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To Raise a Storm

by Gary Inbinder

Steve walked along the pavement separating the beach from the coast highway, wincing as stinging cold droplets splatter-smacked his breeze-ruddied face. Sounds of rumbling thunder, banshee-keening wind, rock-bashing surf and crying seabirds mingled with the engine-humming, gravel-crunching, puddle-splashing and horn-honking early evening rush-hour traffic.

A dog barked; turning his head toward the shoreline, Steve saw a lone jogger and her little yellow mutt sprint through pelting raindrops, and then turn up a bicycle path toward the shelter of an underpass.

Lightning flashed above a rocky bluff, pointing its fiery platinum yellow finger at the Lighthouse restaurant and bar. Arriving at the Lighthouse, Steve saw Denise sheltering under a portico and smoking a cigarette. Steve greeted her; “I hope you haven’t been waiting long?”

Turning toward Steve, Denise replied, “No, I just got here myself.” Flicking away her half-finished cigarette, she added, “A storm is coming.”

Denise stood five-foot six in her three-inch heels. The wind blew strands of long, straight black hair into her eyes; she impatiently brushed them aside. An open three-quarter length chocolate-brown leather jacket revealed a short, leopard skin pattern dress, lending her a catlike appearance. A black, grained calfskin purse hung from one shoulder on a golden chain; musky perfume mingled with the smell of tanned hide and cigarette smoke.

Steve kissed her gently; Denise’s animal heat and feline eyes, glowing like tiny emerald flames in a pool of glass, radiated warmth amid the damp chill. Putting his arm around Denise’s waist, he said, “Let’s go in.”

Entering the dimly lit restaurant, Steve noticed a few patrons sitting at tables, and an empty bar. The Dixie Chicks’ “I Can Love You Better” played softly in the background. They walked to the bar, seating themselves at the end closest to the plate-glass window facing the ocean.

The bartender, a tall, slender, black woman in her early thirties, approached them. She wore a wedding ring, but Steve knew she was single; the diamond discouraged barroom predators.

Steve smiled, and said, “Hi Missy-I’ll have my usual: eighteen year old MacCallan, neat, and for Denise, a Bombay Sapphire and tonic with a twist.”

Denise grumbled, “Have I become that predictable?”

Steve answered, “You always get Bombay Sapphire and tonic.”

“Maybe tonight I want something different.” Missy and Denise smirked at one another. “I’ll have an Absolut and tonic, with a twist.”

Missy repeated the order, “MacCallan neat, and Absolut and tonic. Nice to see you again, Steve.”

“Yeah, nice to see you too, Missy.” Missy went to get the drinks and start a tab. Steve turned to Denise and whispered, “What was that all about?”

“It’s a girl thing. Deal with it.”

Steve glared at her. “Fine: suit yourself.”

Troubled by Denise’s attitude, Steve looked through the window at the turbulent sanguinary sea, viridian sky and deep purple clouds. White caps battered the limestone jetty, spraying skyward as they broke on the iron-gray rocks; raindrops spattered furiously against the windows and the roof. Nature, he thought, can be one angry mother.

Missy brought their drinks. Steve turned to Denise, and said, “Let’s leave after we finish these.”

Denise took a sip of her Absolut and tonic; without looking at Steve, she mumbled, “Right.”

Steve gestured to get Missy’s attention. “We’ll close the tab; weather’s getting ugly.” Steve glanced at Denise, wondering if she was thinking about Mark.

Mark and Denise had been married almost two years; Steve was best man at their wedding. Steve and Denise began their relationship six months earlier. Whenever Mark went out of town on one of his frequent business trips, Steve and Denise were together. Once fun, this arrangement was growing stale.

Steve looked at his watch. “Time to go,” he said. “Do you want to use the restroom?”

“Yes, I’ll meet you at the front door.”

“Okay, I’m going to make a stop, myself.”

Steve viewed himself in the restroom mirror, pleased with his reflection: thirty-seven, tall, strong regular features, short dark brown hair and blue-green eyes. He purchased designer suits, shoes and accessories at exclusive Rodeo Drive shops. General Counsel for a major corporation, with a high six-figure income, he seldom thought deeply about anything not related to his career. Non-work related things he arranged superficially, neatly placing them in subordinate categories; for example, he filed Denise in a folder labeled “recreation.”

The storm intensified; Steve exited the front door, shivering in the wind. Far below the steep cliff-side, roaring breakers slammed against the jetty. He blinked as lightning flashed and shuddered as a blast of stun-grenade thunder sent shockwaves rippling across the parking lot.

Denise joined Steve, opened her purse and pressed the electronic car key. They held onto one another, running to the new, white Jaguar coupe, Denise’s birthday present from Mark. She started the engine, turned on the wipers and lights, put the car in gear, and raced out of the parking lot onto the coast road.

Denise sulked as she drove toward the canyon turn-off. Steve asked, “Something’s bothering you; what’s your problem?”

My problem? Oh, that’s good. I’m here in the storm of the century with the world’s greatest jerk. That’s my problem.”

Perplexed for a moment, Steve responded, “Alright; I think I get it. Have you been talking to Missy?”

“What does Missy have to do with it? You and my husband are two of a kind; money and power get you anything you want.”

They reached the canyon road turn off; Denise made a hazardous left-turn against oncoming traffic. A truck sounded its horn; they experienced a death-defying near miss. A barrier blocked entry to the road, and Denise drove through it.

“Are you insane?” Steve yelped, “You’re going to get us both killed.”

They entered a dark, flooded canyon. Denise muttered, “Get us both killed? Like that would be a great loss.” She pulled the Jaguar to the side of the road, and shouted, “Get out of the car. Now.”

“You are insane. We’re in a flooded canyon in the middle of a frigging typhoon. Turn the car around and go back to the Lighthouse. Better yet, let’s switch places and I’ll drive.”

Denise beat Steve with her fists. “Get out of my goddamned car. If I’m going to die, you’re the second to last person on earth I want to die with.”

Steve fended off Denise’s blows with his left hand, opened the car door with his right, and got out. He slammed the door as hard as he could, and kicked it for emphasis. “Go ahead and kill yourself. As if I or anyone else cares.”

Denise gunned the engine, put the Jaguar in gear, and floored the pedal. The car took off down the waterlogged road, the rear end fishtailing, the wheels splashing Steve with mud, pebbles and rainwater. Steve watched the two little red taillights as they disappeared into the darkness. Breathing heavily and shaking with anger-infused adrenalin, Steve tried to calm down, and began walking toward the coast road.

Battered by the rain, his drenched shoes slipping on the flooded pavement, Steve gingerly worked his way down the canyon, imagining imminent burial alive by mud and rockslides, or drowning in the swift current.

He stumbled over the road-kill carcass of a large, eviscerated opossum, tripped and fell forward, partially breaking the fall with his hands, and skinning them in the process. He also skinned his knees, ripping a hole in his right pants leg.

After half an hour, Steve reached the coast road, wading through the knee-deep flood at the canyon’s mouth. Seeing the signs down, traffic lights out, and the pedestrian underpass overflowing, he ran across the highway. Steve trembled as breakers threw spray beyond the beach, onto the roadway. He envisioned a great wave dragging him out to sea and swallowing him whole, like Jonah in the jaws of the whale.

Drenched, filthy and exhausted, Steve reached the Lighthouse door. He noticed a couple of cars in the lot; dim light shone through gaps in the shuttered windows. He banged on the locked door, yelling, “Is anyone there? Please let me in.”

Javier, the owner, came to the door, opening it cautiously. Recognizing Steve, he said, “Come in.” When Javier got a good look at Steve, he exclaimed, “My God, have you been in an accident?”

Steve reassured Javier, however he thought to himself what happened was no accident.

Missy came to him, and said, “Steve, you look awful. Where’s Denise?”

“Denise and I had an argument; she threw me out of the car. She kept driving up the canyon. It’s very dangerous. I need to call the police and make a report.”

“You can’t call now; the phones are dead, and cell phones don’t work either. Power’s out too; we’re running on generator. Everyone’s gone except me and Javier, and a homeless guy we let in. He’s over there.” Missy pointed to a homeless man at a table, drinking coffee and eating a hot meal. “I guess you’re our second ‘charity’ case; we’re going to wait it out until morning. In the meantime, you’d better take off those wet things and eat some food. Javier has some clean work clothes that will fit you.”

“Thanks Missy; that would be great.”

After drying himself, changing, and eating, he felt better; the rough caress of Javier’s jeans and flannel shirt gave him a welcome feeling of intimacy and warmth.

Steve sat at the bar, staring at his reflection in the mirror. He glanced at the homeless man, who, having finished his meal slept in a corner, under one of the tables.

Missy sat in the chair next to his. “Are you okay, Steve?” she asked.

“Yes, thanks to you and Javier. But I’m worried about Denise; you have no idea what it’s like in that canyon.”

“I can imagine. Do you want to talk about it?”

“Not really. It’s over between me and Denise.”

“Steve, Denise sometimes came here alone, without you or Mark. Did you know that?”

“No, I didn’t; but it explains a lot. I suppose she talked to you. Told you things, at least from her perspective?”

“Yes, she did. You really hurt her.”

Steve looked directly into Missy’s eyes. She appeared serious, yet, at the same time, sympathetic. Steve wanted to say something exculpatory; instead, he said, “I know. I’m sorry.”

Missy touched his hand lightly, and replied, “I’m sure you are.”

Steve recognized an opportunity. “You and Javier have been very kind; I owe you. To keep this from being a total loss, will you please let me pay for the meals, including for the homeless guy? And if Javier needs any legal help with insurance, storm damage, or anything like that, I’ll see that he gets it pro bono.”

“That’s very nice of you Steve; I’m sure Javier will be grateful.”

“Also, how about setting up a round of drinks on me?” Steve turned toward the homeless man. “I mean a round for you, Javier, and me. I think we can let the homeless guy sleep, don’t you?”

“Sure thing; eighteen year old MacCallan, neat, coming up.”

Steve sipped his scotch with greedy delight; it flowed down his throat, settling in his stomach, radiating warmth throughout his body: smooth, and intoxicating, like Denise’s last kiss. “Missy, if I ask you something — something about your perception of me — will you promise to be honest?”

Missy smiled at him from behind the bar, and poured another scotch. “Sure thing; ask away.”

“Do you think I’m a jerk?”

“Steve, to be perfectly honest at times you do come across that way.”

Steve pondered Missy’s response, and then posed a follow-up question. “Assuming what you say is true; do you think there’s a possibility for improvement? I mean, do you think there’s hope for a change in that perception?”

Missy smiled, handed him the drink, brushed Steve’s hand with her fingers, and answered, “Maybe.”

At that moment, the Lighthouse exploded; a giant wave crashed through the plate-glass window sending a thousand, razor-sharp shards flying through the bar.

The following morning the police cordoned the area. Nothing was left of the Lighthouse and its occupants except for a pile of rubble on the edge of a partially washed-away cliff. Denise parked her Jaguar near the barricade, got out and surveyed the wreckage. In her left hand, she held an ancient leather-bound book.

Opening the timeworn tome, she turned to page one hundred, headed “To Raise a Storm at Sea.” After tearing the leaf from its binding, Denise carefully folded it into a paper airplane, tested the wind’s direction and then sent her little glider soaring over the edge of the precipice. She watched as the scrap drifted, swirling in the salty gusts, floating and then spiraling downward until swallowed by the roiling surf. A fleck of salt-spray stung her right eye. Wiping away a teardrop, she whispered, “I’m sorry, Missy; forgive me.”

An officer approached Denise, ordering her to move the car. She returned to the Jaguar, spell-book in hand, and drove up the coast road to the canyon turn-off.

Clouds dissipated; sunlight sparkled on the calm, cerulean sea; a flock of noisy gulls circled overhead.

Copyright © 2006 by Gary Inbinder

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