Becca can't remember precisely what her new husband looks like. She hears him banging cupboard doors and singing in a nearby room. Her head hurts. Tom's loud rendition of "Hey Jude" makes her wince and the smell of fresh coffee slightly nauseates her. It is difficult to get the unfamiliar bedroom in focus.
Floor-to-ceiling louvers stand open on two walls facing a garden where tropical breezes flutter amid tall palms and bougainvillea. She can hear birdsong and reaches for the robe at the foot of the bed. It is white gauze, edged with stiff lace, a gift from Tom's mother. Her skeptical friends had joked that it was fancier than her wedding dress – a simple pique.
Had they made love last night? She can't remember behind the throbbing in her forehead.
Tom appears, framed in the doorway, holding a bamboo breakfast tray. He is clean-cut, handsome in an Eagle Scout, asexual way; a whole-wheat kind of guy. Short, light hair, blue eyes fringed with blond whiskery lashes. Not her type at all.
"Good morning, Beautiful," he says. "How'ya feeling?"
"They put a Mickey in the champagne, right?"
"I feel terrific," he says, placing the tray on her lap.
She looks down at a mug of coffee and slices of fresh pineapple. The ripe sweet smell convulses her stomach and she pushes the tray to the other side of the bed.
"Well, bully for you."
"They gave us a basket of fresh fruit with a card," Tom says. "This place is terrific. You'll feel better with a swim."
Becca stumbles to the bathroom and closes the door. He is still talking. She can hear his bright voice jabber on. "We can rent mopeds right here at the cottage office. Wait till you see the beach. Better not forget sunscreen."
She sits on the toilet and pushes the handle before she even finishes; the flush drowns out his voice. The medicine chest hangs open. It is empty save for a small tube of Ipana toothpaste and three tiny bars of Ivory soap. Tom's toothbrush lies on the sink, otherwise the room is bare. If they had sex on their wedding night, she didn't use her diaphragm. She closes the chest and peers into the mirror. Her tousled blond hairdo is holding a shape thanks to hair spray, but her pallor accentuates the dark circles under her eyes. She remembers putting aspirin in her travel bag, so she hurls herself back into the bedroom. Tom is gone. To get the motorbikes, she reasons.
In the doorway, a huge marmalade-colored cat sits immobile. His tail is arranged in a feathery train about his paws, and his agate eyes peer at her.
Becca approaches slowly, bending down to waggle her fingers at him, but he lurches and runs toward the door of the cottage.
"Yeah, so what else is new?" she says to the thick spray of orange tail that switches, then disappears. She hears parrots shriek in the trees.
They picnic at Spanish Point Park in Pembroke. Tom's plan is to use their cottage-kitchen for all meals, thus enabling them a week long vacation on a scant budget. Mack and Dora, her stepfather and mother, hadn't attended the wedding ceremony, but instead sent a $300 check and a card of congratulations.
"Isn't this great?" Tom's enthusiasm for a honeymoon trip wouldn't be dampened by anything as trivial as money. The sun beats down on their city-white skin.
The wedding card was the kind you buy at a corner drugstore; Becca saved it . Her parents in California disapproved of her in general and didn't know she met Tom a month ago. But they didn't probe into her private life, for there was little about the 1960’s they condoned. Certainly not saloon society in Greenwich Village. Nor the beatniks, actors, and artists she counted as friends. By not coming to the wedding, they could zap her twice with lack of interest and official objection.
Tom's father, a wealthy Detroit doctor, offered them a loan when it became apparent that Becca's family was not hosting a wedding, but Tom refused. Becca knew he hated his father. Tom was delighted that their wedding reception was held in the back room of a bar with seating on folding chairs on floors scattered with sawdust. Undaunted by any of it, Tom remarked that absurdity is poetry and was determined to marry her. His elderly parents looked uncomfortable and out of place in the bistro. Becca felt sorry for them, but was received coldly. They eyed her bleached hair and short skirt as Tom, high on champagne, called her his sensuous prize, a resistant Isolde to his Tristan yearning. Becca wondered if he picked her as just another thorn to stick in the good Detroit doctor's side.
"I packed peanut butter sandwiches," he says, passing her a packet wrapped in wax paper. She shrugs. She likes peanut butter.
The turquoise ocean shimmers beyond a beach that sparkles with freckles of mica. Becca sits on a blanket, under a red wide-brimmed hat, watching Tom. He stands waist deep in water, talking to a tall boy. The tanned stranger holds a line to a wafer-thin boat that bobs in the froth of small waves. It is one of the tiny Sunfish rented to tourists up and down the island. Together they examine the bright yellow sail on the boat, then suddenly Tom crouches atop the smooth plastic, and moves the ropes. Becca stands, alert now and begins to walk toward the water. Tom stands, jerkily, sailing now, up and over a wave he goes, heading out to sea while the boy calls instructions through cupped hands. Becca sees a faint greenish haze that hovers near the water, like a mist. Tom sails right into it and doesn't look back.
Tom whispers that he's rented his own Sunfish the next morning, kisses her lightly and leaves her in bed. The squawks of wild parrots outside the window prevent her from going back to sleep. She stares at the ceiling fan for an hour, developing moving pictures of Ed in her mind. Ed Sherman, unemployed stage manager, aged alcoholic, first-rate bastard. Good riddance. She had let him go and he flew into the arms of the first woman he met. But his craggy face hovers in her mind, an apparition. He is waking in Boston alongside his new wife. He has his big shaggy head between someone else's legs. His thick fingers are finding the secret, sacred district of some other woman's pussy. She can smell him on her own fingers and taste him in the spit of her own mouth when she comes. Ed is like a huge, nasty bird. Beautiful and elusive. Becca thinks she'd like to tear her heart out for the parrots to eat.
"If you marry Tom," her friend Sara had said, "you'll be cherished.” In their crowd, Sara was the only true believer. “He's adorable and thinks you are beautiful."
"But I'm not beautiful," Becca said. "So what does that make him?"
But she ended up saying yes to Tom. Firm action was preferable to confused grieving. There was always a choice, always a gamble. After Ed, chance seemed to be what was left to her.
Tom sails every day. His body browns dark as coconuts, his hair bleaches blond. When he returns from the beach he finds her sitting on the porch in a big wicker chair with the orange cat on her lap. She has a stripe of sunburn across her nose and cheeks from her short forays down to the water; her skin is not attuned to the tropics. She wears an incongruous sarong of terrycloth.
"This cat finally gave in," she says.
"Who can resist you?" he says.
At night, they eat sandwiches on the veranda and Tom shows her the Big Dipper. He tells her about his childhood. His physician father kept bottles in the basement of their Detroit home; bottles full of aborted fetuses and severed heads of dead patients. She knows he is lying but pretends to believe. He gives her a childish love poem for which she fakes appreciation. Under the stars, he soon tires of talk and leaves her sitting. But he leans down and brushes her forehead with his lips and whispers, “I’ll wait for you, Becca.” But he falls into sleep exhausted from sailing. When she awakens each morning, he's already gone to the bay. She doesn't mention sex to him. She already realizes that he's crazy.
She amuses herself during the day by motor biking to far ends of the island. She takes her moped to Southampton and at Church Bay, sits alone at a park where giant tortoises sleep at the bottom of a shallow pond. The placard says that they are hundreds of years old. Becca kneels, peers through the brackish slime. The flippers of the enormous beasts look like khaki leather, or the skin of her mother's weathered hands. Becca holds up her own hands to the sunlight.
"Wishing they were webbed?" a voice says behind her.
An elderly gentleman with snowy white hair shuffles his way to the bench behind her, aided by a cane. His plaid pants, a muted green and black, are the only colorful aspect to an otherwise drab and unremarkable attire. His white moustache droops untidily beneath a large nose and rheumy colorless eyes. Becca drops her hands instantly.
"Good morning," she says, rising. "I didn't see you come up."
"The old boys are holding their own, eh?" he says, nodding at the pond. "American, are we? My name's Georgy." He smiles at Becca benignly. His hand extends to hers; trembles in a small palsy.
Becca shakes the old man's hand and sits down beside him on the bench.
"Becca. Yes, from New York. And you?"
The man nods. "Been here since '47. How're you finding our little paradise?"
"I'm too fair for this sun," she says. "But it's pretty."
"Sounds like it's not your cup of tea. Not for everyone." He puts his cane across his lap and absently rocks it back and forth. “You have to love the water.”
"This water sometimes has a strange green smoke over it. Do you know what that is?"
The old man's eyes open wide. "You’ve seen it?" he says.
"The first day, yes, I saw it." Becca can see the man's face is hungry with curiosity now. "When my husband was sailing."
"It's from the experiments," he says. "It's usually further out to sea. Where's your husband now?"
" He's sailing. What experiments? What do you mean?"
"You wouldn't believe me if I told you."
"Try me,” she says, leaning toward him.
The old man tips the cane back to the ground, and folds his hands over the head of it. "Well, it's true because I witnessed it. But nobody believes me."
"How would you like to have brunch with me, young lady? My treat? They have the traditional codfish spread or good snapper right up there at the Swizzle Inn." He beckons to a sprawling shingled building set off the road.
Becca nods. She is sick of sandwiches. She takes his arm and walks slowly up the path to the restaurant.
"Why aren't you sailing with your husband?"
Becca shrugs and averts her eyes. "Tell me about the green fog."
Georgy’s old face twitched with a tic when he talked. The story he told was one of those things you might read in pulp magazines. Nazis, German scientists and secret projects.
"I was a sailor on the USS Eldridge in 1943. Right here in these waters. Wartime, you know. The Navy was running secret tests trying to make ships invisible." He stops to rest for a second and register her reaction. Becca keeps her face blank, nodding.
"It was the government's first attempts at stealth technology, electronics to fool the Nazis. But we swabbies had no idea what was going on. A scientist named Von Neumann was in charge of the operation." Georgy waves to the cashier as they enter the restaurant and offers Becca a seat at a window table. A waitress with an English accent brings coffee and takes their order.
"So with no warning, one morning the switch was pulled. I was on deck when there was a blue flash and suddenly things started to fade in and out. We thought we'd been hit by a submarine at first, but it was just like mirrors in a fun house. The Captain knew something went wrong, and tried to reverse the switch, but it didn't work.” Georgy’s hands wave in small circles and then he clasps them. “Sailors were screaming. Everything went nuts. Five men fused to the metal in the ship's structure. The rest of us started jumping overboard, but the ship was sucked into this green smoke. I can't tell you how strange and frightening it was.” Georgy paused and shut his eyes.
Becca clears her throat. “Wait a minute. Did you say they ‘fused’ to the ship?”
Georgy’s eyes fly open. “Yes! Everybody was panicked and lots were hurt bad, and the ship was blinking in and out of reality like an old silent movie clip."
The waitress appears with a tray. Georgy pauses while she puts bread and butter in front of them. Becca orders a Rum Swizzle. Her throat is suddenly parched. She looks around the restaurant. There are three or four people seated, just an ordinary afternoon.
"So, what was it?" she says cautiously.
Georgy shrugs. "We jumped ship in 1943 and a few minutes later we were picked up by a rescue boat in Montauk, New York. That Dr. Von Neumann was on board, but he was an old man. He told us it was 1983. He had been waiting forty years into the future for us to turn up."
Becca throws her head back and lets the laugh explode. “Well, you had me there for a minute.”
Georgy picks up his glass of water and sips it slowly. They sit in silence while a couple pay their bill, and leave the restaurant. Out the window, Becca can see them holding hands as they go down the path. The waitress places entrees in front of them. Becca orders another rum.
"You think I’m making this up?” Georgy looks down at his plate.
Becca thinks he might be going to cry. “Well, you have to admit that it’s a fantastic story.”
“I told you you wouldn’t believe me. ‘Try me’, you said.” Georgy pokes a forkful of food into his little mouth.
“Well, I don’t disbelieve you. Maybe it’s just gotten mixed up over the years?” Becca says gently.
“No! Exactly as it happened. Von Neumann sent us back to the ship with axes to destroy the equipment. We did and immediately,” Georgy snaps his fingers, “the ship returned to its original point in space with us aboard. About three hours had elapsed. So, an entire ship and crew went to a future distant location and back again, all in a matter of hours! Just by chance, I was there." Georgy puts down his fork and flings his hand at her. “It doesn’t matter. I know what I know.” He meets her eyes and his face softens.
"Is that what I saw?" Becca says.
"You didn't see a ship evaporate, did you?" Georgy grins and rolls his eyes.
"No, but I think I might have evaporated." Becca says. "That's possible, right?"
"Anything's possible. We're not connected to these points in time and space, you know. It just looks like we are.” He pauses. “Are you honeymooning?"
"How did you know?"
"You just have that foggy look of the newly married." He smiles and smoothes his moustache.
"I made a mistake," Becca says, mashing a piece of fish into pulp with the back of her fork.
"Ah, don't cry, my dear. Maybe it's just your perception." His old face is soft with concern. Becca can see that he must have been handsome as a youth. Clean cut. "This place is sucking up ships and planes. Who's to say people don't have similar warps? Who's to say you haven't married the perfect man? It may just take a shift in your certainty. He may be waiting for you."
Becca stares into the old man’s face. "The man I love has disappeared," she says, "that's for sure. He's in Boston with a new wife."
"Sometimes it just takes time for the molecules to sort themselves out," Georgy says, his eyes narrowing. "It's hard being young. And you, my lovely girl, are very young."
"Nobody's tried to shut you up about all this time-travel?" Becca asks.
"Nah, folks just think I'm dotty. The Navy covered up so many deaths, so many mutilated bodies. They knew nobody would believe us. But my wife left me when I got home – so I know how you feel. That was hard. I never married again. You remind me of her. Did you know that? You want to be careful what you do from now on." Georgy's fingers reach out and touch her hand lightly. "Do you believe my story?"
"I don't know. It sounds crazy, but I like it. I can see that you believe it. Why do you tell people?"
"People ought to know. Such things are important," Georgy says firmly. “If I didn’t think I’d frighten you, I could prove it to you.”
“How?” Becca leans forward in her chair, prepares for another story.
Georgy leans in close to her face. “Take a good look at me.”
“Yes,” Becca says, studying the pauches and lines around his eyes. It’s a good face, she thinks. The face of a man capable of great love. She wonders if he’s flirting with her.
“Well, all you have to do is think about it. In 1943, I was 20 years old. This is 1965. Twenty two years later. That makes me forty-two. Do I look forty-two to you?” He removes his wallet, and opens it on the table, with his driver’s license in its little plastic case facing her.
Becca reads the birthdate. May 17, 1923.
“You see,” Georgy continues rapidly. “I was one of the casualties. I came back with the crew, but some of us came back forty years older.”
Becca can feel her feet flat against the hardwood floor, but she has a sensation of motion. It is like seasickness; a giddy weightless nausea.
“I think I need some air,” she says.
Georgy signals for a check, and takes some bills out of the wallet. “I’m sorry, dear girl. I shouldn’t have.”
“No, really, it’s okay.” Becca grips the table and rises. “It’s just a little crazy, you know?”
Georgy nods. "I know, I know. But I assure you, I'm as sane as you."
"That's not saying much," Becca laughs.
Becca frequently checks the beach from the cottage windows. She can always make out Tom's silhouette on the Sunfish. He and the boat meld into one form like a corporate logo for an exclusive beach club. He is expert now, leaning far out over the water at a sharp angle, his arms and strong legs taut and tan, defying wind and gravity, the bright sail curving in on itself like a conch shell. She understands and hates the perfection of it because it leaves no room for her to change her mind. Georgy, the wind, the little sail, the orange cat and the sandwiches have somehow conspired to steal her indecision. She looks for the green haze on the water, half-expecting it to pick up her husband and carry him into the past or future, but the blue sky meets the aqua water cleanly across a wide horizon.
She returns to the tortoise pond once more, but does not find Georgy. She sits on the bench. Ed Sherman is fused to her like those pitiful sailors mutilated in the metal of the Eldridge. But maybe that connection isn’t permanent either. Maybe it’s just the past that clings, and not Ed at all. Her skin prickles under the hot sun, and she rides the moped back to the cottage.
Tom drags the Sailfish onto the sand. Becca sees him through the kitchen window and pours a finger of rum into each of two jelly jar glasses and splits a can of Coca-Cola between them. Her hair is wet and curly from the shower, and her face has a biscuit tan, at last. She carries the drinks out to the veranda and waits for him to come up the walk.
He grins when he sees her.
"How was your day?" she asks.
"You wouldn't believe it," Tom says, sipping the rum as he lowers himself onto the wicker chair. "It's like being in heaven out there."
"You'll miss it," she says. "We leave tomorrow."
Tom wipes at the sand that's dried on his feet and ankles. "It went too fast," he says.
"I'm ready to go home." Becca lies down in the string hammock. She sees a flash of orange fur in the hibiscus bushes. Above her head, the scold of a cockatiel breaks the air, followed by a flurry in the trees.
"It hasn't been much fun for you, has it?" Tom says. "I guess I've been pretty selfish. Just hard to resist the chance to sail."
"I don't begrudge you," Becca answers.
"Are you sorry?" Tom asks. His burnished face turns to face the sea; the taut profile gleams in the dimming light. Striated in a palette of magentas, the sun slips under the dark water line. "Tell me that you're not sorry."
"I'm sorry that I burn so easily," she says.
He turns and meets her gaze. She realizes that he hasn't looked directly at her in days. "You know what I mean."
"Yes," Becca says, steadily framing him like a memory as darkness soaks up the sky and sea behind Tom. "The thing you don't want to hear."
"I love you." He reaches tentatively toward her leg.
The morning of their departure, she finds a dead baby parrot on the sidewalk to the Cottage Office. Its feathers are scattered in a tiny circle beneath a riot of squawking in the trees above her. She picks up a tiny iridescent plume and folds her palm around it. The cat is nowhere in view.
She wears a smart city dress, high-heeled pumps and sunglasses for their trip home. Tom is dressed in Bermuda shorts and a madras shirt, his skin burnished like a new saddle. He snaps pointless photos of airplanes, other peoples' dogs and children, and lets the camera dangle about his neck while Becca sits in the waiting room at the airport and smokes filtered cigarettes. She thinks about the randomness of possibility and disaster. About the promise of certainty. Her husband comes toward her, the camera raised to his eye, his finger poised on the button, his white, even teeth gleaming in his mouth like dice.
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