"Cold Ocean" by Richard Burgin

They both talked about how great it felt after they came in from the water but they stood apart from each other while they toweled off.  She started chattering again.  For the first time he felt she might be nervous.  She was making a list of places he had to go to in Chicago before he left.  The Art Institute, of course, and The Field Museum and also the Aquarium and Buckingham Fountain and The Hancock Observatory which had a better view of the city than the Sears Tower, though the Sears Tower was taller, and The Jazz Record Mart which had one of the best jazz collections in the world and The Art Museum and then there was always The White Sox and The Cubs.

“Do you like baseball?” she asked.


She looked straight at him for a few seconds, then down at her pocketbook she was holding.  “I’m looking for a piece of paper and a pen so I can give you my address,” she said, “and I can’t seem to find either.”

“Do you live in an apartment or…”

“I live in a condominium, just three blocks away.”

“A condominium on Lake Shore Drive.  Not bad.”

“Near Lake Shore Drive, not exactly on it.  But it’s only about three blocks away.”

“Still not bad.  How about when you’re ready to leave, I’ll walk you home and then I’ll see where you live and get your address that way?” 

This time she looked surprised.

“That’s a good idea,” she said, “let’s do it.”

He smiled too.  He was impressed at how bold he was being and felt pleased with himself again.  “If you have some kind of doorman I could even get it on paper.”

“I’m sure we can manage that,” she said smiling.

It was kind of exciting in a way to think of a 56-year-old woman going down to the beach trying to pick up younger men as he imagined she did, men young enough to be her sons.  Testing her mettle every day on the beach with her body – was it still good enough to attract the young ones and then, later, was it good enough to satisfy them? 

Ten or fifteen minutes later, he decided to leave the beach, and he went back to the tunnel to change into his clothes.

“Here’s your last chance to leave,” Barry said, laughing, although he didn’t think he’d said it loud enough for her to hear.  He didn’t know what he wanted to do – he had contradictory impulses, which were upsetting him so he was surprised that while he was changing he was hurrying as if he was afraid she’d leave.  When he finally finished and left the tunnel he looked out and waved at her and she immediately waved back.  Strange, he thought, the little dance of manners that preceded sex, especially sex with someone for the first time, as if people had to reassure themselves that even at their most animalistic they retained their essential human identity.

He began walking next to her, she in her white terry cloth robe, he back in his green shirt and black pants.  She continued to supply the conversation in her even keeled way although it was more sporadic now and more quiet.

“There’s my building,” she said, pointing to it when they were less than a block away.

“Very spiffy,” he said.  He considered himself a quick study and was now pretty good at midwestern affability himself.  He decided he wouldn’t say no to her but that she would have to make the first move.  There was a small possibility that he’d misread the situation and he didn’t want to embarrass himself, not in the fragile state he was in.

“Would you like to see it?” she said, looking directly at him with only a trace of a smile.

“Sure, I’d like that.”  He passed the doorman, a guy about his age in an uncomfortable looking uniform.  He wondered how many times he’d seen men going upstairs with Marianne before, and even looked to his face as if for an answer, though his face gave away nothing.

In the elevator they stood a polite distance apart.

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Per Contra Fiction - Winter 2006