From the collection Cafe Phryque.
Coco Shell on new redwood,
soaking up sunrays,
chasing a golden tan.
I dip my brush and
slap it on. The open
grain fizzes like soda.
Coco rolls onto her stomach and undoes her top. I try not to stare.
“Was it hard being a stripper?”
“It was hard stopping. Men telling you you’re gorgeous and handing you cash.”
I kneel at the meeting of house and plank, sliding the stain along the siding, drawing it
forward to take out the laps.
“But you’re still in showbiz, right?”
A scornful yip.
“And free ocean voyages.”
Her voice sinks an octave.
“They hide us below decks like slaves. No fraternizing with passengers. Like I’m gonna
run off with some octogenarian with a blue pill.”
I crank the edges of a can and fill my tray to the grill. Then I dip the brush and work it
into the cracks.
“Is this place… private?”
I lean on my paintstick and scan the vicinity, endless walls of redwood and Douglas fir,
the yellow surprise of big-leaf maple.
“We’ve got one neighbor up the road, but I think you’re safe.”
“Good. We’ve got strict rules about tan lines.”
I hear her shifting on the chaise but stick to my work, scrubbing the inside of a knothole.
“Oh for God’s sake, would you go ahead and look? It’s not like you’d be the first. Or the
Rupert hails me from the drive. He’s wearing his client clothes, artfully layered to hide
the splashes of stain underneath.
He stands at the top of the steps and leans forward, appraising my work.
“Tremendous! Beautiful work, Maestro. Do you think we could’ve gotten away with
I take off my hat and use it to wipe my forehead.
“No. There’s some old stain on that back section. Too much of a contrast.”
“Did you give it a light sand?”
He picks up a can and studies the label.
“Ah yes. Nothing like Coco Shell to cover the flaws.”
“It’s like dipping your deck in chocolate.”
“Aha! I may use that on a female client sometime.”
“As long as she doesn’t actually lick the deck.”
“Oh! Imagine the slivers. Well, I’m off. Must do an estimate in Scotts Valley. Wish me
Rupert walks to his truck, tossing micromanagement grenades.
“Remember, stop at five! Dewpoints! Oh, and tidy up the cans, would you?”
He revs the engine and charges the hill, kicking up gravel. Coco peers around the corner.
“No fuck-ups? Seriously?”
“Our company motto.”
She readjusts the chaise and settles back down. I take the prior invitation and give her a
once-over. Her skin is coffee and cream, with subtle gradations: Sumatra, Kona,
Ethiopian, Italian roast. Guaranteed for three years with normal sun exposure. She catches my
gaze and smiles.
“Do I pass muster?”
“Always, Coco. You’re gorgeous.”
“At forty bucks a gallon, I should be. So why does Rupert call you Maestro?”
I press the button on my CD player. It’s Renata Tebaldi, from Suor Angelica.
“Also, I’m good with a stick.”
She stretches her arms.
“I will just bet you are.”
A swallowtail flutters the
railings and lands on
I dip my brush.
A breeze feathers the evergreens.
Photo by MJV