"Cold Ocean" by Richard Burgin

“Hi there,” she said in a Mid-western friendly voice.  “How’s the water?”

“Great,” he said, “cold but great.  You should go in.”

“I’ve been in already.  I was in this morning.”


“Now that’s when the water was really cold.”

Barry laughed.  For some reason he wanted to please this woman, in part because her body was good (nice shapely breasts and legs, although her thighs looked a little slack and fleshy) but also because she seemed so innocent and friendly standing there in front of him in her white suit.  He thought Harvey would approve.

“Do you come here a lot?” he asked, shifting his weight so that one foot dug in a little deeper in the sand.

“Almost every day.  I guess I’m a real beach bum.”

He looked at her face and especially her neck to try to figure out how old she was.  He wished she would take her sunglasses off, but since she was keeping them on he concentrated on her neck because he’d read somewhere that that was the best indicator of age, the hardest place to camouflage.

“Are you from here originally?” Barry said, continuing to interview her.

“Yah, I’m a Chicago girl.  I was out in the suburbs in Winnetka for a time and then I taught for a while in Santa Barbara.”

“Santa Barbara,” he said, thinking of his mother and the times they’d been there.  “Santa Barbara is beautiful.”

“It sure is.  But you know what, it’s beautiful here too.”

“Oh of course.  What were you teaching?”

She told him but it didn’t make sense.  It was some subject in which the words “communication” and “ontology” both occurred.   Then, suddenly, she took off her sunglasses and extended her hand.

“I’m Marianne Brodney,” she said, with the same guileless smile on her face.

He smiled too as he shook hands with her.  She was definitely older than he thought.  Her face had aged more than her body, although it was a pleasant face with gray-blue eyes.  Her hair, which was almost certainly dyed, was a mix of blond and gray and a little on the thin side.

“I’m Bill, Bill Gordon,” he said, giving her a fake name without exactly knowing why.  He was thinking now that she might be anywhere from 45 to her early 50’s, but he tried not to stare too hard at her.  He asked her when she was in Santa Barbara to see if their time there had overlapped.

“Let’s see,” she said, “I’m 56 now and I was 35 then, so it must have been in 1982.”

He told her he was there the year before or maybe the year after.  He was thinking that she was even older than his mother would have been but there she was hand on her hip, apparently flirting with him, although with these friendly Midwesterners it was sometimes hard to tell.  She continued talking affably about her experiences teaching in a community college in Long Island.  There wasn’t a trace of self-consciousness in her.  Everything was said in a straightforward way, although when she told him her age there was more than a little trace of pride in her voice.

He had to admit he wasn’t listening very carefully to what she was saying.  The shock of her age (23 years older than him) and the way she was now clearly flirting with him and then, of course, the issue of what he was going to do about it, were preoccupying him.

“How long are you in town for?” she asked.

“A few days, probably,” he said, seeing a brief look of disappointment on her face.  “Maybe more.  I’m playing it by ear.”

“That’s a good way to play things.”

“It’s always been my way,” he said, pleased with the way that sounded.

“Mine too, when I have the guts to do it,” she said laughing.  “Is this your first time in Chicago?”

“Actually, it is.  I’ve traveled quite a bit but for some reason I never got around to coming here.”

“Is that a slight east coast accent I detect?”


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Per Contra Fiction - Winter 2006