Chester
by Molly-Ann Leikin

I met Chester on a hiking vacation while travelling with a tour group headed for Prince Edward Island, Canada.

He was a tall, witty, failed Parliamentary candidate from the Bahamas. Abandoned in a bucket as a baby, Chester was completely self-taught, and made a whomping fortune in real estate. His British accent was delicious, he lived on Abaco, his own private island, and longed to be a writer.

Like me, Chester was travelling alone.

When I'm on vacation, and people ask me what I do, I never say I write songs. Instead, I change professions, and have successfully done so every holiday for the last ten.

Chester's summer, I was an in-vitro cardiologist, figuring I was safe because how many unborn babies could there be on the trail with arrhythmia?

We met over a bowl of Special K at a red-and-white checked breakfast that first morning in Halifax, and were old friends by the time we realized we were taking the same hormones - me to prevent osteoporosis at some later date, and Chester, to combat prostate cancer.

He travelled with a dozen blue and white striped Brooks Brothers button-down, oxford cloth shirts, plus 200 photos of his ten grandchildren. The man was a great joke teller - as good as I am - and for twelve days straight, we entertained everyone in our hiking group with stories about the priest and the rabbi, along with answers to eternal questions like why there's no ice in Poland, and can't they find another recipe?

In the middle of a tired hiking day, we arrived at a deserted beach, where the ladies in our group went skinny-dipping while the men guarded our clothes. When we were all happily submerged in the Atlantic, Chester called out from the shore for us to "look - look at the ship!" All of us naked ladies quickly turned and gazed out to sea. But there wasn't anything on the horizon. Meditating on the waves, we ignored him and assumed Chester had too much wine at lunch with his peanut butter and sardine sandwich.

But when we came out of the water, our clothes were gone. So was Chester.

And a fat woman with dancing adorable rhinestone kittens on her sweatshirt, who arrived in a bus stuffed with church ladies from Quebec, ranted about our bare buns and called the Canadian Mounted Police.

Wrapped in dripping, grey blankets, we made the front page of the Charlottetown Guardian, but not before I whipped out the songwriter card and told the cute, red-uniformed Mounties about to book us for indecent exposure, that I'd written four Anne Murray hits, which I knew they'd know because Ms. Murray was Queen of Canada then, and had a museum just across the Bay of Fundy. The RCMP's computer was down but the stolen tire guy next door looked me up online, and we were free.

But there went my cover. From then on, I was a writer AND a cardiologist, needing both professions to help poor stuck Chester as he struggled to get something on a piece of paper.

Swatting giant mosquitoes, as we hiked through the flat potato fields, past the house where Anne of Green Gables lived, I kept telling Chester, "write what's in your heart. Don't censor it. Just write it down." Seven hundred times a day, every day, I said "Chester, write what's in your heart."

But it didn't work. The only thing that changed was my skin, which had been violated by mosquitoes to the extent that I appeared to have contracted some kind of red maritime plague. So Chester, who was bite-free, heroically insisted I wear one of his blue and white Brooks Brothers shirts, which were actually thick enough to discourage the bugs. I wore that garment for 9 days, and returned it the last night of our trip, apologizing for not having it laundered because there were no dry cleaners on hiking trails and no valets at our small hotel. Although I offered to take the shirt to Santa Monica with me to have it cleaned and returned to Abaco, Chester was adamant that his man, Diggs, would take care of the laundry.

Then we said goodbye, promised to remember, and thanked each other for the good walk. "Just write what's in your heart," I said, one last time.

At four the next morning, when the bellman pounded on my door to wake me for the plane, I was puzzled as he handed me Chester's dirty shirt, saying the gentleman insisted I know this garment was a top priority. Really? The cab was honking, I couldn't find my right shoe, I stuffed the shirt in a suitcase and flew home.

On the way from LAX, I double-parked outside the fancy cleaners, imploring them to launder Chester's shirt in time to make the last FedEx of the day. It was, I told them, a top priority.

A few minutes later, as I opened my exhausted front door, the phone was ringing and Chester wanted to know if I'd read his letter.

What letter?

The one he'd stayed up all night to write - the twelve page, single-spaced, long-hand missive he'd composed, saying, at long last, what was in his heart - the letter he'd revised and revised until three-fifty-six that morning, the love letter he'd meticulously folded into the pocket of his Brooks Brothers shirt, giving the bellman $1000 to make sure I got the garment before I left Canada.

Although the fancy cleaners would've gladly jumped into the dumpster behind their shop, the trash had just been picked up, transmogrified in the truck, and every syllable of my first-ever love letter from an almost Member of Parliament was gone.

I never saw Chester again.

I don't know if he is still in Abaco, or anywhere. I think about him sometimes in the morning when I don't take hormones anymore. He is smiling on my piano in the hiking group photo taken outside the Charlottetown jail. I still tell his jokes, they still make me laugh, and all these bumpy roads later, I still wonder what he said in that letter.

I hope he wrote his book, I pray he found a publisher, and I wonder if I'll ever get another shot at somebody feeling that much for me. In a world where I have to check every syllable to make sure I'm not giving myself away or needing too much, I'll always know that one summer night, in a B & B on Prince Edward Island, a man from the Bahamas had me in his heart, and needed twelve pages to tell me why.

© 2017 Molly-Ann Leikin

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