I have this watch. A client gave it to me at the start of my law career. He was grateful for the care and concern I gave to his affairs, business and personal. I was hired to develop and negotiate contracts, defend his interests in litigation or sue people for wrongs committed against his business or person. He was my second client, the first being the one on whose behalf I sued him, the second client.
Mr. M, I’ll call him, was probably impressed that I successfully sued him. We settled for my client’s costs and damages, and at that time I could boast that my success record was 100%.
I worked for Mr. M for 7 or 8 years. He paid me a monthly retainer to do jobs small and large. Once, nearly thirty years ago, he called me at 4 a.m. at my apartment. I lived with my sister then and she answered the landline (all there was then). He said he needed to talk to me right away and to meet him at a specific address. When I got there, I found myself at a dock in Newport Beach–on a yacht.
I spent the day with Mr. M, talking him down from an alchohol-induced craze about a fight he had with his wife. We mostly talked, then navigated a dinghy to the club across the bay for more drinks. I did not drink. He later thanked me and insisted on paying for my time. A few months later, he gave me the watch.
The watch had belonged to Nat King Cole, according to Mr. M. There was a story about the meeting that I do not recall. Honestly, I don’t remember whether it was Nat King Cole’s or belonged to someone else in the story about Nat King Cole. It was so long ago.
On the back of the watch is an inscription that has nothing to do with Nat King Cole ostensibly. I believe it reads: “Agie Trembly From Mary–April 20th, 1944.”
Each time I wear the watch, which still keeps time near perfectly, I think about Mary. Who is she? What was her relationship with Trembly? She did not engrave “love” as in “Love Mary”. Were they ever lovers? She is just Mary but he has a first and last name. Was Trembly her boss?
So much war and destruction on this date, the SS Paul Hamilton, filled with ammunition having exploded, killing all 580 aboard. A German-launched torpedo blew them up in the Mediterranean. The war would not end for another five months.
What did Mary think of the tragedy? What did she hope to impart, gain or express in giving Trembly the watch, a Rolex, no less? I imagine her giving this gift with hope in her heart during such desperate times, men off fighting in wars and she left behind to read about it in the papers. She must have worked to fill the jobs men left open, or she came from a family with means, whether earned or inherited.
I imagine her longing and pensive like this:
Perhaps the image is older than she, but the hint of forlorn in her posture, her gaze, might very well be the same.
There was a time when Mary had hopes or gratitude or platonic appreciation for a man, who might have returned from the war or never gone at all, being too young or afflicted in some way.
Mr. M died of esophageal cancer. Actually he died of an allergic reaction to the chemotherapy to treat the cancer some twenty odd years ago. He was a chain smoker and a drinker, a charitable man, a big man turned frail by disease. I saw him last at the court house, his brother in law prosecuting a case for him. I had since broadened my practice to 50 or 60 cases by then, and he had fallen to hard times.
For a long time after his death, I thought I heard or saw him. His presence haunted me for about a year, speaking a phrase or tossed word only he would have spoken. I remember the time he told me that I was not brilliant but a good, hard working lawyer. That stuck with me.
The man was a colorful client, an old time door to door salesman grown successful in the peripherals of the music business of the 70s and 80s. I credit him with founding the footing of my practice and sustaining it for years.
We were not close, not friends, but his unsolicited gift speaks to me, arouses mystery and memory, recalled in time-worn haze, our lives intersected in cloudy images, like the flattened engraving on the back of a Rolex watch–from Mary.