“Do you mind if I lay out next to you?”
Jordan squinted against the sun at the silhouetted figure looking down at her. The woman had on an expensive looking white bathing suit that contrasted deeply against her tanned skin. Her highlighted hair was styled to perfection, and settled gracefully against her collarbone. She had a white towel under one arm and a cone of strawberry ice-cream in her hand.
“Sure, make yourself at home,” Jordan said absentmindedly, and turned her attention back towards the waves crashing on the shore. She had spent the afternoon on the beach, watching the families building sand castles and playing in the waves. The horizon seemed to stretch on forever, as if no stint of land existed beyond the beach that she was currently occupying. Jordan heard the woman roll out her towel and gingerly lower herself to ground level.
“I’m Glenda Fischer,” the woman offered, breaking the silence.
“Hi,” Jordan said, her attention still focused on the water, “My name is Jordan. Jordan Burke.”
“Pleasure to meet you Jordan,” Glenda’s voice carried the same inflections that Jordan had heard before in those her mother in law would describe as ‘old money’. “Are you here with your husband?”
Jordan followed Glenda’s gaze and noticed that the rather sizable diamond on her left hand was still sparkling, though grains of wet sand stuck to its surface. “Yes, I suppose I am.”
“Oh, now, that’s romantic!” Glenda simpered. “How long have you been married?”
“Oh my!” Glenda sounded surprised. “You all must have gotten married very young, you don’t look older than twenty five.”
“I was nineteen when we met, and a few months later we were married.” Jordan said simply.
“That’s two whole years younger than I am now!” Glenda said, and Jordan couldn’t help but hearing an envious edge to her tone. She glanced over and saw Glenda licking at the cone of ice cream. Glenda followed Jordan’s gaze and smiled sheepishly. “Sorry about this mess. I passed the stand and saw that there was only enough strawberry ice cream for one person and I simply had to have it.”
“I suppose it would taste better if you’re the only one who can taste it.”
“Couldn’t have said it better, Jordan,” Glenda paused. “I myself have been engaged for two years.”
“Hmm.” Jordan turned her gaze back to the sea.
“Yes, two years, to the biggest flirt in Manhattan,” Glenda continued as if Jordan had asked for the details. “He was almost a little bit of a ‘play-boy’ before he met me.” She giggled like a school girl.
“What changed his mind?”
“He told me that he took one look at me and decided that I was the girl for him.”
“Was he cut off or something?” Jordan looked at Glenda again, to see how she would react to the quip.
Glenda gasped, and then laughed outright. “You’re very to the point, Jordan. I like that,” Glenda paused to lick at her melting ice cream. “We should be friends.”
Jordan said nothing, only started tracing the grains of sand beneath them. She gathered up a fistful, and let the sand cascade through her fingertips. Then she did it again. And again.
Glenda cleared her throat. “Do you have any children?”
“Oh, how nice,” the faux-interest in Glenda’s voice was palpable. “How old is it?”
Jordan fought the urge to roll her eyes. “He’s six,” she said. “His name is Sam, Sam Burke.”
“Is he a very nice boy?”’
Jordan gathered that Glenda’s idea of a nice boy was one who was excruciatingly well behaved, knew which fork to use for the fish and which one to use for dessert, and carried around a silk handkerchief in his pocket. “He’s curious. So full of questions,” Jordan paused. “He has the curliest hair you’ve ever seen, looks as if he’d stuck his fork in an electrical socket.” Jordan felt herself smile genuinely for the first time during the conversation.
“Oh, the dear!” Glenda said sweetly. “Is he here with you and your husband?” she made a show of scanning the shore, as if she could pick out a boy she had never seen before from the throngs of children playing in the waves.
“No, we decided to take this trip for ourselves.” Well, Miles had decided to take the trip for ‘both of them’.
“Oh.” Glenda stopped.
“Are you here with your fiance?” Jordan forced herself to dutifully carry on the chatter.
“Oh yes!” Glenda perked up. “Seymour’s around here somewhere, probably at the bar, no doubt. You know men.”
“Yes, I do know men.” Jordan said softly.
“I’m just so envious of you, Jordan,” Glenda rattled on, oblivious to the change in Jordan’s tone. “I mean, I feel as though I’ve been waiting my whole life for my marriage to begin, and here you are, years into your own marriage, and still taking romantic trips with your husband. Your life is enchanting.”
Silence hung between them.
“Yes, romantic trips,” Jordan echoed Glenda’s tone, but had trouble keeping the distaste out of her tone. “We’ll be headed back to Brooklyn this weekend.”
“Oh. That’s where you live?”
“Yes, in a loft near the island.”
“What a charming place.” Glenda’s voice made it clear that she thought the exact opposite. Jordan would be surprised if Glenda had taken one step out of the Upper East Side. “I hardly ever go west of Fifth but—“
Jordan felt her brewing annoyance arrive at a boiling point and suddenly she was on her feet. “Listen, it’s been really nice to meet you.” She brushed the still wet sand from her legs and swung an arm down to pick up the towel she had been sitting on. “I really should go inside and meet my husband for dinner.”
“Oh,” Glenda stood up too, making sure to keep her precious ice cream balanced. “Yes, Jordan, darling, this has been quite the fortunate encounter I think.” She pulled her, to Jordan’s chagrin, into a loose embrace. “Let’s have dinner together, please, and you can tell me more about your life in Brooklyn. I want to meet that husband of yours too. Do you have plans for tomorrow afternoon?”
Jordan winced at the prospect of having to spend both an evening and an afternoon with the creature in front of her. “Well—“
“Good. Seymour and I have signed up for a sailing lesson, and it would be divine if you and your husband would join us,” Glenda looked Jordan up and down, sizing up the differences between them. Where Jordan was pale and fragile looking, Glenda was tanned and shapely, her hair impeccably coiffed and her nails perfectly manicured. Jordan curled her fingers into fists in order to hide her bitten down stubs. She remembered when she had been able to wear a bathing suit like that, remembered when her life had been easy and bright. “We should meet at the bar tomorrow for a few rounds before the lesson. Say, one o’clock?”
Jordan forced her face into a smile. “Until then.” Jordan turned around and walked away, digging the front of her feet into the sand, then kicking it up with each step. Glenda Fischer. Jordan shook her head. A panting trophy wife if there ever was one. That is, if her play-boy husband ever decided to actually marry her. She had almost lost track of the number of fake toothy smiles that Glenda had flashed.
A child’s squeal distracted her as a little boy and girl blew past, running without hesitation towards the crashing waves of the shoreline. Her eyes went to other children on the beach, their toddling steps leaving tiny footprints in their wake. She thought about the first time she and Miles had taken Sam to the beach, nearly three years ago, and remembered the bright yellow bathing suit Sam had worn and how they had laughingly made sandcastles that more closely resembled sand mounds. How Miles had let them bury the lower half of his body in the sand. Though the memory felt sweet for a moment, she quickly felt her dried up heart return to its regular pulsating rhythm, and turned her attention back down at the ground. Life was enchanting, wasn’t it?
She made her way back across the sand and towards the stately resort where they were staying. Cumberland Island had originally been home of the Carnegie family, a place where they could invite other obscenely wealthy people to drink and dance and bathe in the sunlight and in their own opulence. She imagined what splendor the old building must have once possessed, before it had been converted into a resort that allowed people like her and Miles to stay there. Well, before people like her were permitted to stay there. Miles’ Connecticut relatives would probably have been welcome no matter what decade it was, due to their ‘old-money’ status. This was their world. Jordan sighed and found herself wistfully thinking of her family’s loft in Brooklyn, of the rain that saturated the streets, the gutter water shining when the sun finally came out through the clouds and the smog. She folded Miles’ shirt more tightly around her figure and allowed the attendant to open the great glass doors that led inside. She had convinced Miles to live in Brooklyn, where she had been raised, but in an expensive, spacious loft. Another compromise.
The lobby of the hotel had polished white marble floors, and smelled like a mixture of fresh seafood (from the restaurant across the room) and the few dozen fine colognes lingering behind the guests. A grand piano stood in the very center of the room, the player’s hands moving quickly across the keys. The room reminded her of the foyer in her in-law’s house, all the surfaces gleaming, not an object out of place, designed to create an untouchable type of atmosphere. Expensive original paintings lined the walls, each one clad in an over-the-top ornate gold frame. She shuddered, and focused her gaze instead on the elevators located to the right of the reception desk. The elevator attendant pressed the ‘up’ button on the panel next to the gold-plated doors. They slid open without a sound, and Jordan stepped into the elevator.
“What floor, Madame?” another attendant inside the elevator asked.
“Number six, please.”
The ride up was completely silent, as Jordan had learned from even a few days here that the attendants preferred not to be chatted with. This worked just fine, as Jordan didn’t feel much like chatting these days. Barry Manilow sang a throaty ballad as Jordan and the attendant avoided each other’s eyes. The elevator halted with the a gentle rocking, and the doors slid open to reveal the long, painstakingly clean hallway. Room number 611, at the end of the hall. She walked barefoot, feeling the thick carpet between her toes as she made her way inside.
“Jordan?” Miles’ voice called out. Jordan dropped her sandy towel on a nearby armchair and opened the door to the bedroom. Inside, Miles was buttoning his white dress shirt, the king-sized bed immaculately made, not the rumpled mess that she had left it in. “There you are,” Miles crossed the room and kissed her on the forehead. He had only recently started kissing her there. “Dinner’s in about twenty minutes, you’d better hurry if you want to be ready.”
“Miles, can’t we go home?” Jordan asked, surprising herself with the urgency in her own voice. She shrugged his shirt off of her shoulders and watched it crumple on the ground. Silence seemed to echo between them before Miles finally spoke.
“What do you mean?”
“I miss home,” Jordan said quietly, still staring at the wrinkles forming in the pressed linen. Miles picked the shirt up, shook it out, and placed it on one of the heavy wooden hangers in the closet across from the bathroom.
“Jordan, this place is good for us,” Miles said, not looking at her. “It’s warm, the people are kind, the staff is attentive,”
“I know,” Jordan said, now reaching to unhook her bathing suit. The clingy fabric was stifling.
“We agreed this would be good for us,” Miles continued, pleadingly. Though he kept insisting that the place was good for both of them, she had the feeling that what he really meant was that it was a good place for her. He was always making decisions based on that. Jordan said nothing, and he changed the topic of conversation. “So I spoke with my mother today.”
“Oh good,” Jordan rolled her eyes, and realized how juvenile she must look. It was hard to help feeling juvenile when she thought of Miles’ mother, a perfect picture of matching pantsuits and double stranded pearls. She looked like a first lady in training. The woman was all judgmental glares and backhanded compliments. “What did she say?”
“She wants us to go down for Christmas,” Miles said, turning his attention towards the mirror across from the bed. He finished buttoning his shirt, and opened the drawer of the dresser, producing a cornflower silk tie. He tied it in his usual square knot, and then spent a moment adjusting it so that it it hung perfectly straight against the buttons of his shirt. When Jordan still said nothing, he turned towards her and looked directly at her for the first time. “What do you think?”
“Does it matter?”
“I’m asking, aren’t I?”
“Miles, I’m tired. I want to take a shower. You should go ahead and go down to dinner, save me a place, I’ll join you in a minute.” Jordan turned on her heel and walked towards the bathroom door.
“Jordan, please, what can I do?” Miles followed her into the tiled room, closing the door behind them. “You haven’t seen her in nearly four years, she’s just about sick with worry.”
“Sick with worry.”
“Yes. About us, and about you, and about Sam.”
“Mhmm,” Jordan peeled the suit from her body and started gathering her toiletries from the bag on the counter. His mother, she was willing to bet, had called only with concern for him and his ‘sick’ relationship with his ‘sick’ wife. She had made her disapproval of her son’s marriage very clear from the beginning.
“I’m just saying, I want to see my family. Both of them, together. These years have been difficult but I think they’re about to get better, and we should try to establish some kind of routine. After all you’ve been doing better lately, haven’t had an episode in—”
“You hate routine.”
“I hated routine when I was twenty one, out of college and in the city for the first time,” Miles countered, placing himself between Jordan and the bathtub. “I only want to be a normal family.”
“Oh, and it’s my fault that we’re not a goddamned normal family.” Jordan tried to step past him, only to have Miles move in front of her again. She felt the familiar heat in her cheeks and change in her pulse that surfaced whenever she argued with Miles about this.
“I didn’t say that did I? I only mean that— well— I—” He stopped, unable to find the words. “Sam should see his grandparents more, who knows how much longer they will even be here?”
Jordan merely nodded. Sam saw his grandparents enough. She could feel herself getting worked up inside, and felt her mind drying out like a flower pressed into the pages of a book. “Miles, please, I only want to shower and get changed, can’t this wait until after dinner?”
Miles straightened up. “I feel like this has been boiling over for the past three years,” he reached out and touched her shoulder. She remembered when his touch used to make her shiver. Now it felt cold. “I want to talk about it Jordan, I’m tired of this— this—“
“Miles, for Christ’s sake, go downstairs.” Jordan moved away from his touch, folding her arms across her chest until she could stroke her shoulder blades with her hands. “There’s a couple waiting for us to sit with them, and then to go sailing tomorrow. You’ll probably get along with them just fine.” the bitterness in her tone made both of them wince.
“Fine, Jordan, fine.” Miles moved away, and stepped towards the door. His gait was stalking, angry, like their six year old’s was when he had been scolded. “This conversation isn’t over though, not this time. And remember to take your damned pill before you come down. I noticed you forgot it this morning.” his tone was tired, carefully controlled. He had learned to control his vocal level years ago, even if his actions were still hostile. The door opened and slammed shut again, rattling the cosmetic bottles on the counter.
Jordan stepped into the shower and turned the knob all the way over to the hot side. The scalding water poured out of the faucet, and she allowed herself to feel wet again. She stood like that, hands ridged by her sides for a few minutes, and then quietly crumpled until she was on her knees, the water leaving trails all over her body. She remembered how beautiful Miles was when she had seen him for the first time, the only indication of his status being a watch given to him for his graduation, dutifully worn ever since. She remembered how she had felt when he touched her legs, her hair, kissed her goodnight. Sam had his wide, optimistic eyes, or at least, the eyes he had back when they first met. Now Miles’ had faded into a worn version of their original color. Sam’s warm smile belonged to Miles too, and Jordan felt tears in her eyes when she thought of him. She began to rock back and forth, like a pendulum in a clock, swinging over the years they had shared together. Back before the pressures and the ‘episodes’. Images flashed before her eyes, the children on the beach, Sam’s curly hair, Glenda Fischer’s shining manicured nails, glazed over with melted strawberry ice cream. The hot sand on the bottom of her thighs, how the waves seemed to crash and then recede, crash and then recede, never giving the shoreline a moment’s peace. Tiny footprints in the sand, toddling steps running towards the chaos, unafraid of what might greet them when they finally got there. Jordan shut her eyes. Life was enchanting, life was enchanting.
Her eyes opened and she stayed in the shower until the water turned cold. After a few moments of feeling the frigid drops, she stood up and shut it off. She stepped over the rim of the tub and walked out of the bathroom, stark naked, her skin tattooed with angry water marks. She paused and looked at herself in the full length mirror in front of the bed. There had been a moment when she had been blissfully happy. The kind of happiness that was hard to build a fence around. Something had clicked, something had moved, though, and now the moments of happiness felt lost in the constant emptiness. She closed her eyes and rubbed her temples with her hands. It was impossible to pinpoint the exact point when she had lost sight of herself. She thought of Sam and Miles’ family and Miles and Miles and Miles—she needed to get out.
Opening the closet, she took out the first dress she touched, and pulled it over her still-damp body. She tore a brush through her dark hair, and slipped on a pair of well-worn walking shoes. The old dress she had unintentionally selected hung loose over her frame. She remembered when she filled it out. She remembered when the blue color of it hadn’t seemed faded and when the seams of the skirt hadn’t had strings trailing away the hemline. She was a little girl playing dress up. She eyed the huge bed in the center of the room. Absurd, that it was only meant for two little people. Her eyes flashed to the bedside table, and she saw that Miles had set out the little yellow bottle with her name on the side. She picked it up, and felt the tablets crashing against the sides. She placed it under Miles’ pillow on the right side of the bed. They used to sleep tangled together, in the very center. Over the past few years, a wall had been built down the middle of the mattress, with Miles on the right and her on the left, left to keep to herself. Opening the drawer of the side table, she picked up his keys and the valet ticket. Miles had picked out the rental car, and Jordan furrowed her brow when she remembered his choice. A tiny, sleek sporty thing, fit for a normal family to vacation in.
She crossed the room and went down the hallway. This time, she pressed the down button herself, and then the ‘L’ button herself, ignoring the resentful glance of the attendants. After the short ride, and she floated across the gleaming lobby and pushed open the great glass doors. She took a last look at all the pantsuits and double strand pearls and listened as the sonata played by the pianist hung against the walls. Jordan reminisced about the Carnegie’s shack on the beach as she stepped out into the warm evening, the sun just barely having made it across the horizon line. She pictured driving thirty miles over across the highway, chasing the path of the sun, disappearing over the land along with it. She smiled, and her pace quickened as she put more and more distance between herself and the resort, herself and Miles, herself and this nothing of a place. She crossed the parking lot without looking back, humming along as to the sweet piano chords that still rang in her ears.