by B.J. Fischer
We both saw him at the same time.
We were sitting on the elevated deck at the home where we were vacationing. It was first thing in the morning, but Annabelle was already in her blue bandeau swimsuit and sitting on the edge of the deck overlooking the water.
Whenever we were there, she only thought about going down to the water.
I was still in my black bathrobe reading the newspaper, which was a necessary first step in the morning for me. On this day, the big news was that the Pope had canonized Sister Elizabeth Ann Seton as the first American-born Saint. They called her “Sister,” but she had been married and had five kids before starting the Catholic school system, something I was unaware of.
She’d been dead over 150 years and now she was a Saint.
Like I said, Annabelle was looking at the water, and I don’t know what made me look up, but we both looked up at the same time and saw a man with a long rusty woodsman beard come paddling a canoe across the water.
“Ahoy there!” he yelled. “Ahoy!” He waved his arms at us.
Annabelle stood down from the edge of the porch and waved back at him. “Hi!” she said, loudly, waving. Their voices tore through the early morning mist.
We were at a lake in Vermont. It’s supposed to be quiet. There are a ton of units around this lake, and the people are pretty well off. Which is to say, they aren’t really into canoeing — their aquatic transportation is motorized and their men are clean-shaven.
So I wondered what he was doing here.
“Annabelle, stop it,” I said.
“Just being friendly.”
I scowled and turned to the sports page. The Sox had beaten the Brewers 8–6. Freddie Lynn had 4 hits, including a homer in the win. Up 11 games on the Yankees.
I was trying hard to ignore the bearded man but I couldn’t. I was following him by the sound of his paddle in the water. He didn’t yell again, but it sounded like he paddled aimlessly around the water under our porch for a while and then off to the West shore and then the sound got softer and then it was gone.
“Are you done with that paper yet?” Annabelle asked.
I looked up at her. She must have been quite a sight back in the Summer of Love. And a hell of a good time. Her boobs were stuffed into the bandeau. She wasn’t wearing a bikini bottom, but something that more resembled shorts and her thighs were stuffed into those.
She had blond hair, shoulder-length hair but it was odd. It wasn’t the almost opaque blond you’re used to, but something between blond and pumpkin.
Now, she was merely huggable and available — doable, for sure — but her voice could still conjure up those cute-girl pouty voices that get men to do things that don’t make any sense. She was still a hell of a good time.
“Yes, dear,” I said. “I am.”
She held my hand and we walked over to the stairs to the beach where we went in the water for a while and then lay in the Adirondack chairs watching the sun move across the sky and the wind blow through the maples and the oaks.
About lunchtime, we went back up to the house and had bread, cheese and chilled white wine on the porch before we made love. Annabelle wanted to go down to the water again, which we did. We watched the sunset and then returned to make dinner.
I was on the balcony with a glass of scotch when there was a knock on the door. I barely heard it. Annabelle was cooking and there was something frying on the stove and I was all the way out on the balcony so I barely heard it.
The way the condo is set up, you can’t see the front door from the balcony. I walked toward the balcony door and turned my ear toward it as Annabelle answered the door. I heard muffled voices — first Annabelle and then a man’s voice. I settled my thoughts and then went to see who it was.
It was the man from the canoe. He was holding a bottle of clear liquor at the end of his arm and he and Annabelle were having a grand time.
He saw me and was just as friendly as he had been from down below.
Listen, man. I’m sorry to barge in, but I was just telling your wife that I hate to drink alone and thought I’d offer to share some fellowship.” He held his non-liquor-holding hand out. “My name is Stu.”
I looked at Annabelle. She was beaming her big bright smile. “Anthony,” I said, shaking his hand. “What did you bring?”
“What I brought you will change your life,” he said. “This is corn liquor.”
I took the bottle from him and looked at the label. “Corn liquor?”
“Oh yeah, newest thing. Going to be very hot. Sometime next year you’ll be at a cocktail party back in the city telling people you were the first to try it. Ready for a tip?”
“Write down how you like it, because you ain’t going to remember in the morning.” He began to laugh — he had a full-face laugh that was so strong he had to hunch his shoulders while he laughed.
Annabelle started laughing too. “And away we go!” she said. “I’ll get some ice.”
Stu and I stood awkwardly in the foyer for a few seconds. Eventually, I gave him the “after you” sign with my palm and he nodded and we went into the living room. After we sat down — across from each other — there was another silence and then Annabelle came in with 3 glasses and an ice tumbler. She made three drinks and passed them around.
“Cheers,” said Stu, racing his glass.
We all drank. It had a strong taste, kind of sour and bitter but it mostly tasted like it would get the job done. Annabelle fanned herself after she drank hers. “Whoosh,” she said, before giggling.
“So where are you staying?” I asked.
“You saying I don’t fit in?”
“I didn’t say that. I just wondered where you were staying.”
“I’m the black sheep in the family,” he said. “Are you familiar with the Abernathys? Down the way?”
I was not but I didn’t let on. “Abernathy? Ship builders? Those guys?”
He laughed and arched his eyebrows. “That is…one way of saying it.”
I laughed, too, glad to be able to be included in the joke. “There are always more ways of saying anything,” I said.
“This is something I have learned over the years.”
Annabelle: “Don’t you boys go getting philosophical on me. What makes men so philosophical when they are drunk?”
We had finished our first glasses. “We’re not drunk yet,” Stu said, as he leaned over and refilled them.
“Well, let’s have a good time,” she said. “No philosophy.”
“We’re just getting to know each other,” Stu said. “Isn’t that right?” he said, looking at me.
I took a long sip out of the drink. It was tasting better, but there was still an aftertaste. It came in two stages, first a precursor and then a finish. “You’re right,” I said. “What do you do? Are you a ship builder?”
No, I’m the black sheep, remember? It would be hard to put your finger on what I do. This is certainly not the venue.”
Annabelle laughed, her breasts jiggling. “You are with the CIA.”
He smiled. “I probably shouldn’t say this, but you are closer than you might think.”
She winked at him. “A man of mystery.”
I finished my second glass and set it down on the table. “Well Stu, it was good to meet you. We’re about to have dinner. I hope you have a good visit.”
“Nonsense!” said Annabelle. “He’s staying for dinner. You can stay, right?”
“I’m sure he has other plans,” I said.
“I don’t have a better offer, actually,” he said.
“Then it’s settled,” she said. “We have plenty of food.” She got up, topped all three glasses off and walked toward the kitchen. I watched her ass move as she walked toward the kitchen. The corn liquor was giving me urges, but those would apparently have to wait.
She’s a fine woman,” said Stu.
“She is,” I said. “I’m lucky to have her.”
“And what do you do? Are you a man of mystery?”
I look a long breath and wished I were reading my paper. “Hardly. I work for a Wall Street firm,” I said.
He nodded knowingly. “Wall Street money. I should have known.”
“It’s a living.”
“Are you a trader?”
“No, I’m not a trader.”
“Some kind of analyst?”
“I’m more on the administrative side. Operations. They need those, too.”
I’m sure they do.” He leaned over to me and craned his head forward. When he spoke, it was quiet with a leer. “What’s the deal with her?” he asked.
“Her? What do you mean? There’s no deal.”
“Come on,” he said. “You know. What’s the deal? She’s a fine looking woman.”
“What do you mean deal?” I said.
“You’re not, you know, married to her…are you? I mean, is it that kind of thing?” I didn’t say anything. “Don’t get me wrong,” he said. “I’m not judging you. I’m a fan of any guy who can get that kind of action on the side.”
Despite myself, I smiled a little. Maybe I smirked.
“I’m right aren’t I?” he said. “I knew it. I haven’t lost it. I can tell.”
“And what makes you such an expert?”
“Let’s just say I saw a little bit of this kind of thing growing up.”
That made sense to me. It had always seemed to me that having a girl on the side was a perk of being a rich white guy.
“And what about you? I’ve heard about spies.” I said.
“Hey! I never said I was a spy.”
“Right,” I said. “You didn’t.” I was feeling warm and numb all over.
Stu was still smiling. “Divorced or married?”
The question hung in the air for a minute and then I heard a voice leave my throat. “Married.”
“Even better,” he said. “Damn, you’re a fucking hero. Does she know?”
“No, no. Annabelle. Does she know you’re married?”
“Oh yeah, she knows. She’s cool with it.”
She seems like the type who would be.”
“I guess she is.” I chuckled. “Good thing for me.”
“The more I live, the more I’m convinced that man was never meant to be monogamous. Doesn’t happen in the wild.”
“It was just something that happened.”
“That’s always the way it is, man.”
Annabelle began to bring the food out and called us to the table. The three of us talked for the remainder of the night about nothing. How Stu got into canoeing. The best places to canoe. Where we bought food around there. What we thought of the corn liquor. Did we ever drink scotch? Single malt?
I wished most of the time that I was reading my newspaper. We kept drinking through dessert and then when it was over Stu told us he had to leave.
“You’re not going to go canoeing are you?” said Annabelle.
He laughed and I smiled, my hand extended toward the door. Stu gave Annabelle a quick peck and thanked her for dinner and Annabelle told him he was welcome anytime (which I knew she would do and wished she would not.).
She left to clean the kitchen and I was standing at the door.
I reached out to shake Stu’s hand and he shook. “Hey,” he said. “One last thing. How’re you pulling it off?”
“I don’t follow.”
“With the wife. What do you tell her?”
“What do you care?”
He winked. “For future reference.”
I shrugged. “She thinks I’m on a business trip.”
“Got it,” he said, winking and opening the door. “Don’t worry! I’m here to learn from the master. See you soon.”
We didn’t see him at all. Annabelle and I were only there a couple days more and then the “business trip” was over and it was back to the grind again. We stood out on the balcony looking out over the water one more time, arms around each other. It was windy and there were little waves on the water, little disturbances in rigid, parallel patterns.
I was surprised when I got home to find the place empty. Well, half empty. We lived in a little ranch in Framingham, so you noticed half empty right away.
On the kitchen table was a stack of mail with a divorce complaint stacked on top of it. I was pretty shocked. I figured I had my tracks covered pretty well. I was out of town and everything.
I was sad. I did love my wife. I was basically happy. I know you think Annabelle was a betrayal of that and maybe it was. Obviously, my wife did.
I walked into the living room. She had left one chair for me — the chair I usually sat in — and the day’s newspaper was on the seat. I sat and read the paper.
The big news was that Patty Hearst had finally been arrested. The paper had a sidebar story tracing her transformation from heiress to Tanya. I looked at the picture of her in high school and then her machine gun picture. I went back and forth, trying to connect one to the other. I couldn’t find the thread. Like two different people.
I didn’t call Annabelle. The news wasn’t really relevant to her. It wasn’t like she was waiting in the wings. That wasn’t her style and now she wasn’t mine.
The only person I called was my brother.
“Sorry, Tony,” he said. “I guess that’s the cost of doing business.”
“You knew the risks. Still, its bad luck for the hideaway. I think it had a perfect record.”
“That’s me,” I said. “Spoiler of perfection.”
“It’s overrated. You can still use the place,” he said. “Fuck her some more.”
“I don’t know.”
“You need money for a lawyer?” he asked. “I know some guys who might help.”
From the City?”
“Yeah, from the City. A city lawyer. Scare those loser small-town lawyers half to death.”
I didn’t say anything. “Well, let me know,” he said. “They owe me a favor.” He paused for a minute and then said to hang on and then it sounded like his hand was over the mouthpiece. He came back on and said he had a call waiting from Dubai and would catch up with me later.
I decided to get to work, too. There were seven local brokerage offices near me. I drove to the nearest one where the receptionist told me about a problem they were having with their phone system. I heard her out, even though I could usually diagnose the problem from the moment I heard it. You have to go through the steps, because sometimes endings are unpredictable and that’s because sometimes the beginnings and the middles are designed to deceive us.
B.J. Fischer’s fiction has been published in PIF Magazine, The View From Here, the Linden Avenue Literary Journal, and Blue Lake Review. His essays have appeared in The Fiddleback, Ardor, The (Toledo) Blade, the Bygone Bureau, Punchnel’s, Thought Catalog, Impose Magazine, the Minneapolis Review of Baseball, midmajority.com, and Ontologica.