Memorial Day on Fire Island w/ Laughing Buddha

By: Ed Falco

Arthur is, look, you don’t want to, fine; and Bee’s, good, I’m glad.

It’s about a billion degrees out. They’re on a clothing-optional beach. Arthur had to practically drag her.

He gets up and walks away, which makes her mad. She’s all about how men retreat to their caves. Arthur stops and puts his hands on his hips and looks out over the Atlantic Ocean. There’s a half dozen guys on blankets to the left and behind him chattering. They’re all young and nude, built like Greek gods. One guy’s putting sunblock on another guy like he’s practicing the art of sensuous massage. Next to them’s what looks like a straight couple, the girl’s young, topless, with a bikini bottom. She looks good. She’s in fact gor- geous. The guy’s probably at least twice her age, well into his forties. He’s tanned a golden bronze and built solid, stretched out, arms under his head, got on one of those skimpy bathing suits Olympic divers wear. No belly at all if not quite a six-pack. The girl’s sitting up looking off at the horizon, her hand wrapped around his kneecap like she’s holding a stick shift. Arthur goes back to their blanket.

You’re back.
Look, if you don’t want to, okay, but I’m going to. Go right ahead. Who’s stopping you?
All I’m saying is, we’re here, right?

Bee’s sitting in a beach chair, the kind that’s only a couple of inches off the ground. Next to her on the blanket there’s a small cooler. She flips up the top, pulls out a bottled water, and holds it to her forehead.

Okay, I’m going to.

The world waits with bated breath.

Don’t be sarcastic.

Bee pushes the base of the plastic bottle against the bridge of her nose, like she might have a headache.

You have a headache?

Bee gives Arthur a look. Opens the bottle and takes a sip. She’s wearing a one- piece bathing suit with a skirt, under a knee-length cover up.

Arthur starts to unbutton his shirt. The young girl with the older guy gets up and walks to the water. The bikini bottom turns out to be a thong.

Arthur, you’re staring. Can you please, for God’s sake?

What am I staring? I’m watching the ocean.

Bee gives him her despairing look. He takes a seat in his beach chair, which matches hers. The cooler is between them. It’s red with a white top. Behind them, a bright yellow beach umbrella provides just enough shade that they have to sit close, only the width of the cooler separating them. Arthur whips off his Yankees cap, wipes the sweat from the top of his head, and puts the cap back on.

Did you put sunblock on your head like I told you? I’m wearing a hat.
You’ll take it off when you go in the water.
Not necessarily.

Go ahead. Have a stroke.

On the balcony of her father’s Fire Island beach house, Helena watches endless rows of waves crest and tumble to the shore, the familiar crash and slush of their advance and retreat lulling her into a chaotic state somewhere between sleep and hysteria. Almost a year to the day earlier her then fifty-six-year-old father walked out on her and her mother to take up with a twenty-three-year- old dim-witted blonde semi-employed lingerie model. Helena was twenty-one at the time and just finishing her degree at Barnard. Six months after her grad- uation, which her father didn’t attend, her boyfriend through all four years of college, her first love, left her abruptly after proclaiming his passion for one of her closest friends, who was prettier, smarter, and richer than Helena; or, rather, her family was richer than Helena’s family, which was saying a good bit. The girl came from royalty, while Helena’s family was merely recently rich, the stock market/hedge-fund variety of rich. All this—the loss of her father to a lingerie model and the loss of her boyfriend to a smart, beautiful, fantastically rich girl- friend—is, to Helena, tragic. Now Lizzie, the lingerie model, is here at the beach house to spend Memorial Day weekend with the family; and Henry, her father, is talking about marrying her.

This is all too much for Helena.

At the sight of Lizzie coming through the door hand in hand with her handsome, gray-haired, distinguished-looking father, she nearly burst into tears. She had to turn and walk away. The sight sickened her, and plus it was just weird to think of her father with a girl so close to her own age. There was something woozy and disturbing about it. That her father found girls her age to be sexually at- tractive . . . Well, she supposed all men found young women sexually attractive, but . . . It was just wrong and it upset her. It made her terribly uncomfortable to be around him. She had retreated to her room, and from there to the balcony, where one second she was lulled by the familiar, soothing sound of the ocean, and the next she was close to tearing her hair out. It’s just too much, all of it.

It’s tragic, and she’s tragic, and she leans over the balcony, puts her hands to her face, and cries. Loudly. Loud enough for anyone in the vicinity to hear.

***

Oh my God the way his mother looked at me you’d think the shadow of evil crossed her transom or Jezebel stepped out of the Bible and into her living room like I seduced her stupid son because clearly she thinks Henry’s a moron for being

with me and she’s not half as bad as Helena who’s so what a couple of years younger than me looking at me with unadulterated despair like I’m a vampire sucking her father’s lifeblood and Henry’s come on Lizzie it’s a weekend at the beach with my family how bad can it be not so bad I guess if you’re him and used to his family but oh my God me I swear I was afraid to take a nap and after that killer drive from the city in traffic would push a saint to distraction and it’s not like I’m some penniless gold-digger trying to latch onto their big shot financial genius son/father I’ve got a decent career of my own in fashion okay prospects for a decent career in fashion okay I’ll never make anything like the money he makes but who does my God the water is beautiful it is beauti- ful out here the white sand and that blanket full of boys behind us Jesus God almighty why did you make the really beautiful ones gay isn’t that just a tad cruel if all the gay guys in the city were suddenly straight there’d be no single women left well not for long there’d be divorces like always but soon as one thing was over you’d grab another one of those darlings it’d even it out a bit at least the way it is now every available man in the city is either gay married old or so ugly not even desperation would do it but I’m in love with Henry well kind of anyway what does age matter it’s not as if anybody knows who’s dying when and he’s not that old still young enough to have more children though of course he says he’s done with it and well yes he does have three exes and six kids but that’s because of the triplets which thank God they’re not here yet that’s going to be a nightmare three girls just like a couple of years older than me all giving me the death eye and I wouldn’t even know which was which I’ve seen pictures it’s weird three girls like clones more than triplets and Josie goes Elizabeth it’s a pleasure which clearly the tone and delivery translates to exactly the opposite to Elizabeth leave my son alone and die why don’t you and Helena a few steps behind her flashes me a look of horror turns on her heels and runs away and a minute later like everybody can’t hear her she’s sobbing oh my God what am I some kind of monster he’s a good looking man do you know how many women my age would kill to be with him are you all crazy yes sure you’d see his picture in the dictionary under Egotistical Bastard and he doesn’t have a clue that women are actually people but it’s not like that’s not like half the men I meet and I can work with him once we’re married and he does want to marry me or else we wouldn’t already be living together and looking at rings and why wouldn’t he want to marry me I mean I know what a man like Henry values in a woman and I’ve got it and I plan on keeping it and we will have a child that’s definitely going to happen and oh my God he calls this a little beach house which is totally gorgeous with its view of the ocean out every window I can stay out here with the kid let him make the drive to the city too damn bad

those boys are gay I wonder what that old couple is doing here. Husband must have dragged her. Poor thing.

***

I need to use the bathroom. Just go in the water.

Arthur . . . The man’s going to be the death of me. Thirty-two years married to this big baby. Arthur, don’t be a pig.

It’s the ocean, Bee! Have you seen anyone leave since we’ve been here? Where do you think they’re relieving themselves?

That’s disgusting.
It’s not disgusting. It’s the ocean.

Okay fine then I’m leaving. How do you have a popular beach and not provide any restrooms? How stupid is that?

They do it to keep non-residents away.

Well, in that case, good plan.

Oh, don’t go, Bee!

I’ll take my beach chair, but you’re going to have to handle the umbrella and cooler.

I can’t carry all that!
Well, then, I guess you’ll just have to make a couple of trips. Wait. If you take the car, how am I supposed to get home?

I’ll call Billy to pick me up. He won’t mind. I’ll spend the night with him and the kids. You can pick me up in the afternoon.

Bee. Please. Come on.

Arthur, you don’t need me here. I’ll go and you can stare all you want till some- body comes over and slaps you.
Look, I’ll make you a deal. Go in the water with me for a dip and then I’ll leave with you. One dip. Just for the experience!

Arthur, there is no way on God’s green earth that I am taking off my clothes and baring my poor age-wrecked body among all these young people.

Really, Bee, why must you always be so dramatic? Please, put the chair down.

Don’t stay out in the sun too long. You’re not supposed to exert yourself. You’re supposed to avoid the sun altogether.

What? I’m a vampire now?

That young woman wading into the waves looks like she walked off the cover of one of those Sports Illustrated issues. Look at him, he’s going to get whip- lash trying to talk to me and look at her at the same time. Really, Arthur. What are you thinking? You’re a man in your seventies with a bad heart! Even the attempt with that girl would probably be fatal!

I’m not thinking anything, Bee! I’m enjoying nature!

Fine, enjoy nature. I’m going. The car keys are in your shoes. Don’t lose them. Arthur! Look at me! Be sure you don’t lose the car keys, and try to stay out of the sun. I’ll see you tomorrow.

Fine, go. Tell Billy I’ll see them tomorrow. And you don’t have to mention— Trust me. I won’t breathe a word.

***
I don’t know which one of them I want to smack first.

Josie, in the kitchen with Jake, her husband. Josie and Jake. Josie, seventy-eight. Jake, eighty. Both of them swim a mile at the gym before breakfast and walk

two miles every evening after dinner. They’ve been together ten years, married one year after Jake’s wife of fifty years died and two years after Josie’s husband of forty-eight years died. The couples close friends since their teens: Josie and William, Jake and Lucy. Now, Josie and Jake. Not love, but something akin to it. Friendship cemented over a lifetime. Now with sex—well, occasional sex— added.

Henry, Jake says. Smack Henry. Jake’s wearing sandals, bright salmon light- weight slacks, and a black T-shirt in sharp contrast with his still full head of white hair. At eighty, he looks younger than lots of men still in their sixties. How can somebody smart as Henry also be so stupid?

Men. You’re all fools around young women.
I never once wandered.
You’re the exception. Plus I’m not sure I believe you.

Jake grins. Josie lights up a mischievous smile. At her advanced age, still a beau- tiful woman, slim, athletic, with short, professionally-dyed dark hair and her face carefully made up to diminish the effects of age. What is he thinking, bringing her to a family gathering like this?

Poor Helena.
Oh, please, Jake. She’s a little diva. What did Henry call her? His drama queen. That’s not fair. The girl’s sensitive. Oh, here they come! This ought to be fun!

Jake pops up and heads downstairs. He’s crazy about the triplets: Laurel, Willow, and Cinnamon, who everyone calls Cin to her great delight. By Henry’s second wife, Jessie, the hippie, the poet he met in San Francisco. She came after Marge, and before Phyllis. Jessie and Marge, both short affairs, long enough to have Jason and William with Marge, and the triplets with Jessie. Everyone thought he’d settled down with Phyllis, together more than twenty years, with beautiful, sensitive Helena to hold them together. Now, the fool’s talking about marrying a lingerie model half his age. The boys think it’s amusing and the triplets think it’s hysterical, leaving only poor Helena to grieve. And Josie not knowing who she wants to smack first.

***

Victor says why don’t you just leave him, and Aaron says you know I can’t. Chuck says of course you can honey and Aaron says a little lower oh my God right there.

Blake says the guy has more money than God and Connor says money can’t buy you happiness and Terrence says who says? Victor, Chuck, Aaron, Blake, Connor, and Terrence laugh. Bruce says it’s not funny. Bruce says we’re all acting like we can do whatever we want forever. Chuck says we can’t? Are you sure? Blake says don’t be ridiculous: of course we can. Terrence says we cer- tainly may and Victor chimes in happily I can’t imagine why not.

Aaron and Bruce give each other a look.

Bruce says between the six of us we have four Ivy League degrees and two master’s and here we are wasting our lives lazing on the beach. Aaron adds in luxury. Chuck says for the time being. Victor says we owe the world a display of our beauty. Aaron says a little to the left yes right there right there oh God.

***

Henry is annoyed. Bunch of gay kids behind him, a bickering old couple to his right, and not another hottie in sight other than his own girl who’s just now diving into a wave. He knows this is a private beach, but he figured Memorial Day weekend at least it would be crowded. But, no. He checks his wristwatch, a Luminor Submersible Flyback he likes to wear to the beach. It’s early. Still, the public beach will certainly be jammed and he thinks maybe he’ll take a walk in a little bit to check out some scenery but then it’s a long walk to the public beach, more than a mile, and there would be the riffraff to contend with, plus Lizzie might want to join him, which would defeat the whole purpose. He’d have to pretend not to notice some hot young thing in a thong lying on her belly with her top undone. Thing about Lizzie is she’s jealous. She’ll get pouty at a perceived glance and furious if he stares. Take this old guy to his right, wife just now getting up to leave. He hasn’t taken his eyes off Lizzie since putting up the umbrella, which, at one point, he fell on his face trying to put it up and watch Lizzie at the same time. I laughed, Lizzie didn’t notice, and the wife helped him up with a look on her face somewhere between you old ass and oh my love. Wish I could hear what they’re talking about. There she goes. Probably had

enough. Jealous just Lizzie. Guy looks like he might be close to eighty. Jesus, it never ends, does it? Go ahead and look all you like, buddy. I feel you.

***

Arthur settles in his beach chair, a cold beer held in both hands, the wet skin of it against his belly. He’s unbuttoned his shirt, which is short-sleeved and burst- ing with bright reds and yellows, swaying dark palm trees against red waves and yellow bursts of clouds. They match his baggy swim trunks. He fiddles with the brim of his blue Yankees cap, pulling it down low so that he can watch that beautiful girl playing in the waves without being noticed. She’s a stunner, ex- actly what he imagined when Steve told him about this private, clothing-optional beach on Fire Island where no one ever checked if you were a resident, which you were supposed to be, though he never mentioned that to Bee. He wished she hadn’t left. She wouldn’t even glance over at all those beach boys on a blanket, would have been fine with him if she did. At this point in their lives sex took some imagination. That’s all this was about, something to work up the imagination. Though he supposed it wasn’t utterly impossible. You read all the time about May-December love affairs, though, granted, December was invariably rich and/ or famous and May was invariably not. My goodness, look at the way she comes out of the waves shaking the water out of her hair as her hands go to her eyes swiping at them and she bounces there a minute waiting for the next wave and then dives into it her bare back slicing into the green-gray water and disappearing till she leaps up again and then repeats. He could sit here all day like this. My goodness. He watches in the bright sunlight—the heat beating down, a cold beer in hand—grinning like a fool. Unbidden a few lyrics from an old Fred Astaire movie pop into his head: Heaven. I’m in heaven . . .

***

Willow squeals oh, let’s do it! She’s out on the deck with her sisters, dressed in a frilly black crochet tank top and a silky red beach dress slit up the side to mid- thigh. There’s four of them seated around a redwood picnic table, shaded from the sun by a wide, sea-green umbrella: Willow across from and facing Laurel, Cinnamon across from and facing Helena. The Tree Triplets, which is what Jake calls them teasingly, are twenty-six, a couple of years older than their father’s current girlfriend, Elizabeth/Lizzie, whom they haven’t met yet. Helena’s the baby sister, child of Henry and Phyllis, Henry’s most recent ex. Helena is twenty-two but could easily slip into a high school’s junior prom with no questions asked.

She’s dressed the most conservatively of the four in crisp khaki shorts and a white short-sleeve button-down blouse. Cin and Laurel are both in flimsy tank tops and distressed denim shorts, Laurel’s raggedly ripped and short enough that the white pocket interiors show; Cin’s fringed and reaching down her thighs, but ripped all over, offering provocative glimpses of flesh everywhere. They’re the family’s hippie trips, the wild ones, children of their poet mom, who is currently living in Hawaii on a lesbian commune. The girls are not lesbians, though they’ve all slept with women.

Helena looks mortified. You wouldn’t dare!

The trips laugh as one. Oh, come on, Helena! Cin jumps to her knees and leans over the table. You have to! Can you imagine? she says to her sisters, and again they laugh as one.

You’re crazy, Helena says. That’s horrible!

Why? Laurel folds her hands on the table, a teacher asking a question of her student. Isn’t he in our face bringing her here? His twenty-three-year-old lingerie model?

It’s like he’s telling us what a stud he is, Willow says. She looks to her sisters. We have to do this! She’s grinning ear to ear.

Oh my God, Helena says. She looks to each of the trips. You can’t be serious.

Helena, Laurel says, this would be so good for you. For once, just for once, you’d be showing him!

Literally! Willow says, and again the trips, a perfectly unanimous trio, break into cascades of laughter.

***

Jason and William are caravanning from D.C. To the family, they’re the boys and will always be the boys, though Jason is thirty-two and William is twen- ty-nine. Both are financial analysts, both are married to K Street lawyers, both have two children, and both drive SUVs: Jason, a Volvo, and William, a Land Rover. In the past, their mother, Marge, has come with them to the annual Memorial Day gathering at their father’s beach house on Fire Island, but not

this year, not with Henry bringing his twenty-something latest.

The traffic is ungodly. At this rate, they won’t get out to Fire Island in time for the evening cookout.
Josie will wait for us, Joyce says to William. She’s sitting still as a monument, her legs crossed under her in the passenger’s seat. Both kids are engrossed in their tablets, enclosed in their headphones.

William glances to the rearview. I’ve lost Jason, he says. He was right behind me a minute ago.

Joyce lifts her phone from where it rests in her lap. She texts Viv. You all right? We lost you!

Viv texts back instantly. Had to pull over. Barb is carsick.
Joyce to Viv: Yikes! To William: We should pull off at the next exit and wait.

They had to stop. Barb is carsick.

William groans. For the life of me, he says, I don’t get why we do this. I mean, if you’re poor and you’re driving shit cars, then, sure, maybe you want to take trips together so if one of you breaks down or something. But, otherwise . . .

The kids like it, Joyce says. They get pumped for it.

The kids haven’t had their noses out of their devices for ten minutes this whole trip.

They text each other, Joyce says. They play games.

God help us, William says, not sure at all what he means.

You’ll be happy when we arrive at the same time, Joyce says. You know you love the commotion. Besides, we can introduce the kids to their new grandma all at once.

William doesn’t get this for a moment. Then he smiles. Then he laughs out loud.

***

Arthur considers the possibility that he might be hallucinating. Coming toward him over the sand doused in the glare of bright sunlight are three identical young women, all three in sandals and nothing else, not a hint of clothes anywhere, and all three without a nub of hair on their evenly tanned bodies except for their heads, which sport identical cascades of shoulder-length chestnut-brown locks.

Perhaps he’s dying and these are the Three Fates come to carry him away. But no, that’s not right. The Fates weave the tapestry of your life at birth.

Perhaps the Three Furies then, goddesses who punish men for crimes against the natural order.

Arthur sits up abruptly as the girls appear to be approaching him, veering away from the water and up onto the beach, heading directly for his blanket. He means to straighten out the brim of his cap, but somehow his hand flies up and knocks it off his head.

The girls wave to him in unison, their faces lit up with bright smiles.

Arthur smiles in return.

Each of the girls has identical tote bags slung over their identical right shoulders. The bags are pink and say je t’aime.

The girls walk in matching strides, as if carrying out a choreographed routine. They wave as they come right up to Arthur’s blanket, a wiggly finger wave. Then they walk past his blanket, and Arthur, mouth open, follows them as they march on, their motion as lovely as a summer song, even if he is hallucinating, even if he is dreaming, even if none of this could really be happening.

***

Victor says those are Alberta Ferrettis and Aaron looks up and says oh, you’re right.

Connor says Sugar Daddy’s not happy and Blake says wonder why not, isn’t that a straight guy’s wet dream, triplets?

Terrence says it’s uncanny and Chuck says that would shatter my mind, I’d be like help, I’ve fallen into a prism!

Bruce says look he’s hiding his eyes, and Victor says they’re darling and Aaron sound- ing a little surprised says the triplets? and Victor says no the beach bags! Bruce is a little sick of Victor playing this character but he loves Alberta Ferretti too and says so.

Connor says are they waving to us and Bruce says just wave back maybe they’ll go away and Blake says I’m dying to know what’s going on over there!

***

If Henry were a cartoon he’d be bright red with waves of anger-steam shooting off his forehead. They’re as crazy as their crazy mother, all three of them. Crazier.

Lizzie hesitantly says sure, well, I guess, sure.

Henry has lain back and pulled a dark boonie hat down hard on the bridge of his nose so that the flap covers his eyes. Out of the darkness he says, no, you may not join us. Go find your own blanket.

Cin says Daddy. That’s not very nice.

Henry says go to hell, Cin. Of all the stupid stunts I’ve put up with over the years, between you three and your mother . . .

Willow says to Lizzie now he’s just being mean.
Laurel says what stunts?
Lizzie says I think, you know, he’s just embarrassed because, well, because . . . Cin says oh, I have an idea.
Henry listens as his daughters walk away. He asks Lizzie are they gone?
Lizzie says kind of.

***

Josie puts her arm around Helena, and Helena responds by resting her head on her grandmother’s shoulder. They are dressed nearly identically, both in leather

sandals, khaki slacks, and short-sleeve button-up blouses. Helena’s blouse is white. Josie’s is sea blue. Josie, an old woman with fragile, papery skin. Helena nearly vibrates with youth, her skin tanned and luminous, her body subtly mus- cled. Bright morning sunlight bakes the sand under a brilliant blue sky, and a few wisps of misty clouds float high over the ocean, on the horizon. Josie and Helena are at the deck table, shaded from the sun by an awning. They are both quiet for the time being, looking out past the tumbling waves.

Josie is thinking about William, Helena’s grandfather and Josie’s first and only true love. Things are so different now. She was nineteen when she met William. He was twenty. They were students at the University of Pennsylvania. They dated through college and were married the summer after she graduated. A little more than a year after the ceremony, Henry was born. Josie almost died and before it was all over, the doctors performed an emergency hysterectomy. They resigned themselves to a small family, and at that thought Josie smiles because Henry went and had six children by three wives and now is threatening yet another wife and perhaps more children and thus Josie wound up with the big family she always wanted. Crazy as this sprawling family is, with warring wives and all of Henry’s drama, Josie loves the grandchildren, every one of them, and the great-grandchildren, and the prospect of more great-grandchildren to come, and perhaps even great-great-grandchildren if she can hold on long enough. It’s all of it a blessing and like most blessings it happened in utterly unexpected ways, in ways utterly unforeseen. Three wives! Triplets! A fourth wife on the horizon, a fraction of his age! What madness! Josie of course understands the anger and resentments, the hostilities of the wives, the troubles of the children. She listens with a sympathetic ear to everyone. Six days out of seven she wants to smack Henry but behind and under it all she’s overjoyed. They’re a clan. They’re a downright brood. William would be furious at Henry. And, like Josie, he’d be surrounded by life and all its constant commotion; and behind and un- derneath his anger, he’d be endlessly grateful.

***

Jeez Louise, Arthur says, it’s been decades. In fact, Arthur knows exactly the last time he got high: it was January 1968 and he was twenty-two years old.

We picked this up in Seattle. Cin digs in her beach bag and comes up with a bag- gie full of joints. She takes one out and holds it up to Arthur. This shit’s sweet, she says. She’s sitting alongside Arthur. She drops the baggie on the cooler and

digs in her bag for a lighter. Willow, at Arthur’s feet with an elbow on his knee, says it’ll make you laugh your ass off. It’s called Laughing Buddha, Laurel says, all of a sudden sounding like a teacher about to deliver a lecture. She’s kneeling in front of Arthur. It’s the perfect mix of Sativa and Indica. Really popular for dealing with depression. Like I said, Willow says, makes you laugh your ass off.

Amazingly, Arthur’s focus now occasionally strays from the women’s bodies and he’s able to pay attention to what they’re saying. He finds them witty and amusing. They’re smart, all three of them. Turns out the guy with the young beauty on the nearby blanket is their father, and they’ve come here to mess with him, though they didn’t come out and say that. Cin says I don’t know why Dad’s all uptight! I mean he’s here with his girlfriend and she’s au naturel! Willow adds and she’s younger than us!

Whatever. Arthur is sharing his beach blanket with twenty-something triplets, all naked as blue jays and flirting with him like crazy. Yes, of course, to make their old man apoplectic, but what the hell. This is nuts. Sure, he says, why not? Fire her up!

***
Victor says are they waving at us? and Connor says is that a baggie full of doobies? Terrence says sure looks like it, and Bruce says they’re definitely waving us over.

***

Oh my God Lizzie says. She’s at Henry’s side, sitting up beside him as he’s stretched out pretending to sleep, his hat still pulled down over his eyes. Her hand is again gripping his kneecap. It seems to stabilize her. They’re all over that poor old guy!

Henry says I’m sure he’s suffering. What happened to his wife?

The lady that was with him? She left—oh my God, they’re passing around a joint! Henry laughs under his hat. He must think he died and went to heaven.

Lizzie says Cin’s wearing his Yankees cap. He’s totally bald on top. He’s going to get a sunburn.

Henry says you know what, don’t tell me anything else. I don’t want to know. They’re trying to get a reaction from me? I don’t think so. Just ignore them. Lizzie? Do you hear me? Ignore them.

Okay Lizzie says. Oh, shit! Now those guys are going over.

Right, Henry says. Of course they are. It’s a party. Listen, Lizzie, ignore them. Okay?

Lizzie says okay and lies down alongside Henry. She puts her head on his chest and he wraps his arm around her shoulder. The sun grows more intense with every passing minute. Now they’re all going down to the water, Lizzie says. She’s peeking over Henry’s chest.

Ignore them, Lizzie. Please.

Okay. The girls are like arm in arm with the old guy. They’re pulling him down to the water.

Just ignore them.

Okay. Now they’re all in a big circle at the edge of the water, passing joints around.

Henry sighs and says I’ve had enough. He sits up and pushes the boonie hat off his eyes. At the edge of the water, where the breaking waves spill over their feet, he sees his three daughters amid a circle of men, all naked except the old guy, laughing, passing around joints. He says let’s go, and pulls himself up to his feet.

Lizzie says Jesus, they look like they’re having a great time.

I’m sure, Henry says. He offers Lizzie his hand and helps her up. Let’s just go, he repeats, and begins gathering up their stuff.

***

Now it’s nearly evening and Laurel, Willow, and Cin are just returning from their adventure. The family is all present at the beach house, kids running around out on the sand, adults busy at the grill cooking up hamburgers and

hot dogs, more adults in the kitchen preparing the sides, the potato salad, the watermelon, the corn on the cob.

The early evening sunlight skims over sand and out to the ocean and the red horizon. The waves are ceaseless, night and day tumbling and withdrawing, on and on and on.

Henry is on the deck with his mother and Jake. They’ve been reminiscing, tell- ing stories. There’s been a good bit of laughter and a moment or two of sadness.

At the sight of the girls returning, Josie and Jake go to the deck railing and wave. The girls are wearing one-piece bathing suits: Cin’s is red, Willow’s is white, and Laurel’s is blue. Their Ferrettis are slung over their shoulders. They wave back to Josie and Jake.

Jake says those girls are a riot.

Henry leans back in his chair and says a laugh a minute. He’s nursing a Scotch, holding the drink delicately between thumb and forefinger. He’s deliciously tired.

Lizzie is in the kitchen with the boys’ wives. They appear to be getting along famously.

Helena tried. She tried to be courteous to Lizzie, but she just couldn’t. So now she’s off by herself on the beach, hiding in the shadows, her arms crossed over her belly, watching the ocean and the waves. She looks back to the house where smoke rises off the grills. The smell of barbecue mixes with the salt smell of the ocean. Part of her wants to go back to the house and join the party. Another part of her can’t bear to be around that girl who’s after her father for his money, who stole her father away from her and her mother. She thinks of her mother alone in her apartment in the city, and a terrible sadness wraps itself around her. She starts off down the beach, away from the house. She needs a walk alone by the ocean.

***

Oh my God I’ll never keep the names straight. Why thank you! I’d love a hot dog! What’s your name, sweetheart?

Henry.

Oh, like your . . .
You’re pretty.
That’s so sweet! Thank you!

How old is this creature handing me a neon pink hot dog in a bun soggy with globs of mustard and ketchup? Five? I don’t know shit about kids. They’re like little aliens running all over the place. He’s got that munchkin voice or what were those creatures in Star Wars? E somethings . . . Ewoks! He’s a little Ewok staring at me like I’m Princess What’s-her-name. And who’s your mom, darling?

Henry! Don’t bother Aunt Lizzie!

Is she messing with me? She’s at the sink with the other one Joyce or Viv or she’s Joyce and the other one’s Viv. They both look like they’re trying not to crack up mixing themselves some sort of exotic drinks. Wish they’d offer me one. I’d jump—

Are you going to marry Grandpa?

Oh my God now they do crack up and quick turn their backs and hurry away drinks in hand pretending like they’re laughing at some shared joke and not—

Are you? Are you going to marry Grandpa?

Great. The whole kitchen’s cleared out. Do you want to go out by the water, sweetheart?

Uh huh. Are there going to be fireworks?

Oh my God he’s holding my hand. And shit he is kind of cute the little Ewok and out we go like some kind of procession as if everyone’s not watching like Josie caught somewhere between a scowl and a smile though Henry’s not even looking of course.

Are you going to marry Grandpa? Mommy says—

Look darling! Fireworks!

Where? Where? I don’t see anything!

Over there. I saw them over there. And off the little Ewok goes wobbling like he hasn’t quite figured out yet how to run the little cutie.

***

Arthur is wrecked, floating on his back, drifting out farther and farther from the shore. Every now and then he peeks back to the beach which just keeps receding into the distance until he’s not even sure he can see it anymore, but Jesus he for- got how much he loves floating like this, on his back, letting the water hold him.

He can’t remember the last time he felt this way, which he wouldn’t precisely call happy: it’s more pensive and relaxed and at peace with the world. He laughs because, yes, of course it’s the weed but who cares? Everything is immensely beautiful. The ocean water embraces him, the setting sun warms him, the earth itself rocks him like a child in its arms.

Held like this in the water’s caress, Arthur forgets for the moment that he’s an old man and the forgetting leads to the surprise of remembering. What a gift youth is: those beautiful girls, those beautiful boys. He wants to tell them they’re blessed. He wants to say something profound to them, he wanted to when they were there with him, before they left one by one, till he was alone in the water, waving goodbyes, but nothing came to him, no words to express his feelings. What’s more beautiful than young women? Nothing in the universe! Their bodies the givers of life, their hearts and minds the very source of beauty. What’s more beautiful than young men? Nothing in the world! Their bodies crackling with energy.

Good Lord, Arthur is baked! The last time he was this high was January, 1968, and he was sitting on his helmet alongside Highway 1 north of Quang Tri City in Vietnam. He’d smoked a joint with Griff before moving out to the Quang Tri Citadel. Griff, twenty-one years old, from Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. He had a deep voice and a lazy Southern drawl and he told the funniest damn stories and he was just a damn good kid. Griff. He loved the guy, everybody did. It took Arthur the longest time to get his head back on straight after that and then he never smoked again until now—because maybe it would have been different if they hadn’t been wrecked. But he’d been over that a million times. Better to remember the love he felt, the same love he’s feeling now, for the girls, for the boys, for Bee,

for his children and grandchildren, for the ocean, for the earth, for all of it, for everything, for the floating, floating into the little that remained of the sun.

Arthur’s thoughts move around like this, over all the love there is in this world, even when things are bad, even when things are terrible. It’s still there, this love, which, maybe he should smoke more often, because he’s feeling it now, the way love surrounds him like the ocean he lies back on and the way it holds him drifting on these sun-warmed waters. It’s all love, he thinks, all of it. You just have to see it the right way.

***

Helena, walking along the edge of the water, comes across a lone blanket on the beach, with a single beach chair on one side of a red cooler under a bright yellow umbrella. She stops and looks around, sees nothing but the gray expanse of the ocean on one side of her and the quiet beach on the other. She watches the water as it undulates stretched out endless and empty to the horizon. But wait . . . Is that something splashing way out there? She takes a few steps into the water and leans over the waves lapping at her ankles. She can’t tell. She thinks she might see something but she’s not at all sure. She watches until whatever it is if it’s anything at all disappears under the darkness. Nothing, she tells herself. A visual trick of some kind, an illusion.

It’s a lovely summer evening. Another Memorial Day. She looks around once more, wonders briefly about the beach chair and cooler under an open um- brella, and then continues on.

for his children and grandchildren, for the ocean, for the earth, for all of it, for everything, for the floating, floating into the little that remained of the sun.

Arthur’s thoughts move around like this, over all the love there is in this world, even when things are bad, even when things are terrible. It’s still there, this love, which, maybe he should smoke more often, because he’s feeling it now, the way love surrounds him like the ocean he lies back on and the way it holds him drifting on these sun-warmed waters. It’s all love, he thinks, all of it. You just have to see it the right way.

***

Helena, walking along the edge of the water, comes across a lone blanket on the beach, with a single beach chair on one side of a red cooler under a bright yellow umbrella. She stops and looks around, sees nothing but the gray expanse of the ocean on one side of her and the quiet beach on the other. She watches the water as it undulates stretched out endless and empty to the horizon. But wait . . . Is that something splashing way out there? She takes a few steps into the water and leans over the waves lapping at her ankles. She can’t tell. She thinks she might see something but she’s not at all sure. She watches until whatever it is if it’s anything at all disappears under the darkness. Nothing, she tells herself. A visual trick of some kind, an illusion.

It’s a lovely summer evening. Another Memorial Day. She looks around once more, wonders briefly about the beach chair and cooler under an open um- brella, and then continues on.


Ed Falco is the author of more than fifty short stories published in journals ranging from Ploughshares and The Missouri Review to The Atlantic Monthly, Playboy, The Best American Short Stories and The Pushcart Prize: Best of the Small Presses, and in four collections, including Sabbath Night in the Church of the Piranha: New and Selected Stories, from Unbridled Books. He lives in Blacksburg, Virginia, where he teaches in Virginia Tech’s MFA Program in Creative Writing.

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