The glow of the screen was the only light in the room. Its hollow light fell onto his fingers,
hovering over the keyboard, giving them a slightly ghostly hue. “Please,” she said, almost
whispering, cringing a little, as she approached him. He had spent the entire evening working on
the email, like a warrior sharpening an arrow. It had crossed her mind to switch the router off,
but she had thought the better of it. It was his call. But there was no dodging this thing once it
left his outbox- it wasn’t like the recipients could jump out of its way.
“Don’t send it. It can’t do any good. I know it stinks.. but it’s not personal. It happens all the
time,” she said.
Others told him too – but it hadn’t made any difference – he had sent the e-mail anyway.
Shortly after, she started to watch him from a distance, left on the shore as he was going slowly
out to sea. That was over three months ago now and there were already signs that it had hit home
– but not in the way he had expected. He would get a call from one of his former colleagues and
go for an interview and then nothing – just nothing – as if there was something else at play.
“Do you think it was that email you sent – after they let you go?” she asked out of the blue one
day when they were having breakfast together.
He looked up at her as if she had just fired a shot at him.
She heard the front door open and then his voice “I’ll be back for the game at 7. “
It was shaping up to be a hot one, that day. It was already seventy-five degrees and it was only
eight a.m. The air was still and stagnant as if all the energy had been sucked right out of it and
held aloft. She had never really gotten used to the heat. It had been a scorching summer day too
when he had first taken her up to his parents’ beach house while he was winning her over. The
sun had beat down on them all day long so that she had taken to dodging in and out under the
umbrella to avoid sunburn. He mostly sat out in it- taking it. There was good surf that day and
they had ridden it together for a little while but then had drifted in opposite directions. She liked
to swim very far out to pick up the big waves, and then ride them – over and over – recklessly
abandoning herself. She kept it up all afternoon, riding the waves alone, until she wondered why
she had agreed to come up there at all. He had persuaded her, and she had let her curiosity get the
better of her. Cocktails were served in the late afternoon and hers had gone straight to her head.
She had sat back and watched for the most part – almost as if she had found herself in the midst
of an episode of some mini-series.
Bob was leaning back on his chair, teetering on the back legs and waiting for his cue.
When he started into the story of how they had met, with all the exotic improbability of it, she
casually interrupted him to clarify some point and then watched as the chagrin spread across his
face like blood in water. Somebody shouted “stop it” down on the beach and the conversation
derailed. Paul, his older brother, guffawed – “Well, so much for that.”
Jean wasn’t the cheerleading type.
“Why did you have to say that? he asked her, when they were alone in the kitchen fixing more
“Because it’s true,” she said.
He looked back at her, baffled … as if that was of no consequence, as if she didn’t know the game.
“My parents really like you,” he said, with a degree of triumph in voice that alarmed her.
“Does that matter a lot? “she said, peering back at him, trying to get a read on him.
“They like you better than they like me,” he said like it really did matter.
“Really?” she said swirling the ice-cubes around in her drink trying to figure out what he could
mean by that. She looked up searching for his eyes to see if he would give her a clue, but he was
gone, and she stayed there second-guessing herself until the chill of the ice became
uncomfortable in her hand. She tossed the rest of the drink in the sink and walked back out into
the lounge and as their eyes met across the room, they smiled briefly at each other.
It was almost 9 pm before the last player arrived for the regular monthly game. They were still
short-handed. Somebody had called to say that he couldn’t make it. The cards were dealt, and
everybody was chomping at the bit. Bob asked her to step in and accommodate them and she did
it for him – out of a kind of hope that it might improve their long-standing and now widening rift.
This is how they had met after all, many years ago – at a game of cards – and it was where he
seemed most at home in himself. She could figure out poker odds well enough, but she didn’t
have the guile to play like they did. In any case, they didn’t really want her to take them on in a
big way. In the very first game she lost over half her chips. Maybe it was the third game or so,
but soon afterwards she had said “I’m all in,” pushing all her chips in front of her. She would
either quit early or get ahead and cruise. Bob looked at her and tried to get a read on her. She
didn’t raise the stakes when he came back with a heavy bet, with a full throttle smile laid on top,
but she should have. She simply called it – met the bet. Her hand was way too good to fold so
she held fast – and she didn’t care if she lost anyway.
He laid down a set of tens on the table. Jean spread her aces full of cowboys on the table
in front of her. His hand was shaking a little as he scooped up the cards and he threw back his
drink in one quick gulp. “Too good,” she said, excited to be back in the game but irked to know
that now she had to play on. He thought that she was bluffing – like he was – but she wasn’t the
bluffing kind. Sometimes she’d win but winning was of no consequence to her really. She was
there for all the rest of it.
When Jean had suggested selling their old jalopy Bob had seized on the idea
immediately. She had bought it and she mostly drove it. It was so solid and yet the loose
suspension made it feel light. It felt like you barely touched the road at all, just floated along. It
wasn’t safe on the freeways and she knew it had to go sooner or later. It was a remnant from
another era after all. It had taken her ninety minutes to get home from work, by taking the side
roads, and as she pulled it in to the curb, out front of their house, she was more than ready to let
it go. Bob came out to meet her.
“I’m ready”, she said.
“I’ll advertise it on Craigslist for 4G’s and see what happens,” he said.
“I paid 2G’s for it two years ago.” she said, underscoring “the two” both times.
“It’s a classic,” he said, a doggedness settling into the crevices of his cheeks.
“Yeah… but a low tier one,” she said, “the brakes stink and it can barely make it up some hills.”
He winced. Jean figured that he would come around when there would be no takers at that price.
He had told her once that he was lucky, and she had asked him what he had meant. He had
looked so perplexed – as if it was completely obvious that he had some special charm that would
always pull him through. He walked over to the car and put his hand on the flank as if to pet it.
“You’ll see”, he said, wagging his index finger at her in a half playful gesture as she went up the
steps to the front door. She could only half see him through the dappled light falling all over
him and the car. She walked back towards the steps and then leaned forward to see better. She
hovered there – just watching him – wondering what the hell he was thinking. She turned around
again just before she went in and he was still standing in front of the car.
By the time she had reached the kitchen she was sorry she had said anything. She slumped into
the old beat-up chair. The foam cushion deflated under her with a rapid whoosh and she sighed
as the hard plank of the seat underneath came up to meet her like a slap across the bum.
It was late the next day when she saw him again.
“Hi, I’m home”, he said.
Jean heard his footsteps on the floor upstairs. He leaned so far forward into his gait that
sometimes she thought that he might topple over, slight and all as he was. They almost collided
in the narrow hallway that led into the kitchen, but she side-stepped quickly to avoid him. In
passing by, Bob tossed her a grimace or possibly a grin. She wasn’t sure which, but she caught it, all the
same, behind his eyes, a certain energy that made him look a bit like a blinkered horse
approaching the starting gates before a race and she knew immediately that something was up.
“How was your day?” she said.
“Busy,” he said, sitting down at the table.
Her eyebrows stretched up into what else?
He stared back.
“I advertised the Ford Falcon,” he said.
“I told you I bought it for two grand Bob – it hasn’t appreciated,” she said, getting up quickly and
backing away from him.
A light bulb sizzled out in the hallway and his face was barely visible when she turned to look at
“I can get that.” he said, his voice already fully loaded.
“No, you can’t,” she said, shaking her head in disbelief. Her voice was a shade merry with
splashes of gentle mockery.
“Oh yeah – I can,” he said, moving uncomfortably in his chair.
“Watch your foot” – she said bitterly. “I see you’re aiming for it again.”
He shifted his loins on the chair so that they were balanced on the edge of the seat and then he
leaned back just like one of those erstwhile hero types, who thought they had it covered.
“What?” he said.
It was a couple of days later when Jean set the dinner plates on the table and sat down.
She had cruised all through the interval of days, not mentioning it, hoping it would all blow over.
Hoping that the tide might turn, and he would find his way back and they could see eye to eye
for once. It was as if they were both flotsam on two different currents, bobbing past each other.
Once in a while they got tangled up in each other but inevitably the currents took hold of them
again and set them off on different trajectories.
He suddenly announced.
“I’ve got a buyer.”
“Really?” she said.
“That was quick.”
“Well I told you so,” he said looking at her with a broad grin.
His eyes were burning bright – not a flicker of doubt.
“So, what ‘s the offer?” she said.
“The asking price,” he said.
“I can’t believe it; they didn’t even try a lower offer at all. I mean… don’t you think so? They
haven’t even seen it or driven it.” she said, shaking her head.
“Well I guess they really want it for something,” he said, grinning as if he had landed a house of
aces over kings and nobody else knew how to play at all.
“Yeah, maybe a movie or something,” she said, trying to think of a good reason why there had
been no negotiation.
“When are they coming to check it out?” she said
“They’re not. They are taking it as is,” he said.
“Who is the buyer? “
“Some guy in Nigeria.”
“What?” she said, her head jerked up.
“That’s really suspicious. I mean who in Nigeria wants an old Ford Falcon? Come On “.
She peered at him to see if he was registering anything yet. He wasn’t. His nonchalance irritated
her. He still thought he had it covered. She inhaled deeply and shook her head in disbelief.
“This doesn’t make any sense. There are tells everywhere.”
He was drawing to the river with all the recklessness that that entailed.
She felt she had been pulled under by a big wave and was in the hold-down for too long.
Her body, the deadweight of a person who has fainted and was coming to. She got up slowly and
walked over to the large full-length windows. Perhaps there was something he hadn’t told her –
he was economical with the details. Looking out across the houses with their crew-cut lawns and
vacant swimming pools, she could see the freeway traffic; the relentless movement, the heat
eddies rising in wispy columns, and the hazy light of another very hot day almost done. Trees
here and there relieved the sprawling urbanization and she let her eyes rest in their canopies for a
few moments. She was tired.
There had been a promise in it that never came to anything at all, just a shimmering
surface. She had played way too loose in moments. Moments strung out across time like pearls
on a necklace that wouldn’t string together anymore. As she turned around her foot slipped a
little on the wooden floor and he looked at her with exaggerated alarm as she fell down.
“Are you alright?” he said, his voice a little louder than before.
“Yeah, I’ll be okay,” she muttered. She got up without looking at him, gathered her thoughts back
to herself as if they had unraveled and were spread out before him for the taking like they had
been when he had first taken her.
“Is he … is he going to ship it there?” she said, almost shouting across the room.
“Why not?” he said. “He might be a collector.”
“Yeah he might be,” she said as if she didn’t believe it and as if he couldn’t hear.
He stared back at her again. She waited, trying to pace herself, trying to swallow the fear rising
in her throat.
“You might need to ask some more questions,” she said, feeling like a schoolteacher.
He looked at her with a mixture of salesmanship and wariness.
“What?” he said.
“So, let me get this straight … tell me how this is going to work?” she said, trying not to sound
“The buyer, the Nigerian guy, is going to send me a cheque for the car and an extra grand for
shipping costs,” he said.
“Okay.” she said.
“Then I will send the grand to his friend in Arizona to arrange for the shipping.”
“How will that work?”
“The transportation company will contact me when they are ready to pick it up at the port in Los
“Oh,” she said, half-believing the story – the shuffling and scuffling.
“Has the shipping company contacted you yet?” she asked, still grappling with the whole idea.
“Why don’t you call them first to make sure this is for real?” she said.
“It’s okay.” he said, as if this was just standard car sales stuff.
Her voice dropped a few decibels.
“There is something wrong with this deal.”
She glanced at him across the wide expanse of the room – he was toying with the dessert in front
of him on the table and then turned to look out through the back windows onto the unfinished
“Let’s just forget all this and advertise on local papers. See if it gets any traction there? “
She waited again.
“We’re not broke Bob.”
She tried to sound blithe, as if it was just a small misunderstanding. She didn’t want another
“You think you know better don’t you?” he spat out, as he turned back towards her – his eyes all
“Yeah, I do,” she said half in panic and half in triumph. She felt as if the air was deflating out of
her. She sighed heavily and leaned against the sliding doors for a moment or two.
The sun was starting to sink in the sky outside and she was glad for some relief from the
haze. Slowly she brought herself up from her slump, put her hands into the pockets of her jeans
and started to walk back towards him, hoping the worst had passed. Light was streaming in
through the big windows now at an oblique angle rendering the entire middle of the wide-open
space, that was their living room, completely opaque. She couldn’t see him anymore, but she
knew he was still there. The sound of his breathing reached her once or twice as she as crossed
the space between them, her feet carefully finding the floor in front of her. She was listening for
the rough scrape of a chair moving abruptly back across the floor. With each step she felt as if
she might make it before he upped and left the room. There was an urgency in her now; the
stakes were climbing.
Salty panic swooshed through her and she surfaced for air – only to descend into the
murkiness again. She was always in over her head with him. Cutting through waves of
bewilderment, without any knowing; only believing, with the small calculations that were all a
part of the hoping. Breathlessly going through. She heard the chair scuffle and she hurried
herself. The kitchen was coming back into focus and when her eyes found him, he was already
standing up – one hand on the stair rail with his face hardening into a steely intransigence.
It looks like a scam to me,” she said.
Her voice, quiet and undone, sounded strange even to her – like it had come up from the bottom
of the sea – or from the other side of the world.
“You’ll see.” he said. He turned and went down the stairs – dismissing her like some useless
She was merely a proxy for some unfinished drama with himself – somebody to push off or play
against. And she knew there was no way through that.
Three days later he came in, a grin smeared across his face with a check in his hand and
he waved it at her.
“I’m off to the bank to deposit this.”
“Yeah” she said, almost ignoring him. “Wait till it clears.”
“Of course,” he said and disappeared through the glass door, waving it back at her.
She opened the door and shouted after him, “so what are the arrangements anyway? “
“He’ll call me when he gets the money.”
“Really?” she said. “How are you going to send it?”
“Dodgy again,” she said. “Wait a while,” she pleaded.
“Oh, stop being paranoid. Give me a break,” he said. He was almost running by the time he
reached the car.
It was a full week later when she he saw his face as he slammed the car door shut, his
step heavier than ever. She went out to meet him but when she saw him coming, she stopped in
His voice was almost a whisper when he said, “it bounced”.
“I thought it cleared,” she said.
“Apparently not fully,” he said.
“No big surprise there,” her voice dripping with contempt.
It was then that it hit her hard, below the belt, in the soft belly of her, that he would never have
the measure of himself.
His eyes furtively glanced at her. She looked away quickly as you do when the last card falls
awry. Vulnerability was clinging to him like a dirty rag now, but she had no desire to relieve
him of it. It would be gone by morning in any case.
She stepped out onto the balcony into the fast-falling night, the door banging behind her. The
wind was picking up with a storm advancing rapidly off the ocean. She was glad of it –
tomorrow would be a cooler day. She sank in one of the lounge chairs until the rain felt cold
against her skin.