"Cold Ocean" by Richard Burgin

“From Boston originally,” he said.  He always said Boston, never Brookline, the town next to it where he was really born.

“So, are you here on business, pleasure or some combination?”

He knew where this was going.  She wanted to know what his job was just as if she were researching him as a potential date on the Internet.

“Strictly for pleasure.  I’m fortunately in a financial position where I don’t have to work, at least not at any kind of job.  I’m a writer.”

“Really?” she said, not as if she doubted him, but as if he impressed her.  He felt the first stirrings of an erection, nothing overwhelming, but pleasant nonetheless.

“What kind of writing do you do?”

“I’m a novelist and film-script writer, and I also write some on the philosophy of aesthetics.”

She made a sound to show she was impressed.

He wondered if he should have added the last part.  She was an academic and might know about Aesthetics.  But he did, too, a little.  He had to remind himself it was just that he didn’t have the degree – and what did degrees have to do with knowledge?  Nothing, nada.  Had there ever been a professor that he couldn’t keep up with who didn’t assume that he was a professor himself, as well as a well-published author?  Degrees meant nothing; book contracts meant nothing either as far as the quality of one’s work was concerned.  He of all people should know that, he reminded himself.  Degrees and book contracts were part of the same disease, the same self-validation complex that obsessed America.  Why did he even bother to debate this in his mind any longer with one foot now dug in fairly firmly in the sand as he faced this 56 year old freak of nature with her 35 year old body, stretching and putting her hand on her hip, patting herself constantly in different places like a used car salesman showing off his latest car.

She was asking him if he had taught anywhere.

“Mostly in France and a little bit in New York.  I actually prefer not to teach unless it’s a special situation.  Not that I don’t have great respect for teachers and the profession, I do,” he added quickly after seeing that fleeting look of disappointment pass over her again.  “It’s just that my writing projects have become increasingly demanding and time consuming.”

“Wow, that’s really exciting.  Where can I get one of your books?”

“I’ll send you one.”

“Oh no…”

“But of course I will.  You just have to give me your address, that’s all.”

“O.K.  Well that’s exciting.  I’ll give you my address and you’ll lend me one of your books.”

“I’ll give you one of my books.”

“That’s really generous of you,” she said.  She seemed to mean it and he felt his erection stiffen another notch.  She stopped talking then, and he stood there without saying anything either.  Then she asked him if he wanted to go in the water with her, something that he once again hadn’t foreseen.  Barry looked at the lake – the water was difficult for him because he and his mother had always taken vacations near the water except for their time in Paris together.  Even then they’d taken a trip to the South of France and went swimming there.

“I don’t know, it’s pretty cold.”

“Come on,” she said, grabbing his hand for a second, “it will be fun.”

She let go of his hand then and ran into the water. He watched her from behind.  Then he ran in after her and soon was swimming next to her.  They were both laughing and talking louder than they needed to.  There were only two or three other people in the water yet Marianne and he were talking as if airplanes were roaring overhead.  For a few seconds they even splashed each other.  She splashed him first (which was surprising) and he splashed her back.

When they separated for a while he sensed that she wanted him to watch her swim so he did.  As he suspected she was very athletic.  She was a better swimmer than him.  It made him smile, but feel strangely challenged at the same time, even angry.  It was somewhat disturbing and he headed back to shore.


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Per Contra Fiction - Winter 2006