CONTEST WINNER, SHORT STORY—THE OLD BLUE GATE by Robert W. Norman
Ah yes, the Blue Gate!
It was quite a place a century ago, when the wind snapped sail cloth along the docks of the bay. Now days there is a rainbow sheen to the tidal waters that smell of gasoline as they lap against the timbers of the old docks.
In this new century the Blue Gate has gone upscale. ’Twas a time when walkin’ through the Blue Gate on a busy night meant placin’ yur’self in harm’s way. It was a den of iniquity, a dangerous place in those days. The ladies were flirtatious and easy, and the lads with bellies full of liquor were quick to fight, with knives tucked into belts at the ready. The harsh rum and bitter ale of the time have long passed replaced now with fancy pastries and steaming cups of herbed tea.
The whole water front has changed. Scallywags of the past are mere ghosts these days. Sockless pedestrians in deck shoes, canvas shorts, and brightly patterned shirts, or shameless sundresses that revealed ample expanses of sun toasted skin now wander the promenade.
It’s a different kind of world, for sure, there ain’t no denyin’ it.
Still, interpretation can be deceiving. I remember a night many years ago when I walked out onto the Blue Gate waterfront and found myself witnessing a very odd scene. There was a fella standing at the docks edge watching another fella flailing around in the water, sputtering out, “Help me!” as if he were drowning.
I asked the fella on the dock if he had considered giving the fella in the bay some help. He said casually, “Well, I threw him a brick and that put him under for a bit, but he must have let go of it because he popped right back up.”
I replied, “Perhaps he wants help out of the water?”
Slipping his hands into his pockets the fella on the dock rocked back and forth on his heels in contemplation, and replied, “When he jumped in he was quite vehement about ending it all. But, then he kept popping back up to the surface, shouting, ‘Help me!’ So I figured he wanted help stayin’ down.”
The drowning man was quickly losing the energy needed to flail around, as the observer and I carried on with our conversation.
I concluded the fella on the dock may have misinterpreted the pleas of the fella in the water. So I threw a mooring line to the sputtering man. He grasped desperately at the line.
The observer grunted, “Hmm!”
Together we pulled the gasping fella out of the water and up onto the dock.
“I thought I was goner,” he gasped, water oozing from every seam of his clothing.
The other fellow grumbled, “I could have sworn you said you wanted to end it all, that’s why I tossed you the brick.”
The waterlogged man coughed. “Well, I thank you for the dedication you have shown to my original desires, but the water is so damn cold I thought I was goin’ to freeze before I had a chance to drown.”
The observer looked scornful and replied, “I do wish you would have thought it through a bit more carefully, deciding on what you truthfully wanted, before divin’ in like that. You can confuse a man wantin’ to help you with your most heartfelt desires when you start teetering back and forth on what you truly hope to accomplish.”
The waterlogged man flopped onto his back, looking up at us and said, “I shall dutifully take note of that and give it serious contemplation in the future, before letting the heat of the moment drive me to irrational actions.”
With that said, the fellow who had been trying to help turned on his heels and headed back into the confines of the old Blue Gate without uttering another word.
After a quiet moment I tried to stir up a conversation with the survivor on how misinterpretation can create very risky situations. But his attention seemed to be on blowing bubbles while recuperating from his swim.
So I headed back into the Blue Gate leaving him to his own thoughts. Yes sir, those were the days when the old Blue Gate was a place of true character.