I am away from everyone, down the beach, looking at Scotty and Dana and Mike slurping beer out of cans. A few yards away from them, twenty yards from me, is a woman. She is on a blanket patterned with teddy bears and starfish. She watches two children, her girls, in bathing suits and sunhats and yellow plastic glasses. They are playing with a shovel and a bright red pail. She is nervous, I think. Watching.
"An the fuckin..." Scotty's voice, a scrap of his words, comes to me on the breeze. There is also a scrap of the girl's little singing.
And I find myself staring at the woman's legs. At her feet worked down in the sand. Her thighs smooth, waxed, not shaved and they have a bulge up high, I notice, an extra curve on the outside before they round into flattened out bottom and hips.
"..utin the god...damn..." Scotty again.
Mike looks over at me. He raises his beer can, looks at his gut, sucks it in, lets it out, smiles.
"Sa lalilala" The voice of the girls, one of them anyway, comes to me. Nonsense, noises, little trills or the making up of stories, I think, as children that age do. I imagine the words. And the castle. The castle has a king. But the king is at work. Job bodge. So but a wave comes. Cause the horses and fish fight. 'Be nice' the Queen. She says that. Nonsense in sentences and my eyes, again, on that body, the mom.
On her hips and belly that are soft enough, getting toward forty enough I could probably fuck her tonight, this evening I think, if I don't drink too much and take the time to make conversation. If I distance myself from my friends by rolling my eyes, no thanks-ing the beers and chin-nod, sweetly, sweetly smile and put myself, I can see what to do, my body, between these men and her kids. If I speak to her that way. In that kind of voice. Speak with my body. Spit words out my mouth.
Well you're awfully grown up. Very big for six. Are you sure you're only six? I think you might be telling stories. You really do look big. So grown up. Then a smile to her and together these things might wind me up, I imagine, anywhere.
In Morningside at night, I am remembering now, no longer imagining this specific woman, this woman before me, but standing in the sand, alone, and remembering a time with someone I thought like her, a different sort of her. Theresa, I think, was her name - attractive but let go - grinding on top of me, slightly uncomfortable in a bed not mine. And me a stranger, a stranger in her house with her ass in his hands and his hands so still, this how it must have felt, must have felt to her, an occasional movement behind her, a slow circle of fingers and palm shaped on her rump then stillness again, bed sounds, breath, a soft pat, hesitate, wonder, is it, is it, is it alright to come.
She'd have remembered the condom, his idea, no fight. But the whole thing so quiet. So quiet and smooth and he is a stranger, she'd remember. Remember and tell herself that's why the pause. Why she can't tell where he is. Can't feel what he wants. Whether he's ready. And that is the problem, but also the beauty. That sense of not knowing. That sense all around her of problem and beauty. A body, doubt, the darkness, the softness of the darkness with the streetlight a glamour and hush through the drapes and isn't that enough and he feels good besides. Seems, she thinks, to be good. Good for right now and their breath is there, that fall rise and fall. And pause. Broken mumbles, dreams, and breath that is constant coming in from their room.
She is sure where they are. Knows they won't wake. Won't slither around her, abandon her or lie.
She lets go. On top. Stomach hard. Slowly. More and more slowly. Just hips. Then still. Him a still log. A board stuck beneath.
She is stiff. And off. Off on him. Comes. Off on him. And comes. Comes. Squeeze-punch. Punch. Punch-on-chest-silent. And-push.
"An she's pushin me." Scotty's voice.
I leave the memory and pad closer. Walk the beach walk - feet flat, calves tight, working. I pass her blanket. Skirt around her kids. Don't cut between them. Don't walk through her line of sight.
Her head tilts. Eyes hidden by glasses but looking, I think. Checking. Wary, but there. She is thinner than the other. Than Theresa Morgiananti. That most perfect name. Those few trips to Morningside. That name that was, for a moment, my world.
I look down at the kids then back at her, the woman with the kids with the bulge up her thigh. I smile. Say with my skin, my body -
I am not going to hurt you. Not you or your children. I am safe and can be what you want. We can have sex or talk or make food together with music on or the newshour, that babble, our background. We can fight or rent movies or I can move in and care for you and go to work every day or come by only when you call and then, in those rare times when your boyfriends are busy, out having affairs or your ex has the kids, I can bring you my body and bodega-sliced melon, cold seltzer, cantaloupe and two bottles of beer. Can wordlessly and willfully fuck you whole and over, forever all night, all afternoon like we've never owned names, like nothing is born of our bodies at all and then leave, I can. Clean. Your children and life, softened but separate. Unsullied. Like the sky can be known, you will know me.
"Shit over Rudy's.." another scrap. I'm still listening to the kids and the waves.
"Fly fly fly wah dub so.."
"Nice girl, you know. Don't even know how it started." The scraps filling in. The rest falling out. The imagining and dreaming, making things up.
"And fucking Big Dan sees it happening and he just leaves. Gets his beer an sits down"
"You need a beer?" Scotty looks at me.
I say no. Dana mugs, says what's wrong. I laugh. Look back at the woman. Half-watch the kids. Let her see me doing this. See me listen to the story.
"An she won't quit. Don't even remember what she was saying. But you know, I'm drunk, an asshole, whatever, same old fucking song and she's...what the fuck was she saying?" Scotty asks.
"You were arguing about sauce," Dana says. "Something stupid." He crosses his arms over his chest. His beer in one hand. Cold, I imagine, against one arm. "If there's caper's in putanesca."
"Putanesca," Mike says and laughs. "What assholes we are."
"Well I been cooking," Scotty says. "For, fucking, ten years. But she just won't back off. Telling me...what was she saying?"
"Saying you were sexist," Dana says. "The way you talked. Fucking," Dana said. "Rhetorician this chick."
"Well of course I'm fucking sexist," Scotty says. He glances at Dana. "Fucking college boy," he says. "Prick."
"Perfect," Mike says. "Putanesca."
"But there's still capers in putanesca," Scotty says. "Sexist or not."
Dana interrupts. "Just tell the story."
"So yeah," Scotty says. "Anyway, I'm drunk and been cooking all day so, you know, I'm thinking I'll talk to anyone there's love finally happening and everything'll work out and I got a few drinks in me I'm back at Chez Rudolfo know we're all getting gakked up head over club 707 later watch the sun come up it's all a big joke and we're talking about cooking. That's what's happening for me. And there's some new chick at Rudy's actin up I'm like fine. We'll talk. Fuckin great. Sauce. Cooking. Don't matter whatever. And then she pushes me."
"Like," I said. "What do you mean?" I crossed my arms the way Dana had.
"Like we're in a bar and this is a fight so she pushes me," Scotty says. "Like this isn't a joke." He puts his hands in front of him, palms out, steps close to Mike, and shoves hard into Mike's chest. Mike is pushed back. He yells and laughs and his beer falls into the sand.
I look back at the girls. Hold that pose so the mother can see me.
"Yeah," Mike says. "That's how it is?" He gets up and shoves Scotty back.
"Is that a push you fucking girl?"
"Maybe," Mike says. He charges into Scotty, who laughs, and they wrestle until Mike falls to his knees in the sand.
Dana and I look at each other. He looks at the woman then back at me. "Looking to play Daddy tonight?" he says.
Mike and Scotty are both in the sand now. Rolling over each other and laughing high pitched laughs. They are each saying 'fuck' over and over again. Saying 'fuck, oh fuck, you fuck putanesca putty nesca' and laughing.
"Watch your mouths," I say, "there's kids."
I look back at the woman. She is looking away. The girls are staring at me. I am afraid they are scared. That they might start to cry. I turn my body toward them and the bigger one grins. I grin back. Crouch down a little. Put my hands on my bent knees and grin bigger, goofier, tilt my head. I imagine I look like Big Bird.
The other girl, the younger one, grins also. Then all of us laugh. At the same time. First just a little, little tinkly trills of little laughter then the laughter gets big. Mouthfulls of laughs and the sound of the ocean and waves and even seagulls surround us. We laugh and laugh and I look at the mother and she is still looking away and this is more perfect, easier and more beautiful and close and warm than I thought it could be. And I open my grinning laughing mouth to say, how old are you two, you must be, then fall, stunned, and stare at the sky and bright yellow sun like a pan, flat, above me.
"That's what I mean," Scotty's voice in my head. "By she pushed me. You twat. You watch your fucking mouth."
I turn my head from the sand, roll onto my back and look up at him. My back hurts and there is sand stuck on my skin. It stings. I imagine brushing it off and it sticking closer against my skin.
Scotty looks at the girls. Flexes his muscles and makes a monkey face. The girls have gone silent.
I look up and back. The woman is upside down, standing, the bulge beneath her hips now a small sweet jiggle ready to move away. She puts toys in a large plastic container, grabs a corner of blanket and the handle of a cooler and hobbles down the beach.
"Girls," she says. "Let's go." The girls stand still. Their backs to us. "Girls!" Their mother again. Her voice now different. "Let's go."
I look toward her, upside down, and smile.
"And then," Dana says, he walks toward me. "Scotty pushes her back."
"Putanesca," Mike laughs. "The rock and roll Buddha in a fight with a girl over how you make putanesca. Just lovely," he says.
"I couldn't believe she was doing it though," Scotty said. "She was pushing me real fucking hard."
"And she did keep it up too," Dana said. "Which was funny for a while. I mean Bobby was there and me and Big Dan were there and Tommy was there and it was just like a show. She'd push him and he'd stare, you know, like fucking, whatever, pro-wrestling. And I think she was showing off for her girlfriend. But then, after a while, she pushes one time and Scotty goes down."
"Classic," Scotty said. "God. I'm an asshole."
He reached down a hand. I took it, rose up.
"And when he gets up off the floor, he's got his fist cocked and he's walking toward her," Dana said
"She shouldn'a fucking done that," Scotty said. "With me drunk like that. I mean, what are you supposed to do?"
"And she's not moving," Dana said. "And she's big for a girl but she's still half Scotty's size. So then me and Big Dan step up. Stopped it. Bought her and her girlfriend a couple of rounds."
"Which is great," Scotty said. "Otherwise I'd probably a ended up in jail. Assaulting a girl."
"Beautiful," Mike said. "Lovely. Fighting a girl."
"Yeah," Scotty said. "And turns out she was great. We got to talking later. Turns out she plays bass. Shoulda figured from the start. Fat-assed and pissed. Might as well a been wearing a bass-player fucking sign on her head. Anyway. Good shit. Plays with some chick band downtown. Going to see her next week. Fucking bass player, you know. Shoulda known it from the start."
Scotty handed me a beer. All of us stood. Quiet for a bit. Then Scotty spoke.
"Beautiful day," he said.
The woman and her children had settled back on the sand a long way down the beach. They were tiny and could have been anyone.
I heard everyone around me say 'yeah' to Scotty and the waves crashed down.
And for a moment no one moved. Then we left and got lunch up on the board walk, cold beer in big plastic cups. Oysters you could suck up with horseradish and vinegar at an outdoor raw bar that was empty but for us. Sated and drunk we went back on the train to midtown.
Back to Hell's Kitchen. It was still called that then.
About the author:
Matt Basiliere earned his MFA in fiction at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. He is the recipient of the Slosberg Memorial Award for Substantial and Worthy Achievement in Prose, and his short fiction has appeared in previous editions of Pindeldyboz as well as The Heat City Review, The Fifth Street Review, Aura, and other publications. The story "Suck Pill" is a part of "Welcome to Hell's Kitchen" a recently completed novel in stories for which Mr. Basiliere currently seeks representation.