“Yes. I’m moving back to LA.”
Stephen knew Jane stated things with conviction and acted on things with less than conviction, so he said again, “Oh, yeah?”
“Yes. I’m moving back to LA.”
Stephen continued to water the cactus plants, every once and awhile picking at the red stones in the gravel covering the dirt in their pots. He was much more surprised than Jane when he started crying. He knew she was going this time.
It had been one of those days when he had lost a lot of little things—a dry cleaning slip, his gym lock, the key to the front door. Too many things in too short a period of time, so Stephen had gotten really scared that he was going to lose something big, something really important.
Stephen grabbed a towel and headed for the pool. Since moving to Florida, he had taken to wearing his bathing suit constantly, either alone or under whatever pants he was wearing. It was a formidable weapon, a defense, a tease. He looked great in it and he knew it.
Jane walked across the tile surrounding the pool, stopped at the foot of the chaise lounge and counted the horizontal webs to his head. “Don’t you think we should talk about it?”
“What’s there to talk about? You’ve made your decision.”
Stephen got up, dove into the pool and started doing laps.
“Florida made it for me. Fucking FLA,” Jane shouted at the splashes. " ‘F’ for fake. Fake LA."
Stephen’s feet kicked as his arms flailed, his body progressing forward. “Let her go, let her go, let her go,” he repeated with each stroke, trying with slap and breath to let Jane go easily.
Jane sat down in Stephen’s lounge to wait. The lounge was positioned in such a manner that when she leaned back she looked directly at the terrace jutting out of the condo she and Stephen had begun to buy. The terrace was made of compressed gravel shellaced together. It looked like a slab of Sugar Smacks with a railing. For a second, Jane saw herself looking down from the terrace in the direction of the guardhouse. She turned away from herself and towards Stephen.
“You look great in that bathing suit you know,” Jane said as Stephen toweled off.
“Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Cut the bull.” Stephen lined up a lounge chair with the sun. Dragging it into place, the aluminum and the tile didn’t get along very well, expressing their antagonism in a high, ear corrosive sound. Horizontal, Stephen closed his eyes.
“Jesus, Stephen. Is tanning that important?”
“I’ve got to look healthy under the fluorescent lights at the spa. It’s my job.”
Sorry she had let herself get started, Jane waited a long time before she started again. She walked over to his lounge, sat down on the end and lightly put her hand on his calf. He jerked his leg away as if a fly had landed on it. Although they both recognized the sheer corniness of their gestures, there was the equal recognition that they weren’t quite in charge of themselves. Jane could hardly believe it when she heard herself matching words to those gestures.
“It’s no secret to either one of us that we haven’t been getting along.” Having no patience for groping, she quickly decided that if she was going to be dependent upon platitudes to express her emotions, she would keep it short. “It’s simply not working out. We’ve got to face facts. We had four good years together, but I think it’s in both of our best interests to split up.”
“So be it. I’m glad you’re happy with your decision.”
“Stephen, we’ve talked about this many times before. It can’t come as such a surprise to you.”
“Talking and deciding are two completely different things, Jane. One’s about possibilities. It’s open-ended. The other’s about no possibility. It means to kill off.”
Jane got mean and came tight out and stated it like a thesis even though she knew Stephen hated it when she presented things in such a pat manner. “Because I can’t think of a single couple where I don’t think one of the people involved isn’t holding the other one back in some fundamental way.”
Stephen fought to control his tongue, but it curled back into his mouth and he couldn’t speak.
Stephen snuck around and drummed his fingers across the window of the guardhouse. “Hey, you old dyke.”
Becky looked up from her logbook, her knitted brow unraveling as she smiled.
“You got a fresh mouth, boy.” Becky unlocked the door. “Get on in here before you smudge up the windows anymore than you already have with fingers and that attitude.”
Taking Windex and a paper towel she stepped outside and rubbed the offending spots until the glass squeaked for mercy. Then she started handling Stephen. “And don’t let anybody catch you with that Colt either.”
“Ahhh . . . The quaalude of unhealed beets.” Stephen took a slug and then pushed the Colt 45 into the small of his back.
“Here. Pour that shit into this Dr. Pepper can and keep it below deck.” Becky’s lover was a retired WAC who presently worked the graveyard shift as a security guard at Albertson’s the 24-hour grocery store. They’d lived together so long Becky’s conversation was loaded with nautical terms. “You know I’ve got a job. But what I want is a position. And no Condo Gonzo all hepped upon C45 is gonna jeopardize that. Stow it.”
Stephen siphoned the Colt into the Dr. Pepper can and put it under the counter. Swiveling around in Becky’s desk chair, he could view the entire stretch of Condo Gonzo meandering along the coastline. The preceding ten years of Condomania had produced an awesome sight—a thick jungle of cinderblock palaces erected on the ruins of Crab Shack Bars and Shanty Beach Huts. “You’d never imagine that brand spanking new building could look so creepy and evil.”
Becky looked up from working on her windows at a car rolling down the drive. She smiled and waved. It honked back. “I know that little faggot’s headed straight to Bend Over Beach. I’ve seen that Toyota pulled over in the bushes on many a night,” she said noting the time of departure in the logbook. “But he better watch out. The sucker’ll get rammed for real the way they drive on that stretch of highway. Not a day goes by that somebody doesn’t get rear-ended. It’s not called the Kamikaze Causeway for nothing.” And suddenly turning to Stephen, “And so, mate. What’s your trouble?”
“Later, Beck. You want a nip?”
“No, sir. You know I can’t jeopardize my job. I’ve got my heart set on that position.”
“Yeah. Right. I forgot. So, what’s been happening around here?”
“Same old shit. The gardener quit again. The pump in the pool fritzed out on us. Elevator III in C Tower II still won’t go past the 12th floor. Superstitious, I guess.”
“My only real excitement was rescuing Saul Marcus yesterday. You know the way they build these damn condos when you open the front door the wind from the terraces facing the Gulf causes such a fierce suction the door knobs have all pulled off. Old Mr. Marcus in C Tower was locked in for four hours. I don’t know how the old geezers pry them open in the first place, but it’s damn handy that I can climb through windows. Wheelchair ramps. Guard rails. Braille elevator buttons. Its a good thing these condos have all the accoutrements of the infirm because if you aren’t handicapped when you go in your door, you will be by the time you try and get out of it.”
One of Stephen’s favorite things about Becky was that she drove a Rabbit Diesel. “And how’s domestic life out on the Redneck Riviera?” Becky lived next door to a trailer park.
“Can’t complain. I was telling Roberta just the other day that her thighs were like bags of marshmallows left out in the sun. I love marshmallows. She’s still guarding at Albertson’s and we’re thinking about getting another German shepherd. What can I say? Bert’s the kind of girl who spits on the street. My kind of gal.”
“What kind of gal does that make Jane?”
“The kind who spits in her own home.” Becky and Stephen had a big laugh over that. “Shee-it, I’m bad but I’m glad it took that sad-sack look off your face. Speaking of which, how’s your’s?”
“The ‘what’ you’re so bummed out about. That’s what.”
“Shit. About an hour ago she dropped it on me that she’s leaving. Right out of the blue. Just like that.”
“She’s said that before.”
“No, this time she’s leaving for sure. She’s got one of her theories about relationships cooked up and she’s leaving. I could feel it all day today. Even before she told me.
“Well, it does seem as if that’s been coming up more frequently these past few months. She’s a smart woman and her theory probably makes sense and you can probably talk her out of it. But Stephen, let her do what she has to do. Let her go this time.”
“I can’t, it’s just some idea she’s got. I want a reason.”
Jane was standing on the terrace, looking at Stephen padding across the lawn towards the guardhouse. Watching his firm little ass swiveling inside that blue bathing suit made her remember how sexy she once—well, still—thought he was. Suddenly, like a setter approaching a quarry, he slowed his pace, taking deliberate and slow steps. He crept beneath the guardhouse window, straightening up with his spine pressed against the outside of the doorjamb. She saw his arm flick out at the glass and maybe she saw Becky jump. “Christ. The dumb ass is just goofing.”
That cinched it. Grabbing a pack of Camels, Jane pounded out 11 digits on the phone.
“Can’t you do anything about your brother?”
“Hello to you too. Jane?”
“You really got me at a crucial point Jane. I’m in the process of plucking my eyebrows . . . yer, eyebrow. You remember. The one that grows like a row of corn straight across my forehead.” There was a silence on Jane’s end. There was a silence on Kate’s end. “Just kidding Jane. What’s the matter between you guys now? I’ve put down the tweezers.”
“Christ, Kate. He’s down in the parking lot scaring our guard out of her wits. The point is . . . his idiocy is driving me crazy and I’m leaving. I’m coming out there.”
“Aren’t you the one who found his idiocy to be his charm?”
“Not anymore. That’s the problem. What do you do when you start hating what it was you loved about somebody?”
“You find something else to love about them.”
“I can’t. I just can’t.”
“I’m not. I’m dried out here. I need some of that oil of LA, that kind of laid-back life lubricant they bottle out there. Everything rots in Florida. Even what’s new. I’m moving back out there.”
“Here? LA? You hated it out here.”
“In the 80s. Sunny.”
“It’s in the 80s and sunny here, too. It’s the same only worse. It’s greasier. Plus, do you have a wheelchair ramp leading up to your front door?”
“No, but . . .”
“Not exactly. It’s funny though. Yesterday I could of sworn I saw Stephen on the boardwalk in Venice, strutting those cans of his in the cruddy pair of cutoffs he used to wear all the time.”
“It’s a blue bathing suit now Kate, but the walk’s still the same. And the rap.” “Remember when . . .”
“Yeah, I remember. He was my exercise instructor and I had this theory that as long as I was going to sweat and grovel on the floor in front of someone three times a week, we might as well go all the way and do it on a more permanent basis.”
“That isn’t exactly what I was going to . . .”
“. . . and here I am four years later living with him in Florida. Fucking FLA. We went through some bad times, Kate. I really stuck by him. And he by me. I did. And it’s been pretty good lately. But you can go through the worst of times and stick by somebody and then one day it’s pretty good and that’s when you decide to leave. That was yesterday."
“Jane, what I was trying to get you . . .”
“I’ve got this need, an urge to twist things, to twist my life. Twist it real hard. I want to live out there. And not just out there, but . . . you know, out there.”
“But Jane, if you can’t twist it there, you can’t twist it here.”
“It’s already twisted enough around here. I’m screwing myself into a hole.”
“You’ll be screwing yourself out here, too.”
“But at least it’ll be a new hole.”
Jane and Kate breathed into their receivers, two sets of big sighs.
“Jane, remember that night Stephen stole all those hubcaps and we broke into The Acre of Bowling Lanes. Bowling with hubcaps. Strikes every time. That’s the good life.”
“Goofing. Goofing. That was when we were first a couple. And happy. It was appropriate behavior then. It’s not now. I don’t know anybody like that anymore. Kate, I can’t think of a single couple where I don’t think one person isn’t holding the other one back. Not one. That just seems like that saddest thing in the world to me. That’s why I’ve got to leave.” Jane heard the door open. “Stephen?”
Stephen stood outside the front door listening to Jane talking. Listening not to the words, but to the tone. They were so solidly, undesperately urgent. Although he realized no amount of goofing was going to get him out of this one, it was too patterned into his behavior not to give it a try. Hearing the rattle of the doorknob as Stephen heaved against the terrace suction phenomenon, Jane looked up from the phone. “Stephen?”
Stephen opened the door, bent over and mooned Jane, his bathing suit stretched between his ankles. “Hello, cupcake,” he said.
“Oh Christ. Let me call you back.”
Stephen somersaulted across the floor, went into a handstand and finished off with a half-twist. He starred walking toward Jane and accidentally tripped on his bathing suit. Finally, she had to laugh. Jane walked over and pulled his bathing suit up around his waist, cupping her hands on each cheek of his ass. “Goofy,” she said.
“Who was that?” Stephen said jerking his thumb towards the phone.
“My sister Kate? Why’d you call her?”
“Just to talk.” Jane’s hands fell away, but she didn’t step away.
“You know . . . things,” she said stepping back.
“What’s the big secret? She’s my sister, you know.”
Jane negotiated a soft, concerned tone to her voice and said, “I told her I was moving back to LA.”
“Good. And I’m moving with you.”
“You can’t Stephen.” Jane lost the tone she was striving for. “You’ve got your job and the condo and . . .”
“There are jobs in LA. And condos. What were you going to do with your share of this place anyway? Give it to me?”
“Well, yes, as a matter of fact, I . . .”
“Out of guilt? Pity? As a consolation prize? Or to tie me down with so many things I can’t move.”
“You’re not moving. I’m just being nice, Stephen. Civilized about it.”
“You’re leaving me and you’re being nice and civilized. Well no fucking thanks.”
“Stephen?” Jane tried to get that tone back in her voice. “Our talking just aggravates old injuries. It never goes beyond that. It never even approaches the point of understanding. All our talk is just so much emotional stuttering.”
“Well that’s all we’ve got then.”
“Well I don’t want that anymore.”
“What do you want?”
“I want to move.”
“That’s some solution. I think it’s pitiful when the biggest change you can make in your life is from one location to another. There are larger movements to be made.”
Feeling hurt, Jane hurt back. “Well, I’m not making them here. Or with you. Our relationship is over.”
Stephen didn’t fold. “Just what exactly is it that you want out of our relationship? Blood? People together support each other emotionally.”
“No. They sympathize and justify, agreeing or disagreeing.”
“That’s not support. It’s self-indulgent coddling in drag.”
“And what’s wrong with coddling?”
“Nothing. I just don’t think it’s a good enough reason for a relationship. Shouldn’t a relationship be about something more than just a relationship?”
“You must be very lonely, Jane. Did I make you that lonely?”
“Yes. I am. No. You didn’t. I think people should facilitate one another, serve each other in the relationship by helping each other through whatever it is they’re going through.”
“Very well thought out. It sounds like a bridge or a tunnel.”
“Exactly. In our relationship we don’t allow for any movement between ourselves.”
“Nyah. Nyah. Nyah. You and your fucking theories about relationships. Jane, I remember when you didn’t have that stick up your ass.”
“Oh, I hate you. Hate you.”
“Good. Go ahead and hate me. At least that’s a legitimate reason for leaving and not just some idea you have.” Stephen drummed Jane across the mouth. Her head hit the floor making a sound like a car door slamming. A muted thump, a flatting sound. “There. There’s a reason.” And later in the night, after much twisting and shouting, Stephen and Jane made arrangements to move to LA.