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Woody and Neva Celebrate their Fiftieth Anniversary In Hawaii
Frederick Zackel

Woody Folkenflit and his wife Neva stood arm in arm on the balcony of their hotel room looking down at the swimming pool nineteen floors below.  The pool sparkled in the sunshine like a blue diamond.  The white concrete surrounding it was flecked with patio furniture and tropical plants.

Neva Folkenflit closed her eyes, inhaled deeply and smiled with the deep ache that comes when dreams finally come true.  This Hawaiian vacation was a dream come true for both of them.  "Oh, Woody, we made it!" she gushed.

Her husband Woody was grateful that they had.  This vacation was very important to him.  He felt like telling her everything, but his natural reticence held him back.  He opened his mouth and tried confessing his secret, but his tongue stayed silent.  He cleared his throat and tried again.

"I can't believe how warm it is," he said with his raspy voice.  He was a tall, awkward man, achingly shy and dignified.  A gaunt-featured, sickly man with large ears, thick-lensed eyeglasses, liver spots like measles and grey hair cut short like a GI haircut.  He was still dressed for the Midwest in baggy dress slacks and a short-sleeve white shirt.

"There is a heaven on earth," Neva agreed.  She was not a handsome woman. She was horse-jawed and had deepset eyes that were large and sorrowful.  She wore her grey hair pushed back in a no-nonsense beehive.  A frail woman, she was slightly stooped from age and the onset of osteoporosis.

He said, "But then I guess every day is June in Hawaii."

Neva inhaled Hawaii again.  "Oh, Woody!" she gushed.  "The air and the sky and the weather!  Oh, just like little angels kissing!"

Woody smiled.  "I'm glad, Neva."

She gave him a great big hug.  "You're supposed to think young," she told her husband.

"I'll try," he rasped.  Clumsily he hugged her.  "I love you, Neva," he said earnestly.

"Woody, I love you!"

He kissed her, but his genuine affection was overwhelmed by her passionate fervor.  He had to take a step back to keep his balance.


Woody Folkenflit tiptoed like a stork across the hot sand of Waikiki Beach, an inflated raft under his arm and a hotel towel over his shoulder.  He was wearing the gaudy swimsuit his wife Neva had brought with them.  He had remembered to smear globs of sunblock all over his snowy skin.  He looked like any other white man who hadn't had these many clothes off in years.

He couldn't see very well without his glasses, and since he had left them back in his hotel room, he could see only the blue water blurring into blue sky.

He waded through the shallow waters, stepping cautiously because he didn't know what kind of beach was beneath his feet.  He was anxious about entering the water.  He was very aware he was no longer allowed to swim.  But at least he could float in these beautiful blue Hawaiian waters, he thought.

The water was warm and the beach was sandy.  There were no rocks or shells to step on.

Then Woody launched himself and his raft into a gentle swell, and the delicious water shocked him into surfacing instantly.  In his haste he had swallowed some water, and had to spit it out.  He had never before tasted salt water.  The salt water surprised him with its buoyancy.

When he had been a teenager growing up in Ohio, he had been on the Findlay Central High School swim team.  He had been a good swimmer, fast and clean. Now his lungs would never permit him to swim a single stroke.

He rolled over, holding the raft in his hands, floated on his back, and tried catching his breath.  He stared at the white fluffy clouds formed from the vast amounts of water evaporating into the tropical air.  His ears under water made him deaf to the world.  The salt water kept him buoyant and weightless, like stepping off into the clouds around a mountain peak and floating among them.

His mind began playing tricks on him.  He began receding from himself, like a man having an out-of-body experience.  How insignificant he was in the vast emptiness of water and air, a mere speck floating in the great ocean.  He thought of himself as a bobbing buoy, floating in the middle of the ocean. He was floating in the clouds above Mount Everest.

A wave crashed into him.  His raft slipped out of his hands, and he floundered. A wave slapped him in the face.  He swallowed some water.

He was having difficulty staying afloat.  The water churned in different directions at the same time.  His buoyancy was being undermined and overwhelmed.

He groped for the raft, almost had it, caught it, lost it, dogpaddled after it, but quickly he grew tired and found himself huffing and puffing.  Take it easy, he told himself.  He told himself to relax and slow down, that he was on vacation and shouldn't over-exert himself on his first full day.  He told himself he was getting older, that he shouldn't be doing things like this to himself.

He rolled over and looked back at the beach, and saw he was further from the beach than he had expected.  He could taste fear.  Panic was rising in his throat. He turned around and attempted to swim back towards shore.

After a while he looked up again.  He was in the same place!  He hadn't moved closer!  He was still so far from the shore!

He settled down and started swimming harder.  He churned through the water, putting every effort behind every stroke he took.

A wave smacked his face.  Another wave lifted him.  Another wave came and swamped him.  A swell lifted him up, and for an instant he saw a blur that was the beach at Waikiki, the white high rise hotels and the green mountains behind them.  The sea surged again, and he was lifted up and then thrust further away from land.

He inhaled salt water.  He gagged and started coughing, and took more water into his throat, then into his lungs.  Deep racking coughs began under his ribcage and he tried to stifle them, but that caused pain, too.  He could only cough and gag and retch in agony.

Something seemed to have him by the legs and was pulling him out to sea! Undertow!  A rip current was taking him from shore into deeper water!  His heart seemed to swirl around inside his chest.  He thrashed his arms and flailed at the water.

A thick arm came from nowhere and locked itself around his neck.  He was immobilized, gripped in a headlock.  His face was lifted from the swells, and he was pulled from the waves, plucked out of the ocean by some giant!

Woody looked around, his eyes blinking, and then he made sense of it all. He was sitting in a boat, while huge hands held him steady.  Then he began coughing, choking, and retching up salt water.

"Hey, you lucky haole!" the Polynesian man said.  "I still can do it!"  Then he laughed, showing broad white teeth, and they were the whitest teeth Woody had ever seen.

The Polynesian was golden-bronze, very handsome, and had wavy black hair, high cheekbones, and a distinguished profile.  He was husky and broad-chested, with huge hands and muscular arms.

A Polynesian man in a catamaran had saved him.

"Where are you staying, old man!"

Woody Folkenflit started hiccuping.

"Where are you staying, old man!"


The Polynesian paddled his catamaran ashore.  A crowd of onlookers had gathered and stood watching.  Some beach boys ran up and helped the man beach his cat in front of the Ainahau Hotel.  He lifted Woody, held him in his arms, and carried him ashore.  Woody weighed nothing.

Then Woody was sitting on the examining table at the hotel doctor's office. He was exhausted to the bone, a man moments before the tears come, a man naked as a turtle without its shell.

The hotel doctor checked him over.  "Jet lag," he diagnosed.  "You were trying too hard too soon after you got off the plane.  You'll have to take it easy for the next few days, okay?"

"Yes, doctor," Woody rasped.

"And stay out of the water," the doctor smiled.

Woody nodded his head like a metronome.

The Polynesian spoke up.  "You should have floated along with the current, or maybe swim parallel with the beach until the current faded away."

Woody tried to speak.

"You were caught up in a rip current," the lifesaver told him.  "It doesn't last long, and it's no problem as long as you don't panic.  You thought it was taking you out to sea forever, right?"

Woody nodded.  This man had saved his life.  His gratitude was boundless.

"You're a lucky man," the doctor said.

Woody tried speaking, but instead started coughing.

The hotel doctor frowned, and used his stethoscope to listen to Woody's lungs. "How long have you been a chain smoker?"

"Fifty-seven years," Woody confessed.

The doctor nodded.  "'Bout time you quit, isn't it?"

"Who are you?" Woody asked his rescuer.

The Polynesian patted his arm.  "Not important, brudda."

"It is!" Woody said.  "You saved my life!"

The Polynesian laughed heartily.  "For a dozen years I was a beach boy out there," he told the doctor.  "I'm good at rescuing haoles," he said, patting the old man's shoulder.  "You get some rest now, and take it easy, okay?"

Woody said okay.


When Woody was finally allowed to leave, he trudged upstairs to Room 1934 and knocked.  His wife Neva answered the door.  Woody wiped his feet on the hall carpet and then entered his room.  Immediately he went to the dresser, and slipped on his glasses.

"Neva . . . ?"

Neva touched her throat.  "Woody?"  Her heart stopped at the sound of his voice.  Something in the tone clued her into his tragedy.  Her mind raced with forebodings.  "Woody?"

"I almost drowned."

She gasped, grabbed at her heart, speechless.

"I almost drowned," he repeated.

"Are you okay now?"

Woody nodded sheepishly.  "A man in a boat who works here at the hotel saved me."

She could make no sense of that.

He wet his lips and felt embarrassed.

Neva couldn't let him go on.  She went to him and made him sit in a chair. She began massaging her husband's shoulders and back.  She did it mechanically, absently.  "Did you put sunblock on?" she demanded.  "Did you do as I said?"

"Neva, I almost drowned!"

She brushed that aside.  "Woody, I told you if you go down to the beach, you use sunblock all over.  Now, did you?"

Woody let her punish his shoulders.

"Next time you go outside this hotel room," his wife told him, "you put sunblock on, you hear me, Woody Folkenflit!"

"Yes, Neva," he said politely.

"I hope you're listening!"

Tonight I'll do it, she decided.

"Take it easy, Neva, you're hurting me!"


Woody Folkenflit was clinging to a rock in the surf up in Room 1934.  High winds and high waves were buffeting him.  The sky was bruised with an approaching thunderstorm, and the ocean was raging.  His fingertips and his toes were anchored to the rocks, but at any moment he could fly off like paper in a hurricane.

He awoke, and every muscle ached.  He lay there and wanted to scream hysterically, and he knew it was only a dream and not real.  He looked over at his sleeping wife.  Thank God she hadn't awakened.  But then Neva wore earplugs when she slept.  Earplugs had been her only way to cope with his rasping, coughing, choking, and wheezing.

Woody couldn't go back to sleep.  He stared at the cottage cheese ceiling of his hotel room, and listened to the humming of the air conditioner, his wife's regular breathing, the hoarse rasps of his own lungs.

Woody reached for his pack of cigarettes by the headboard and lit one.  He inhaled deeply and the fumes went straight to his lungs.  He couldn't believe it! Once he had been a champion swimmer.  Now he had to be saved by a lifeguard.

Woody Folkenflit was a slow man, a plodder, unimaginative, and not aggressive or ambitious, a man who never made waves walking through Life.  He went his own way and lived his own life, locked in his own world, oblivious to anyone else and uninterested in their clamorings.  He had tuned out the world.  To him, even food was merely fuel to keep going, and he derived no special pleasure from it. His marriage was much the same.

Neva presumed she knew him, and he went along with that fiction.  Decades ago, he had stopped listening to her.  Now and then he would tune in and listen to his wife, and again he would tune her out.

That Woody had never given her cause for divorce was certainly no conscious decision on his part.  But life was many days, and Woody slowly came to understand how much he depended upon her.  His attitude changed, although only Neva truly saw it and understood it.

He went into the bathroom to wash away the sweat from his face.  He flicked on the light, saw the ginger leis floating in a sink filled with tapwater, and smelled the heavy odor of ginger.  The leis reminded him of funeral homes and cemeteries.

Woody saw his reflection in the mirror.  A proud man saw himself enfeebled with sickness and with age.  The sag of old muscles.  The flab.  The hands that shook.  Whatever fires had been behind those eyes had been banked years ago.

He started coughing, a racking cough that made him dizzy.  He looked down at his hands.  His fingers were long and thin, all boney and knuckly.  They were ghostly in the fluorescent lights, the wizened hands of a ghoul, not the hands of a champion swimmer.  And the apricot-colored stains on every knuckle from a lifetime of cigarette smoking.

"I am dying," Woody whispered to the mirror in his hotel room.  He was frightened.  He knew the despair of age.  His body had betrayed him, and now life was fading away from him.  He knew this was his end coming.  Screwy, a brush with death, he thought, and he still couldn't face up to dying.

He left the bathroom, walked around the hotel bed, then opened the sliding door and went outside onto his balcony.  Carefully he first put one leg over the railing, and then the other.  He held on tightly to the railing and tried figuring which way he'd fall, where he would land.

He reveled in the soft Hawaiian moonlight, and the fragrance of night-blooming jasmine stirred his soul.  He looked down into the swimming pool.  The pool was glowing a soft shimmering blue in the night, and the diving board looked like a tongue reaching to lick the far side.

Inside the hotel room Neva stirred; the light from the bathroom woke her up. She reached out to her husband and found his side of the bed empty.  She left the bed and went to her husband's side.

He was just coming back over the railing.

"Oh, Woody!"

"I couldn't jump," he rasped.

She nodded solemnly.

"Aw, Neva!" he cried.

"Come back to bed now," she said.  "You should be asleep."

She put her arm around his waist, then led him back to their bed.  He tried begging off, but she wouldn't listen to him.  She lay him on the bedcovers, and she knelt beside him.  She pulled down his pajamas, and began massaging his penis.  Then she bent over, and kissed the tip of it.

She spun like a bottle, and breathed in his ear, and snuggled and nuzzled his neck, and bit his earlobes.  She whispered warm animal sounds.  She massaged the insides of his thighs.  She took his hand and placed it between her legs, and commanded him to massage her.  She squeezed and caressed his testicles, and even stuck a finger in his anus.

She was determined and firm.  She was going to make it wonderful for him. There was too much at stake, she knew. She tried very hard to get him erect, and keep him erect.  She put her heart and soul into it.  It went slowly.  Many times it almost disappeared.  She even used her mouth to keep him firm.  Neva was persistent, patient, and so very careful, for his soul was bruised and his masculinity had been battered by life's many days.  He was a fragile man. Fifty years of hard work had debilitated his body, and his near-drowning had almost crushed his spirit.  She kept her head in his lap, her mouth on his penis, and she wouldn't be budged.

At one point he began coughing, and she held him in her mouth and watched his paroxysms out of the corner of her eye, and waited until his suffering abated.

She used every trick she had learned in a lifetime of love and marriage to an often impotent man.  And she was rewarded.  Soon he was erect and aroused.

Her husband made love to her.  Woody had never been a good lover, but most men weren't, Neva suspected.  Tonight, he seemed to understand he wasn't very good, and he tried making amends by trying harder.  She forgave him his awkwardness.

Neva kept her eyes open the entire time, treasuring every minute, memorizing every detail.  She cherished his every kiss, his every caress, his awkward tendernesses, his fumbling hands, the very smell of him, and she truly loved her man.  This could be our last time together, she thought, and she wanted this last act of love.

He came, and she held him tightly.  After he came, she snuggled up to him, and they cuddled together on the bed.  She saw a tear in the corner of his eye, a tear from the passionate exertions.  She wiped it away with the tip of her finger.

"I love you, Neva."

She openly scoffed.  "When a man says he loves you, what he means is he's grateful."

"I love you, Neva."


Frederick Zackel is a contributing editor to the literary website January magazine <>  He has published two novels and teaches at Bowling Green State University in Ohio. He can be reached at