Becalmedby Nina Rubinstein Alonso
Sunday Emilia and David meet Sam to go sailing on Chesapeake Bay. “Where’s Leah?”
“Tried to make it work,” he says avoiding their eyes.
The afternoon breeze is soothing after the sticky humidity of downtown DC, David working the tiller, Emilia reading aloud from the Times about a psychedelic music festival in up-state New York, Sam scanning financials.
David lights a joint. Curious, Sam takes a puff.
“Don’t feel much.”
“Relax, just try it.”
Sam’s looking at the water, pockets of light rippling and disappearing. “Blinky lights on the waves,” he says.
“Poetry,” says Emilia, “You’re high.”
“Nope,” not into that sort of thing as he’s an investment lawyer, enjoys working chess problems and crossword puzzles, but his wife just left him.
Watching tv that night Sam hears words above the sound track saying, “relax, just try it.” He’s popping a can of beer, knows audio can be hacked or manipulated, happens with microphones, computers, telephones, but recognizes the memory tag, Emilia and David’s coaxing.
Monday after work he’s jogging on his new treadmill, figures he’s in decent shape for thirty one. Vacation in a few weeks, maybe meet someone new.
He has questions about pot, but can’t ask David and Emilia or they’ll say he’s projecting anxiety. Friday they invite him for dinner with some friends, “one woman’s an artist, another a therapist,” Emilia said.
He’s wary of psychological types who label emotions as if they know everything, once mentioned that he doesn’t remember dreams and got scolded for being ‘suppressed.’
When a guy at work asked if Leah took off with someone else, he replied, “We had problems, better end it before kids, a house and a dog.”
He thought a baby would help, but she'd push him away saying, “Babies can’t cure a hopeless situation.”
He’d scold that she was being immature when she yelled or slammed doors, go smoke his pipe, pour a drink, do chess problems. Once she threw an article about ‘sexual problems’ at him, but he’s not reading that crap. Angry situations sap a man’s energy, and he suspects other men of exaggerating their powers in bed.
The day before leaving she said, “I was a nineteen year old virgin, knew nothing.”
He was at work, and she clearly planned to avoid him. He can picture her gripping her purse and suitcase, getting on the elevator, the door sliding shut. Maybe he should have asked if she’d slept with someone else but doubts she’d admit it, leave him guessing alone in an empty apartment. He remembers the last office party, her smiling with that tall, curly-haired guy, an architect from city planning.
At the Friday night party Sam asks why everyone’s in jeans.
“Dude, at Consumer Crusaders we wear whatever, including denim. My boss has side-burns and a circus-impresario mustache, no jackets, no ties.”
“Really?” Sam says with an Anglophile lilt, as he likes jackets and ties, but only one other man is in a jacket, pale yellow, ‘mod,’ matching his dyed yellow hair.
David says, “Get rid of your strait-jacket, dude, cancel Brooks Brothers. Wine’s over there,” pointing to the side table serving as a bar.
Sam places bottles of Merlot on the table, uncomfortable, considers leaving.
Emilia’s in a stringy black halter top and slithery green slacks. “Everyone in Consumer Crusaders?” he asks.
“Some, the others from Del Cabo Arts Center,” where she teaches design and paints ochre, pink and greenish gold canvases.
Pot’s floating in from the balcony, and what if someone calls police?
Emilia notices. “No worries, mi amigo, es bonito,” and pats his shoulder.
Sam’s attracted to her brown eyes, woven braids, café au lait skin, surprised when she grabs his sleeve, leads him to the bedroom and pulls off his jacket.
“Loosen up!” Tingles where she’s touching him, undoing his tie, unbuttoning cuffs, pictures shoving her onto the pile of coats, ripping off her slithery green slacks, screwing her silly, but stands motionless while she rolls up his sleeves.
“Cheer up, blond zombie. Here’s a tissue, forehead’s dripping.”
He wipes his face, follows her to the living room, takes a few puffs of the joint David offers. “Doesn’t do much for me,” he says.
“Tough case, try another toke.”
Music’s floating in from the balcony, mellow Spanish guitar. Vacation in Cancun? He closes his eyes, not wanting to appear needy.
“Relax,” says Emilia.
Next puff he’s coughing, scattered and unsure, conversation floating by in broken pieces. He see David slicing French bread, people wandering in from the balcony in tie-dyed t-shirts, one Asian woman in a gauzy black blouse, bra-less breasts soft and round.
A muscular olive-skinned man sits next to him and starts tuning a guitar, and Sam adjusts sideways. “Me llamo Gustavo,” the man says.
“Sam,” he answers, noticing wide silver rings on the man’s fingers, Mexican? Gustavo’s speaking rapid Spanish to a pony-tailed man stretching on the rug.
“Where are they from?” he asks Emilia.
“Puerto Escondido, Oaxaca.”
“Heard from Leah? The divorce is final soon.”
“She’s not coming back, if that’s what you’re asking.”
He wants to meet someone new, but not that bra-less woman in her gauzy blouse, supposedly a noted sculptor.
Sunday they’re becalmed on Chesapeake bay in a sailboat going nowhere, no wind, no motor. David’s cracking peanuts, popping them in his mouth, tossing shells overboard, watching them float.
Emilia says,“Next week we’re meeting a woman who communicates with spirits.”
“Phonies making a buck,” Sam’s scowling.
“Sure, there are phonies,” David says,”but this one’s real.”
Emilia hesitates then, “My best friend Judy saw her dad in a dream, heard him say ‘I’m leaving, I’m leaving.’ Next day her mom calls sobbing that he’s dead, heart attack. Nothing phony about that. He came to say goodbye,” tears streaming.
They stew in silence glad the wind comes up filling the sails, moving them toward shore.
Emilia and David stop inviting Sam, and he stops calling them. If they meet by chance, both say how busy they’ve been.
He vacations in Cancun, gets a nasty sun burn on his long, white back, mangles a few Spanish words ordering meals, though no need since everyone at the resort speaks fluent English. The guests are mostly couples, the rest uninteresting women.
September he trades his Chevy for a classic Mercedes convertible, gray, the car he’s always wanted, buys a black captain’s hat and invites Emilia and David for a drive.
They accept out of curiosity, Emilia thinking, “He looks like an ad for expensive booze.”
As they whiz past fields and farms, David squeezes her hand in a signal way, indicating Sam’s gone overboard. But they feel sorry for him as they’ve known each other since college, invite him now and then, but with other people, never alone.
Sam’s dating a new paralegal in his office, Rennie, petite, with short gold-streaked hair. “Pretty and smart,” he tells Emilia when they meet by the cheese counter at the supermarket.
“Nice,” Emilia says and tells David, who admits he’d like to see what Sam’s up to.
Rennie is from Ohio, first time living beyond parental control, excited to tell them she’s dating a lawyer with a classic Mercedes convertible. She’s hinted to her roommate Vera that ‘interesting things are happening,’ but doesn’t admit that Sam’s ended her virginity rather uncomfortably, glad Vera doesn’t ask prying questions.
Over Thanksgiving dinner Sam tells his mother about Rennie.
“Isn’t it soon to get serious?” as she was hoping his divorce might bring them closer, but he’s more distant than ever. “She’s young, and you don’t want a hasty rebound remarriage.”
Sam shows no signs of uncertainty. “Experience, as they say, is a great teacher,” smiling over the pumpkin pie.
He brings Rennie to David and Emilia’s solstice party, showing them not everyone has to smoke pot or wear jeans. Rennie’s excited to meet artists and people with government jobs, considers Sam sophisticated and smart, doesn’t complain about his performance in bed.
“Overgrown Barbie doll,” David says.
“I gave up on him that becalmed day I told him about Judy’s dad,” Emilia sighs.
Mid-April Sam and Rennie stand before a Justice of the Peace as she’s already pregnant, smiling as he slides a gold ring on her finger.
* * * * *
Nina Rubinstein Alonso’s work has appeared in Ploughshares, The New Yorker,
Ibbetson Street, Writing in a Woman’s Voice, Peacock Journal, Muddy River Poetry Review, Southern Women’s Review, etc. Her book This Body was published by David Godine Press, her chapbook Riot Wake is upcoming from Červená Barva Press and a story collection is in the works.