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-- P r e s e n t s - -


by Margaret Dewey

I had thought I would be in a good mood, but I was not. I woke up to a dismal day. Long sleety rain was hitting the windows, I could hear surf booming from time to time in the rocky chasm. The air smelled of kelp. Huh! A nor'easter and Jack had said he would take me sailing today. This storm would last for three days.

When I sat up in bed to blow my nose, I heard my parents making love in the next room; the walls were thin. Grunts, heavy breathing, the squeaking mattress, finally a deep high-pitched gasp from my mother. You would have thought that she could have spared me that. And at their age-was sex necessary? I grabbed some clothes, went into the bathroom and dressed rapidly after turning on the electric heater. God, I was so damp. My pink bra and lacy white panties stuck to my skin; the gray flannel Bermuda Shorts and the tennis sweater grabbed at my goose pimples.

When I was finishing up breakfast, Jack phoned. At this point, I was trying to fall in love with Jack and had half succeeded. It was always easy to fall in love with Jack. "Well, I guess the sailing is off for today, Chris."

I looked out the window at the gray ocean, many white-caps, long parallel lines of white billows closer to the granite shore.

"Yes indeed, " I said. "But, perhaps you'd like to come over for a cup of tea this afternoon? Around four?"

"Yes, I'd like to see you, Chris. All of you. I'll be there." Shaken, I hastened our goodbyes. But probably Jack was just in his humorous vein. No matter what you might say, Jack was the epitome of style. He went around celebrating the rituals of upper-classness the way St. Francis went around celebrating the mystique of Christianity.

But goddamn this drizzmal day. Only ten-thirty now. Too late for church, too early for cocktails. After pacing around a bit, I sat down on the dampish window seat. The seat had a funky smell-nor'easters always brought out that smell. I lit up a cigarette and let last night run through my mind.

Jack had collected me from my parents' ever-watchful eyes at seven thirty. He was thirty-two that summer; a good age for a romantic hero. He was wearing those hairy tweeds that could scratch you. In the early evening, we walked down the flag-stoned path past the hollyhocks, folded ourselves into the little red M.G. Jack tried to start the car, but fumbled around with the key. I saw that he could not quite find the place where you put the key in, so I took his hand and guided it in. Now we were moving ahead...could Jack see the road? Sometimes he wove in semicircles back and forth over the white line down the middle of the road. Now we were driving on the left side of the road-was he blind drunk?

"You know, this is not England, I said, "In America, the colonies have these prejudices-they think you should drive on the right side of the road."

"Bloody stupid colonials," said Jack, continuing on the left side. We were going over a hill and I wasn't dead yet. "All colonials should be shot at dawn."

God his voice was so slurred. We were over the hill now and no one was coming-yet.

"Please let me drive," I said.

Jack turned his head, looked at me through those long eyelashes. He took his right hand off the wheel and ran it through my hair. His left hand was dangling out the window, holding a cigarette.

"Pretty girl," he crooned at me. "Such a pretty girl..." I was really scared. People often drive fast on Granite Neck.

"If you don' t let me drive," I said, "I am going to get out and walk."

"Not a good idea to get out of the car when it' s going fifty . Never a good idea."

At the yacht club, the ladies lounge mirror was reassuring. There was Viking blond me shimmering in a silvery dress. I liked the pointy boobs swelling out of my body, also my painted toenails. My looks were holding. Not half bad for thirty.

Then I found Jack in the cocktail lounge; then we were dancing. We were crashing this dance, this regular Saturday evening dance at a yacht cIub of which we were not members. Would someone throw us out? At first I did not quite catch on to this dance, but then my muscles and ears figured it out and we were dancing like Siamese twins, the music flowed in us like a blood stream. Now we were cheek dancing. He had just enough stubble to scratch gently. With my curled eyelashes I gave him continuous butterfly kisses. Jack was just the right height, just the right man.

Between sets we sat on the porch railing drinking scotches, high above the rocky ledge.We talked about luck.

"They say it's good luck to throw your glass over your left shoulder when you finish your drink," Jack said. He finished his drink in one gulp and threw his glass over his left shoulder. In a second we heard a shriek from below, then a masculine voice said, "What the f...?."

Jack said,"We'd better get inside back on the dance floor." Could that falling glass have blinded someone? Suppose it hit some one wearing eye glasses? Could it have driven a glass fragment into his eyeball?

Aren't you going to investigate?" I said. "Suppose they're really hurt?"

People who can't take care of themselves shouIdn't be coming to yacht clubs," Jack said.

Later, Jack was driving me home. He seemed sober. No, he wasn' t driving me home; he put on speed as we approached my house, more speed as we drew parallel. What next? Maybe he would drive me down lovers' lane and rape me? We crossed the causeway; we were headed toward town. I didn't say a word; it might break whatever his spell was and I wanted to be in that spell too. Jack slowed, stopped neatly and gradually at a red light, threw an arm around my shoulders, looked at me.

"Such a pretty girl, just my type. I always liked long-haired blonds.

My happiness swelled almost to bursting.

What's that thing on your face?" he asked.

My hands flew up to hide the large brown mole half hidden by my hair.

"You ought to have it off. It doesn't help, you know."

Tears came to my eyes.

"May I have a cigarette?" I had learned young that you can't cry when you are smoking.

Jack sat there studying me for a minute, watching me as if calculating the effects of a poison. The light had turned green and a couple of cars had moved past us; someone behind was blowing his horn.

"Why you can have whatever your little heart desires, Chris." He handed me a Benson & Hedges, lit it with his 14-carat gold lighter. He smiled that cat smile, baring those square yellow teeth.

The car jumped ahead. Jack was looking at the road now.

"Why don't we do something new tonight? What do you say?"

I was silent. If I said yes, what would I be giving permission for?

"Well of course you're a proper Bostonian. Proper Bostonians never want to do anything new-except sometimes." I

I sat up very straight. Sternly, prohibitively, I said, I "sometimes you scare me."

Jack's chest seemed to cave in a little. I could see it in profile as he drove past maples and streetlights.

"I certainly don't want to scare you, Chris. I never want to do that." his voice was kind now.

"What I thought," he went on,"I've heard that if you drive in an open car at night and look straight up at leafy trees, you will feel as if you were going straight down into the bowels of the earth."

I shivered...did I have a date with the devil?

Yet it turned me on.

"Sounds great," I said. "Let's do it."

We settled on doing it on the road that goes past the golf club. For a minute I felt sorry about this plan-I would look up and maybe my hair would be blown to pieces. But you can't break an omelette without breaking eggs.

Jack headed into someone's long curving driveway and stopped under their carriage lamp. The driveway led up to a big neo-colonial house with all of its windows dark. Jack fooled around with some gadget close to the steering wheel, but he had to get out of the car to put the top down. The machinery stuck at first and he cursed under his breath, then he was in the car, backing it out of the driveway and onto the street.

"Get ready Chris. I'm going to gun it. Just put your head back and look straight up through the trees."

The trees, heavy with foliage, arched over the street- no stars here. I did put my head back, we were going ever so fast thick leaves green smells down down down.

Scared, I said, "Stop, it works."

Jack began slowing down the car.

"It works, huh? Well it's my turn now. Look, no hands, ma." Jack had his head back, his hands folded behind it- he seemed to be looking up, we were going maybe sixty, maybe seventy, approaching an intersection. It was late, close to two.

"For god's sake, Jack. Somebody has to drive this car."

I grabbed the little wheel, kicked Jack's foot off the accelerator, thank god the car was slowing, no other coming.

Jack straightened his head, gave a little shake of his body, began braking.

"Well it worked for me too," he said. "You know, Chris, you do scare easily."

"You could have killed us both," I said evenly, quietly. "Now and on the way to the yacht club too. Is that what you want?"

"Well, yes, I do have a pretty strong death wish."

Not apologizing for his pathology-did he glory in it?

He turned away, bared those yellow teeth in a snarl.

"Don't lecture me, Chris. I get enough of that at home."

I felt his anger continuing to rise like a tidal wave. Why I was I here?

I waited a while before I spoke. We were going along at a reasonable speed; Jack was driving soberly. Perhaps this stormy mood would blow over my head.

"Give me a cigarette," I said. Jack did like giving you things. I got the cigarette right away and he looked pleased.

"We might go to some beach," he said vaguely.

"How about Goldwaite Ridge Beach?" I said.

Jack was okay now. The storm had passed. He did not know the way to this beach, so I told him. He would like going to a new beach. It was nice riding through a summer night with strange terrifying Jack. Jack whom I had always known.

We parked in the sandy parking lot facing the rocky ridge that begins Goldwaite Ridge Beach. Jack did not make a pass at me; we were just old friends. We smoked and talked. I told him about Goldwaite Ridge Beach: a public private beach or a private public beach-anybody can use it as long as they are Granite Neck residents. The beach is not much good except at low tide; then you get the nice sand. At all other tides you get stones and that rocky ridge.

"We'll come here some time at low tide," Jack said. "There are a lot of things we can do. We've got the whole summer ahead of us."

Then he said he was tired. "I don't have your flaming youth," looking at me. He took me home. The evening ended with his quick friendly peck at my cheek.

A pretty good evening. How did Jack manage to be an angel and devil and to keep both generally caged inside him like boxers in a ring.

There are many more summer evenings to come.


Margaret Dewey writes fiction and lives in Marblehead.