Phoenix by Juditha Dowd

person sitting on ship rigging
The Call 2 by marcovdz.CC license

“So, what do you think?” said Don. He’d hoped Alison might bring it up this time but she was staring out the big windows toward the marina, one of several on Venice Island where they were staying. He followed her gaze to anchored boats bobbing in the onshore breeze.

Alison came to, shifted her attention back to him. “I guess that little Cape had possibilities.” She took another sip of the Sangiovese the waiter recommended, surprisingly good for such a well-priced wine.

“Cape?” Don wasn’t versed in architectural styles. Curb appeal, price point—this was language that made sense to him.

“Over on Saltmarsh Circle. The one you liked.” The one with the wheelchair ramp, she’d almost said. Alison didn’t enjoy tramping through other people’s homes, wondering whether misfortune prompted the sale—death, bankruptcy, what-have-you. If a place was empty she could more easily imagine it with her own furniture, although after four years at sea it was difficult to remember what was in storage, what they’d sold or given to the kids.

Don frowned. “I thought we both liked that one.”

“Didn’t I just say it had possibilities?”

“You did.” Apparently that was the best he was going to get from her.

Ten weeks after the boat fiasco Alison was distracted, still having occasional dreams. Otherwise she’d begun putting it behind her, regaining what she thought of as her land legs. Kristen, her daughter, had mentioned post-traumatic stress disorder a couple of times, but Alison considered that over-dramatization. Everything was a disorder these days. She hadn’t suffered domestic violence or lost her parents in a concentration camp. She wasn’t in New York on 9/11 as several of her former neighbors had been, their families insane with worry. It was just a boating accident, ending without injury or loss of life. And for that she was deeply grateful. Maybe she wasn’t ready, as Don seemed to be, to buy a little pleasure craft. Maybe she’d never again set foot on a boat. But keeping perspective was important. She and Don had been very lucky.

The waiter set down her entrée, two gigantic lamb meatballs—easily half a pound each—nestled in basil-flecked linguini. A thin length of crisped baguette balanced jauntily over the meat. She teased off a bite of lamb, decided mint would have been a better seasoning for it. Deconstructing restaurant food was a hobby she’d missed at sea, the typical eatery along the South- and Central-American coasts consisting of a few chairs dockside, fish steaks, something stewing in a pot. Often very good, a welcome change from the processed foods they’d relied on aboard The Best Revenge—but after a while monotonous.

“Then fuck him!” someone bellowed above the restaurant’s convivial hum. Alison peered down the aisle to see a squat man in gym shorts looking from one to the other of his companions—all close to her age, she guessed, early sixties. He might be a regular at this upscale Italian place, for earlier she’d seen la nona hovering. He cursed again, waving his knife and fork, and other diners glanced up, drawn uncomfortably into his histrionics. Alison noted his cheek stubble, a studied grubbiness the well-off had been affecting for two decades. Trial attorney? Maybe. First generation Croat, his boat powered by testosterone.

Don was used to his wife’s distraction. “How’s the lamb?” he asked. Maybe she was missing the grandkids again, as she had been since they set sail. She placed a huge meatball beside his order of gnocchi. Tasting it, he was reminded of a dish she’d often prepared on the boat (probably goat, since lamb was hard to get). The kind of dish it was possible to cook in a galley on a pitching sea. Why she’d order this out, with so many choices available, was a mystery. “You’re dreaming,” he said. “What’s up?”

“Oh, that jerk by the door. I get so tired…”

Lately everything annoyed her, a symptom, Don supposed, of their general malaise. He figured she’d return to her old self once they bought a house, retrieved what was left of their belongings. In fact he was counting on it. They’d been driving around with Luanne Lees, number one salesperson in her office according to her business card. She fit his wife’s notion of a southern female realtor—polite, efficient, dressed to the nines in pastel skirts and twin sets. Don appreciated her can-do attitude, a quality he’d once admired in Alison.

Three years into the real estate bust, Florida offered bargains. Returning to New Jersey was out; prices had fallen even further but were still unaffordable, taxes second highest in the nation. They’d looked first in Savannah, but every afternoon a sulfurous stink blew off the river. The paper mills. It spiked Alison’s asthma, a childhood problem reactivated by the boat’s inevitable mildew.

Venice was water-centered, Don’s priority, but had much else to recommend it. Trees, for one thing—she’d missed those, he knew. This stretch of Gulf coastline was largely public park. The charming town had a good library, fine restaurants and golf courses. He hoped Alison might agree to live here. For it was her choice now. The boat had been his entirely.

She did not want dessert. He paid the bill and followed her down the narrow aisle. Then a voice sang out, “Don! For Christ’s sake…”

Alison turned. Don had paused by the loudmouth and was exchanging shoulder grabs with the guy on his right. She ambled back and stood beside her husband. “Alison,” he said, “you remember Tony Maggiore.”

“Of course!” She smiled warmly, thinking how she’d have pegged him anywhere as a marketing guy, though he looked different now with his head shaved. Don had retained a full head of hair, but next to Tony’s stylish pate it seemed… well, Elvis-like. Sensing Don’s discomfort on encountering his former peer, she felt a stab of protectiveness and leaned closer.

Tony took her hands in his. “Alison, “ he said with a wink, “what’s a babe like you doing with an old dude like this?” Everybody laughed, and Tony did quick introductions: “Don and Alison Belt… my cousin Artie… Chris Dougherty—Chris, you and Don know each other, right? Tahoe, 2005. Or was it 2006?”

“2005,” said Don, squinting in the candlelight. His eyes were bothering him again. “Good to see you.”

Alison nodded. The Tahoe conference had been Tony’s show that year, but Don flew in to do a co-presentation on Temborta Pharmaceutical’s new generation of immunosuppressants. She’d tagged along to help host one of the cocktail parties. It was the same month Temborta forced Don into early retirement. She’d guessed wrong again—Dougherty was a doctor, not a trial lawyer. (Don would later call him a blow-hard from one of the Midwest nephrology groups.) Also wrong about his ancestry, batting zero in this silly game she liked to play with herself. “Were you one of the panelists?” she asked.

Chris chuckled. “Shit, no. I was there to play golf.” He shrugged and turned back to the men.

Time was, Alison remembered, when a physician would hesitate to gloat over a luxury vacation as the guest of a pharmaceutical giant. Her father, a Pittsburgh pediatrician, had seen it as a conflict. “Nothing’s free,” he liked to say, with conviction if not originality. This was oversimplification in Don’s opinion—the pharmas were supplying badly needed continuing education for busy docs. If it also cemented relationships, was that necessarily a bad thing? He and her dad had debated the subject for years. And in less than a generation the stigma was gone, coinciding with a sharp uptick in drugs prescribed. But Don’s career had benefitted from this development, and it was a little late to get on her high horse about it.

A busboy eyed them patiently, waiting to pass. Don had launched into an anecdote that could go on forever. She bent to Chris’ ear. “Just out of curiosity,” she whispered, “who were you so eager to fuck that you needed to make such a fuss earlier?”

He reared back, looked up. “What?”

Don, still carrying on, had overheard. He gripped her arm and quickly said their goodbyes. As they departed, Tony—divorced and newly retired, he’d mentioned—invited them over for drinks. To Alison’s surprise Don jumped on it. But of course it made sense to connect with someone outside the local real estate crew, despite the fact she wasn’t feeling social.

Don’s cell phone was pinging as they entered their condo, an old sailing buddy who’d just heard about the accident. Don waded in. By now he’d told the story dozens of times, clearly enjoying himself, though Alison knew the subject was still painful. She listened closely. With each retelling the tale altered. Sometimes Don gave her a prescient role, his voice affectionately mimicking her timbre: “I just have this feeling, Don…” Other times he embroidered on his issues with Jack. These variations disturbed her. What happened, happened. There were facts. As each recounting placed the events closer to myth, her own grasp weakened.

When he finally moved to another topic Alison stopped listening and wandered into the bedroom. At the dresser she considered herself in a mirror rimmed with seashells. No need anymore for this practical topknot, now that she was back on land. She took out the clip and shook her hair free. Maybe chin length, she thought, lifting the sides to get an idea. And maybe a different shade of blond, something closer to the natural gray. On the boat she’d rarely consulted a mirror—the distorting metal disk over the bathroom sink the only one on board—but there wasn’t much to see anyway. She’d basically worn the same thing daily and make-up was pointless. Yawning, Alison checked her phone, finding messages from both children. But it was too late to call Kristen and Tommy would be at the cafe by now. She’d heard people took personal calls at work these days, but it seemed awkward. What about his boss?

In bed she opened her favorite new read, recommended by a librarian who had quickly divined her tastes. The book was thoughtfully constructed, delving below France’s republican veneer to a hidden nation, tribal and diverse. The author, an English academic, had roamed the départements on a bicycle, finding antique dialects still in daily use, strange customs that went back centuries. Though she had little interest in riding a bike around France herself (or anywhere else for that matter), Alison was intrigued. On the tour they took to celebrate their twenty-fifth anniversary, she and Don never dreamed this other France existed. It might be fun to go back, explore on their own beyond the obvious attractions.

Something positive Alison could say for the boat was that it had given her time to discover books like this. Endless time as they dawdled, becalmed, along the coasts of Mexico and Peru. Not the how-to books she’d favored as a bride, nor the middle-age diversion of bestsellers, but what she now thought of as real books. There was little else to occupy her free hours except the beading projects all the expat wives engaged in. Everyone sported their handiwork—wristbands, headbands, belts. Squatting on deck with her vials of colored beads, Alison had occasionally imagined herself a Hopi squaw, with different tribal underpinnings—the cruiser community, as they’d called themselves.

“’Night,” sighed Don, climbing in beside her. She patted his rump as he turned toward the wall. He’s still struggling, she reminded herself. Couldn’t she be kinder, cut him more slack?

Don feigned sleep, as he often did these days. He didn’t feel much like talking, and anyway Alison was deep into her book. When she turned out her light he could roll onto his back, open his eyes again. Insomnia was new to him. Even back in Jersey, during the worst of Temborta’s internal marketing wars, sleep had been reliable. Not so for Alison, especially on the boat. She’d drift right off but rarely sleep the night. He’d find her on deck at dawn, where she’d evidently been for hours, staring at the stars. She blamed him for that, he suspected, as for much else. Like missing out on the early years of grandchildren, Kristen and her girls just an hour from the old house in Little Silver—a house Alison poured her heart into after Temborta gave him a division to run and stopped moving them around. And for selling that house before Tommy finished college. And probably for the fact that Tommy was still making nine bucks an hour.

The blame litany, plus the call from his buddy, led to yet another rehash of the disaster. He felt he should be over it but he wasn’t. Perhaps because he was still trying to understand how it could have happened: Jack asleep on watch, the ketch wandering into Cuban waters. It all came down to Jack. And he was sure that Alison held him responsible for Jack, for the grief, not to mention the money, he’d cost them. For the fact that he had nearly cost them their lives.

That was the part he was still trying to get his head around. Alison intuited a problem even before they left Ecuador, asked twice if he was sure. And he was. Jack had had a bad time of it, that’s all: a failed marriage and the loss of his younger daughter in Iraq, an unimaginable loss. He loved the guy. They went way back—summers at the marina scraping and painting, beers at the club. More beers for Jack, of course, though that issue had long since been addressed. Yet almost anyone would have been more reliable. And the first time Jack fell asleep on watch, so deeply he could barely be roused? Warning enough. They’d quizzed him about medications and Jack said no, won’t happen again. But they should have put in at Panama City, flown him home.

When Alison’s breathing slowed, Don rolled over. How they’d managed to get hung up on that reef he would never know. How, with Jack’s experience? Why had he given Jack a second chance when he knew damn well the route could be a challenge with the best of crews? He’d been taking double shifts, Alison pulling her weight too, and there was Jack asleep—again. What the hell, narcolepsy? Painkillers? Don knew well where they could lead. He’d reviewed the warnings a million times while negotiating with Legal to tone down the language on the marketing lit.

That horrible jolt as they rammed the reef, he and Alison stumbling up on deck, waves already hammering. The U.S. Coast Guard radioing back that they couldn’t enter Cuban territory unless the ketch was in imminent danger of capsizing. He’d never forget the terror in Alison’s face. Never. Or his own helplessness as he struggled to free The Best Revenge. Or that Cuban fishing boat putt-putting out at dawn to offer assistance—Jack now with chest pains, claiming he was having a heart attack. No way, he gasped, no way was he going to fucking Cuba! Alison on her knees trying to reason with him. Then the ketch breaking up, smoke in the engine room, the Coast Guard swooping in…

Jesus. Inviting Jack was inviting disaster—it was obvious!

At this point in his deliberations, Don usually gave up. But tonight he pressed on, closer to something. Because it wasn’t really for Jack’s sake he’d urged him to come him along. Impossible not to admit that, much as he’d been trying. No, it was for himself. Something to do with those progressive dinners, climbing boat-to-boat with canned cheese and soggy crackers, gabbing into the night with smug Swedes practically born to the sea and never letting you forget it. It was the sixty-three bootleg DVDs watched repeatedly during weeks tied up in bad weather… that ridiculous beaded anklet he’d agreed to wear… and Alison’s stoicism. That in particular. She’d never really taken to the life, and he needed a side-kick who shared his enthusiasm. He needed adventure.

Well, he’d certainly gotten that, hadn’t he. He shook his head and turned on his side, feeling the tension fade. The familiar scent of Alison’s lavender shampoo wafted by and he gently flattened his pillow so as not to disturb her. It would all work out. They’d find a place in Venice, eventually get a little craft to run around the bays in, something small (for it would have to be, what with the impossibility of insuring the ketch, the recession that wiped out half their investments). Find a place Alison liked and…

When Don began to snore Alison rose quietly, pulled on jeans and slipped outside. A gibbous moon was emerging from a string of clouds. She stepped off the deck. Twice before she’d done this. Apparently Don hadn’t missed her.

The beach had a wilder vibe at night, strange insect noises and dense vegetation bordering miles of dunes. The moon had thrown palm tree shadows across the cool sand. Alison, too, felt wilder—almost feral in the thrumming half-light. She picked her way along the tide line with its foot-high tangle of seaweed and shells. Families mined these piles for shark teeth, sold them to souvenir shops or took them home to Canada, Michigan. Yesterday she’d met a boy who collected over a thousand.

Sharks had been on her mind as she helped Don ready the rubber ponga for evacuation. It seemed so flimsy. Blood, she’d been thinking, if someone gets cut on the reef. Fog had settled over them, an important detail Don kept neglecting. Except for their orange life jackets they could hardly see one another. And then a whiff of acrid smoke, the first hint of a fire that would engulf the boat within minutes of their rescue. She’d bargained with a god she no longer believed in, using words she’d favored as a child: Help us and I will never ask for anything again. An instant later when the Coast Guard cutter loomed to starboard she’d let out a yelp, continued to scream until Don boosted her up the ladder—or so he’d claimed in telling his buddy tonight. She wondered if he was right about that. She recalled screaming once—as wouldn’t anyone who had prayed for deliverance and seen God blast from a fog—but did she keep on screaming? A young seaman hauled her aboard, she was sure of that. He had a mustache. Someone handed her a little cup of something, brandy?

Alison teased the water with a toe. How far could a person swim, she wondered, before encountering sharks. Her gaze tracked the moon over the waves. She conjured cartilaginous bodies, strained to see them catch the light.

In the morning, returning from a walk, Alison mentioned four dead rats on Harbor Drive. “Mice, maybe,” Don suggested. It was eleven o’clock and he was still in his pajamas.

“Mmnn, no. Definitely rats.” They were so desiccated she’d mistaken them for vegetation, almost stepped on one. “So I guess there’s a rat problem,” she said happily. “Not surprising, with all the boats.”

She made another pot of coffee and called Kristen, chatted for a bit with the little ones, then settled in for their customary weekend catch-up. Yes, it was warm for April, she mentioned, but the nights were cool. This morning, a hundred people doing yoga on the beach—quite a sight! But no, she admitted before passing the phone to Don—no, she wasn’t sure yet just what she wanted.

It wasn’t clear anymore. And why the rush? During years at sea she’d successfully numbed the habit of wanting. Yes, it would be nice to return to serious cooking, to see much more of Kristen’s girls, but what else? Getting reacquainted with desire took time.

“Why don’t we just continue renting, see how it goes?” she said that evening. The condo was clean and efficient. The snowbirds who owned it were gone until Christmas. But no, no, Don thought they should have a place of their own as soon as possible. Your own, as he put it. So maybe she’d have to settle, before the choice defaulted to Don.

Meanwhile she was walking off twenty pounds gained from too little exercise and nightly gin and tonics on the boat. She was wearing again the outgrown clothing periodically mailed from various ports to Kristen, for storage. But what she appreciated most was the solitude walking provided. The past four years had reminded her of what a gregarious person Don Belt was, how much he liked to talk. When they met at Penn State—at the end of her freshman, his senior year—and married the following spring, this was part of his appeal, a counterpoint to her shyness and reserve. They’d seen less of each other during the hyper-busy decades that followed, while Don scaled the corporate cliff, traveling constantly. She had worked part-time for awhile, but Don hadn’t wanted her to and they didn’t need the extra money. So she’d focused instead on mothering, becoming an accomplished hostess. She’d volunteered at the Red Cross and the animal shelter.

Her conversations with Don had boundaries back then. Dinner. Bedtime. Occasional weekends on the much smaller boats they’d bought whenever they could live near water. On The Best Revenge—a handsome ketch of forty-one feet, yet tight as living quarters go—her thoughts were always in danger of interruption. When Don wasn’t addressing her directly he talked to himself, laying out plans for the day, asking questions and answering them, assuming he had her ear. The constant chat made her fuzzy, disoriented. This had gotten mixed up with an established tendency toward insomnia, and more and more she found herself on deck in the wee hours, attempting to sort herself out. But every day there seemed less self to sort.

Sometime during that first year at sea it occurred to Alison she’d asked too little of life. Not that hers hadn’t been a very fortunate life—comfortable, secure, enviable in many respects. Who could complain? But she’d explored little beyond the roles of mother and corporate wife, roles embraced as a clueless twenty-year-old. Why hadn’t she been more curious? At fifty-nine, these roles behind her, she found herself essentially homeless, drowning in a lust she didn’t share. No one to blame but herself, of course. She’d agreed. Yet it felt like a breach of trust. The sea had not freed but bound her.

With a sense of finality she’d given over to the reefing of sails, the watches, the tiny and temperamental refrigerator. She performed mechanically the domestic chores that fell to her, as endless boat maintenance fell to Don. Attempting to learn Spanish had ended in failure—there were few opportunities to practice except forays ashore, where conversation was centered on gathering supplies. Her handful of Spanish-speaking cruiser acquaintances spoke perfect English.

Drifting along, Alison discovered almost by accident the joys of serious reading, a pastime Don seemed hesitant to interrupt. Books she ordered from an online library, unearthed in used bookshops at the larger ports, or mailed occasionally by Kristen. Books, a life preserver! Subjects that had bored her in school came suddenly alive: philosophy, geology, astronomy, the classics. A new world. Facts and ideas coursed through her expanding mind, where once had trickled her own rambling thoughts—thoughts she now regarded as shallow, inconsequential.

They’d been in Venice a month now. It worried Alison that half the state was for sale, but Don saw it as an advantage. With dozens of listings in their price range, Alison favored two: a refurbished fifties ranch and a newer Spanish style with lemon trees in the yard. Either would do if she were forced to choose. And neither was in a gated community, a term she found both offensive and ludicrous. Who did they think they were keeping out, she asked Don. He rolled his eyes but was inclined to agree.

Maybe it was just Florida. Everywhere were young people, but Florida made her feel old. Well, she was old, almost. What was possible, what was gone for good? “It’s totally up to you,” Don kept saying. Was it? What if she didn’t want a house anymore; what if she went back to school? Or how about spending a few months in the French Alps, a little chalet off-season when it wouldn’t be so expensive. Would he go for that? Doubtful. Don hated being landlocked. But surely somewhere, somehow, they could find common ground.

The luxury of solitude had prompted such thoughts. If only she felt able to bring them up. Don was regrouping again, but he knew who he was, had always known. He could still talk circles around her. The old confidence was coming back, one of his strongest traits before he got caught in the crossfire, lost the marketing wars. Before Temborta cast them adrift, as he’d grown fond of saying.

It was the sudden rupture of identity, Alison knew, that had made him insistent, enabled him to convince her a footloose life would suit them, feed their fantasies, sharpen their sailing skills. “The open sea,” he sighed the night he broached the idea of buying a ketch. Ever the marketing whiz, his arms spread wide as a preacher’s. “The wind in our faces, Alison. No claims on our time!” For weeks he’d been diminished, raging. It had hurt her so to see it. All his labor, this bitter disappointment. He deserved better.

Dubious at first, she heard him out. They’d spent that whole night talking, greeted morning with a walk and take-out coffee. She’d always enjoyed their sails together, though never with Don’s great passion—yet wasn’t it possible she could learn to love it in her own way? So she asked a lot of questions but hadn’t tried to dissuade him. She could make this work, couldn’t she? Don had looked at her with such love and gratitude then, his that’s-my-girl expression with which he’d often rewarded her efforts. A man on fire. Alive again.

But other than improved skills, little of what Don envisioned had come about. Not only for her but for him, too. Even before the accident. The dream had been desperation, with nobody’s best interest in mind but what he perceived to be his own. She couldn’t help resenting that. She’d left the beloved house, missed out on the early years of Kristen’s babies. And there was Tommy, a barista, when with a bit of fatherly guidance he might have sought something with more of a future. In the end, the boat hadn’t even made Don happy, not really.

Still, Alison felt oddly hopeful. Her soul seemed to be sailing back from whatever port she’d ditched it in. She could almost make it out on the horizon.

A few days after bumping into Tony Maggiore they visited his sprawling digs in a big development on the mainland. The huge saltwater pool took up half his double-height lanai, surrounded by mature jungle greenery. Alison scanned the treetops, half expecting monkeys. Big bucks, said Don later.

Tony swam daily, he told them as they sipped margaritas. “Love to swim,” he said, shaking his head in the cheerful, self-effacing way Alison remembered. It was evident in his taut body, accentuated by white clamdiggers and fitted polo shirt. Though Don was trim, life on the sea had given him a hunched, scalded look. And the bright Pacific light affected his eyes, a problem he was supposed to address but kept postponing. In truth, he appeared considerably older than Tony, though just a few years actually separated them.

“Tell me the whole story,” Tony insisted, with the same rapt attention he’d offered his clientele (a big part, Alison guessed, of his considerable success). Don swung into it, fueled by a second margarita. This time he mentioned squalls threatening from the southeast. Which turned out to be the least of their worries, he assured Tony, laughing heartily.

Alison frowned. She’d forgotten those squalls. But they’d never hit; instead, that awful fog. She watched Don straighten as he warmed to the familiar tale, the wind in his sails. Look, the old Don—the one who laughed so easily. And she wondered whether Tony Maggiore could read a proper chart when the computer failed or keep his head in a life-threatening emergency, like Don had. And she wondered why he and Pam had divorced.

As cocktails dragged on Alison worried they’d overstayed their welcome, but Don was having a good time and Tony seemed pleased to have them there. He twirled her in his entryway as they were leaving, jitterbug style, pulling her close at the end. “Babe,” he said, “you’re gonna love it here.”

Boomer! Don muttered to himself as they drove back over the causeway. Get your own wife! This was unreasonable and he knew it. Tony had always been a flirt—it meant nothing. He envied him for leaving Temborta on his own terms, along with enhanced stock options. Who wouldn’t? But good for Tony, he thought, his sense of fair play kicking in. Tony had earned every cent. Still, why was he hitting on Alison. Here in Florida a good-looking single guy must be besieged by women.

In the condo’s tiny kitchen Alison made sandwiches and iced tea. Don opened a beer, then another. Afterwards he went to bed, a little drunk, still brooding. The last thing in the world he wanted was to lose Alison—still his girl, his sweetheart—although Alison wasn’t threatening anything of the kind. She was attractive, always had been, but he was making mountains out of molehills. Lighten up, he told himself. You’re being ridiculous. Yet he couldn’t shake the sense of having wronged her, and it wasn’t clear how things could be made right again. Jersey was out, she understood that. And now Kristen was saying her accounting firm might transfer her out west. So hell, why wouldn’t he and Alison consider San Diego?

The idea grew on him. He floated it over drinks at the marina, a gorgeous sunset sinking behind Alison’s head. They’d had another long day of slogging through houses, and Luanne Lees was getting impatient. Frankly, so was he. Did Alison want a little garden? A pool? She wasn’t sure. C’mon!

“San Di-e–go,” Alison mused in the sing-song-y tone Don always found irritating. She worried her club soda with a straw. “Prices are still sky high out there, aren’t they? I doubt we could ever afford anything.”

Normally when Alison launched this barb, or one of its variations, Don winced inside but kept his face blank. So what was it? (Once too often, he guessed later. Or maybe just the gin.) His voice rose sharply. “Where, Alison. Just say it. Baha? Portland? Let me worry about affording it! Where the fuck do you want to live!!”

Along the bar people turned, eyebrows raised. Alison, too, was startled, knocked back on her stool. Gooood night, Don! What had come over him? She stared into his florid face as people returned to their conversations.

Okay, so now she was pissed, too. Baha, Portland. Always a coast! Maybe not, Don! But this obviously wasn’t the place to go at it. She might not possess his talent for persuasion, but she’d picked up a thing or two. And something was coming to her now, something she didn’t even known she’d been thinking.

“Well,” she began, keeping her tone level because she didn’t believe in public fights. “Remember… when Temborta sent us to Phoenix?” It was four years into their marriage, Kristen still an infant. They’d rented in a treeless tract miles outside town, beside a bone-dry arroyo that flooded twice a year.

“You’re not serious,” he snickered. “We loathed Phoenix.”

“True,” she said. “You, especially.” The arrogance was draining from his face, but it was too late. “That weekend we drove up to Sedona, though. Remember that? Oh my god the trees, Don, those Ponderosa pines! And the desert stretching out hundreds and hundreds of miles…” She flung her arms wide, upsetting what little was left of her club soda.

From the corner of her eye Alison watched a sardonic smile twitch her husband’s mouth as she dabbed the bar with a cocktail napkin. She watched him puff his cheeks and blow out softly to get rid of it, his expression a warring jumble of resistance and what else… recognition? She felt a little sorry for him then. But she’d leave things there, a bulkhead, until she could be sure she knew her mind.

Juditha Dowd
Juditha Dowd’s prose and poetry has appeared in The Florida Review, Philadelphia Stories, Kestrel, Ruminate, and elsewhere. Her latest poetry collection, Mango in Winter, is available from Grayson Books. She is a member of the Cool Women ensemble, performing poetry in the New York-Philadelphia metro area and on the west coast. Read our interview with Juditha at

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