Seascape ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp
(Published in Black Lantern Publishing, April 2010)
Blanca Longworth and her husband checked in on a brilliant, sun-infused day in early May. They had a delightful room on the fourth floor with a little balcony overlooking the ocean that from that distance was like a mirror reflecting the sunlight. Feeling tired from the long journey, Blanca lay down on the enormous bed to rest her eyes and soon she was asleep.
When she awoke, she knew from the way the sun slanted into the room that it was very much later than it had been. She arose and went into the bathroom and fixed herself up and then changed her clothes and waited for her husband to come back—back from wherever it was he had gone—to take her downstairs to dinner.
She waited for twenty or thirty minutes and, when her husband still hadn’t returned, she made up her mind to go and have dinner alone. She hadn’t eaten all day and was feeling faint from hunger. She was sure he would understand and would be able to get something for himself later from room service.
When she swept into the crowded hotel dining room, she noticed a few heads turn in her direction. She enjoyed being the woman alone, the woman with a slight air of mystery. For all anybody knew, she might be an heiress or a movie star or an important novelist. She seated herself at a pleasant table-for-two beside a window and a young waiter appeared at her elbow with a menu and an appropriately servile attitude.
After eating her spicy and too-heavy dinner, she left the dining room and, not feeling like returning to her room just yet, went into the cocktail lounge. She was irresistibly drawn by the sound of the music and chiming laughter and the clink of glassware.
Feeling slightly awkward and out of place, she sat at the bar and ordered a martini. She drank the martini quickly, finding it good for her digestion, and ordered another one. By the time she had taken a sip from her second drink, a young man seated himself beside her at the bar. She turned and looked at him with curiosity and when he smiled at her she smiled back at him.
He was perhaps ten or so years younger than she was, making him twenty-eight or thirty. Speaking with a slight foreign accent, he told her his name was Tibor. He had a charming smile and brown-blond hair combed straight back from his forehead that revealed the superb shape of his head and perfect small ears. They exchanged small talk for a few minutes and then he asked her if she would care to dance. She shrugged charmingly and consented.
While she was dancing with Tibor, she thought she had never felt more natural and more at ease with a stranger. As they moved around the dance floor, she felt the strength in his arms and shoulders. She tightened her hold on him and moved in a little closer.
When the dance floor came to be too crowded, they sat down at a small table in the shadows and ordered fresh drinks. After a while, he reached his hand across the table and placed it on her hand and asked if she would care to go someplace else with him. His soft eyes glistened in the romantic light.
She smiled sadly and, in answer to his question, held her left hand in front of his face and waggled her fingers so that he would see her wedding ring. Seeing it, his smile faded and his face clouded. He stood up and, bowing formally from the waist, apologized for his presumption and excused himself. Then he was gone.
After Tibor left, she was just another lonely middle-aged woman sitting pathetically by herself in a barroom. She continued to sit at the small table for a while longer, feeling the kind of sweet sadness she hadn’t felt since she was sixteen, and then she stood up and went back to her room.
Her husband still hadn’t returned yet, but she was glad in a way to be alone with her thoughts. She wouldn’t like having to explain that she had been dancing and drinking—however innocent—with a handsome young stranger. She went out on the balcony and breathed in the scent of the ocean and listened to the soothing sounds of the surf.
When she awoke at seven o’clock the next morning, the first thing she was aware of was that she was alone in the bed. Her husband still had not come back. She got out of bed and called down to the front desk to see if anybody had left any messages for her, but there were none.
She had a light breakfast and then took a long walk down the beach. She walked to an isolated spot and spread her blanket on a pleasant incline and lay down. She read her novel for a while and then, growing weary of reading, stared out at the ocean, the enormity of which had always frightened her in a way. Soon she became sleepy and fell into a light doze.
When she awoke it was to the sound of voices. A man and three children had come upon her but they hadn’t seen her yet, although she could see them. Her pleasant feeling of being isolated from the rest of the world was gone. She stood up and walked to the water’s edge, thinking to speak to the man and the three children, and that’s when she saw a sailboat gliding by about fifty yards out.
One lone man was on the sailboat. She could see him clearly until the sail shifted around in the wind and obscured him. In the couple of seconds she could see his face, she was sure it was her husband. He had the same gray hair and goatee, but he was too far away and moving too fast for her to be sure. She waved her arms, thinking to get the man’s attention, but he was occupied with navigating the boat and didn’t see her. Then he was gone.
Clouds were now obscuring the sun and a chill had come into the air, so she went back to the hotel. Before going to her room, she stopped at the front desk and asked the clerk if anybody had seen her husband, but he assured her nobody had. She told him that if he saw her husband to please be sure and tell him she was looking for him. The clerk nodded his head solemnly and scribbled on a pad, pretending to make a note, but after she left he tore the sheet off the pad and threw it away.
She had a prolonged, leisurely dinner, sitting at the same table as on the previous evening, and when she was finished she once again went into the cocktail lounge. She sat at the bar and ordered a scotch and soda, her husband’s favorite drink; she drank it down and ordered another.
She hadn’t dared to hope that she would see Tibor again but when she turned partway around and looked over her shoulder, there he was. He was sitting at a table toward the back with a blond-haired woman in a red dress. They were both sitting on the same side of the table and he had his arm draped over her shoulders and was nuzzling her neck and laughing. He was obviously quite drunk.
She left quickly, before Tibor could see her, but it was mostly her disappointment that she didn’t want him to see. On the way up to her room in the elevator, she laughed at her own foolishness.
In this way she passed an entire week at the hotel. Telling herself she didn’t care about Tibor but catching a glimpse of him every chance she got and seeing him with a different woman every night, all of them prettier and younger than herself. (Tibor never looked directly at her, so she couldn’t be sure if he knew she was there.) Taking walks on the beach, occasionally sunbathing (she never went into the water, as she was deathly afraid of drowning). Eating large, lavish, expensive meals (her loneliness seemed to increase her appetite). Alternately reading her book and dozing on the bed in her room. Shopping for things she didn’t need and spending all her ready money. Smoking cigarettes on the balcony of her room while watching people come and go on the beach a hundred yards away through binoculars she had purchased on an impulse. Most of all, though, she waited for her husband to return, wondering all the time where he had gone and why she didn’t hear from him. She took to asking every chambermaid, desk clerk, or bellboy if they had seen him, thereby earning a reputation for herself as a crazy woman.
On the morning of her seventh day in the hotel, just as she had dressed to go out, there was a knock at the door. She opened the door, seeing a small man, slightly cock-eyed, wearing a dark suit. He told her he was the assistant manager and he needed to speak to her. She had no other choice but to allow him to come into the room.
“Since you didn’t have a reservation for this room,” he began nervously, “we were wondering if you intended on staying past today.”
“I’m not sure,” she said. “You’ll have to ask my husband.”
“Is he here?”
“Not at the moment.”
“The thing is,” he said, clearing his throat loudly, “this room is reserved after today. I’m afraid I’m going to have to ask you to vacate this morning.”
“I couldn’t do that until my husband comes back.”
“The room is no longer available to you after today.”
“Might I move to a different room?”
“I’m sorry. The hotel is all booked up for the coming week. There’s a convention in town, you see.”
“So, you’re telling me I have to leave today?”
“I apologize for the inconvenience, but I’m sure you understand.”
“My husband isn’t going to like this.”
“If you’ll call down to the desk when you’re ready to check out, they’ll have your bill ready for you.”
After the little man left, she checked to see how much money she had left and discovered only a few dollars remaining in her purse. It was clear she wasn’t going to be able to pay the bill, which she was sure was sizeable by now.
She went down in the elevator to the lobby and walked past the front desk and out the hotel to the street that led away from the city. She began walking away from the hotel and didn’t look back.
After she had walked for more than an hour, looking straight ahead and never once stopping, an enormous black car pulled up alongside her and stopped at the curb. She could feel someone in the car looking at her, but she didn’t turn her head and kept walking. As she continued to walk, the car inched forward to keep pace with her. Finally she stopped and turned toward the car. A man inside had rolled down the window.
“You need a lift,” he said, a statement rather than a question.
He swung the door open and she got in beside him without hesitation and closed the door. As he sped off and for several minutes after, he was looking straight ahead and seemed to forget she was there. She studied him, though—the way the stubble grew on his cheek and the pout of his lips—and she was sure she knew who he was, even though he was pretending to be somebody else.
“Where you headed?” he asked.
“Nowhere,” she answered, taking her eyes off him and looking at the unreeling scenery.
“You just left everything behind, didn’t you? Everything you owned?”
“I don’t think that’s any of your business.”
“My name is Alvin.”
“No, it isn’t. Or at least that isn’t what you said before.”
“All right. If you say so.” He smiled and ran his fingers through his hair.
“I see you’ve dyed your hair and are not as suave and polished as before and have dropped the accent, but you’re not fooling me. I know who you are.”
“Is that so?”
“You’ve been watching me all week while pretending not to.”
“I saw you with a different girl every night. You knew all the time I was there.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“I was sure the name and the foreign accent weren’t real. You were like a made-up character in a story. Nothing about you was real.”
“Have it your own way. Everybody in this town is crazy in one way or another. You’re no exception.”
“Some people are not so easily fooled. Keep that in mind.”
She was silent for several miles and then, as if it just occurred to her that she was in a speeding car, she asked him, “Where are we going?”
“Someplace a long way off,” he answered. “Do you want me to let you out of the car?”
“I didn’t think so. Do you have any money?”
“Not even the price of a pack of cigarettes.”
“Would you be surprised if I told you I have a dead body in my trunk?”
“Just remember. I warned you.”
She moved over closer to him and put her hand on his arm and her head on his shoulder and let out a long sigh. “I knew you would come for me,” she said. “I never stopped believing.”
Copyright © 2011 by Allen Kopp