Connie and I were having an argument. Then someone began knocking
on our front door, but we were having such a battle we just
ignored it and kept on shouting at each other. But whoever it
was kept on knocking, too--I thought they were going to beat a
hole in the door. Every light in the house was on and both cars
were in the driveway so I guess it was obvious enough we were
home, and finally Connie, her face all red and puffy from crying,
went to answer. It was her father, Truman.
Every so often, maybe every couple of months, Truman takes
a notion to drive in from the retirement community where he lives
and pay us an unannounced visit, and he always wants to take us
out to this one blue-plate-special restaurant he's been patronizing
for years, The Embers. He thinks we love it. But Truman's sixty-eight
and a widower, and he's leaving us everything he's got, so I never
suggest we don't go or that we at least go someplace different.
When Truman came in the living room I got up off the couch
and shook his hand. We exchanged our usual greetings. Then me,
him, and Connie stood there for a moment with nothing to say,
until finally Truman asked if we wanted to go eat, then added,
"I thought maybe you were down in the basement and couldn't
hear me knocking. It's not a bad time, is it?"
"No, not at all," I said.
Connie agreed with me. Then we were standing there again,
looking at each other.
"I suppose I should go get ready," Connie said and
she headed for the stairs.
"Bring me a shirt when you come down," I said. I
was wearing an undershirt and jeans, loafers without socks.
"I don't know what shirt you want," she said, climbing
the steps, "so you just come pick it out yourself."
She reached the top of the stairs and disappeared down the hall,
and a few seconds later the bathroom door slammed shut. I looked
over at Truman and smiled. Then I sat down on the couch again,
and he settled himself across from me in the easy chair.
"So how've you been?" he said.
"Good, good. Me, I had the toothache last week. Had to
go to the dentist on Monday and Thursday both."
"I guess that took care of it."
"Uh-huh, it did. He went ahead and pulled it."
"That's probably best," I said.
Then upstairs Connie started banging around in the bathroom.
There was a low crash, followed by cursing, and I knew the shelf
had fallen out of the medicine cabinet again. It happened about
once a week. I remembered it had happened to Truman, too, when
he was spending the night last Christmas Eve.
"I could take a look at that," he said after a moment.
"Got my tools in the trunk of the car. It'd be no trouble."
I shrugged. "That's all right. I'll get around to it."
"Well, whatever then," he said. He looked around
the room. I watched him for a moment, then looked over at the
television and thought about getting up and turning it on.
"It takes that Connie forever and a day to get herself
fixed up," Truman said.
"You're right. It does," I said.
"You know, there's something I've been wanting to talk
to you about," he said. "I'd say I'd have time enough
to do it right now too, the way that Connie pokes along. If you
don't mind, that is."
"No, not at all," I said.
"If I had a gun to my head I couldn't tell you what I
had for supper last night," Truman began, "but I can
remember The Embers, the way it used to be, that is, like it was
yesterday. In my day it was the place to go. But truth be told,
that's what starts happening, you know. Yesterday seems more clear
than today. But I doubt you're interested in hearing that, are
you? I admit, it's an old story, so I don't blame you one little
bit"--he stopped talking and scooted up in his chair so that
his shoulders were higher than the back cushion, then crossed
his hands in his lap--"But to get back to my point, they'd
have a band out there on the weekends," he said. "You
could dance if you wanted to. County was dry back then, too, but
you could take a bottle in there and they wouldn't bother you--that's
just the kind of place it was, you see--nothing like it is today.
Well, this one Friday night, Alana and me, we ate a couple of
steaks at The Embers, and as usual I'd had to finish the half
of hers she couldn't eat. After that we danced straight through
one whole set; we both liked to do the two-step quite a bit. Then
to cool off we decided to go driving in our little red-and-white
cloth top, something we often did. On the two-lane toward Prentiss
Mill. Not far from here. You know where that is don't you?"
I nodded and told him I did. "Sometimes I take a shortcut
to work that way," I said.
He nodded. "There you go."
"It's actually a little longer, but in the mornings it's
clear as a bell," I said. "Since the by-pass came in
it doesn't get much traffic."
"I thought that might happen," he said. He smiled
at me, and I smiled back. "Anyway, we drove for a while,"
he said. "Then I started racing the straights, going eighty-five,
ninety, just so I could see Alana's hair blow. It was fine hair,
long and black--that's where Connie gets hers, you know. But with
the top down everything was beautiful. The moon was full, it looked
like a big hole into something else. Alana kept telling me to
slow down, but I knew she didn't mean it. She liked to go fast.
"Well, after a few minutes of this I get the idea to
go skinny dipping. Hadn't been in years. By this time her shoes
were off and her feet were up on the dash with her dress pushed
up her legs. I was sure there was a back road to the lake coming
up, and when I made the turn I told her I had a surprise. She
kept asking what it was, laughing and tickling me, but I wouldn't
tell. Then she did something strange. She reached down and threw
her shoes out. Her best shoes, black high heels. I started to
stop but she said no go on, she didn't want her shoes and she
didn't want to stop.
"But I'd taken the wrong road. I kept making different
turns, driving around. We were lost. Finally I made a left onto
this dirt road with trees on both sides that made everything dark,
hard to see, and I slowed down considerably. Then suddenly the
road stopped and the lake was in front of us. It was deserted.
There was no more road, a dead end, nothing to do but get out
Then Truman stopped talking. He crossed his arms, and I saw
that there were goose bumps on his skin. It had been one of those
hot summery days you sometimes get in March, but after nightfall
it had turned chilly. So I got up to turn on the heat but I also
thought that maybe I could slip on upstairs, too.
"Where're you going?" he said.
"Nowhere. Just getting this." I revolved the thermostat
until the heat kicked on. "I thought you were finished."
"No, not quite," he said. "There's not too
much left, though."
I came back to the couch.
"It was funny," he said. "She made me look
the other way while she undressed. She'd never been delicate about
those things. But when we got in the water and were holding each
other, we had our fun standing right there, about chest deep in
a swimming place between two little piers. The bottom was muddy
and it was hard to stand up, but we did. Then we stood there a
while longer and let the water lap up against us. It was warm.
Then she kissed me and pulled away, splashed and said something
I couldn't hear. She took off swimming.
"I followed her. But I couldn't see her too good, she
looked like an x-ray or something, all this white in the dark
water. I caught up at one of the piers. We started horsing around,
standing there splashing and shoving and what not, then in the
middle of all of it she reached in and pinched me under the ribs
where it really hurts, and without thinking I pushed her away
hard. She fell back and hit her head against one of the creosote
poles holding up the pier, and I caught her right before she slipped
Truman stopped talking again, glanced at me, then stared at
a point just to the right of my head. I uncrossed my legs and
then crossed them again with the other leg on top, and waited
for him to go on, get whatever this was over with.
"She was out cold," he said. "Of course I was
scared, felt awful. But I could feel her breath on my fingers,
and I knew she'd be all right. Just have a headache the next day.
I started dragging her to shore. She was a little woman, but she
was heavy enough, let me tell you, and about halfway in I stopped
to rest. I hugged her up close against me, the way we'd stood
before. The water was waist deep, still warm. Then as I was catching
my breath, I don't know what it was, maybe because she was so
helpless, I found myself running my hands over her, touching her.
Her head was hanging down like one of those puppets when they
let go the strings. I wanted her to wake up. But then again I
didn't. I didn't know what I wanted. I swung her back and forth
a couple of times, then leaned her against me and started dancing
her through the water, up and back, to the side, swinging her
around, all these songs in my head, thinking she'd wake up. I
kissed her. But it was like she wasn't my wife until she opened
her eyes, just this hundred pounds that belonged to me. I stopped.
Then I hooked my elbow around her neck and pulled her past the
piers, then swam with her like a lifeguard out toward the middle
of the lake. I didn't have anything in particular in mind, I was
just doing it because I could. I stopped and treaded water and
floated her on her back with my hands underneath for support.
The moon was hitting her bright. I wanted to see if she'd float
without me. I pulled my hands out. She hung there a few seconds,
then slipped under. I caught her. I did it again, and counted
eight before she started down. Then I did it a third time, and
when she went under my arms didn't move. I watched her fall away
until all I was seeing was water. When I dove under it was dark,
nothing but dark, and she was gone. I kept diving, but she was
Then he looked straight at me. He looked at me like he wanted
me to answer, but I had no idea what to say. I knew Connie's mother
had drowned when she was eight or nine but the version I'd heard
was nothing like this; after a moment, though, my mind started
working, and I began to put two and two together. I had heard
about the minds of the old snapping all at once, seeing ghosts
everywhere. There was some kind of dinky fishing lake out there
at Truman's community, and I could imagine him going out to that
lake by himself day after day, sitting with his line in the water,
or going for lonely walks around the shore, or maybe spending
time out there talking to the other old men, and, somehow, what
with having a wife who actually had drowned, it had all melted
into this in his head. I felt sorry for him. Then I thought about
Connie. But then I saw how this might affect me, how Truman might
be coming to live with us sometime soon unless I could talk Connie
into a nursing home.
"I don't know what to say, Truman," I finally said.
"I told the right lies," he said, "and it got
called an accident. But what it was, and this is all, is that
I wanted to see it."
I nodded. Then I stared at the floor, fidgeted with my hands,
said, "Well," and stood up. "I guess I better go
Truman started to say something else, but he didn't. He just
Upstairs, Connie was in the bedroom. She had put on a dress
that showed off her legs and she was standing at my side of the
closet pushing clothes around, the hangers making little screeches
on the metal rod. I sat down behind her on the bed. Then a pair
of my slacks slipped off a hanger and landed in a heap at the
bottom of the closet, on top of some shoe boxes. She didn't move
to pick them up, didn't even start to.
"What?" she said.
"I didn't say anything."
"Do you want to?" She pulled out one of my white
shirts and handed it back to me.
"Yes. Yes, I do. I want to say a couple of things. First
thing is, all that stuff I said earlier . . . I guess I shouldn't've,
and I'm just sorry, honey."
"Well me too," she said.
I came off the bed and we embraced in front of the closet.
We kissed, and I worked a hand inside the back of her dress in
the space between two buttons. After a minute or so we broke off.
She smiled up at me and said, "You're a nut. You know that?"
"I know. You too, though," I said.
"I can't imagine what Dad must think of us," she
said. Then she reached down and played with the hem of my undershirt
and said, "Pobre cito cocotolito,"
one of about three pet names she has for me. The other two are
in English and they're silly enough, and this one means `poor
little crocodile' in Spanish, which she took in school, and the
way she usually says it sounds dirty. It did this time, too, and
after she said it she stepped behind me and lifted the undershirt
over my head, dropped it on the floor, and started giving me quick
wet little kisses between the shoulder blades--a move which always
drives me out of my socks. She kept doing it. Then downstairs,
the television started going. There was a loud whoop followed
by Indian drums, gunshots, music.
"You said there were a couple of things," Connie
said. She pressed up against me and kissed the back of my neck
and let her hand work its way around front. "What's the other
"It's about your father," I said. I reached back
and grabbed her thigh and started squeezing it. "But it can
wait a few minutes."
"You sure?" she asked.
"Positive?" she giggled.
"I'm sure," I said again, turning to her.