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Authors: Alexander Yates

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BOOK: Moondogs
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Benicio didn’t really know what to say, so he settled for “wow.”

“Listen Benny,” his father continued, “I’ve been thinking, for a while, that it might be really nice if you came out here. You know, for a month or so, maybe early summer?” He paused for a long time and left a silence that Benicio didn’t fill. “You could stay in the same hotel as me. It’s really … it’s really a beautiful country. I could take you around, or you could do a little exploring on your own, if you prefer. We could do the rice terraces or fly down to the chocolate hills. I mean, if you got here in May we’d beat most of the rain, and could even hit up Boracay Island. Or, there’s always plenty to do in Manila.”

Benicio watched the enormous shadows of his feet as he took slow steps through the sunny lot. “I’ll think about it,” he said. The line went silent and he wondered if the connection had dropped.

“Hey,” his father finally said, “hey. That’s wonderful Benny.”

“I just said I would think about it. It’s kind of short notice for a big trip.”

“I know. I know. But you’re welcome here. I’d love to have you. And you know … they have some good diving. I mean, some world-famous diving.”

“I know that.”

“It’s been awhile, but I could dust off my old fins. We could do a dive trip or two, just like we used to.” His father’s voice went rigid and Benicio’s back did the same thing.

“Just like old times,” he said.

“No.” It wasn’t just the reception; his father’s voice was also cracking. “No, I promise. Nothing like old times.”

“That’s good,” Benicio said.

• • •

HE AND ALICE GOT BACK TO HIS APARTMENT
a little before six. They unloaded his gear and laid it out carefully over the bed. He went into the kitchen and started on dinner, while she lingered in the bedroom, ostensibly to change for the gym—by
gym
she meant the elliptical and incomplete set of free weights in the communal basement. But he could hear her futzing around with his gear as he started prep; laying out fish to defrost, rinsing and quartering baby potatoes, setting salted water to boil. And when he turned away from the stove he saw her standing in the kitchen doorway. She wore nothing on top but his buoyancy control vest. The straps covered her breasts but left a line of bare flesh that ran from her collarbones to her abdomen, broken only by the small frayed buckle. She stood there, one hand gripping the doorframe, the other toying with the direct feed hose of the vest.

“Jesus.” Benicio dried his hands on his shirt. Though an incomplete surprise, this was pleasant.

“I don’t think I’m wearing this right,” Alice said. She tried to twist the direct feed so it would reach her mouth. “What part am I supposed to breathe out of?”

“You don’t breathe out of anything.” He stepped toward her. “There’s a whole other piece for breathing.”

His telephone erupted into loud, insistent chirping and Alice gave him her cutest, coyest look. He took the phone out of his pocket and set it on the counter beside the sliced potatoes. It rang for what felt like a minute before finally dying down to silence. Benicio moved toward Alice and she took a step back as though she were about to run. He grabbed her before she could and they stumbled back into the bedroom. Alice tried to get out of the buoyancy control vest but the buckle was caught so she just loosened it and opened the straps wide. Together they collapsed atop the hard tubes of his regulator and the rubbery foam of his full-length wetsuit.

“I can’t believe it,” he said. “I can’t believe how much I love you.”

“Bite me,” Alice said, unbuckling his belt with her left hand. “You’re too good for that Hallmark crap.”

“No,” he said, “I’m not.” He pushed aside the coarse fabric of the vest and went right for her nipple, just as he’d been scolded not to, giving it a too-hard pinch between thumb and forefinger. “That’s all I’ve got. That’s me being honest.”

“It’s not funny,” she said as she got his pants open and moved her hands inside.

“The worst part is, I mean it. I—”

She kissed him deep, to shut him up. “You’re foul,” she said. “You’re rotten.”

THIS WAS A GAME THEY PLAYED OFTEN
, and the rules of it were simple—though Benicio wasn’t really sure he could describe them. Surprise had a lot to do with it, along with the shock of mock aggression like cold water in the shower. Obscenities were important, as was obvious lying. It was a way of counteracting the creeping suspicion that they were too young to be living this way. It started after graduation, when their friends scattered to jobs, internships and parents’ basements, and the two of them were left alone together. Not yet in their mid-twenties and they’d backed into what felt like a domestic, almost middle-aged life. They used the game to balance things. To lighten the feeling of playing house. It was how they reminded each other that they were, maybe, not so serious. They were still young. They had options.

But it was more complicated than that, because at the same time they really
were
getting much more serious—especially since his mother had died. Their relationship took on more passion, and a strange, formal weight. Benicio said “I love you” for the first time a few days after they got back from Chicago. It slipped out, embarrassingly, while they had sex. That drove Alice wild and made their first fuck after the funeral—even more embarrassingly—the best they’d ever had. And it wasn’t just a fluke. Sex became consistently more intense and more frequent. So did arguments. Actually, arguments were what they used to have—the occasional sharp-toned conversation that might end with Alice crossing her arms tight over her chest and someone leaving the room. These were knock-down, drag-out screamfests. It was as though
their relationship became a kind of Hollywood sequel of its old self—built on the same premise as the original, but with a bigger effects budget. They still hadn’t gone to Ikea to replace what they’d broken during their last fight. They’d been eating dinner a week ago, plates squeezed onto the little coffee table in front of the television. Alice scanned channels until she landed on a telenovela. She turned the volume up on high. A mustachioed actor was confiding something serious to a wrinkled crone played by a young woman in heavy latex makeup, and Alice repeated everything he said, word for belabored word.

“La ot-tra no-che … tu-ve unna pesa … pesadilya. Cre-yo que Pab-lo no es mi hi-ho.”

“Hijo.” He corrected her. “Pesadilla.”

“Translation?” She watched him chew for a while. “Translation?” He kept chewing. “Hello?”

Benicio swallowed. He picked up the remote and changed the channel to something in English.

“Hey,” she said, “hey, look at me.” He looked at her. “There’s no reason to be an asshole,” she said. She looked hurt, but he knew she wasn’t. She was at bat, waiting for him, on the mound.

He set down his fork. “How are you not sick of this?” he asked.

“Sick of you?”

“Nice. No. Sick of your own bullshit. You don’t want to learn a word of Spanish. What are you, afraid I’ll forget it now? Will that make me less interesting?”

Alice stood, and on the way up her knee struck her dinner plate and sent it somersaulting off the coffee table, crashing on the floor. Both of them looked at the shattered mess. Alice made a move as though she was going to start collecting the shards of plate and rounding up stray green beans, but she seemed to decide against it midstream. She took his plate from him and threw it down on the floor as well. “Fuck you,” she said, lingering on the word, stretching it out—not wasting it the way they did when they were playing. “Don’t project your shit on me.” She went into the bathroom, slammed the door shut and locked it behind her.

They exchanged obscenities as he cleaned up the mess. When he finally cooled off he sat in front of the bathroom, concentrated on the chipped paint on the door and apologized. Alice didn’t say anything back, but after a while she slid her forefinger under the locked door and let it rest on the tile. Benicio reached down to give it a squeeze and the finger squeezed back.

THEY CAUGHT THEIR BREATH
atop the tangle of dive gear. She went to the bathroom to clean up and he stayed in bed, shifting this way and that to make himself more comfortable. He began to doze off and was soon in a light sleep, dreaming about Corregidor Island—that little rock that he’d been reading about earlier in the day. It was night on the island, and very hot. Above him stretched the dark silhouettes of palm trees and the barrels of heavy artillery guns. The guns looked old, like they hadn’t been used in a lifetime. He found a path leading up a little hill and decided to follow it, picking his way through bramble that thickened into a dense jungle. Then an odd thing happened. It began to snow. Thick, angular snowflakes fell like bits of paper down through the palm fronds. They blanketed his hair, his shoulders and the wooded floor. He was alone, and certain that he would die.

Benicio was awoken by the sound of a telephone and Alice’s voice, shouting: “It’s yours!” from the bathroom. He took his time getting up and walked into kitchen, where he saw on the cell screen that it was the same number that had called earlier. It went silent just a moment before he opened it. “Who was it?” she asked.

“No one.” Benicio said. He snapped the phone shut again and put it back on the counter. “Just my father.”

Chapter 3
RAINY SEASON

Monique woke to the sputter and hum of her air conditioner—a tremendous window unit that she and her husband bought last year, just two days after moving to the Philippines. It sounded like a minivan idling in a covered garage, but there was no sleeping without it. She blinked in the darkness and slid her hand toward Joseph’s half of the bed. It was cool. He wasn’t there. What a lousy way to start the day. For both of them.

Monique propped herself up on her elbows and looked around. The wall facing her was mostly glass, and from the fifteenth story she had an incredible view. Filmy dawn lit the horizon, bleeding into the fluorescent nightglow of the city. Joseph stood there, a lean silhouette among the towers. He wore silk pajama bottoms and pressed one hand against the glass, as though for balance. His other hand massaged his own long neck. Pale light brightened wisps of gray hair about his ears. “Don’t tell me.” Monique was too sleepy to hide the frustration in her voice.

“Morning.” Joseph turned around. His eyes were so bleary she couldn’t tell if he was looking right at her or not.

“All night, again?”

“Not quite. I got an hour or so on the couch in the den.”

She pulled back the undisturbed blankets on his half and beckoned him over. Joseph climbed in, threw an arm across her chest and pressed his face into her. His insomnia had never been this bad before.

“We should talk to the doctor again.” She felt his lashes against her neck. “It can’t be good for you. I’ll set something up at Seafront today.”

He shook his head, which tickled a little. Just two weeks ago he’d given up on his fifth prescription. The embassy doctor insisted it was the last reliable brand you could get locally, and their hopes were high when he rode the first dose almost to dawn. But it didn’t last, and by the third night he was pacing again. He got so mad he took the nearly full bottle up to the rooftop helipad and chucked it off. Monique told him
it was a stupid thing to do, but she didn’t needle him about it. She was angry, too.

“Early shuttle today?” he asked. She nodded, letting him change the subject. Every day the American Embassy sent a light armored van to pick her up and ferry her to the walled-off chancery by the bay. It always arrived at a different time and always took a slightly different route. Monique had this month’s schedule pasted over last month’s schedule on the inside of her closet. The variation was supposed to make her unpredictable, which was supposed to make her hard to follow, which was supposed to make her safe. But Monique didn’t feel unpredictable. Having no routine was sort of a routine in and of itself. Every weekday morning she got up
x
number of minutes earlier or later than the day before, hid her access badges under her beaded blouse and snuck out the side exit like an unfaithful spouse.

“Hey.” Joseph’s voice was suddenly animated, and too loud in her ear. Monique pulled back. “Do you know what today is?”

“Wednesday.”

“That is true. But this morning is also the twelve-day mark. Just twelve more mornings like this and we will be out of this hot, disgusting, traffic-congested city and on our way back home.” Mandatory leave was just around the corner—five whole weeks of vacation back in D.C. He already had the suitcases laid out on the bedroom floor, open and ready for packing. “Just twelve more mornings until the end of soot on the windowsills. No more ‘sorry sir, out of stock.’ No more spoiled brats treating the kids like pets. No more food that is cooked in vinegar and soy sauce. No more spaghetti with sugar and hotdogs. No more crowds at the mall and on the street and at the movies and in the—”

“So we’re doing this every morning, now?”

Joseph sat up and looked old as he closed his bloodshot eyes and pinched the bridge of his nose. “You know you are as eager as I am.”

BOOK: Moondogs
12.74Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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