It was the 4th of July, and the Falter family had lost its progeny to the major urban areas: Pablo and his fellow grads to a Seattle Mariners game, Derek to a comics convention in Portland. Once they recovered from the shock of a quiet house, Mom and Dad headed to the shore.
With its drive-on beach, Ocean Shores is known as the Daytona of the Northwest. Sometimes with comic results. Just the week before, a middle-aged couple had parked their RV at shoreline, repaired to the rear for some hanky-panky, and awakened a couple hours later to find themselves surrounded by water. They managed to swim ashore, but stood there helplessly as their Winnebago floated off toward Hawaii.
The beach that day was like a shopping mall parking lot on the day after Thanksgiving. The Falters had to cruise quite a distance before finding a decent spot. They sent Derek’s dragon kite into the blue, and tied off the handle to their side view mirror. David prepped their small barbecue for a batch of razor clams dug up by their neighbors, the Fontescues. Elena assembled a teepee of aged oak and set it ablaze for a beach fire. (David found himself stealing peeks at his beloved’s rear end, which despite some recent expansion was still the finest ass in town.) Soon they were seated in beach chairs, savoring their clams and Pinot Grigio as the sun made its final descent.
Their reverie was interrupted by the approach of one of Harvey’s whiny rental mopeds. The pilot turned out to be David’s favorite rookie English teacher.
“What ho, landlubbers!” She kept a firm grip on the handles, as if she feared that the mighty beast could bolt at any second.
“Abbey!” said David. He and Elena straggled from their chairs to offer a proper greeting. “Honey, this is Abbey Sparling, the brightest new star at North Beach High, and her husband Randy, the brightest new star at Boeing Aeronautics. This is my beauty queen wife, Elena.”
“The brightest new star at Elena’s Ice Cream Shoppe,” said Elena.
David gave Abbey a hug and proceeded directly to Randy, with whom he never seemed to have enough chances to talk. He thought of Randy as the kind of individual who could change his mind about the South (an opinion soured by his master’s thesis on the history of lynching). In character, he was like a human giraffe: tall, gangly, a touch awkward. He spoke in a soft Georgia drawl delivered with a quiet gentility.
“An aeronautics engineer on the back seat? Randy!”
Randy chuckled. “I think we know who the daredevil is in this marriage.”
“How’s the commute?”
“A killer. Thank God for my four-day work week. But take a look at what I’ve got on either end. For an aviation guy – what we like to call a ‘wing nut’ – working at Boeing is like living at the Playboy Mansion. ‘Check out the fuselage on that one. And that one. And that one.’ And then, once I get home, same thing.”
He used a hand to describe the curve of his wife’s figure. “Fuselage.”
“I’ve misjudged you, Randy. You’re a dirty old man.”
“Well. I hope to be, one day. If I could just get around that Hoquiam crawl.”
“Ouch! Been there. Whatcha need is one of those flying cars from The Jetsons.”
Randy smiled, showing a hint of early-onset crow’s feet around his baby blues. “Don’t think I haven’t thought of bringing that up at a design meeting.”
“Hey, you back there on the bitch seat,” said Abbey. “You ready for launch?”
Randy laughed. “You hear the way she talks to me?”
“I think she uses the same approach with her students.”
“It’s the cute ones who get away with that shit.”
“The cute ones with fuselage.”
Abbey turned around and spoke in her best Hollywood starlet-ese. “Just remember, honey, if the ride gets bumpy, whoever’s on the bitch seat gets to grab on to… well. whatever they need to grab on to.”
“Welp!” said Randy. “Gotta go.”
Abbey revved up her puny motor and they headed north, fading into the mist and twilight. Watch out for the crazies, thought David. But he didn’t say it, because everybody knew about the crazies.
If I had asked him one more question. If they had joined us for a glass of wine.
The Falters returned to their chairs and their Grigios. The sun was melting into the marine layer like a scoop of lemon chiffon ice cream.
Elena laughed. “You’re sweet on her.”
David smiled. “Why darlin’, if I wasn’t married to the most bonita muchacha en los Estados Unidos, and if Abbey wasn’t a co-worker, and if I didn’t like her husband so much, and if she didn’t have a husband… But as you can see, that’s already a pretty long list.”
Elena ran a finger up the back of his hair, which she knew drove him crazy.
“I’ll make you forget all about Abbey Sparling.”
David smiled. “I was kinda hopin’ you would.”
Just a second. Two seconds. A longer handshake. Give Abbey another hug. Change the timing. Trajectories.
David sat at his kitchen table, staring at a stack of pancakes that would never be eaten, across from a wife who had slipped into a stupor. At the center of the table the Aberdeen Daily World, peppered with awful, awful words. Teenage driver… alcohol level…witnesses…airlift…stable but serious…vehicular manslaughter.
Through a gap in the vertical blinds, David spotted a hummingbird, its chest radiating opaline waves of red and green. He hovered there for a second, two, three, and then, struck by one of those animal signals that humans will never understand, he vanished.