Big Orange and the Mambo Woman – Three

Maria scuttled off, returning a few minutes later to find the skylights open and the aquarium filled with calm, clear, fresh air. Tia Benita and Magnus Thorssen, who had returned to his thin severe self, stood in quiet conversation. Maria breathed in the vague scent of ozone and grinned at her aunt.
“Thanks, Tia Benita. You sorted that thing good.”
“Not without help, chile. Not without help. You done proper. I been proud of you.”
Maria felt the blush start at her neck. Magnus laughed, but it was a kindly sound.
“It has been an odd sort of an afternoon,” he spoke in his normal precise tones, with nothing about him seeming to connect to the giant berserker he had become when face to face with the dark creature.
Maria was a little saddened by the return of the dry, cold scientist, and more than a little surprised when he took her hand and raised it to his lips. Startled, she looked up into his eyes to see them as blue as the sea and warm with approval. When he let go of her hand, he sighed.
“I am just discovering ,” he said carefully, “that we are not always precisely what we seem. Not even myself.”
“Least of all yourself, Doctor Thorssen.”
“I think we have seen too much this day for Doctor Thorssen to be appropriate. My name is Magnus.”
Maria chewed that one over in her mind for a moment, then thought ‘what the hell’.
She dropped him half an ironic curtsey. “Pleased to meet you Magnus.”
Tia Benita laughed, richly amused by a joke neither Maria nor Magnus could see. She waved one large hand at her train of trainees who dispersed at a gallop, before shaking hands with Magnus and kissing Maria on both cheeks. She looked at the tall Swede in some disapproval.
“You need to get some meat on them there bones.”
Then she was gone, leaving nothing behind her but the smell of the sea.
Magnus smiled down at Maria and offered a hand. She put her own hand in his and they left the building together. Neither spoke until they were walking down the dusty little road that led to the beach. Magnus opened and shut his mouth a bit and it came to Maria that he was actually shy. That made her feel braver.
“I could use a big drink and a bowl of gumbo.”
“I also. But the places I have found to eat are not very…”
“You just come with me.”
She felt a little like a bustling tugboat with a tall ship in tow, but he followed obediently.
Benny’s Bar was hidden from the eyes of the day trippers and holidaymakers, and it had obviously passed Magnus by too. He looked a bit out of place among the compact little island men and their broad-beamed women, but he sat where Maria pointed and when she put a bowl of steaming gumbo and a can of Red Stripe in front of him he grinned like a schoolboy and set to.
Maria felt somehow comforted by his enthusiasm for the homely things she could offer. Just maybe he wasn’t such a stuffed shirt after all – even when he wasn’t waving a war axe and talking old Norse.
A lot of food and a good dollop of rum later they were walking along a deserted stretch of beach with a pink moon hanging in the navy blue sky above them.
“I think we must talk about today,” Magnus said abruptly. “About what I became in my anger.”
Maria understood that he was deeply disturbed by the thought that a Viking berserker hid inside his dryly intellectual exterior. She looked at the hard lines of his face in the moonlight.
“You ain’t the only one surprised yourself. I never made no muppet before. And I shouldn’t know how. I guess we both done what was needful.” He still looked doubtful and she sought to reassure him. “I rather liked your Viking.”
“You did. You were not disgusted?”
“No. Though I do wonder what you are doing here with me.”
Magnus didn’t answer and Maria thought she’d blown it, so she stared down at their two sets of feet in the white sand. His were long and bony and almost as pale as the sand while her own were square and brown and plumply fleshed. He followed the direction of her gaze.
“We do not match well. And yet we walk together in harmony.”
“Only because you shorten your stride to let me keep up.”
He touched her face and she found herself all but drowned in the icy blueness of his eyes. She flinched, suddenly afraid of the attraction she felt to one so far above her in status and wealth. He felt her involuntary movement, but put it down to another reason altogether.
“I know I am pale and soberly unexciting. Even with the berserker lurking under the skin. I know this and I think myself to be a poor mate for you. But I would try if you will have me.”
Maria didn’t know what to say, but she knew this was her only chance if she wanted this man in her life so she pulled on his hand and brought him to a halt.
“Oh man,” she whispered, “I ain’t never wanted nothing like I want you.”
And, as it turned out, that was enough. The laughing devils were back in his eyes and he tumbled her to the soft sand kissing her for the first time – while his hands…
A long time later he put a palm on either side of her face “ek elska þik (I love you)”, he said.
Not so far away a plump mambo woman showed her gold teeth in a happy grin.
“And done,” she said.
In the very centre of the aquarium a huge orange cephalopod smiled an octopus smile before settling in his seaweedy bed.

Jane Jago

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