Danny Lanzetta

Author | Writer | Teacher

A few weeks after he got back from Pittsburgh, Roger took his family to the Beach and Tennis Club in Rye. They belonged because it had a pool. (All three were competent tennis players as well.) He hated the place but knew that once the warm weather hit, he’d be spending most of his weekends there. It was May, and the first good weather weekend of the season, so the club would be mobbed. Every asshole had the same idea.

He was sitting in the den watching television, waiting for them to get ready. He’d called out moments earlier to see how close they were to leaving. He wondered what was taking so long, especially for his wife. She’d been wearing the same outfit to the club the past ten years or so (ever since acknowledging the baby weight as a permanent fixture), the same solid, purple one-piece with sweat shorts and a tee-shirt covering her at all times she wasn’t in the water. But when she came into the den, she was wearing something new, still a one-piece but pink, almost neon, bound to attract more attention than usual. She was wearing shorts but no shirt. Sunglasses covered her eyes.

“New suit?”
“Yeah. I figured, ‘Why not?’ You know, I lost ten pounds this winter.”
“Really? That’s great. I thought I noticed something.”
“No, you didn’t. But you’re sweet to pretend.” She kissed her husband on the cheek. “I’m going out to the car. Tell your daughter to hurry up.”

Brenda left toting a canvas bag of towels, water, and sunscreen. As she was going through the front door, he yelled out to her, “Should I bring the rackets?” But she was already gone. He decided to grab them anyway from the storage closet in the den. When he slid the door open, he saw a mess of random things. He had to step inside and start rooting around. Immediately, he regretted the idea. “This place is a nightmare,” he said out loud.

“Dad, who are you talking to?”

He looked behind him and saw his daughter. She had the rackets. She was holding two in one hand and twirling the other over a bare shoulder. She too had always worn a one-piece but now was in a navy blue, strapless bikini. He couldn’t help but notice how long and lean she’d become. There was so much area between the top and bottom of the suit, a clean, white rectangle of open space stretched tautly against the curl of small but visible muscle. Tiny, white polka-dots danced in random clusters around the suit. It was her body at the beginning of its ascent, youth brashly announcing itself, a debutante coming out.

“You,” he said, with some effort. “Let’s get going.”

At the club, Anna went straight for the pool. Brenda said she wanted to get some color at the beach. Roger, in his usual club attire of black jeans and t-shirt, said he was going with Anna. He hated the sand.

“Suit yourself,” Brenda said, a kind of flirty chirp as she headed off, the beach bag swinging jauntily from her wrist.

Anna dropped her towel off at the table and dove right into the deep end of the pool. Roger sat down and took out his book. She swam in the lane closest to where he sat, and he got caught up watching her, the graceful, rhythmic redundancy of her athleticism, almost no deviation in motion or speed unless she was consciously picking up the pace. She swam one way, touched the wall. Flipped into a flawless, slithering streamline. Swam the other way, touched the wall. Back and forth like that, over and over again, the delicate skin of the water barely rippling beneath her long legs (a curious genetic divergence), fluttering subcutaneously and in soundless concert with each overhead stroke and alternating breath. He counted ten back-and-forth pool lengths before she threw her arms over the side of the pool and rested against the wall, hardly breathing any differently than if she’d just woken from a nap.

“So?” she said.
“What?” He wasn’t sure what she was asking.
“How’d I do?”
“Oh, I don’t know. I’m certainly no expert on swimming.”
“Oh, come on. I saw you watching me. You must have some sort of critique. You always do.”
“It’s really not my area. But I thought you looked great out there.”
“Really? It wasn’t too choppy?”
“Not at all.”
“Well, I can really only do freestyle right now. I’m going to work on the butterfly over the summer ’cause that’s the one everyone sucks at. It’s the hardest. Anyway, I’ve got to become more diverse if I want to make the team.”
“The team?”
“Yeah. Next year. Got to do something to take the place of drama.” And with that, she was off into the pool again before he could respond.

He should’ve pushed her toward swimming to begin with now that he thought about it. She was made for it. One look at her body – he felt certain that the sturdy elegance of her limbs must be unusual in someone her age – told him that. But he’d never really looked at her before. And as she continued swimming, he realized that the impression her appearance left on him was something new; the recognition of how her sixteen-year-old body was built to slice through water wasn’t something he could’ve known before today, before the new bikini, before she accidentally became a woman.
He didn’t care if she was an actress anyway. He just wanted her to be happy. Whatever she chose to do was fine by him, as long as it would make her feel good about herself.
That, too, was a new feeling.

“Hey,” Brenda said.
“Hey. What happened?” He was startled to see his wife.
“Ahh. The beach is packed. There’s not really a great spot to stretch out. I’m going for a swim. Maybe we can play a set when I’m done. I brought your shorts just in case you wanted to play. They’re in the bag,” she said, indicating the tote she was still carrying. She put it down on the chair next to his. “Can you just keep an eye on that for me while I take a dip?”
“Well, OK. But what if someone wants to use the chair?”
“Well then, move it, silly goose,” she said, playfully shaking her head at how helpless he could be sometimes. She patted him on the head. “What would you ever do without me?”

She was always happier at the club.
Both his wife and daughter swam for the next half-hour or so, Anna continuing her exhibition of youthful buoyancy, Brenda more clumsily, but with that indefatigable air of dogged pursuit he’d occasionally spoken of with a husband’s dutiful admiration. He remembered one business trip in particular, a few years after they were married. A bunch of executives and clients were sitting in the hotel lounge, talking about their spouses. Someone asked about Brenda, what it was that had initially attracted him to her. He paused for a moment. Then he said, “She just will never quit. When she wants something, she goes and gets it, by golly.” They all clinked their glasses to Brenda’s constancy. It was something which, at that moment, with that particular group of people, seemed totally false, like something he’d come up with a long time ago, an old aphorism he’d never bothered to update. He was caught off-guard. He wasn’t in the habit of isolating Brenda’s characteristics. He had to think hard to come up with something to say about her to the group of strangers, not because he didn’t love her or believe she was a wonderful woman. But up until then, he’d simply loved her in totality, had never been tasked with pinpointing the what and why, a quality or qualities that, when added to many others – good, bad, and everything else – equaled the woman he fell for, was committed to, would remain with. It was odd to think of her that way. And yet, in some regard, that’s what she was, him too, everyone else: an accumulation of qualities, some real, others occasional. Imaginative, even.

“We’re done in the pool for a little while. You want to get a snack?”

His wife and daughter were standing in front of him, side-by-side, towels around their waists. Brenda dripped water heavily on the pool deck like it was running away from her. Anna appeared nearly dry except for her hair and little bubbled drops at various moments of skin. He felt like he was seeing them all at once.

“Um, I think I’ll stay here. Keep reading. I’m at a good part.”
 “OK. You sure? You want us to bring you something back?”
“OK. Yeah. I’ll take a hamburger.”
“Yes. And mayonnaise.”
“On a hamburger?”
“Yes. Is that so weird?”
“A little. I think it’s French. Is it French?”
“I don’t care what it is. That’s what I want.”
“OK. You got it.”
“Oh, and some French fries.”
“Really? They’re kind of like Nathan’s, remember? The thick ones. The ones you don’t like.”
“Yeah, that’s OK. Get them anyway. They’re still variety for the mouth.”
“Ha. Well, OK. But you should only eat French fries as a treat. What’s the point if you don’t even like them?”
“I think I’ll survive.”
“All right. Mayonnaise and French fries. You know, you’re not thirty anymore.”
“Both of you go. You’re distracting me from my book.”
“OK, OK.”

There are certain thoughts that are invasions, thoughts that cease to be raw material and become, perhaps, what every thought intends in the first place, no longer accident or possibility but permanent inscription, no longer means but end, and often the transition is impossible to detect, it occurs the way a day or an hour or a minute comes and goes, time’s incessant carnage springing from the most unassuming assault, never was, never will be, just is and is and is, and in that is is constant thinking, much of which can be discarded, love, murder, fear, thrill, god, sex, sleep, even bald truth is allowed to come and go as it pleases so versed is the thinker in cutting down what cannot fit comfortably alongside that which has already been assumed, often for no other reason than it got there first, the most arbitrary of filters. But some thoughts cannot be dissuaded, a very few are more powerful than their masters, a very occasional one is of such religious insistence the thinker is forced to live with it, around it, in service to it. Or lie. There are no other possibilities once the rogue has taken root. Often it is the stuff of revelation. Sometimes it can be gradually incorporated. And yet occasionally, it is of a dread so calamitous that the recognition is the sprouting of a malignancy unlike any other, a hellish learning that human beings, equipped with only two real defenses, aloneness and society (an excruciating duality), can never fully rectify. Roger thought of the moment when a person might look up and realize that something very heavy was about to fall and kill him. He would almost certainly still hold up his hands in a comical, last-ditch effort to resist death or, at the very least, the force of the impact. He looked at his hands, which were somehow still holding onto his book. His hands were shaking. He dropped the book on the table.

“Here’s your hamburger,” Anna said when she returned without Brenda, a mingled fragrance of chlorine and honeyed sweat rising from her neck as she bent near him and set down the plate. “Ketchup and mayonnaise. But they were out of French fries. You’ll have to get your ‘mouth variety,’ or whatever you said, some other way.”
(I am doomed.)