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Abbey Sparling. Mrs. Abbey Sparling. Professor Sparling.
Abbey sat on a sofa in the women’s room, a refugee from her own reception, running her new name through her head like a starry-eyed teenager. Anyone in the university chapel would have predicted the bride as a party girl, the groom as a shellbound turtle. But Randy was upstairs, regaling the hoi polloi with amusing stories from their courtship, while Abbey was absolutely burnt out, praying that the women in the party had strong bladders. They had warned her about this – the blurring time warps of wedding day, the frustration of twenty-second conversations constantly interrupted by twenty-second conversations. None of which went anywhere. To a recent recipient of a Masters in Literature (with a thesis about Whitman’s influence on the development of American free-verse poetry), this was maddening! Uh-oh. Ten minutes. Better get back before they begin the annulment. She took a look at herself in the mirror – still shocked to find herself in a wedding dress – and set out for the hallway. Standing in the lobby was Billy, dressed in white tux and tails like an envoy from a Busby Berkeley musical. She raced his way; he lifted her into the air, as he had since she was a toddler. At the apex of her flight, she planted a kiss on his cheek, and he set her back down.
“I hope that isn’t too hard on your back yet, ‘cause it sure is fun.”
Billy unleashed his ringing, high-pitched laugh. “Just don’t gain any weight, or I’ll have to pass those duties on to your husband.”
“I’ll consider that an incentive. Oh, Billy. Thank you for the songs. I knew you would come up with something brilliant.”
“When the bride and groom hail from Chicago and Georgia, the choices are fairly obvious.”
“You made me cry, too. You jerk.”
“I hope to God you were cryin’ about Georgia.”
That sent them into a good laugh, followed by an awkward silence. Abbey could guess the cause. She and Randy were moving to Seattle, which meant she and Billy wouldn’t be seeing each other for a while. Maybe Thanksgiving. Maybe Christmas. Every other year. When Billy looked at her again, those intense blue eyes were misting over.
“Honey. You are, without a doubt, the most beautiful bride I have ever seen.”
Abbey wrapped her arms around his neck and held on for a long time.
“You think they know ‘Someone to Watch Over Me’?”
Billy snickered. “They want to stay in business, they better.”
She took his hand and they started up the broad staircase. She felt like an animated Disney princess.
“Oh!” said Billy. “I forgot to tell you my news. Frankie won the ticket lottery. I’m going to the playoffs!”
Abbey stopped and gave him an excited grin. “The Blues?”
“Game Six. I tell ya, honey. You gettin’ married and all – this is the year. I can feel it!”
Knowing the travails of Memphis baseball fans, Abbey thought it best to smile and say nothing.
David is reading Stephen Ambrose’s account of Lewis and Clark and is fascinated, as always, by the way the two had to bribe their way across the continent, ingratiating themselves with the Indians by giving them beads, tools, tobacco and whiskey. Today he walks the ocean side of Point Damon with his own offering: an ice-filled Zip-Lock bag holding two beers, tucked into his backpack. He learned this trick from Elena’s cousin Esteban, who works a vineyard in California.
The day is 50/50 clouds and sun, with a brisk wind and impressive waves that curl up like a fist and smack the sand. He keeps a weather eye; he has heard too many stories about “sneaker waves.” Lately, his life is nothing but sneaker waves, and that’s why he’s here. Perhaps this is endemic to those who forgo human contact and speak little, but David is convinced that Billy has some sort of answer for him.
The driftwood teepee is there, along with the customary plume of smoke. David keeps to the shore, taking in the carousel, which today is pulling along like an express train. There has got to be a way, thinks David, that an extreme sports athlete could take advantage of a circular current.
He makes a point of whistling “Take Five” as he approaches, to avoid causing an alarm. Billy is perched on a log next to the fire, reading a tattered book; he looks up as if he’s been expecting him.
“You didn’t bring your bass?”
Already feeling like a trespasser, David does not immediately recognize this as a joke. He recovers quickly.
“Couldn’t find a long-enough extension cord.”
Billy chuckles and sets down the book. “Pull up a crate.”
David squats on a red milk crate, sets down his pack and liberates the Zip-Lock. Billy’s eyes perk up.
“Are those what I think they are?”
“They are.” He undoes the seal and hands him a Tecate. Billy pops the top, takes a swallow and looks like he’s about to cry.
“Have I told you lately that I love you?”
“I sometimes talk in song titles. So. I imagine you have brought me a question.”
“I don’t give answers much, so naturally people ask me questions. Also, you’re a history teacher – and boy do I have a history. Not that I will tell you the least bit of it.”
“So I surmised. Tell you what. Give me some of that soup, and I will talk completely about myself.”
“You realize you’re taking your life into your hands. A homeless person does not have the best access to fresh ingredients.”
“But isn’t that why one makes a soup? To boil away the nasties?”
“Touché.” He fills a tin cup and hands it to David. The concoction is just as delicious as it smells, and coats his mouth with a spicy warmth.
“Now that could get you through an Ocean Shores winter.”
“Abbey found a ridiculously good deal on curry and gave me half a shitload. I may have to convert to Hindu. You know, I used to get some ingredients from your son.”
“One of the few who didn’t shoo me away. In fact, he began making me a special bag of leftover food and leaving it next to the back door. Sweet kid. Sorry about the holdup.”
David takes another swallow and lets it soak in. “That was a trauma.”
“You’ve had quite a summer. Losing your friend, Derek’s poem… Well. I apologize for knowing so much, but I’m sure you know where I’m getting my info.”
“She’s very fond of you. She says she couldn’t have made it without you.”
They fall silent. Billy adds a piece of kindling to the fire, then slaps his knees.
“So! What’s the question?”
“Well, you’ve got the first part – this continual shitslide beginning with Larry. But now I find that various superheroes – my eldest son, my new singer, Parthenia – have swooped in and spun it all into gold. So what’s my problem? I should be having one hell of a time!”
Billy cannot resist the obvious move of rubbing his beard. He drinks the last of his beer and lets out a contented sigh.
“Tell me two times, this month, when you were one hundred percent happy.”
“Okay. When the three of us were playing for that packed floor of dancers. And… last Sunday, when Pablo and I were up against a tremendous rush.”
“What do the two have in common?”
“Let’s see. Large crowds. A bit of fear. Um… focus. Full occupation.”
“Lack of thought?”
“No. Lots of thought.”
“But not worry-thought.”
“Being in the moment?”
Billy laughs. “I’m sorry. You’re right, of course. But God we have slaughtered that phrase, right along with words like ‘spirituality’ and ‘patriot.’ Absolutely devoid of meaning. However! Here’s the question: if full and focused occupation is the medicine that’s working for you, where do you think is another place that you could get some of that?”
David gives it a full effort but finds himself stumped.
“I got nothin’.”
Billy produces the small miracle of a grin and holds up two fingers.
“Two words. Soft. Ball.”
Photo by MJV