On the shore: a stormy night with tempestuous passions.
| about 1600 words
by James Foley
Parking, I saw that the beach house was without lights. But from its steps I could see a fire near the water: probably Mark there and Elaine. Maybe Lindsey too.
Actually, there had been storm warnings out all day—for offshore and the Bay both. But the winds seemed delayed. As yet the night was almost motionless—easy and still. And as I walked down the beach, I could hear Lindsey’s voice—the first to notice me.
Dropping down next to her—between her and Elaine—I watched as Mark seared tuna over a cast-iron grate: déjà vu of my own lunch earlier. There were big bowls of salad and chips; wine bottle in a bucket. More wine and refreshments: in two wicker hampers.
“We were talking about you,” Lindsey said.
“No, it was nice. Tell me, Dan. When was the last time you had a steady girl?”
“Probably Clinton-Gore Administration.”
Obviously, Elaine, there beside me now, wasn’t considered, since she no longer enlivened my biography. Elaine, my wife once, and still legally—but not my steady girl. Yes, strange arrangement.
Nothing new, but obviously also, Mark’d been drinking pretty well: maybe all day. Well, the day was ending.
“That blonde lobbyist: what happened?” he asked.
“She dropped me.”
“I heard you dropped her,” Elaine said.
“It was mutual.”
“Oh, I’m so sorry,” Lindsey said. “You must had felt just so . . . just so terrible!”
“Yeah. I grew despondent—and a beard. The beard only lasted three weeks. While the despondency: the jury’s still out on that.”
They were laughing. The night was still still: calm, quiet and serene. But it felt ominous—as if I could already sense the approaching tumult. The air seemed breathless, waiting for the front. It was quiet like a vacuum holding its breath, luring the very tempest it cringed from. No fog; few lights on this beach. And the powder-puff stars barely illuminated the ocean.
Now I was joining in the eating, drinking the tart, seemingly almost salty wine.
“Remember that morning off Vieques?” Elaine suddenly asked. And it was mystic. I was thinking about her and Vieques earlier, at lunch—eating tuna just as now.
I looked at her—at her figure, transformed in the flickering glow of the dancing firelight: this girl who was still my theoretical consort. And what will happen now to this girl, who seemed my destiny? And how will I handle this?
“Oh God!” she said. “Those days sailing off the islands. I wish it was then.”
Yeah. Wish it was then.
Wish it was then:
Sea near Vieques Island that summer:
Tangled arms, tangled hearts on the rocking foredeck. Tangled destinies. Tanned complexion: her Caribbean skin. Caribbean being.
Mark, sleeping it off down below.
You knew she adored you. You adored her.
Slow life: cloud shadows drifting slowly, veering sea-breezes pulsing.
And sunblock tastes sweet through salty sweat. Once. Once upon a time.
She was the best thing I never really had.
Only in a way.
And for a while.
“This ocean,” Lindsey was saying now. “I love it. I crave it. I can never get enough of it. I could live forever right here on this beach.”
“That water leads to every place in the world,” Elaine said, “except maybe Tibet.”
Mark was nodding solemnly. “Dan already has the boat. We’ve got the time, or we can take it. Elaine can maybe scare up the financing. Why’re we sitting here, anyway? Why aren’t we going, going—gone?”
“Where would you like to go, Mark?” Lindsey asked.
“I always wanted to go to Mount Kilimanjaro.”
“Did you ever get there?”
“I got as far as Baltimore.”
“Oh. So you never climbed the mountain?”
“I climbed the stairs above the Chinese takeout. How could I know they were all working girls there? One thing I believe: they understood it all. That it was better to burn the steak than to be burnt at it.”
He was drifting off again. Then all of a sudden, he let out a hideous scream: just a maximum-volume ear-piercing simian-like howl or shriek.
Lindsey looked frightened. I was standing, but so was Elaine, and she already had Mark up on his feet. “I’ve got him, Dan,” she said. “I’ll see him to bed. He can still walk. You stay here. Really. By the way, you’re in the blue room, if that’s okay.”
“Of course, it’s okay. But how about you?”
“We’ll be fine. Don’t worry. Good night.”
“You’re still crazy about her, aren’t you?” Lindsey said. The others were gone, and she was standing beside me.
“Yeah . . . yeah . . .” I said.
“But she’s all messed up with Mark?”
“It’s all right. It’s just normal. Life’s hell.”
“It’s just itself. Hell or heaven’s oneself, Dan.”
“Wow, that’s heavy, Lindsey!”
She smiled. “But you don’t think so.”
Suddenly we were both stretching—yawning together, as if acknowledging the late hour: bedtime. And as I held her now lightly, respectfully, she shook free. “No, Dan. How can I be her, in your arms? Good night, Dan.”
Then I watched as she gathered the remnants of supper into the two large hampers. Now I was taking them from her, as she turned and went up to the house. Kicking enough sand over the fire to smother it, I followed, walking up the dark beach.
You wake in the night. Past midnight. And this wind: howling as the front came through—driving the sea into a frenzy. I stood for a moment at a window, watching the black riotous ocean.
This beach house seemed entirely dark. Mark was in another room, dead to the world—though hardly dead sober. His car was parked in the driveway, not in the garage.
Lindsey was asleep in another room. And Elaine was asleep in still another room.
Back to bed: crashing again—right away again.
Then later I stirred: Elaine, her fingers on my lips. And as the wind beat against this old elegant house, her kisses battered me: sweetness of a girl out of control. The house was full of the windstorm now. It eddied around us—it was even too chilly. My body wasn’t mine anymore. It was part of her existence.
“You’ve got to leave him,” I said. “Find another lover.”
“You know he’s not my lover. He’s never been,” Elaine said. “Have you ever seen him sober enough to stand? He’s my brother, Dan.”
“He’s no blood kin.”
“Not my blood brother—my doomed, damned soul brother. He knows everything. And he came before you. He’s relaxed. He’s sloppy. He’s laid back. Living with you was hard. You’re like sprung steel. You’re great as a date, but to live with . . . he’s just more fun.”
She was whispering playfully: “Looser. Easier.”
“Uh-huh? What does that mean?”
“It means I didn’t hear what you said.”
“But you’re the best lover, Dan. And you’re all the things on this earth he can never be.”
“Gracias? Is that all I get for making you all the things on this earth?”
“Let’s go swimming.”
“Okay. Get some big towels.”
Black night: ocean frantic and empty. Whirling sand ghosts skimmed the beach like pirouetting Caspars. High waves, rushing at the dunes, smashed the retaining fences—the slats flattened and wriggling.
Out at sea, hazy lightning glowed silently, pulsing in epileptic sheets over chasms of clouds.
We were running hand in hand down the steps into the blowing sand: dropping the towels—Elaine kicking off her sandals to keep the towels in place, as both of us hurried across the beach into the crashing water: to escape the sand-swirl.
Soaked instantly, I was churned to my waist in the surf: holding her to keep both of us standing.
“You like this,” she shouted. “You’re happy. And it-takes my fear away.”
And the water was chest-deep now. And a huger than usual booming sea came curling over us, bowling us over, spinning us. I lost her, grabbed her—lost her again—seized her again. And she was in my arms as I tried to wade back to the beach—falling into the churning swirl. Up again, I was running—till I reached solid ground, my legs wobbly under me. Her weight seems multiplied tenfold as I slogged up through the sand.
The towels, when I found them, were twisted ropes, covered with sand—weighted by her sandals that they were wrapped around. Spreading one towel out, I laid her down on it, just to keep it halfway flat. Then I lay face down beside her, holding the other towel over both of us against the blowing sand. What was keeping us out here anyway? Was I crazy? I just didn’t want to go back into the sanity of a house?
But she was okay. She was breathing: conscious. I could even feel her eyelashes. Now she was the one holding the towel over me as I eased gently against her. I couldn’t seem to stop—I couldn’t stop wanting her. I must have known it wasn’t right. Not right to love this girl and the wildness. It wasn’t right to crave this stormy woman: this woman’s sweetness—this nighttime.
This nighttime seemed perfect.
Before dawn, it might get wilder.
Who won the war?
Then, as the raging concupiscence finally ended, something different started. She was trembling—no longer with passion, but in agony—crying: “Oh, Mark! Mark!” Shivering and repeating his name, over and over: “Mark! Mark! He’s dead. He doesn’t exist now.”
As if Mark were her brother, as she’d said.
And she was in love with him.
And later, when we got back, the house was empty. Mark’s car was gone—he and Lindsey: gone.