Mona’s daughter, Miranda, has decided to expand her mother’s dating pool, and so Mona has agreed to meet with Jack, one of the summer people, whose brother Mona has known for years.
Jack and I had arranged to meet at a great little place on the bay where, if you were lucky enough, you could sail your boat up to the dock and walk up to your table. I drove, of course. Jack, apparently, flew.
He was just were he said he’d be – at the bar. He may have been there for days, because when I approached him, he had to squint at me for several seconds before recognizing me. He grinned broadly, began to slide off the bar stool, and slipped down to a heap at my feet.
Not an auspicious beginning.
But I was willing to assume the best, so I helped him to his feet, directed him to a small table overlooking the bay, and even held his chair for him while he cautiously sat himself down. I sat across from him, face carefully arranged, and said hello. He squinted again. Then looked out over the water.
“If we sit here, I may get seasick,” he said slowly.
“Seasick? But we’re not on a boat.”
He nodded at this piece of information. “That may be true, but I feel like I’m on a boat. Can we sit on the other side?”
This proved to be an exhausting exercise, because aside from navigating through several closely grouped tables, we also had to avoid getting run over by anxious waitresses carrying trays laden with food and drink. When we finally got to another table, safely away from the sight and sound of water, he squinted again, looking equally distressed.
“We’re not near the water,” I pointed out.
“I know. That’s not the problem. We’re too near the parking lot.”
The spot between my eyes started to burn. “What’s wrong with the parking lot? Do you get carsick too?”
“The fumes,” he explained. “I don’t like the fumes.”
“Do you want to go and get a table inside?” I asked.
There may have been a little something in my voice, because he looked suddenly hearty and eager to please. “No, not at all. This is fine. Drink?”
He waved his hand frantically in the air until a waitress hurried over. She was smiling at him like he was an old friend. Which, as it turned out, he was.
“Maggie, honey, how are you?”
“Oh, Jack.” She giggled. “I heard you were back.”
“Just this week, honey. Give me my usual, and whatever the lady wants.”
The lady wanted to get the hell out of Dodge, but I asked for a club soda.“I’m driving,” I said to Maggie, by way of explanation. Then I turned back to Jack.
“So, I guess you’re a regular here?”
“I live here.”
I laughed. “Really?”
“Yep. Really. In the spare room over the kitchen.”
I stopped laughing. “You live over the bar?”
“Yep. Have for years. Could stay with Bobby, of course, but he doesn’t like me smoking pot with his kids around, so it’s just easier to stay here. Maggie there? She’s the owners’ daughter. She, well, kind of looks after me when I’m here.”
“Does she now?”
Maggie returned with my club soda in what looked like a giant water goblet. Jack had something in the same sized glass. Clear, on the rocks. I stared as he took a long gulp.
“What is that?” I asked.
He frowned. “And ice.”
“A classic,” I said.
He grinned broadly. “I find the simple things work out best for me. I don’t like a lot of stuff, you know? Stuff crushes the creative mind.”
I saw the straw and grasped at it. “Yes, Bobby says you’re an artist. Do you paint? Sculpt?”
“Right now, I’m working in what I like to call mixed media.”
“How interesting.” Here we were, having a real conversation. I felt a little proud of myself. “Is it difficult to get the supplies you need here on the island?”
He waved his hand. “Nope. That’s the thing. I’m using local material.”
I tried to be encouraging. “Such as?”
“Well, last night I found three dead jellyfish and a great piece of driftwood. As soon as everything dries out, we’ll see what develops.”
Maggie had hurried over. Probably in response to his expressive hand-wave. He looked at me. “Want to order some dinner?” he asked.
Dear God. No. “Not right now, the club soda is just great. Maybe in a few minutes.”
Jack winked at Maggie, who trotted off. He grinned at me again. “So, you’re a writer? I knew I felt a spark. All those times you’d come in for shrimp specials, I knew you and I had more in common than preferring cocktail sauce over tarter. A fellow artiste, you know?”
I swallowed club soda and nodded. “Oh, yes. Absolutely. So, where do you teach?”
He shrugged and drained the rest of his gin. I wondered why his speech wasn’t slurred. While he was managing to sit relatively upright, I noticed that his left elbow kept slipping off the table. “I’m kind of between positions right now,’ he said.
“Oh?” Well, no wonder. “Are you looking for another job?”
“Well, the thing is, most schools want a drug test.”
“Yeah, like, who the hell cares what a person does on his own time, right? So, I’m going to wait things out for a bit. I haven’t told Bobby yet, but he’ll let me stay the whole summer, I’m sure. May even work through the winter. I bet this place is something in the off season.”
“I bet.” I had always imagined the whole of Long Beach Island to be something of a ghost town in the off season, but I kept my mouth shut.
“But enough about me. Heard you were getting a divorce.”
“Yes. I am.”
“That sucks. Unless it was your idea, of course.”
“No, it wasn’t my idea, and yes, it does suck. But it’s been really hard on my daughters, so as much as I hate to cut this short, I should get home. They get a little needy.”
“Of course. Understand perfectly. Let me walk you to your car.” He stood up.
I could see my car from here. Less than two hundred yards away. The path was free of physical obstructions, not too sandy, and in a fairly straight line. How much trouble could he get in?