Read The Clasp Online

Authors: Sloane Crosley

The Clasp

Dedication

For L—I found it.

Epigraph

Had I the heavens' embroidered cloths, Enwrought with golden and silver light, The blue and the dim and the dark cloths Of night and light and the half light, I would spread the cloths under your feet: But I, being poor, have only my dreams; I have spread my dreams under your feet; Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.

—
W. B. YEATS
,
“Aedh Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven”

“What is the matter?”

—
GUY DE MAUPASSANT
,
“The Necklace”

Contents

Prelude

A
t first they watched the rain from inside the tent and then they watched it come inside the tent. A stone path extended from the house to the shore. When the shuttle buses arrived, the stones were opaque. Now they were translucent, the kind of wet that made it difficult to imagine them ever being dry again. Lightning struck the surface of the ocean and a curtain of hot wind swayed inward at their feet, pushing detached bouquet petals in a row. Victor took a step back. These were his only nice shoes.

Victor had never been on a private island before, which was not shocking. But he had also never been to Florida before, which was a little shocking. True, he was a poorly traveled person. Still: Disney World, Spring Break, Other People's Grandparents. Florida had simply slipped through the cracks of his adulthood like an idiom heard too late. He was under the impression that the rain here was supposed to be extreme but brief, the opposite of, say, Seattle (a place he hadn't been to either). But this? This was a monsoon. The groomsmen's jackets had come off. The women had
grown shorter over the course of the evening. Everyone was buzzed. What time was it, 10 p.m.? Too early to be drunk in real life but right on schedule for Caroline Markson's wedding. He heard her cackle in the distance and turned back to face the ocean, letting his mind drift.

He was dubious of his environs. Florida—rather, the stretch of it he had witnessed from the airport: causeways and condominiums, Sunrise Liquor and Sunset Dental, bank branches surrounded by menacing palmetto plants—was trying to trick him into thinking it was a real place. A place where real people rode school buses and purchased paper towel in bulk. His tablemates took one look at Victor's chowder-fed skin and launched into stories of art and literary fairs, of this country club or that being very “Old Florida.” But Victor knew from old. He grew up in Massachusetts: home to America's oldest ballpark, strictest landmark laws, and most famous horseback ride. Florida was pretty colonized-come-lately by comparison. Even the old people here felt new. Victor's parents were in their sixties, but their actual sixties. Not their fake forties. His mother, a substitute teacher, would no longer “do stairs” and was increasingly vigilant about her Raynaud's. His father, a land surveyor, had given him a hundred-dollar bill and a bottle of U-bet chocolate syrup when he moved to Park Slope with Nathaniel after graduation.

This was before Nathaniel fled to Los Angeles, swapping his literary aspirations for centered dialogue. Now Victor lived alone in an alcove studio in Sunset Park.

“I think you stole my balls.”

Victor had returned to his seat to assess the damage to his shoes and found a thick-necked man gripping a dinner roll as if he had freshly yanked it from the chest cavity of a buffalo. The man pointed at a dish of butter balls.

“Oh, I did. Sorry. I went left. You can have mine.”

“I think this one has rosemary and this one is Himalayan sea salt.”

“Sounds good.”

“I really despise rosemary.”

Caroline had arranged the rest of their collegiate circle around a table clear across the dance floor. Victor was momentarily buoyed by the idea that this was an act of faith, suggesting that he was harmless—nay, charming—when foisted upon strangers. Unfortunately, these thoughts were immediately anchored by knowing it was an act of acquiescence: Caroline felt obliged to invite him. He couldn't be the only one she left out. Out of some kind of misplaced retaliation, he hadn't touched his main course. This put him in a standoff with the catering staff, who, out of their own misplaced retaliation, had yet to remove his plate.

From this vantage point, he could see Nathaniel whispering in Kezia's ear. Nathaniel's jawline had become strangely defined these past few years. It made Victor touch his own jaw, to see if jaws were that much of a separate entity on everyone. These days Nathaniel was also dressing better. Foppish. That was the word, wasn't it? Fucktard. That was the other one. His friend had become both of these things. They barely spoke anymore, forcing Victor to make a choice: be a needy girl about it or ignore it. He chose the latter, but right this second, there was something blocking his path of disregard.

Kezia's mouth was so close to Nathaniel's that if she turned, their lips would touch. Her head was bent, chin tucked, listening raptly. She flipped a fork against the tablecloth, as if concentrating on the fork was the only thing keeping her from falling off her chair.

“No tux for you?”

The thick-necked man chewed with his mouth open.

“Couldn't afford it.”

“Every self-respecting young man should have a tux.”

“Well,” Victor lifted his glass, “that explains why I don't have one.”

“Where did you say you lived in New York?”

“Brooklyn.”

“Brooklyn Heights is nice.”

“That it is.”

“And how did you make the acquaintance of the bride?”

“We went to college together. The group of us.” Victor gestured around the tent, even though he wasn't sure where anyone was.

Kezia and Nathaniel had gotten up. The fork stayed behind.

“Ah, so you've known each other since you were babies.”

A sharp memory: The night, freshman year, when he managed to bring Caroline Markson back to his dorm. When Victor reached between her legs, she hopped off the bed, bent down like a baboon, and showed him her tampon string. Proof for prudeness. Still, he wished his roommates had been conscious. Victor didn't bring many girls home. He was not an attractive guy. He got that. He was wiry and he hunched. His face was horsey but not equine, olive but not Mediterranean. Though, on two separate occasions, he'd been told that he bore a resemblance to the sharp-faced actor Adrien Brody.

“And you and Caroline went to a coed school?”

“I—yes, we did.”

“Ginny, my wife, went to one of those glorified lesbian communes. Some all-girls place that should have gone coed but didn't. Practically bankrupt now. Always some third-rate yoga instructor on the cover of the alumnae magazine.”

Victor listened as best he could. He was usually okay with being a receptacle for such gripes. It was all feeding a beast that never went hungry anyway, a beast of casual distain for the wealthy, a
socialist tapeworm in his gut that snacked on morsels of “humidor” and “meditation retreat.” But enough was enough.

“Excuse me.” He put his napkin on his chair. “I'm gonna watch the storm.”

“You can't see it from here?”

“I need new ones of these.” Victor pushed his glasses up the Sisyphean slope of his nose.

The man tightened a cuff link, putting a spritely spotlight on the wineglasses. Ginny materialized behind them, all smiles and cleavage and lighthearted scolding for “holding this young man captive.”

“Nice to meet you,” she said, even though they hadn't.

As Victor squished his way toward the edge of the tent, he spotted Olivia Arellano, standing beneath a flickering lantern. God, Olivia Arellano. He thought he had glimpsed the back of her head during the ceremony. Pickled in rum and venom, Olivia looked the same every time he had seen her over the past decade, always wearing the same Olivia uniform. As Kezia once astutely pointed out, “You know Olivia owns twenty black sweaters as opposed to one frequently recycled black sweater.” The last time Victor had even seen her name was a year ago, when Paul Stephenson and Grey Kelly (keepers of the collegiate ideal, newlyweds, chief bangers of the networking drum) organized a gathering because it had “been too long.”

“Gang,” began the e-mail from Paul, “it's been waaaaay toooo long.”

Who's to say? Who decides? What heterosexual man uses so many vowels?

The e-mail was also signed from Grey, as if she had typed her own name. They were like children taking turns on an outgoing voice mail, the chumminess of the invite only slightly undermined by a block of text deeming the contents “confidential bank
correspondence subject to disclaimers and conditions including on offers for the purchase or sale of securities, accuracy of information, viruses, and legal privilege.”

Victor skipped drinks.

How a girl like Olivia Arellano had heard of a tiny liberal arts school in New England, never mind applied to it, never mind heard of New England, confounded him to this day. He and Olivia had never been close and never would be. Yet even she was tied to him. Olivia Arellano was the first person he met. She struck up a conversation with him while they waited at campus security for their respective room keys. Fresh off the plane from Caracas, she carried a peeling leather trunk that looked as if it contained human bones and asked him questions like “Do you think the next four years will be
estimulante
or do you think we will liken them to jail?”

He had no idea what she was talking about but her boobs were up to her neck.

Olivia was a false advertisement for what college women would be like, a false advertisement for herself even. She was studying him, peppering him with questions, not to befriend him but to determine if he was like her,
sofisticado
. He was not. He had just come from a house with aluminum siding in Sudbury. He didn't have a passport. His jackets were North Face, his storage bins Bed Bath & Beyond, his mother a
Law & Order: SVU
fan.

They accepted their respective keys and headed for separate ends of campus. He watched her glide up the gentle slope of a path, one of the many that would become as familiar as the veins on the back of his hand.

Even now, a decade later, he could remember that freshman-specific sensation. Like he'd know this girl for the rest of his life and like he'd never see her again. Turns out both hunches were right. That conversation was the longest he would have with
Olivia for a solid year. He saw her, sure. Everyone saw everyone. But Olivia did her dating off campus, shunning any man who could be accessed via a four-digit extension. She elected alterative housing, slept with professors, refused to eat in the dining hall— all before losing the revolt and settling down junior year. Half of their class went abroad but Olivia stayed because she was abroad already. She melded herself into Victor's circle of friends like a blob of mercury, absorbed by the girls—lady advocates who saw some invisible wound in need of tending when they looked at her. Or maybe they just saw another pretty face to squeeze into their photos.

He didn't care about their motivations, not really. Olivia Arellano was never the primary object of his affections. That title belonged to someone else. And by their final semester, none of it mattered. By then, Victor was allowing himself to fantasize about Kezia's face only in profile, never indulging in the dead-on view. By then, he was supposed to have forgiven her for cruelly rejecting his love. Not just forgiven—erased. To forgive was to be in conversation with the past. And they couldn't have that, now could they? Caps and gowns had been ordered, résumés sent out, mailbox keys returned. It was in poor taste to acknowledge that college had been anything other than a coming-of-age paradise. By then, they all had one foot out the door and Victor had gotten himself a passport with a lone Canadian stamp in the middle. Dead grandfather in Toronto.

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