
Martha had an especially green thumb, and to the surprise of James, she had let her cucumber and tomato plants all wither and die away just weeks ago. She was constantly misplacing things such as the remote and her glasses, but James did not let it bother him. He was happy to take care of his loving wife and remind her that, “Martha, dear, the glasses are on the chain around your neck!”
“Oh dear,” she would giggle as she resumed drinking her tea.
James thought a cross-country trip in their RV would help ignite his wife’s fading memory, to see the places she taught about all those years. Perhaps seeing the Liberty Bell or Mt. Rushmore with her own eyes would fire off dormant synapses in the recesses of her brain that would bring his darling Martha back. He could see it now. “Oh my, James! Ole’ Faithful is even more impressive than I could’ve imagined. That reminds me of the diorama that Emily Farnsworth made back in 1983. Her father, Tommy Farnsworth was a plumber and they made this lovely little clay mound that was hooked to a timer that would erupt with a tiny burst of water every half hour. Oh James, it really was quite impressive.”
“I’m sure she got an A,” he would say.
“An A plus, in fact,” she would respond on their way out of Yellowstone, into the big sky country roads of Montana.
Being from a different era, James and Martha were reluctant to adopt the time saving conveniences of the twenty-first century. On their mahogany dining room table, they had one of those massive fold-out maps that you buy at the gas station. Believe it or not, they still sell those if you look hard enough. James believes he saw one of those synapses starting to fire off when the map was expanded onto the table. All those years of teaching geography and history made a light shine in her eyes that was dim for the last couple of years.
“Where shall we go first, dear?” James said as his wife gazed at the map with awe. “Shall we go up the coast first? Boston? Portland?” James continued. “Or down first? D.C., Myrtle Beach, the possibilities are endless!”
“I’ve always heard Boston was a lovely city.” Martha responded, who was no longer looking at the map and resumed knitting a scarf that she started six months ago.
“Then Boston it shall be.” James said with confidence.
A few days later, James and Martha were packed into their RV. After a not too arduous drive up Route 95, they had arrived at the first stop of their trip, Boston.
It was a lovely May morning, so they went for a stroll hand-in-hand through Boston Common. They stopped at a bench when Martha’s feet began to ache and they each bought a hot dog. Martha laughed merrily at the squirrels that slowly started to encircle them as she playfully tossed them ripped off pieces of the bun. They would scoop up the bread, then circle up the tree above them and disappear among the network of branches.
“Martha, I have always heard about the duck boats. Would that be of interest to you my dear?”
“Are those the amphibious touring vehicles?”
“Indeed, they are.”
“Well, you know me, James. I’m not one for the water but I’ll join you all the same.”
Hordes of tourists poured into the duck boats, awaiting to be escorted through the streets of Boston and the muddy banks of the Charles River. A large gentleman with a lengthy white moustache lumbered onto the boat and greeted the passengers. He was wearing khaki shorts with his official duck boat t-shirt tucked in, leaving his heaving stomach hanging over his belt. Covering his shaggy hair was a worn Red Sox hat. He grabbed a headset from the dashboard and tapped the microphone twice with his thick forefinger.
“Good morning, folks. We have an absolutely beautiful day ahead for you. It is sixty-seven degrees and the sun is shining with not a cloud to be seen. I will do my best to keep you informed of all the historical and legendary landmarks that we will be passing. I only ask that everyone keep their hands and feet in the vehicle at all times. I would also like to remind passengers that there is no smoking on the vehicle at any time. But most important of all, relax and have fun. My name is Paul Lackey and I will be your tour guide this morning.”
The truck-boat hybrid started up and pulled onto Boylston Street. The blinding sun glistened off the skyscraper glass and a slight breeze painted a smile onto the faces of James, Martha, and everyone else on board.
“All right folks, if you look out to your right, you will see the fabled Boston Public Library. Containing over 10,000 books, it is the biggest library in all of New England. One night in 1792, Boston fell victim to one of the most brutal blizzards in recorded history. Forty-seven people died and dozens more were reported missing. People were trapped wherever they were until the storm passed. Well, ladies and gentleman, a certain American diplomat and inventor by the name of Benjamin Franklin found himself holed up in the hallowed halls of the library. It was during that dreadful storm of 1792 that Benjamin Franklin invented the, uh…”
A loud screech came over the speakers as Paul fumbled with some papers and dropped his headset. The duck boat swerved for a moment as he reached down to pick up his headset.
“Sorry about that, folks. That is where Benjamin Franklin invented the, uh, earmuffs.” Another screech over the speaker as he switched off his mic.
“Earmuffs?” said a confused passenger just behind James and Martha.
“James, did he say 1792?”
“I believe he did.”
“Well that just can’t be possible. Benjamin Franklin died in Philadelphia in 1790.”
James saw one of those lights reignite in his wife and knew in his heart that she was correct.
“Excuse me, I believe that’s incorrect,” said Martha at a raised volume, a level that James had not heard in years. Good sir, Benjamin Franklin did not invent earmuffs. And he invented nothing in 1792 being that he died two years prior.”
A few annoyed tourists shot her a glance and resumed eating up whatever information was given to them on this beautiful day. Paul did not respond to Martha’s interjection. Either he did not hear her or he ignored her. James felt he ignored her. The duck boat drove on and left the library out of sight.
“As we now approach Copley Square you will see the famous Trinity Church. The church is rich with American history. It is the sight of Paul Revere’s third wedding to his ex-slave Yolanda. They had three children and lived a happy life until Yolanda’s untimely death at the hand of the British.”
“Good sir!” Martha pleaded. “That is poppycock! Paul Revere was married to Sarah Orne and then to Rachel Walker. He never married anyone by the name Yolanda, a name that would have been highly uncommon in New England in the late 1700’s.”
Whatever lights turned on in Martha’s brain were in full working order at the moment, blinding everyone on board. James put on his sunglasses to assist with literal and figurative light. James was ecstatic in a sense to see his wife lucid and being able to recall dates and names that she hasn’t had to recall since she was sending children outside to clap the chalkboard erasers. She was fully alert; her eyes were taking in everything that was put in front of her. He could almost see veins in her forehead, pulsating blood into parts of her brain that he was afraid were turning to mush. As the boat barreled down Boylston Street, the passengers ooh’d and ahh’d at the lush greens of Boston Common. Not quite a Central Park, but a lovely area all the same. Walking trails and rolling green hills juxtaposed against an otherwise concrete background. The out-of-towners marveled at the crowds, the guitar players with their case open on the ground, hoping for a few dollars.
“And if you look out now, you will see that we are passing the famous Boston Common. This was of course the sight of the Battles of Lexington and Concord during the Revolutionary War. A massive loss for the British, who retreated back to England after the loss. And it was also where the giant piano scene from the movie Big was filmed.”
“Really?” asked a perplexed older Asian woman from the front of the boat.
“Probably. I’m not taking any questions right now.”
Martha was shifting in her seat and biting her nails, a sign to James that she was uneasy as she tried to formulate her thoughts into words. She half stood from her seat, pointing wildly at their fearless tour guide. “Sir, don’t you think the battles of Lexington and Concord were, you know, in Lexington and Concord? You are correct about the British losing, but they didn’t leave. They retreated to Boston after the defeat.”
“No standing while on the Duck Boats!” Paul shouted through the speaker, loud enough that pedestrians they passed stopped to stare. “And no more questions. It distracts the driver.”
“You are feeding them all nonsense!” shouted Martha.
A general sense of uneasiness and tension hung over the boat like a dark cloud. Most passengers had their phones out, but not to take pictures. Most were fact-checking Paul whose behavior was making some nervous. He was white-knuckling the steering wheel and muttering things under his breath, as if he forgot he had a microphone attached to him. James and Martha felt that it wouldn’t be long before people were using their phones to call the police. The passengers struggled to take a photo of the State House and its ornate gold dome that was glimmering in the blue sky. Paul had the Duck Boat at a speed that seemed a skosh too high for an informational tour. The gold dome passed in a blur as they sped through a red light, nearly causing an accident in the process. The trip continued through Boston as more eyebrows were raised by the questionable claims.
According to Paul, they passed the alleyway where JFK got his first blowjob and the bowling alley where Whitey Bulger once rolled a perfect game in 1991. The outdoor concert venue, the Hatch Shell located on the banks of the Charles River where The Beatles performed in 1983 and Ringo Starr passed out from heat exhaustion in the middle of Octopus’s Garden.
“John Lennon died in 1980!” Martha shouted. When they passed Faneuil Hall and Quincy Market, Paul notified everyone on board that Winston Churchill got food poisoning from clam chowder there in 1943. People groaned, but neither Martha or anyone else had any facts to disprove that one. The vehicle slowed down a tad as they approached the Museum of Science. What had been concerned whispers evolved into some desperate wails as the boat launch came into view.
“Ladies and gentleman, please make sure you are seated as Boston’s only amphibious touring vehicle prepares to enter the Charles River.”
James grabbed his wife’s hand tight and assured her that everything was going to be just fine. The nose of the boat dipped down to meet the declining road into the water. A pneumatic hum shook through the boat as the wheels disappeared inward, like a turtle shrinking back into his shell. James wasn’t exactly sure what his immediate future held in regards to their safety, but something about the fresh air and the sights of the city returned that twinkle to his wife’s eye. She was spouting off facts and figures just as a fast as Paul could feed them nonsense. Everyone on board was holding someone’s hand tight, but those grips loosened as they floated down the river without incident. Paul continued his unique perspective of Boston, but the majority now had their headphones on or were engaged in other conversations which only served to agitate him. He circled around the boat, heading back toward the Museum of Science. “Far over there, by the inner harbor, you will find the famous North End of Boston, which is well known for its vibrant Italian culture and cuisine. I’m no stranger to there I can tell you!” he laughed as he patted his gut. “One fascinating story, actually. Back in 1919, a large storage tank containing over two million gallons of molasses burst, flooding the entire area. Tragically, around twenty people died.”
“Enough bullshit!” shouted a young freckled teenager.
“Actually, that one is true,” Martha interjected with her hands folded on her lap. A shining blue speckle in the river grew bigger as the boat continued. Soon enough, Boston Police was clearly visible on the side of the small boat. The small engine sputtered as two officers leaned over the far side of the boat with large poles. Flailing limbs emerged from the water, thrashing wildly. Every phone on the duck boat was now pointed at the struggle in the water as the police were able to drag the doomed swimmer to safety. The two boats crossed at a close enough distance for the man, still coughing up water, to recognize someone on the duck boat. That man was Paul.
“That’s him, officers! That’s him right there driving my boat! That’s the crazy son of a bitch that stole my duck boat and tossed me in the damn river!” The man shouted, jumping up and down and waving a finger at the frightened tourists. He was clearly wearing the same shirt as Paul. It was an official t-shirt only worn by an employee of the Boston Duck Boats. Paul accelerated as fast the boat would go and rumbled up the boat launch, only to be greeted by an impenetrable wall of blue lights.
“Well folks, I hope everyone has enjoyed their trip through Boston, and I hope everyone has learned something valuable. My shift is up now, so get home safe everyone,” he said with remarkable tranquility. For a man of his size, he exited the vehicle with surprising agility and athleticism. He bounded up the driveway, attempting to side-step police through the bushes. That impenetrable wall held up however, and he was taken to the ground with relative ease.
An officer with a megaphone approached the duck boat in a friendly manner. “Ladies and gentlemen, we are deeply sorry for the inconvenience you have all experienced today. Due to these unique circumstances however, we will require a verbal statement from everyone on board today. Hang tight and we will get you all out of here as soon as possible. Thank you.”
James and Martha scooted closer to each other on a park bench, sipping coffee that was provided to them by the police. They tilted their heads back and smiled at the warm sun.
“That was quite the experience, wasn’t it my dear Martha?”
“It sure was dear,” Martha giggled with nonchalance as if they had only experienced a minor inconvenience.
James looked at the line, and then told his wife that it shouldn’t be long until it was their turn to share their side of the story.
Just like that, James could almost see the twinkle that had returned, slowly fade away.
“What’s that lovely gold building?” Martha asked.
The building in question was the state house that only moments ago she had been reciting information about.
“Not sure. It is quite impressive though, isn’t it?” James replied, choking back tears.
“Quite,” she said softly as she resumed crocheting the scarf from her bag.
“Where to next my love? North to Portland? Out to the Berkshires? Great Lakes?”
“Oh, that all sounds lovely James. Where ever you would like to go my love.”
“Portland it is.” James said as he pulled his wife in close and kissed the top of her head. “Maine is spectacular this time of year.”