What does it cost to keep a secret for thirty-five years?
“Tom? Tom, are you smoking?”
And another breaker lashed the rocks.
Of course I was smoking. I was outside on the balcony, taking in the sunset over the Pacific Ocean. Who wouldn’t be smoking? Thirty-five years since I last saw that view. And I was smoking then, so it only made sense… Same goes for the red wine. Small victories, I guess.
Iris’s head and a bare shoulder were out the balcony door; the rest of her was demurely concealed. Like anyone would be looking anymore.
“You know I hate that stench.”
“It’s why I’m out here. I almost bought cigars.”
“Ugh. I hate cigars. You know that.”
“It’s what I’m saying.”
“Are you ready for dinner?”
“Have been half an hour. You?”
“I need some help with this zipper. My joints again.”
I took an extra-long draw on my smoke and enjoyed the moment when the filter crumples slightly between the lips: job done; there’s satisfaction in that. And with the sun going down over the edge of the Pacific? Like I said.
“Right,” I said, blowing smoke all over myself and mashing the butt into the discarded foil cap from the wine bottle.
“You’re not ready for dinner. You’re still in your shorts.”
“I can change my pants in thirty seconds.”
“Your shirt, too. You can’t go in that.”
“We’re on vacation. Short sleeves say vacation.”
“Perhaps. But the palm trees say strip-club.”
I looked down at myself: the pattern of navy-blue silhouettes on a butter-yellow background. Nothing wrong with it at all that I could see, except of course the fact that I’d picked it out myself. And there I was thinking I’d shown some restraint by not selecting the ship’s-wheel motif, let alone the lobsters. (Imagine her face!)
“It’s fine,” I said, just as soon as I heard the balcony door click shut.
Anyway, whatever she’d decided to wear I could be sure was way beyond the minimum dress code of The Seal Cove Bar and Grill, which was where we were headed for dinner. I stepped into the room just as Iris was returning from the closet. She stopped at the end of the bed and presented her back to me so I could zip up her sleeveless dress. It was cut on the slim side, hem above the knee; Iris’s favorite for a night out. I thought it was a dress for a younger woman, but I’d never said so. I knew she was still proud of her upper arms.
“I guess you’ll be needing your wrap?” I said.
“In the suitcase. If you would.”
They seated us at a window table where the view was a reflection of the restaurant’s interior; now that the sun had gone down the churning ocean was a solid black presence beyond the glass, like bad weather.
Iris was just winding down her complaint at having to walk the shore path in heels. I told her I didn’t see the point in taking the car all the way back out to the highway only to go two doors down. It was a walk of maybe three hundred yards to the restaurant along the shore path; a walk, I pointed out, that featured for a backdrop (if she’d take a moment to glance to her right) only the goddamn Pacific Ocean.
“I’ve seen it before. Remember?”
Okay then, that right there is typical Iris all the way up and down. What she said there: “Remember?” That’s how she does it these days. Just a word is all she needs. My life.
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