Rambling House

They arrived in Eyeries just at dusk, when Mac’s back was beginning to buckle and he could barely make out the signage from behind his tinted shades. So this was where Lucinda saw herself getting hitched, after all this time, the end of a land mass at the ends of the earth. That seemed appropriate, and he couldn’t help feeling disappointed in his old classmate for losing her nerve at the last minute. All the way out here, and she still couldn’t do it. Or was it the guy who panicked, his back up against the edge of Europe?

Mac’s travelling companion, his son Paul, had not spoken to him since recovering his phone in the road outside a pub, where the boy had been chased by an extraordinary white bull with balls the size of hand weights. Something he had surely never experienced in his short fourteen years of life, even if he did live in a cow town on the plains. Perhaps he was still feeling traumatized. But that did not prevent him from continuing to dither away at the Pokémon Go application on his phone, which emitted a series of gurgles, squeals, and bleats more obscene than the soundtrack to any porno.

Without the steady jolt of human interaction, Mac found himself at a loss, hypnotized by the beauty of the landscape, the blue translucent shadows of mountains in the distance, the green hills of sheep in the foreground, the frequent rivers and lakes, so prevalent and wide-reaching they muddied the distinction between land and water. When he saw the village, he forgot himself and rested his hand on Paul’s knee. The boy jerked away, curling his long body toward the passenger door, so there was no possibility of further contact. But there it was, nevertheless, a row of brightly colored shops and houses ranged against Coulagh Bay: pink, mint green, azure blue, and tangerine. Now that was more like it, he thought. For a brief moment, he was actually happy he had come, in spite of the cancelled wedding and his quarrels with his son.

He stopped the rental car at the curb and got out, encouraging Paul to follow him. But in the end, he stood there alone, staring out at the bay with his arms folded in front of him, his butt resting comfortably on the warm surface of the car. He took off his shades, pulled out his phone, and lifted the two halves of his reading glasses from the loop around his neck, fastening them over the bridge of his nose with a satisfying click. Now he was in business. What did he have, in terms of messages?  What riches had collected over the course of the two-hour drive? A complaint from his supplier in India. An excuse from Donna in the Santa Cruz office, explaining why she couldn’t work the Expo. A check-in reminder from the hotel. Nothing from the current wife, Sierra, who’d sent him off on his travels without her, preferring the company of their one-year-old son. Nothing from Lucinda, who had never replied to his text letting her know that he would be in town, available to deal with any fallout from the cancellation.

He touched the bridge of his nose and released the magnet, so the glasses broke away into two halves and dropped down to his chest. Like a front-hook bra, Paul said, when he observed the operation for the first time at the airport in Dublin.  Though they’d never spent much time together, Paul had an uncanny grasp of his father’s pressure points. Mac had owned the glasses for nearly six months now, since menus and spreadsheets began to melt and mutate before his eyes. But he still felt a thrill of pleasure every time he flicked them off: the feel of the magnet’s give, the sudden change in perspective, the sense of mastery as the lenses fell away from his eyes. It was almost enough to offset the unfortunate side effects of aging and the knowledge that, after a lifetime of perfect vision, he’d become just another four-eyed fumbler in the end.

Their hotel was a few miles beyond Eyeries, in the slightly larger town of Castletownbere, where Lucinda had reserved a suite of rooms for the wedding party. This establishment, an upscale version of a rambling Cape Cod beach house, was more familiar territory. But for some reason, Mac avoided the hotel’s four-star restaurant and suggested a fish and chips dinner in a local pub. Paul was at the age when he wouldn’t mind standing him a pint, but the boy’s palette had been corrupted by soda, and he spit a mouthful of Guinness into his water glass. Now that was bound to bring bad luck, not to mention bad will. Mac looked around to see whether anyone had noticed. Most of the other patrons were gathered around the bar, where someone had initiated a rousing rendition of Crying Cockles and Muscles. Alive-alive-o. The mixed voices—high, low, luscious, flat, and cracked—suggested the cacophony of the sea and the open mouths writhed with tongues.

“What would you like to do tomorrow?” he asked Paul.

“Stay in the hotel and train Pokémon?”

“How about I take you down to the Strand?”

“Not another dirty dive bar,” he said.

“No, not a pub. The Strand, the Beach, the Bay.”

“Maybe,” Paul said, narrowing his eyes, as if Mac were trying to take something away from him.

After a mostly silent dinner, Paul retreated to the room while Mac went to the lobby and settled under the shadow of a fishing net mounted artfully on the wall.   He was reluctant to Facetime his wife with Paul in the room, conscious of any resentment the boy might feel toward his twenty-nine-year-old stepmother. In fact, he’d rather have the conversation in front of an audience of strangers, at this point.  It was still late morning in Santa Cruz, and Sierra sat on the bed in butterfly pose, sunlight streaming in through the bamboo blinds and Kirtan napping on the bed behind her in nothing but a diaper, black ringlets pasted to his sweaty forehead, a meaty hand grasping the corner of the pillow. Even while unconscious, the boy refused to relinquish his claims. The filthy stuffed zebra stood at his elbow.  She obviously hadn’t kept her promise to make the boy sleep in his crib. Sierra herself wore a diaphanous magenta robe, a top seller in Mac’s To-go Yoga line, which set off her East Indian complexion and drew attention to the heavy breasts in the minimalist setting of her ribs. Her dark nipples were erect under the thin cloth and he could only speculate about the cause: maternal urges, erotic ruminations, a spike in the central air? What had she been doing when he was gone?

Studying for school, of course. Playing with Kirtan. Teaching her yoga class and having tea with friends. She discovered a new restaurant that sold those fish egg fritters she was telling him about. She’d lost more weight and Kirtan was down to two feedings a day.

Mac didn’t know what to report, on his end. He needed to say something affectionate, anything to reconnect his reality to hers. Even though he’d been out of the country for less than a week, he already felt himself slipping away, losing focus, falling out of his place in the fast-moving stream that was their life.

“Well, so much for father-son bonding,” he told her. “The kid nearly bit my head off on the way here. So, miss you too, babe.”

As he was struggling for words, he saw a familiar figure in his peripheral vision: silver-blonde hair, dark brows, slender expressive shoulders. Was it a hallucination?

He hadn’t seen Lucinda since his own wedding three years previous, when she arrived solo and devastated everyone with her single lady wit: no burdens, no burned bridges, no resentments. Marriage was fine for most people, but Lucinda needed to keep the doors of perception open and the organs of generation on lock down. When she came home from a hard day of judging, the last thing she wanted was more human behavior on display. But now she had changed her mind, for some reason, reversed her decision once again.  Even though it was only a glimpse, he was certain it was Lucinda.  Was she hiding out, licking her wounds? Or just staying behind to clear up logistics?

He needed to investigate.

“Sierra, honey. I’ve got a retailer on the line. I have to let you go.”

In truth, he hadn’t done any business all week. He’d had the idea of expanding into the Irish markets, but once he got here, he was too absorbed in the family drama.

Now he stowed his laptop under his arm and went in search of the strange apparition. What did he intend to say to her, anyway? Console her on the state of her broken marriage? Upbraid her for cancelling at the last minute? Offer relationship advice? He discarded the possibilities as soon as they materialized, striding into the restaurant, the bar, the sun porch, and the garden.

He finally approached the front desk and rang the bell.

“Excuse me, I’m registered as a member of the Haddad-Meyers wedding party. And I was wondering, is the bride still in the house?”

The clerk, a redheaded beauty with freckles so thick that they formed whole landmasses across her cheeks, winked at him and shook her finger. “Now, you know that’s a breach of privacy. And we can’t have that, can we?”

Shamed into submission, Mac went back to the room to find Paul stretched out on the sofa in his white cotton briefs, looking as self-satisfied as Kirtan in his diaper. There’d been a shuffle involving a towel and a washcloth and Mac hoped he hadn’t interrupted anything. Then, why not? It was his right to interrupt. He was paying for the room, after all.  Paying for the room, the boy, the airline ticket, the whole ramshackle operation, a string of dependents stretching over two continents.  But if he had any real influence as a father, Paul would certainly be wearing boxers instead of briefs.

“What do you know?” he said. “I think the bride is still on the premises.”

“Yeah? Maybe you can catch her on the rebound.” Paul replied.

The next morning, Mac scoured the breakfast room for Lucinda. He remembered an occasion in college when they found themselves alone at the lake, after everyone else had left to clean up for dinner: the sand clinging to her narrow shoulders, the unlikely dimples set like two thumbprints just above her bikini bottoms, the flirtatious conversation about Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre, who didn’t believe in marriage, only an intellectual alliance with sexual partners on the side. Even then, Lucinda swore she was going to become a judge and re-balance the scales of justice; even then, she refused to be distracted by pharmaceuticals or men. He made a tentative move toward her hip and she brushed him away, but not before he’d managed to get a handful of surprisingly solid flesh. Just that first intimate understanding of the body below the shallow layer of social identity. What had he missed? What had he left behind? Instead of reveling in his good fortune, here he was, grappling with the loss of a love that never materialized.  Perhaps if Lucinda had given him a chance, she wouldn’t be in this situation. Then, of course, he wouldn’t have his sons. His sons, his wives, his businesses, or his long trajectory of successes.

What was he thinking?  He took a sip of the strong, milky tea and tried to clear his head. The waitress brought him his egg white omelets and he looked around the room again, smelling the bacon and sausage on other tables. Luckily, Paul had opted to skip breakfast for another hour of sleep. So at least Mac had some relief from the tension.

The breakfast room was definitely populated by a higher class of people than the pubs: young singles in designer duds, older couples in tasteful pastels. Were these the hoi polloi with whom Lucinda and her fiancé hobnobbed in Washington and Virginia? Mac wondered if the crowd was sparser than usual, due to Lucinda’s cancellation. He wondered whether any of his peers had decided to undertake the journey in spite of the dramatic change of plan. He dragged his phone out of his pocket and went through the routine: FB, Instagram, Twitter. Nothing definite, though his last college girlfriend, Kay Lawrence, had posted a photo of cathedral in Cork.

So maybe there would be an opportunity for a different type of reunion.

On his way upstairs to the room, he dropped by to talk with the receptionist. Even if he couldn’t get a direct answer from her, perhaps he could gather a few clues. At any rate, it was hardly a chore to chat up the pretty redhead, who wore a dusty pink blouse with provocative cutouts, revealing more freckles on her shoulders.  She was probably closer to Paul’s age than his.  But he could still get her to blush, taking satisfaction in flooding her pale face with a rose tint.

“And what can a guy find to do around these parts? PG, you know, I’m travelling with my son.”

“There’s the tours, of course, Ring of Beara, Cliffs of Moher. But there’s also a lot happening, local. Most of our guests are going over to the Rambling House in town tonight.”

She winked and broke into a broad smile. Was she was giving him a clue about Lucinda’s whereabouts, to make up for her earlier refusal? Was she trying to help him out?

“Rambling House? That some kind of a club?”

She laughed, her uncorrected teeth coming to the fore and blighting her beauty. “When you live in a place this small, the town is the club. Everyone’s welcome.”

“And what happens at this Rambling House?”

“Bit of this, bit of that. Stories. Party tricks.  Singing.”

It was worth a try. If Lucinda showed up, he’d be sure to intercept her. And if not, at least it would be an opportunity to get Paul off hi phone. “If you’ll jot down the address, we’ll give it a go,” he said.

The woman only laughed again, obviously unconcerned about exposing her imperfections. “No need for an address,” she said. It’s down the street and around the corner. The pink building with the shells out in front.”

Mac was surprised at his relief in having a plan for the day’s activities.  When was the last time he’d been off the calendar, off the clock? Not since his honeymoon in St. Sebastian, he supposed, when he’d allowed himself to sleep in and drink cocktails in the afternoon, Sierra sunbathing topless next to him, everything he could desire within easy reach. But he’d been restless, nevertheless. He was, by that time, too old to take advantage of complete abandon and too young to long for uninterrupted ease.

It was after three when he finally got Paul out of bed and down to the beach. The boy had spent at least fifteen minutes Skyping with his mother. He didn’t have the decency to leave the room, but forced Mac to listen to the whole drama, as she questioned him about meals and bedtimes, and of course his father’s behavior. As he’d always suspected, Melissa did not age well.  At twenty-three, she’d been succulent. But now, her emerald eyes were draped in wrinkles, her pretty features completely drowned out in the fat of her face.

She signed off without acknowledging him, though she must have heard him whistling in the bathroom. Then father and son walked down a country road to the Strand, Paul stiffening every time he saw one of those white bulls grazing in the pastures. They passed sheep and cows, Shetland ponies and border collies, stone abodes and wooden barns. Paul held his phone out in front of him, as if it would protect him from any animal contact. Meanwhile, Mac felt his body relax as he moved closer to the bay with its smells of kelp and guano. The mountains rose above the sea, an odd configuration of challenge and repose.

Mac climbed up a stile and over into the pasture, then sauntered down to the beach, his limbs loosening into a satisfying rhythm. As he hit the Strand, a crane rose above him, circling awhile as if to display the trophy fish in its beak before disappearing in the distance. Even Paul slipped his phone into his pocket to stare at the water and kick at the masses of sea grape in the sand.

“You’re not in Omaha anymore,” Mac said, laying his hand on the boy’s shoulder.

“And you’re not in Santa Cruz,” Paul told him, though he didn’t jerk away or disagree.

They were both hypnotized, it seemed, looped into the larger rhythm of the ocean as it washed into the bay. Mac waded in, feeling the cold on his toes. Paul tore off his tennis shoes and rolled up his jeans.

A group of cormorants squawked above them and a dog ran out and began digging furiously in the sand, delivering a high-pitched hunting bark. Even the creatures were agitated by the proximity of the ocean. Mac felt a promise there, a magnificent happiness just out of reach. Or maybe right in front of him, if he only knew how to enter it. Then a female figure appeared at the top of the hill, a slight woman in a large hat, holding her hand over the brim to secure it from the wind, so that her small breasts pushed forward from her chest.

Mac peered, certain that he was experiencing a hallucination. Lucinda? Why not?  It would hardly be a coincidence. His pulse quickened and his ears rang with the call of the gulls, sharpening toward some unbearable pitch.

He proposed a late lunch and rushed Paul away from the beach. But by the time they walked up the hill, the figure had vanished. Either that, or the hallucination had evaporated.

Paul insisted on another nap before the evening’s activities. How could the boy sleep so much?  Mac found himself envying that kind of abandon. His own sleep cycle had grown shorter, and even that pitiful arc was often interrupted by Kirtan’s gruff cries. The sleep of an infant, the sleep of a teenager, the sleep of a middle-aged man. Was it his conscience that prevented him from making that deep dive into the furthest reaches of oblivion? Or was it, more properly, fear—a fear of what he would discover upon abandoning his daylight identity? He thought of the moment on the Strand, when he wanted nothing more than to disappear into the sea’s rhythm. Was it Ireland that made him feel this way? He had travelled extensively, to England, to Germany, to Singapore, but he had never felt so close to dissolution.

Paul stirred in his sleep, pushing his face into the pillow, and Mac remembered the boy napping on the sofa his mother called a “divan,” as if it held the key to divinity, his hair so pale and short that it resembled a halo. Instead of a stuffed animal, he embraced his Nerf gun, his chin resting on the soft shaft. Mac had waited for this moment to inform Melissa that he was going on a business trip from which he wouldn’t be returning. She was always obsessed with getting the boy to sleep. So he assumed she wouldn’t raise her voice to protest and risk waking him. Then Mac would be able to depart without further incident. But when she understood what he was saying, she broke into a series of awful groans. She pushed at his chest repeatedly with a strength he didn’t know she possessed, called him a user and a cheat, then changed her mind and kissed his hand, begging him to reconsider. She must have known it was coming. They hadn’t had sex for months, and he no longer invited her to accompany him to parties or dinners with his friends. She was the mother of his child, nothing more. He bore her no ill will, but he couldn’t see living with a woman who had stopped moving, and seemed content to cocoon in her own fat, forming layers of resistance against him.

Mac felt his eyes itch and his nose run. He couldn’t be coming down with a cold, after all the supplements he took. He lifted his hand to his face and felt the moisture there, pressed his fingers to the bridge of his nose to stop the flow. But it was if the whole ocean were draining out of his face.

He’d barely recovered when Paul woke and grabbed his phone off the nightstand. Luckily, the kid was too preoccupied with his Pokémon to exhibit any curiosity about Mac’s vulnerable state. The occasion seemed to call for long pants, so Mac dressed accordingly, in khakis and a button-down shirt. He didn’t say anything, however, when Paul donned his usual grubby jeans.

They set out around 7:30, when the dusk was coming down and sunset pooled out over Coulagh Bay, like an Easter egg dripping color.

Mac found the community center without much trouble. The place looked more like a place of worship than an entertainment venue. Teacups were stacked on a table inside the door, and no one charged admission, though a woman in an apron came around selling raffle tickets. Mac bought two strands long as reeds, one for Paul and one for himself. He looked around for a place to sit, but the small space was packed: men and women in church clothes, old people and little children, a matron in a tartan jacket and an extraordinary hat. They had arrived at the interval, in the midst of chaos, when people were all milling about and talking at high volume. Two men passed through the crowd pouring tea out of flowered teapots while middle-aged woman distributed triangular sandwiches without crusts and kebobs of fruit and cheese speared onto toothpicks.

When she saw that Mac was at a loss, she whisked out two chairs and added them to the front row, then provided teacups. And just as he sat down, he saw Lucinda, plain as the light on the beach. Mac deposited his teacup on the floor and stood up, waving in her direction. Did she see him at all? Even if there was no way to speak, couldn’t she at least humor him with a look of recognition? He jostled through the crowd, at the risk of being an ugly American, keeping his eye on Lucinda’s distinctive purple scarf as it bobbed up and down like a bit of flotsam in the ocean. People were beginning to return to their seats, and he was moving against the tide. There were so many of them that some stood against the wall, while others lingered in the hallway. Where did they all come from, in such a small town?

He made his way by grasping shoulders in greeting, parting the crowd as he went.  He was almost there, practically close enough to touch Lucinda’s elbow, when a man in a formal suit whisked her away. Could it be the mysterious fiancé, hoping for another chance? But no, he looked too Anglo. If Mac understood correctly, the abandoned sweetheart was a man of Middle Eastern descent.

A bell rang, marking the end of the interval, and he stumbled back to his seat, not eight feet away from paper mache fireplace that served as a set for the evening’s activities. Paul, off his phone for once, and eating with abandon, acknowledged his father’s presence with a nod. Mac picked up his own sandwich, which was odd but delicious, a mixture of capers and tinned meat, and when he looked over at Paul, he saw him devouring his without complaint, and even accepting a second one, along with a handful of cookies and another drop of tea as the servers made a final pass through the house.

Why had Mac and Paul, complete strangers in this intimate setting, been granted front row seats? He looked around to try to make out the social logic of the assembly. He saw a rugged manual labor type flexing his fingers against his teacup, an ancient man with closed eyes leaning back in his chair, a pair of athletic women in late middle age wearing jackets and spandex tights, and a weathered blond man with two young children, one of them with Down Syndrome, the large head and small features, the flattened face and tilted eyes. The child rocked a bit on his chair, in a gesture of self-comfort. And there, just beyond him, sat Lucinda sorting through her raffle tickets. How had she resettled herself so quickly? How had she gotten rid of the insistent fellow in the suit?

A man with silky white hair and pink cheeks paced in front of the faux fireplace, looking like Saint Nick in his summer clothes. He lifted a pipe and introduced himself as a seanchai, an old-time storyteller and their master of ceremonies for the evening. He asked the audience to sit back and picture those long-ago evenings during the Troubles, the whole parish gathered in a hovel, the floors nothing but dirt. Those were the dark days when drink was outlawed and music was forbidden. As long as the priest was in the house, they had to make do with weak tea and strained conversation. But once he left, the place would break into every kind of craic. Each person, young or old, would contribute a piece to the entertainment, singing or dancing, telling a tale or reciting a poem. The seanchai stared directly at Paul as he spoke, and Mac had the feeling he was making a deliberate effort to catch them up to speed. Paul, meanwhile, looked uncomfortable and pawed at the pocket where he kept his phone.

“Now, I know there are Americans in the house,” the seanchai said. “But that doesn’t mean we’ll be polishing up our stories to make them politically correct.  Because man and woman, Pole and Yank–we’re all friends here.”

Mac nodded. He’d never been fond of political correctness. But what did it mean to be among friends? His only friend here was Lucinda, and she wouldn’t even acknowledge him.

Now the storyteller launched into his tale: Three old friends married women of different nationalities and held a competition to decide who had made the best deal. The husband of the Italian woman told his wife to clean the house, wash the clothes, and make supper by the time he came home at the end of the day. He was happy to report that he saw immediate results, and, after just a few hours of matrimony, his whole home sparkled like the Arno. Inspired by his friend’s success, the husband of the Pole gave his wife the same instructions: wash, clean, cook. He had to be more patient, of course, given her thick understanding, but he saw definite improvements by the second day, when the house gleamed so bright he felt he was living inside an Easter egg. Now it was time for the Irishwoman to come to the test.  Her husband hesitated, afraid to lose face in front of his friends. He drank a pint for courage, gave the order and hoped for the best. Poor man, he thought he would see a miracle. But, in truth, he couldn’t see anything at all for three days, until the swelling went down and his face began to heal. Why were these Irishmen so afraid of their women? Mac supposed it was something in the Guinness.

Mac glanced at Lucinda for a reaction. Was she deliberately ignoring him, or was she ashamed for cancelling the wedding and causing so much chaos? At least she was sitting still, so he could get a good look at her. Her silvery blonde hair glowed like moonlight over her purple scarf and her sharp profile concealed any trace of emotion. She spoke to the woman next to her as if they were well acquainted. How long had she been in Ireland, by now, and how long did she plan to stay? Surely a district court judge didn’t have time for an extended honeymoon. And now that there was no wedding, what was she waiting for? Mac felt a physical frustration at being out of touch.  If only she would talk to him, he was sure he could help.

The seanchai finally finished rambling and called forth the first performer, a teenage girl who played a jig on the fiddle, moving her arm so vigorously that her hair got caught in the strings. The wizened man at the back of the room opened his eyes just long enough to recite a love poem. The elderly lady in the crazy hat lifted her wavering voice and sang a song about meeting her sweetheart at the crossroads. When she reached the chorus, her voice cracked, and the woman sitting next to Mac whispered that the poor dear had just lost her husband in a boating accident.

Mac looked around to see Paul’s response and realized that the boy’s chair was empty. How had such a large, clumsy adolescent managed to escape without a sound? He was obviously more devious than Mac thought.

Mac ducked out of the community center, nodding in apology and pressing his body against the wall.  He tried to catch Lucinda’s eye, but saw that she was gone too, an empty teacup resting on her chair.  Outside, it was fully dark and a pile of seashells glowed in the parking lot. The air smelled of the Wild Atlantic with its unfamiliar broth, like the body odor of a stranger. Mac reconnected his reading glasses and pulled out his phone. Maybe Paul had texted with his location. But there was nothing—only a spattering of ads and business communications.

Well, there couldn’t be many places to hide in Castletownbere. He walked into the Square counting pedestrians— all eight of them. He supposed that the kid was looking for Pokémon. If he downloaded the app, he might be able to track his movements. He stopped at a pub, just for the sake of the light, and went through the tedious registration process. The obligatory Guinness sat breathing at his side, and he took a sip as he configured his location. Yes, there was a cache of unnatural creatures just across the road, where they had assembled outside a gas station. A man in a came by in a wool cap, looking for a place to land, and Mac ceded the table without finishing his drink.

As he stepped out into the night, the damp air draped over him like a heavy coat. Surely, Paul was old enough to take care of himself. And there couldn’t be much danger in such a small and well-ordered town. The mist was thick that he nearly ran into a couple conferring in the street. The man loomed over the woman and she glared up at him, moving her hand in a rapid circling gesture. Was it actually a date, he wondered, or something more sinister? Perhaps his own dark mood influenced his interpretation.  But he stopped nevertheless, recognizing the woman’s pained expression before he saw it was Lucinda.

“Mac,” she said, grabbing onto his elbow with a display of force. “I didn’t expect to see you here.”

Hadn’t she seen him several times already without bothering to acknowledge his presence? He started to protest, but then he looked into the man’s face and felt a pressure in his ears, the sound of the ocean drowning out his identity. It was the man from the Rambling House, he was certain.

“Old college buddies,” Lucinda said, squeezing Mac’s arm and pressing her fingernails into his flesh. “We have to catch up.”

The man tipped his head and rubbed at his nose. “Well, don’t let the paint dry on your verdict,” he said. “My man is running out of time.”

He walked off in the direction of the hotel and Mac noticed the impeccable tailoring of the suit, the long legs and the loose gait. Surely he wasn’t a local.

“Not the fiancé, I take it.”

“Definitely not,” Lucinda said, letting go of his arm and wiping her hands on her blouse.

“So why are you suddenly happy to see me?”

“Walk with me,” she said, grabbing his arm again and pulling him close. He glanced at her profile, the high forehead and the triangular jaw too sharp for perfect beauty. Her arm shook in his and she gave off a scent of violets and ammonia.

“I didn’t mean to interrupt anything.”

“You’re fine,” she said. “I’m just trying to negotiate the cancellations.”

In the street outside a pub? He didn’t buy it.  “Well, I’m here to help.  I excel at that kind of thing.”

“Didn’t I tell you to stay home?” she said, her voice vibrating with some hidden meaning.

“And miss out on the gossip? Not likely. Besides, you came to three of my weddings. And I don’t know if I’ll have another chance to show up to yours.” Too much? he wondered. But she absorbed the blow without comment.

“In that case, you could at least walk me back to the hotel.”

They had reached the end of the street, and Mac remembered his errand. By this time, Paul could be all the way down to the Strand or worse. But how could he abandon Lucinda in this state? Especially when it had taken so long for her to notice him. A day and a half, by his count. Or was it actually over twenty years?

“Well, I can’t go just yet. I’m looking for a kid—blonde, blue-eyed, hulking? I have reason to believe he’s stalking Pokémon. Have you seen any in the area?”

She laughed. “Oh, to be young,” she said.

“Young and in love.”  He pulled out his phone again and noted that the Pokémon had disappeared from the gas station. But he couldn’t tell if they’d been captured or had just wandered off on their own. “I can’t figure this damn thing out.”

Lucinda reached over and took the phone from him, her fingers moving rapidly over the surface. She didn’t even have kids, how could she be so confident?

“Niece, nephew, colleague’s son,” she replied.  “Looks like there’s a training gym right over by the church.”

They walked to the Gothic structure, its gray stones pale against the night sky, outlines delicate as cut paper. Sure enough, there were six or seven teenagers milling around at its steps, their eyes lowered to their phones, which they held before them like hymnals. Mac spotted Paul right away. He was larger than the others, even though he appeared younger, with his large head and loose clothing.  His long hair obscured his eyes and his skin shone flawless as milk in the moonlight.  Now that the kid was within eyesight, there was no reason to rush.

“At least religion’s still good for something,” he said.

“I think it’s sweet, they know how to find each other.”

“Well, so did we. But we didn’t need a tracking device to get it on.”

“It’s like one of those silent discos for the autistic,” she said.

He leaned into her, just close enough to absorb her scent and feel the tickle of her hair against his throat. How had she evaded him for so long? How had he missed his opportunity?

“Tell me something,” he said, his mouth next to her ear with its delicate silver cuff.  “Is this guy giving you trouble?”

She twisted away to look up at him, but did not speak or even change her expression.

“Because don’t worry, I’ve got your back.” He touched her shoulder, and his hand stiffened with recognition. Always, with Lucinda, there was this tension, drawing him in and then repelling him, a magnetic force field between his body and hers. And even though he’d always considered himself a man of action, he feared he could stay in that space of possibility forever, letting the electrons play over his skin.

They stood there for a minute or two in silence, with the ocean welling up in their ears. He remembered the sand on her swimsuit, the curve of her buttock, his hand on her flesh. He heard the distant music of what had never been. What was the tune? If only he could master it, he knew he could move forward. But the melody kept changing shape and slipping away from him. Then his phone burbled with an incoming text and he jerked awake, his leg buckling against the pavement. He fumbled with the halves of his glasses, finally fastening them over his nose with a definitive click. Where was he? Who was he? What had happened to him?

“Already on the make,” the text read. “Mom told me you were a real horn dog.” Mac looked toward the church saw that Paul had left the group and was now staring straight at him, his phone raised like a weapon. Or not a weapon, but a TV controller positioned to change the channel on his dad. How had the boy broken his trance long enough to recognize, much less reprimand, his father? How had he known that Mac was about to wreck his life?

 

 

 

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