Don’t forget your lizard boots, I said this every time you threatened to leave me. But you never left. There was nowhere for you to go, and we both knew it.
What is it about an old man that makes him take such crazy risks? The house on the beach, Fort Lauderdale no less, the ten thousand dollar a month for two months output on a lousy two bedroom with cheesy bathrooms that some old broad saving for her daughter’s wedding is going to rake in on because I have to entertain someone twenty-five years younger than me, someone who I think looks like a handful of Italian actresses I’ve been in love with all of my life. But you are not an actress, you are a poor girl from some New York beach town I’ve never even been to and don’t care to visit and I’ve laid out a lot of time and money on a situation that I thought for sure was only lose-lose because you didn’t love me. What makes a man do such a thing?
It could’ve been your hanging down to the top of your tits hair or the mole on your left cheek near the chin. Or your skin, your skin, your skin. And the baby inside of that skin, that golden belly: whose was it, did you even know? Not mine. At sixty you gotta be kidding. But at night as I listened to you snore ever so lightly in the other bedroom I imagined it was mine, the quality of my sperm besting the quality of mostly everything else about me, i.e. my skinny legs, my medium-sized dick, my lack of enough hair even though I am in no way balding.
It was, as you of course must have noticed since you were always so kind not to ever, ever make any reference to any of it, mostly the lack of excellence in my overall make-up, a problem since my earliest days, that was my main complaint in life, although a man like myself would never admit to the selfishness, the vanity involved in such an assessment. No, better that a person should pretend that what was given to them at birth was enough. So much better. It ups the coolness factor and lends one an air of resigned refinement that is so lacking in everyone and everything these days.
The truth, now that you are gone and I can admit it, is that I have always wanted to be someone like you or to at least possess the same. What does that mean? How can I say it? The words come thick in my mouth like a hundred warm, dull pennies shoved in there for safekeeping. I’ve wanted something glamorous like you, the you of you spread over me like a healing salve. If the creature in your belly was indeed a part of the two of us, with your beauty overriding my mediocrity, then I would have accomplished something in what has been an otherwise dull and disappointing life.
Your skin taut over the growing baby inside of you. The way you waddled to the water’s edge only to plunge in fearlessly just as a wave was about to overtake you. The way I watched, neurotically counting the seconds then minutes it took you to resurface further out than I would have imagined you would go. The shorts with the word “Italia” printed on them in white were left on the beach and it was only you in your black bikini that swam and swam and swam.
There I left you, sunset after sunset, so that I could go into the expensive little house to prepare our refreshments. Day after day we performed the same rituals, extracted the same amount of joy from the not so measly but still somehow paltry, to me anyway, surroundings. It’s not that I imagined us in anything more grand, although I certainly could have gone for it, it was that you in your extravagant condition seemed deserving of things that I could not even imagine providing, scouting for, gathering up in a humble basket to offer. And that is by way of saying that spending close to twenty-five thousand dollars of cash from my IRA was not nearly enough.
Why should this be any of your concern? It is not. It was not. Nothing that would distract you from the blessing of what was happening inside of you should ever be your concern. But there is where I begin to sound like my mother. I have to be careful of where and when I start sounding like my mother, mind you, but I am not afraid to admit when it happens, no, I expect it all the same, just as I expect to have to scour the toilet with Comet every other day because maybe where you come from they don’t do that or you yourself have never scoured a toilet by your own hand, but where I come from, Ohio to be exact, Cleveland to be even more damn specific, we scour many things in an attempt to cleanse ourselves of the almighty filth that rains down on us from the putrid regions of the country. And I am sorry to say that when I refer to these regions I am probably making an uncouth reference to the very place that you call home.
But you were, I say, or would be if I were mouthing such things to you instead of thinking them while swishing a few fresh ice cubes into my tumbler of gin, not from any such regions really. You were a lovely girl from Calabria with a chocolate-dusted mole on her left cheek and a similar one on her thigh very close to the exorbitantly lush thatch that was to have been the baby’s portal. Or would have been had I not altered its fate in such a brutal way.
Your problem with keeping our little nest clean? I can’t even begin to imagine what it could be other than your belief that you, not a gorgeous actress or model but only a poor girl from New York with a crooked nose, were too good for such tasks. But I took it to heart, this refusal of yours to help with anything, anything at all. You joined book clubs, you drank a lot of tea, your stomach was never right: in all of these things I fully supported you, that yes, you, a young girl could have all of these inabilities, disabilities, really, and still be worth the trouble.
I email my mother: Send more cash and she emails me back saying, Howard you are out of your mind. We wanted a grandchild, you see, and daily I was almost tasting blood for the want of it, of him, until I met you. Then he was within my grasp, almost mine. While he was still unborn I could hear him calling out to me, letting me know in unsubtle ways that I was not wasting my time and money, that soon he would be mine and the memory of you just a dim, lovely buzz. And now the little chocolate boy is here with me, in the other room.
We met at the Seawatch restaurant thirty minutes North from my old apartment on A1A. It is called Seawatch because you can do that there, watch the sea and you can also eat seafood, particularly the fried sole stuffed with crabmeat. But just as important are the girls they hire to wait tables and hostess. It is a fine bunch, an ever-shifting cast of forlorn and attractive characters who have kept me company for a good fifteen years now. Lola, a Cuban from a good family in Miami was a welcome addition for a while. As was Candace, the British artist visiting some old relative in Boca. Supreme was Molly, the chick from LA who just loved the rugged, boring beauty of South Florida and who liked to do it in the great outdoors.
And then there was you. Serena. Simple, shy Serena with fine bones and an empty stomach. Sit and eat I said many a time when you looked as if you hadn’t in days. But you were not that boring after all, were you? You liked to fuck with the lizard boots on and not much else. You had to have espresso every morning and you didn’t complain about much in the beginning, did you? And then boom, you were knocked up. And boom, I became all varieties of ridiculous, and the money started going and the exchanges with my mother ever sharper, and I thought that I might just be making the biggest mistake ever.
I named him Javier. Why that name? After Javier Peña, my boss at the Home Depot for ten years. It was Javier who told me that if I didn’t move to Florida and chase my dreams that I might as well not call myself a man. What did he know with his hot Mexican wife and beautiful children to go home to every night? A lot. The whole family, other than his wife, went around with shaved heads, sports jerseys and oversized pants all the time; but they were great people. I learned a lot from them. I don’t think that I could call Javier up right now and explain my situation to him, but someday I will be able to bring our son back home and show him off.
Right now I have enough on my hands. The rental is up in about four days. I have to get all of our stuff together, dispose of your things, and find a new place to live, somewhere with two bedrooms, of course. I made a big mess in the kitchen when I brought Javier in to clean him up; the umbilical cord had trailed a bit in the sand, which left a bloody, crystallized mess all over the black tile counters and some grains as well on the shitty, stained oatmeal-colored wool carpet in the living room. Why the living room? Well, I had to run over to the shades and shut them fast once I realized that duh, anyone could see right in and watch me working on a brand new baby in my rented oceanfront cottage.
Your body, I saw it float back out, black hair and whitened fingertips trailing all around you like the corona around the Virgin of Guadalupe that the Peñas were always on about. Rays of black, white and silver all around your dead shape blessing everyone near it. Who saw you, though? No one did. I had the hunting knife in the flap of my chinos when I walked to the water where you were sitting, out of breath from your evening swim. You smiled up at me, pearly whites gleaming in their frame of tanned, perfect skin. It was a little rainy, so the bathers had scattered and the beach emptied, as if in perfect concert with my chore.
I have to admit that at that moment you didn’t matter any more. As beautiful as you were, the object of my desire was elsewhere, and I had to get to that place to retrieve it, to make it my own. The first cut was the most difficult. After getting you down with the ether and suffocating you I had to work quickly; my first move was crucial and the thought of it almost had me frozen hard in a sickening panic. But no, I prevailed. I sliced heavily into your side just in back of the ribcage until I could feel myself sawing on bone. Then I traced an outline that went up under your breasts and back around to the other row of ribs. I had practiced on a side of beef many times, thinking that if I ever got this lucky that I should be prepared.
On my hands were the best pair of lightweight Steelcore II Cut Resistant Gloves, made of stainless steel fiber wrapped in nylon. They enabled me to handle the knife with ease and also to rip flesh from bone to get at the sac with the child in it. That sac, the womb I guess it is called, is a disgusting piece of work that had me gagging in the sand for a few minutes. There was no time for that, though, so I wiped my mouth on one of the towels I had brought down and then commenced slicing up the soft tissue so that I could reach in and touch our baby. He was slippery, slick, but also cheesy and sticky, all of which reminded me of the gorgonzola-stuffed olive I would be dropping into my drink as soon as I got back inside and cleaned up. I didn’t calculate nearly accurately how long that would be, or I would have mixed up a batch beforehand. As it was, once I got inside with Javier and before I got a chance to work on him some more I knocked back a shot straight from the bottle simply to settle my nerves.
So, the trail of bloody sand I left as I struggled with him in his towels, the shades, my nerves, your floating corpse which I thought I could still see but that of course was ridiculous, was the least of it. When baby and I finally sat down with our respective beverages after me checking him as thoroughly as I could for any possible trouble in any of the orifices or limbs, I nestled him in a brand new chenille blanket and cried a little. Yes, I cried. Then I emailed my mother: Need more cash. Not out of my mind this time, have actually hit the jackpot. More later. We still wrote our emails as if they were telegrams, but who the hell cared? She sent a message back that said only Okay, which meant that she had just been or was soon to be pounded by our neighbor down the block and was in what could be called a good mood.
Baby Javi, I called him that because that was my old boss’s nickname, is possibly the most beautiful, peaceful child I have ever known. That first night he slept in the Moses basket that I bought for him like he’d been in it his whole life. The next day we got out of there quickly, mainly because after cleaning up almost all night I couldn’t stand to be there one more minute. I rode down A1A, saw a For Rent sign on a building not too far from the house, called the number from my cell while still in the car, got the owner on the line, saw the apartment a half hour later and rented it on the spot. It is a charming little dump with a sort-of view of the water, but we will be in a good spot, healthy for a growing child and near to the spirit of the woman who gave birth to him, which I think is a good thing.