On Today's Menu -- Flash in the Pan
This is part of the story I "found" at the beach. I will also be using this in Monday's post as part of a discussion. It's very long, so I hope you'll stick with it. However, it's 98% dialogue so it reads fast. But if not, I understand. And there are two swear words, but nothing vulgar.
Lanie dug her toes into the cool wet sand. Clicking the arms on her chair and reclining further, she enjoyed the ocean breeze wafting over her body. Clad only in a black and white maillot, she stretched lazily and watched her daughter, Camelia, try to tip the castle pail over without spilling any of the too-wet sand. Normally, Lanie would have gotten up and showed Cam which sand was best to use, how to tip the bucket correctly, to tap the top lightly and release it slowly, but she didn’t want to be Type-A Mommy here. No, this was their first day of vacation, and Lanie wanted to relax, to remember what it was like to be normal for a change. To just be.
She closed her eyes for a moment and yawned, then forced them open again. The last weeks tried to intrude on her thoughts, but she refused to indulge. She was here now, and besides, Cam was down by the shoreline building sand castles with another little girl who'd joined her, and it wouldn’t do for her to fall asleep, as much as she needed it, longed for it. The past three months had taken its toll and Lanie was exhausted. Combining that with the ride up from Charlotte, which had been a serious test of her driving skills, even with the stay-over at her brother’s house in Pennsylvania, had left Lanie a zombie. If given the opportunity for five minutes in the sun, Lanie knew she’d be asleep for hours, looking like a lobster by the afternoon even if she did slather on SPF 800. She took another deep breath of the salty, seaweed-laden air and let her mind go blank.
The Block Island ferry skimmed the surface of the sea in front of the furthest ocean breakwater. It’d be nice to take a day-trip, she thought, when a shadow fell across her lap.
“Hi, sorry to bother you, is that your little girl in the pink bathing suit?” a deep voice asked.
Lanie squinted through her sunglasses to make sure Cam was still there, and then up at a man clad only in florescent orange surf shorts. “Yes. Is the other yours?”
“Yeah. I didn’t want to intrude, but I like to know who my kid plays with.”
“I know how you feel.” Lanie readjusted her chair to a sitting position and took another look at the stranger. Late forties, tan, broad shouldered, a baseball cap worn backwards over a military style haircut with a smile that revealed perfect teeth.
“Jack, Jack Tremont,” he said and thrust out his hand.
“Lanie Spezciak.” She shielded her eyes from the sun with one hand as she took his hand with the other. “Good to know you.” She liked his grip. Strong. Not afraid to shake it like a man, even though she was a woman.
“How old’s your girl?” He asked as he moved to her other side, leaving her face free from the sun’s glare. He flipped his ball cap around and she saw his eyes were Paul Newman blue.
“Six, going on fourteen,” she answered. “Yours?”
“Five, although she’s pretty good at being five for now, thank God.”
Lanie laughed. “Wait. Just wait until she watches her first episode of Hannah Montana. It’ll be all over then.”
“That’s what I’m afraid of.”
Seagulls screeched over the awkward silence that settled on them.
Considering their kids were playing together, Lanie felt the need to offer. “Would you care to pull up a chair, or are you waiting for someone.”
“No. I mean yes. I’d love to join you if you don’t mind. I’m kind of new at this beach vacation game and need all the help I can get.” He lowered his voice. “Sophie’s mother passed away almost two years ago from breast cancer, so I’m alone.”
“Oh God, I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean to imply….”
“No, it’s okay. Although I don’t normally bring it up within the first two minutes of conversation. I’m just still not used to being mom and dad and sometimes, like now, in a new place, having a new experience, I like knowing there’s another mother around to make sure I don’t screw up.” He gave a self-deprecating chuckle and walked up the sand to get his things.
He pulled the small Radio Flyer wagon alongside her little area and began unloading. Lanie watched in disbelief as he took out a cooler, two sand chairs, a large stack of towels, a small beach bag, umbrella, assorted beach toys, and a battered quilt.
Lanie laughed as he dug the hole for the umbrella. “My God, you look like you’ve packed enough for three weeks.”
“Can’t help it. Didn’t know what I might need and I didn’t want to go back up to the house.” He glanced over at her minimalist setting of chair, bottle of Coppertone, and two towels. “You pack light. You staying there?” He pointed to the yellow house that abutted the beach.
“No. We’re up on the back side of Swamp Road. I haven’t gotten around to getting a stroller yet.” She nodded to a beach buggy at another blanket. “Where are you staying?”
“Lane Two. My brother’s place.” He placed the umbrella in the hole and opened the shade. “He’s not here yet. Sophie and I came up early, before the rest of the family arrives.” He opened one of the sand chairs, tucked a towel over the back, and plopped in it. “I thought it might be nice to settle in before the crazy starts, you know. You renting?”
“No. Staying at my best friend Margo’s house.” Lanie unscrewed the top of her water bottle and tried to stifle a big yawn.
“I’m sorry, am I boring you?” Jack asked.
“No, it’s not you, sorry. It was a hell of a drive up from Pennsylvania yesterday. We hit construction, and then in Connecticut I got lost trying out a new route. We didn’t get in until late and I’m just tired.”
“You from P.A.?” Jack dug into his cooler and brought out a Coke.
“No. Brockton, Mass., originally. I went to college here, U.R.I., with Margo. I live in Charlotte now, with my mother.” Lanie wondered why she had to clarify that. “Are you from Rhode Island?”
“Yeah, Bristol. We bought an old fixer-upper to be close to the water, but funnily enough, we never went to the beaches over there. We’ve always come down here.”
“There’s something about Narragansett,” Lanie said, “that precludes all the other shoreline in Rhode Island. I’ve always loved it down here.” She sighed wistfully, thoughts from her days at the university flowing through her mind at lightning speed.
“What do you do?”
Jack’s question brought her up short. What could she say without giving herself completely away without lying?
“I’m a writer. You?”
“What? It’s a noble profession.”
“For some people.” She thought of Dermot Handrigan and revulsion crowed in the pit of her stomach. That scum-bag had brought out the worst in Douglas, but she had gotten the last laugh. Dermot hadn’t been smiling the last time she’d seen him.
“I’ll have you know….” Jack’s chin jutted out. “I’m an environmental lawyer. I champion the weak and downtrodden spotted owls and piping plovers, and keep people from destroying beaches like this with billion dollar McMansions.” He looked over his shoulder at the three-story monstrosity that sat at the top of the bluff.
“You were probably the one who kept Margo from getting her permits,” Lanie said under her breath.
“The woman I’m staying with. Margo Turner.” She remembered the fight Marg had to endure for years to rebuild after Hurricane Bob in the 90’s. Coastal Resources, The Nature Conservancy, and the Town of Narragansett, had poor Margo wondering if she would ever be able to claim her parents house again. After tens of thousands of dollars, not to mention revamped architectural, structural and sewer designs, Margo had finally been allowed to rebuild.
“Margo Turner? The Margo Turner? From MSNBC?”
Lanie glanced over at Jack. His mouth hung open. Margo’d always gotten that reaction.
“Yes. That Margo Turner.”
“No. I had nothing to do with her house,” Jack said as an afterthought. Then, “You’re really friends with Margo Turner?”
“Since college. We lived down here all through school.”
“Holy crap, I had no idea. She must keep a wicked low profile. I’ve never seen her and I’ve been coming down here for at least fifteen years.” Jack shook his head, as if missing the opportunity to meet Margo Turner was like missing the home run that bounced off the Green Monster at Fenway.
Lanie smiled. “You probably have seen her,” she qualified. “She doesn’t really look like she does on tv.”
“You mean she’s ugly without make-up.”
Lanie laughed. “Well, I wouldn’t say ugly, but she does resemble a middle-aged housewife. Pretty normal looking if you asked me.” Margo had always been beautiful, but when she hit her mid-thirties and her career had taken off, she stopped wearing make-up when she wasn’t on camera. Hardly anyone recognized her out on the street. Margo had told her it was like having a split personality.
Cam strolled up from the shore, the sand castle looking more like an ancient ruin. Sophie ran to her father.
“Mommy, will you come in the water now?” Cam asked. She placed her sandy hands on Lanie’s knees and leaned over her mother for a quick kiss.
“No, baby, not quite yet. I’m still a little tired from yesterday. You hungry?”
“No, I want to go swimming.” Cam’s face wore a pretty pout.
“I’m sorry, Luli.” Lanie used Camelia’s pet name to soften the blow. “In a little while, okay.”
“I’ll go in with them,” Jack said.
Cam turned to her new hero, a huge smile on her face. “You will?”
“Sure. If it’s okay with your mom.”
Lanie looked at Jack, then Cam. What could she say? “It’s fine. But no daredevil stuff, you hear? And no going past the hippo rock.”
“Thanks, Mommy.” Cam kissed her mother again, grabbed Sophie by the hand, and the two girls ran down to the water screeching.
“Hippo rock?” Jack asked.
“The rock that looks like a hippo.” Lanie pointed to a huge boulder in the middle of the small breakwater that lined the western tip of the beach. “She just learned how to swim underwater, but I don’t want her to dive too much, if you don’t mind. I have a fear of dry drowning.”
Jack looked perplexed, but said okay, then strolled to the two little girls waiting for him in knee-deep surf.
Lanie adjusted her chair one more notch to recline a little further and watched the children frolicking in the waves. Jack held their hands as they moved farther out into the water. The small beach was perfect for kids, with gentle waves until the tide changed when the water became somewhat choppy for those under a certain height and weight. But it was coming on low tide now and for the next several hours, the water would be calm.
Lanie closed her eyes and listened to the water lap at the shore. The sun, warm and penetrating, sank into her tired limbs, relaxing her like no massage ever had. She refused to worry about Camelia being in the hands of a virtual stranger. She refused to feel guilty about Douglas, or her mother. She was here, in the now, on the beach, eight-hundred and ninety-one miles away from everyone and everything she was responsible for. She couldn’t help it. She drifted off, the sounds of the ocean and the cries of a lone seagull lulling her into the void.
Douglas called to her. Lanie looked down the hospital corridors, into every doorway, but she couldn’t find him. His voice became louder, more insistent. “Where are you, I need you.” Suddenly, Dermot Handrigan appeared in hospital scrubs, several papers in his hands. “You think you’re going to get away with this?” He screamed at her. “It won’t happen. I’ll make sure you never get a penny.”
Lanie woke with a start. Breathing heavily, she took off her sunglasses and rubbed her eyes. Just a dream, she said to herself. Just a dream.
“Hey, you okay?”
Lanie flinched, and turned to the voice at her left. Jack. She scanned the beach and found Cam and Sophie back among the castle ruins.
“Yeah, fine. Just a dream.” She fought to get her pounding heart to slow. Dermot Handrigan always did this to her, awake or dreaming. “How long was I out?” She replaced the sunglasses on her face, reached for her water bottle, and took a long drink.
“’Bout an hour. You said you were tired, so I thought I’d let you sleep.”
“Thanks, I think.” Lanie stretched and adjusted her chair to a sitting position. She glanced down at her chest, then pressed her fingers to her thighs. White under bright pink. Lanie hoped Margo had aloe gel back at the house.
“I was going to slather some lotion on you, but thought that might be a little too presumptuous.” Jack’s voice held the faintest hint of sexual undertone.
Lanie shot him a sideways glance. Could she have misheard him? She hoped so because she didn’t need complications from a vacation affair. Sure, getting laid might be nice, might even help her relax a little bit more, but a wham-bam-thank-you-ma’am was not her style. And any kind of relationship, other than beach buddies, was simply out of the question.
“You sure you’re okay?” Jack asked. “Aside from the sunburn.”
“Yeah, I’m fine. Why? Was I snoring?”
Jack snorted. “Actually yeah, before you started talking.”
Oh, shit. She hated that about herself. Douglas had always slept in the guest room when she was on a deadline. Stress inadvertently made her a sleep talker.
“Uh, what did I say?” Lanie took another drink from her bottle and drained it.
“Something about Delmore?”
Lanie fussed with a towel that wasn’t cooperating as she tried to lay it over her legs. Tried to forget the image of Dermot Handrigan.
“Sounded like Delmore, Dermore,” Jack repeated. “I don’t know. Something like that.”
“Dermot.” She waved her hand in a circle. “Nobody important.” Lanie refused to take the bait.
“Sounded like you were afraid of him.”
There was no misunderstanding the concern in his voice. And like a lawyer, there was no way he was going to let it go.
“Dermot was a complete asshat to me when I was going through a rough time, that’s all. But it’s over and done with, and I don’t have to deal with him anymore. I’ve been under a lot of stress lately, and I guess I’m not completely free of it yet. No big deal. Sorry if I scared you.” Her tone wasn’t polite, but she didn’t care. She didn’t owe Jack anymore explanation than that. She stared out over the ocean.
“You want to talk about it? Sometimes it helps to talk about it.”
Living in her microcosmic world, she had forgotten how nosy people could be, even if it was with the best of intentions.
“No, Jack. I’m good. But thanks.” She looked up at the sun, then around on the ground near her chair.
“No, I’m looking for a stick.”
“A stick. On the beach? What for?”
“To find out what time it is. Sundial. You know.”
Jack reached into his beach bag and pulled out a hefty gold watch. “It’s a little after twelve.”
“No wonder I’m hungry,” Lanie mumbled.
“You want a sandwich. I made some PB and J.”
Lanie smiled. “No, thanks. I think we should head back up to the house. I’m kind of fried, and I think we’ll take a little breather from the beach. No sense in overdoing it. We’ve got two more weeks of this and I should set the precedent today.”
Lanie stood up and called to Cam. “C’mon, Luli, time to go.”
Camelia stood up and faced her mother. “Now?”
“Yes, now. We’ve been down here since eight-thirty. We’ll go back to Margo’s for a few hours and come back down when the sun isn’t so hot. Besides, you must be starving.”
“Jack fed me.” Cam placed her hands on her hips.
Lanie looked at Jack.
“You were asleep and the girls were hungry,” he said sheepishly.
“Well, no matter,” she said to Cam. “I want to go back up and you’re coming with me. C’mon.”
Cam stomped up the beach, her hands now clenched into tight little fists.
“I want to stay here. Why do we have to go back to Margo’s?”
“Because I said so, that’s why. I need to get out of the sun for a little while. What’s the big deal? I said we could come back later. The ocean’ll still be here.”
Camelia cocked her head and stared at her mother. “Promise?”
“Yes, I promise. Now go say good-bye to Sophie.”
Camelia turned and ran off down the beach. Lanie wrapped one towel around her waist like a skirt, folded the other towel and placed it on the seat of the chair along with her empty water bottle, bottle of sunscreen, then folded the chair up.
“I hope it wasn’t something I said,” Jack said.
“No. I’m just hungry. And sunburned. And who knows, I might be able to get in another little siesta on the hammock if I can get Cam to watch some tv. I’m sure we’ll be back down later.” Lanie waited for Cam who seemed to be having some kind of great discussion with Sophie.
“What will I do without you?” Jack asked.
Lanie snapped her head around to stare at him. Douglas’s exact words for nearly seventeen years.
“I’m sure you’ll find another mommy to hang with,” Lanie replied.
“Yeah, but not one who snores.”
She couldn’t help smile. She yelled to Camelia to hurry up and remembering her manners, said to Jack, “Thanks again, for letting me sleep and watching Cam. I appreciate it.”
“Anytime.” He paused. “You sure you’ll be back later? I mean, for Sophie,” he added quickly. “You know, how little girls are. I think they’re already best friends. Wouldn’t do to promise and then renege. That’d be breach of contract.”
Camelia sidled up to her mother. Lanie gave Jack a cautious smile.
“Four o’clock,” she said, then turned and headed up the beach.
The End (so far)
Any questions -- comments -- critiques?
Please note, I do realize this weekend marks the 10th anniversary of September 11, and I will be posting Sunday.