A Righteous Slaughter
Two days later, I returned to the Bel Canto. I would have stayed longer, but my clothes were beginning to ripen, and Frosty had another visitor coming in. For a beach hermit, he certainly had a lot of guests. (I swatted the thought away before it made any trouble.)
Before I departed, we spent a nice afternoon of glass-hunting, punctuated with a kiss at Whalespout Rock that was sure to simmer on his lips for a while.
By the time I got to the Bel Canto, I was dragged out, but Jeremy greeted me as if I were Venus, entering on a seashell, holding a Frisbee. His scaly sidekick was nowhere in sight.
“Sandra! It’s good to see you.”
“Nice to see you, Jeremy. Where’s Stinger?”
“At the vet’s. Had a bad encounter with a stray cat last night.”
“Oh no! Is he okay?”
“Few stitches here and there. Snakes are pure muscle. Hard to kill ‘em.”
“What does the cat look like?”
“Ain’t much a boa can do to a cat. Too big and toothy to swallow. I guess most of the damage will be psychological. Oh, not to change the subject, but could we switch you to the Eugene Onegin Suite? We have an Austrian couple in for their honeymoon, and their hearts were set on Rosenkavalier.”
“What’s the Onegin Suite like?”
“Imperial Russian. Dueling pistols, dark lacquer folk art, big ol’ nutcracker on the dresser – used in an actual production at the Bolshoi. And a beautiful canopied bed with royal purple fittings.”
“I’ll take it!”
“Cool. You can move there in the morning – or tonight, if you’d like. Give me a ring if you need help.” Jeremy flashed a winning smile. (I believe he’d given in to my campsite affair, and was determined to be a charming loser.)
“Oh, and Hessie’s here.”
“Really? Where is she?”
“Downstairs at dinner.”
“God, I’d love to see her, but I gotta get cleaned up.”
“You’ve got time. Hessie’s in camp-leader mode – she’ll be down there for hours.”
“Great! Thanks, Jeremy. And give my best to Stinger.”
“He talks about you often.” And again, the Sheraton smile.
I trudged up the stairs thinking, Gee, you get used to that shaved head and Jeremy’s kinda cute... and just who the hell are you kidding, Sandy? He’s just a kid, for God’s sake. Not that the guy you’re hooked up with is any practical choice. The man collects elegant trash on the beach. Couldn’t that create problems later on? Like when you need to pay off a mortgage? Send a kid to college? Oh God, but he does tell a story, and he screws like nobody’s business. And you, dear Sandy, are so overanalyzing this thing that you ought to be charging yourself by the hour.
Sometime during this inner diatribe I showered, did my makeup and picked out my clothes, because suddenly I was stepping into the dining room. I spotted Hessie at the northernmost table, auburn tresses shaking about her shoulders as she turned from one guest to another.
“Sandy!” she cried. “Darling Sandy, my key lime pie, come over here right now and join our game!”
I gave Hessie a hug and whispered, “Crayola boyfriend got you again, huh?”
“At least he stays within the lines.,” she said, and laughed. “Do you like it?”
“It’s fabulous, Hessie. Whatever flavor you come in – fabulous.”
I sat to her right and faced a table full of excited strangers. “Her boyfriend’s a stylist,” I said, to no one in particular.
“We already knew that,” exclaimed a giggly brunette. “It was one of her truths.”
“Two truths and a lie,” said Hessie. “You have to tell two truths and a lie about yourself, and then we get to try and pick out the fib. Here, have some coffee while we finish up with Marjorie. Now, Marjorie, exactly how much wheat do they grow in Madagascar?”
Watching Marjorie’s interrogation, I came up with my stories, but first I made Hessie disqualify herself – too much knowledge. My truths were being on the crew team at Penn (which inspired years of back problems), and the fact that this very week I had collected more than a thousand pieces of frosted glass from Knickerbocker Beach. For my lie, I told them about the summer after high school, when I worked the snack bar on a Washington State ferry – the Seattle-Bremerton line, to be exact. Tragically, I was ensnared by misinformation. Gaetina Carreras, a young Puerto Rican who could’ve come from a multi-ethnic line of Barbie dolls, lived in Tacoma, and swore up and down that the Seattle-Bremerton line had no snack bar. She was patently wrong – I had taken that ferry six months previous during a business trip – but the more I denied it, the worse I looked. Five of my seven jurors nabbed me. The other two went for the crew team, leading me to wonder, just what is so bloody believable about a thousand pieces of frosted glass?
We all had a terrific time lying to each other, and then Hessie talked me into going bowling. We found an ancient set of lanes near the 101 – and immediately I had to wonder about Hessie’s choice, because she was the most godawful bowler I’d ever seen. She would carefully toe the third dot from the right, scurry to the line in six steps, then forfeit all momentum by coming to a dead stop and hurling the ball like a longshoreman tossing a bag of rice.
Hessie did, however, have an angle. She had talked me into one of those kiddie-lanes with inflatable cushions in the gutters. She generally struck the cushion at such an angle that it rebounded to the center of the lane and knocked down a crowd of pins. In fact, in the first game, she managed to beat me.
The second game was a different story, as my childhood rhythms began to return. Daddy was a devoted bowler, and took us to the lanes from a tender age. He figured out early on that I had just enough natural hook to be a cross-lane bowler, so he started me off at the rightmost dot and taught me to lay the ball right beside the gutter. I got pretty good, and developed an odd propensity for “Brooklyns,” strikes to the left side of the one-pin.
Remembering all this, I turned the second game into a righteous slaughter, 163 to 74. I must admit, it felt really good.
We adjourned to the bowling alley’s cheesy bar, equipped with table shuffleboard, fifty-cent pool tables and a national-broadcast trivia game on three screens. Hessie refused to get the little keyboard that plugged you directly into the trivia game, preferring to recite her answers during our conversation.
“Ummm... Tierra del Fuego. So how was your week, honey? Did Frosty come through? Are you feeling well-lubed?”
“Oh yes, Hessie! I have never been so thoroughly fucked in my life.”
She barked a laugh. “Hah! And quite a potty-mouth, too!”
“There’s no other word that quite expresses it, Hessie. You need consonants – loud, rude consonants.”
She pointed at the television. “‘Splish-Splash.’ Bobby Darin.”
“Why do smokers do that?”
“That.” She gestured at a young Springsteen in a motorcycle jacket, whacking a pack of cigarettes against his palm.
“I think it’s supposed to tighten up the tobacco,” I said. “Make ‘em smoke longer.”
Hessie huffed and raised her eyes. “I think they do it to attract attention.” She picked up an empty beer glass and slapped the bottom against her hand. “Got a bra-a-and new box-a cigs here! Yep – brand new! Gonna go outside now, gonna light one up! I know they’re bad for me, but you know – I’m a rebel! Committing suicide now! Lung cancer! Woo-hoo!”
I didn’t know whether to laugh or hide my face. Hessie had no volume control whatsoever.
“Umm, Hessie, I hate to interrupt, but...”
“I know, 1980 Winter Olympics...”
“Nope. Two-time Olympic sites. Los Angeles, too. I think.”
“Sorry. So…. Details?”
“Too many to say. It’s not that he’s a great... technician. But he’s so free with it.”
“And he cooks! God, he cooks like my Aunt Angelica. And how does he manage to dress like that, living out of a car?”
“Adlai Stevenson. So what would you say... was the most memorable thing of all?”
Hessie was hiding a smile, as if she knew the answer already. Was this a trivia question? Was this two truths and a lie? I took a private tour of the last two weeks and landed on the peak.
“He told me this incredible story. Sort of a creation myth.”
“Frosted Glass Woman,” said Hessie.
I looked over her shoulder at a TV screen, a picture of a large cormorant, and tried to do the math in my head.
“You... you know about it?”
“Yes,” said Hessie. “Being a little over-the-hill, I had to piece it together from outside sources, but I’m somewhat familiar with it. He apparently has certain… preparatory rituals I wouldn’t qualify for.”
The air was feeling thin. “So... how often do you... talk with someone Frosty has slept with?”
Hessie had the next trivia answer ready to fly, but she had the decency to swallow it. She gave me a look of concern, and placed a hand on mine.
“Oh, Sandy. I didn’t mean…. “
Oh God, I was crying again. I couldn’t answer or it would all burst out of me, and then I’d have to leave Hirshfield like I’d left San Jose, an exile from my own feelings.
“Oh, Sandy,” said Hessie. “If I had dreamed you would feel this way I wouldn’t have... Oh, shit, I thought it was just recreation, sweetie.”
And then it hit me. The fragments of Frosted Glass Woman’s skin… scattered over the Earth to take the physical form of women. And Frosted Glass Man… wandering the shorelines, harvesting the fragments of Frosted Glass Woman’s skin. I felt so stupid, but I tried to smile.
“What?” said Hessie.
I gestured at the screen. “Ted Williams. 1941.”
“Oh,” said Hessie, as she carefully smiled back.
Photo by MJV