John D MacDonald – Barrier Island

She had a sudden thought. It made her heart bump in her chest and it made her breath shallow. She stood and thought about it and then decided to do it. She folded the blanket and the sheet down to the foot of the bed. She went to the window and unlatched it and turned the crank that opened the three big glass panels, opened them to the horizontal. The north breeze blew in, dank and chilly. She looked at her watch. She avoided looking again at the woman’s face, not wanting to look into her eyes.

She went quickly to Tuck’s room and undressed and slipped in beside him, nuzzling her face into his neck, shivering a little, running her spread fingers through the wiry thatch of gray hair on his big broad chest. He held her in his big arms. His breath was sour. When he did not respond, she ducked down under the bedding to arouse him. She kept thinking of Thelma in the cold wind. It scared her and excited her to think of the woman. It made her anxious to get Tuck ready to take her.

Tuck lay on his back, eyes closed, feeling the soft manipulative pressures. Cool sunlight was bright against the windows. It shone through his eyelids, a pink glow. He thought about the sun and wondered how deep the light would shine in the waters of the Gulf off the Ship Islands. He seemed to see all the way down to the bottom of that anchorage, a sandy bottom where Jack Simms, enchained, rolled over and back, over and back, in a tidal current. He could see him so clearly in the faint sunlight down there he could see the familiar faded tattoo on Jack’s bicep. Eagle and flag and seal. Semper Fidelis. Meaning, as Jack always said, “Fuck you, buddy. I’ve got mine.” And in the faint submarine glow he could see the silver flickering of a school of small predatory fish as they darted about the body.

He sat up abruptly and pushed her away from him. She rose up, the bedding caped around her shoulders, eyes wide. “What the hell, Tuck!”

“Just get away from me.”

“What’s the matter?”

“I can’t make it. Not today. Get away from me.”

“Let me try some more.”

“Can’t you understand English, you dumb spic bitch?”

“Who the hell do you think you are?”

“Get your clothes on and get out.”

He saw the tears on her cheeks as she dressed. He heard her snuffle. It was emotion without any meaning to him, as though he had turned on the television in the middle of a playlet and somebody was crying and he would never know why. Her arms were too skinny and she was sway-backed, and the left breast hung lower than the right. He wondered why he had been so attracted. But in another part of his mind he was telling himself that it was always like this. All of a sudden it was over and then everything about them was wrong, from their damn dumb expressions to their empty jabber to the smell of their bodies.

He knew she would take another shot at it tomorrow and the answer would be the same. And then if she was bright enough, she would have the message loud and clear. And probably quit and be replaced by a battle-ax like Madigan and like Shirley. A matched set.

Sunday noon. Wade had been dubious about the fishing trip and picnic when he had awakened and seen the change in the weather. With that wind direction it would be fairly calm near shore but kicking up pretty good out by the islands. But his group had been insistent. He found out from the weather station on the cable that the wind was expected to diminish throughout the day.

Six people made a pretty good load for the old Whaler. But Nita and Lois and Kim were all undersized. Tod was already man-size, taller than Beth, with probably two more years of growing to do.

Once they got out to white water, Wade throttled way back. But it was still exhilarating. The bow lifted and fell, whacking up spray that blew forward, away from them. He had selected Bernard Island partly because of the little hook-shaped lagoon near the east end of it that would make a quiet place to pull the boat up on the beach, and partly because it was going to be forever free from development. None of the Tuck Loomises of the world would grab it, ever.

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