Written by Chris Knopf
Format: Trade Paperback, 368 pages
Publisher: Vintage Canada
ISBN: 978-0-679-31451-6 (0-679-31451-2)
Pub Date: May 1, 2007
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Sometimes at sunset over the East End of Long Island God plays artist, spraying pinky red paint all over the sky. If your timing is right, and you’re sitting on the deck of the Windsong Restaurant in East Hampton, you can catch the whole glitzy performance.
I’d already ordered an Absolut on the rocks and was settling in to watch. Jackie Swaitkowski hadn’t shown up yet, which was no surprise. She was never on time for anything. She lived by an Einsteinian concept of space-time. It was all relative. I didn’t care. As far as I was concerned, she could do what she wanted. She was a pal.
Two stories below the deck was a small parking lot where cars could line up along the edge of the lagoon. It served the restaurant and a small marina catering to big sport cruisers and a handful of fishing scows owned by the tattered remains of the local Bayman population. On the opposite shore of the lagoon was a small scrub-covered island with a single two-story house perched precariously over a short sandy cliff. Beyond that was Gardiner’s Bay, named for a family who’d owned a big island out there since the middle of the seventeenth century. Until recently, one old Gardiner had it more or less to himself. I don’t like that many people, but I think I’d be lonely living on a huge island all by myself. Maybe not if Jackie showed up once in a while. Wouldn’t have to be on time.
There were four other people on the deck with me. A freshly scrubbed pair of young fluffs were leaning across a table vamping at each other. He wore yellow cotton pants, a green sweater and tasseled loafers without socks. None of which fazed his date. The delusion of perfect happiness floated freely across her pale blue eyes. The other two were a pair of hags from somewhere up island–faces stretched by surgery into metallic masks, nails hard as epoxy and hair like lacquered teak. One wore a white cotton top embroidered with sequins that matched her slip-ons and something sparkly painted on her eyelids. The other smoked a cigarette held at the outermost tips of her fingers, like you’d hold a splinter with a pair of tweezers. Neither could pronounce the letter R. They said things like “Don’t I know it” and “I mean, honestly.” They didn’t seem to notice me. I wasn’t offended.
The waitress came out every ten minutes to check on us, but didn’t catch a lot of action. We were all nursing our drinks. I’d planned on working on a single Absolut until Jackie showed up. I never used to care how many drinks I had or when I had them, but I was on a program of self-improvement. I lit a Camel to preserve the program’s transitional character.
A black Lexus pulled into the parking lot down below. Nothing happened for a few minutes, then the door opened and out shot a scruffy miniature French poodle chasing a ball thrown by the driver. He looked sharp and held together in a pure white band-collar shirt and pants the color of his car. His hair, also black, was cut close to the scalp, and his moustache clipped straight above his lip. His white shirt was professionally laundered and neatly tucked. His shoes were the kind of expensive black leather slip-ons that looked effeminate in store windows, but au courant on some people’s feet. Definitely not mine.
The poodle conserved nothing in his pursuit of the ball. He captured it on the fly between his legs, then scooped it up in his mouth. It was almost too big to carry, but by holding up his head he could peel back at nearly a full run.
“I don’t know what Michael’s been doing lately,” the woman with the sparkling eyelids was telling her friend, “but it’s not working.”
“With his life.”
“It’s ludicrous, the whole Rolfing thing.”
“I don’t know what that is.”
“Rolfing. It’s like massage only deeper. More penetrating. They penetrate your muscles.”
“Michael’s penetrating his muscles?”
“Not his. Other people’s.”
“This can’t be good.”
“I don’t even know what that means. Rolfing somebody.”
“Sounds intestinal to me.”
“It’s not. It’s like massage. I don’t know.”
“Would you like Michael penetrating your muscles? I don’t think so.”
“My daughter says it used to be huge in Europe. In Scandinavia.”
“They go swimming in the winter. Break the ice.”
“I don’t understand any of it.”
“For this, Michael leaves a perfectly good marriage.”
“Not if you ask his wife.”
On her next pass I let the waitress bring me another vodka. Jackie was in deep schedule denial. It happened.
The poodle showed no signs of tiring. The guy had been throwing grounders, but now switched to the long ball. It gave him more time to stand at the edge of the dock and look up at the big boats. Or maybe at the sunset, it was hard to tell. When he wasn’t throwing the ball he kept his hands in his pockets, clinking change and car keys. You could tell he was in good shape by the tight wedge formed by his shoulders and waist. Measuring a man’s latent physical ability, even from a distance, was a fighter’s habit. My father taught it to me, unconsciously. This one would be hardheaded, but inexperienced. No marks on him, no signs of wear. But never underestimate people, my old man would always tell me.
The poodle ran up on a blur of dirty white legs. The guy took the ball from its mouth and lobbed it past a pair of wooden dinghies and into the water. The dog listened for the splash and then without hesitation leaped between the boats into the oily dock water
From the Hardcover edition.
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