"Cold Ocean" by Richard Burgin

“I live on the top floor,” she said, with an expression that was part proud, part embarrassed, as if she knew he was wondering how a divorced teacher could afford such a place.

Barry nodded to show he was impressed, and when he first saw her condo, white and airy and spacious with a panoramic view from her picture window of Lake Michigan and the very beach he’d been on a few minutes ago, he said, “It’s beautiful.”  She put her pocket book on a glass table in the living room.  She had a lot of glass furniture.  He considered making a joke about The Glass Menagerie, but thought better of it.  Instead he pointed to a dark wooden sculpture that looked to be African and asked her about it.

“Don’t you love it?  I got that on a trip to Kenya.  I had a wonderful time in Africa, went on a safari, went in the jungle, did everything, the works.”

“I’m coming to the conclusion that I’m very lucky to have met you in Chicago since you travel more than anyone I know.”

“Really?  I feel like I’m home a lot.  Anyway, I’ve never lived in any place as glamorous as you when you were in Paris all those years.  And all the famous people you met – Gore Vidal, Susan Sontag and Beckett, didn’t you say Beckett?”

“Yes.  I knew him when I was very young.”

“God, what was he like?  I used to teach ‘Godot’ to my students in Winnetka.”

“Beckett is…sui generis,” he said with a strong but not overly grand gesture, hoping the phrase and the gesture would put a halt to too many more questions about Beckett whom he’d never met.  Though he could have, he thought, he should have.  He knew someone in Paris who had met him.  Actually he should have had a father like Beckett, someone wise and ethical and brilliant and … sui generis.  He would have known how to handle his mother, known how to give him some space from her when she got hysterical and was all over him, which was at least half the time.

“That’s the difference between you and me,” Marianne was saying with a smile. “I teach the writers to my class and you know them and are one yourself.”

He laughed along with her.  They were standing at opposite sides of the living room.  He beside the wooden sculpture and the glass table and she in front of the large pink sofa underneath her picture window.  He wondered vaguely what Harvey would think of her apartment and of this situation in general.  It would be nice in a way if Harvey was also in the apartment, for a few minutes anyway.

He moved a few steps closer, and she said, “Do you think it’s too early in the day for a drink?”

“Not for me it isn’t,” he said, and she laughed as if he’d said something brilliant and witty.

“I’ll go get them,” she said, still smiling at him, not quite blushing, but something close to it.  She promptly walked into the kitchen and returned with a bottle of champagne and two glasses.  She set everything down on the low rectangular glass table in front of the pink sofa.

“Would you like to open?” she said, gesturing towards him with the bottle and opener in her hand.

“I’m afraid I’m completely inept at that.  You’ll have a much better chance of success if you do it.”

She smiled, she was amenable to everything.  He liked that.  He thought one glass might be enough.  She poured well too, just a little overflowed.

“To us,” she said, as their glasses clinked.

“Gee, champagne.  I feel like a king,” he said, as they both put down their glasses.

“You are a king to me.”

Their hands touched.  He was feeling strangely happy like his soul was made of champagne.  He reached back for his glass and swallowed the rest of it.


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Per Contra Fiction - Winter 2006