The Missouri Review 29.2 (2006) 88-96
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At the Beach
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| Figure 1 |
I. Dog and Not Dog
Rosa's cat was short haired, black and white, with half its left ear torn away and a tail that twitched when the cat meant to do evil. If Rosa failed to notice the tail, the cat might rake claws across her hand as she petted him. She fancied herself a cat lover, but this animal led her to thoughts of betrayal.
She enjoyed the fruits of her thirty-three years: friendships, loving parents, success in property law and an expensive condominium in a city that valued its magnolias and crepe myrtle. People who knew her saw a woman confident in herself and her powers. She dated, but unmarried men her age proved immature or too damaged to warrant anything more than sex.
One year, in June, she left to spend a week at the beach with a KKG sister and the woman's family. This was an annual retreat, a chance for sun and talk with a friend she saw too rarely. She brought the cat along in a carrier. The house they'd rented had weathered gray and offered a view from all four bedrooms. Molly and her husband took one, put their children in another and Rosa in the third. Her bed was too soft, and she lay in it restlessly, listening through the air ducts to the kids teasing each other. The fourth bedroom they gave to a friend of the husband's. The friend owned small-circulation regional magazines Rosa had read in boutiques. He was a transplanted Yankee and, as Molly had promised, single.
Married once, he said. College sweethearts. We both learned things.
Also, he'd brought a dog.
Later his dog met her cat, and it was a day before the cat would come out from under the house. It clawed her when she finally pulled it into her arms, left hot little lines, the blood beading atop the cuts.
None of this made him memorable. She had met single Yankee men before. Some even had dogs. What struck her about him (what would strike anyone) were the scars that marked his arms and legs, chest and back. The jigsaw patterns changed color in different light. In some places his body hair [End Page 89] grew out of his scarred skin as it would on any other man, and in other places—where, perhaps, the scars were deeper?—his skin looked papery and bald. The resulting impression was of a man unfinished. Molly had whispered the cause to her when the Yankee was off fishing: a bad fire when he was a boy. Molly believed everyone had a soft spot for wounds.
He apologized for his dog and after that took greater care when she or her cat were nearby. He befriended the cat, and the cat crawled on his lap when he sat on the porch, the two of them fixated on the yellow-blue horizon. The cat never clawed him.
One afternoon Molly sent Rosa and the Yankee to fetch groceries. Molly could wink without moving her eyes.
The dog rode in the back seat. Rosa, looking out the window at the dunes and the high grasses, absently caressed the scratches on her arm and asked about his magazines. She felt comfortable with his driving, which was fast, easy, confident. She had never ridden in a BMW. She liked the sting of salt in the ocean air and the rumble of the tires on the road. At the grocery store, before they released their seat belts, she noticed vending machines at some distance on the store's concrete apron. Sunlight gleamed off the glass and metal fronts of the machines, one of which sold pop and cola. She couldn't say with certainty what the other advertised. She knew what it appeared to offer, and the idea charmed her.
I'm crazy, she said, but I believe that vending machine sells Blind Faith.
Maybe, he said. What...