“Henri, I’m tired and I’m bored. Take me out of here. Take me someplace
,” the woman said petulantly.
Her husband ceased tapping away at the keyboard of his laptop and regarded her with tired, indulgent eyes. “My name’s Dick,” he reminded her. “Or Richard, if you prefer,” giving “Richard” a bad French pronunciation of ree-CHAR. “I’ll only be another five minutes and then I’ll get ready.”
The woman had been standing at the broad bay window that looked out onto the ocean and the busy shoreline drive that ran in front of it; beyond the low stone wall on the other side of the street she could see the bathers gamboling in the sea and others lounging in the sand. She turned from the scene and decisively approached him with — thought her husband — comic menace, squinting her black eyes so only the smallest portion of their irises could be seen. “Give me a cigarette,” she demanded, putting her face to within a foot of his.
Showing infinite patience, Dick once again looked up from his computer to his wife and sighed. “You don’t smoke,” he said simply. Then he returned to his work.
“Bah!” she retorted, spun on her heel and resumed her post at the bay window.
She spoke with a French accent. Dick knew very little about France. He visited Paris once and asked “Excuse moi — vous parlez Englais?” about a million times, but that hardly made him an authority. Yet in spite of his acknowledged ignorance, Dick somehow formed the theory that his wife’s accent was typical of Southern France, and further refined it to be the accent of a peasant gamely affecting gentility, only with very limited success. How he came up with this notion he didn’t know, but in a short time it became as good as truth to him.
His wife’s black hair, shiny, stretched, and as impregnable as brushed metal, was pulled into a tight chignon. Even at 35, her figure was without flaw. She wore a simple white blouse, open at the neck, and a light blue print skirt cut at mid-calf. A wide, black, patent leather belt gave the exact coordinates of her trim waist. With that body and her unlined face, accented by bold red lips as stark as a stroke of crimson on white canvas, she could easily pass for 25.
They were staying at the house of a friend, Paul Dumaurier. Dick and his wife arrived late that morning by ferry and walked the quarter-mile to Paul’s house, with Dick carrying all the luggage while she floated on ahead of him, her skirt flapping like a sail in the wind. Her trademark black gypsy eyes were concealed by large Jackie O. sunglasses, ridiculously out of fashion, but made fashionable again because she could pull it off. When they got to the house, they caught Paul preparing to leave.
“Oh there you are,” Paul said, snapping closed a valise that was sitting on the dining room table. “Just in time to see me go.” Dick’s wife walked past him as if he were a ghost.
“Hmm?” asked Paul, looking at Dick while inclining his head at his wife. Then he took a step or two toward Dick and inquired in a confidential tone, “What’s up with Susie?”
“Shh, shh — it’s ‘Honoria’ now.”
The two men exchanged a brief glance of understanding.
“Oh it’s that, is it,” said Paul.
“For how long?”
“Getting a bit wearing?”
“Today it has been,” Dick confessed.
Paul gave Dick a quick, dismissive smile. “Well,” he said brightly, “sorry I won’t be around for the show.”
“Nothing I can’t handle,” said Dick with a smile in return, instantly relieved his friend shared a similar disinclination to discuss the matter.
Paul’s house was in Oak Bluffs on the island of Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts. Although there was a ferry slip nearby, Paul elected to to pick up the next available ferry in Vineyard Haven, the neighboring town. Dick drove Paul to it in the old Jeep Wagoneer Paul kept on the island. When Dick returned to the house, his wife, whose name appeared as Susan on her birth certificate but who insisted on being called Honoria these days, had fallen asleep on one of the upstairs beds. So Dick pulled out his laptop and busied himself with work until she awoke.
It was the end of August; still summer but getting cooler. By the time Dick put away his things, showered and changed, it was already early evening and slightly chilly. Honoria donned a light sweater and the two of them walked a short distance along the sea wall until they saw the expansive, green Ocean Park, dotted with its numerous park benches set up willy-nilly like so many game pieces. Colorful islets of flowers were plopped here and there, and in the center, acting as a white, circular, columned hub, stood an enormous covered bandstand perched high on its own wood-shingled platform. Dick and Honoria took an oblique course passing by it as they bisected the park, and then followed a small side street to a busy thoroughfare lined on both sides with shops and restaurants.
“Nice of Paul to loan us his house,” remarked Dick as they started up one side of the street.
“But it won’t work,” returned Honoria while peering through the display window of a knick-knack shop. “They’ll find us. And there are fewer places to run on an island you know.”
“Oh right,” said Dick, rolling his eyes. “Don’t worry. We’ve given them the slip so far, haven’t we, dear?”
“Thanks to you, my resourceful Henri,” she said, turning to him and giving his arm a generous squeeze. She had her big sunglasses on again, but he guessed at the approbation her eyes were surely expressing.
“No trouble at all, my dear,” he said. “And it’s Dick, remember.”
They strolled up the sidewalk investigating the shops in a desultory way. Honoria asked all the clerks many questions and Dick kept himself at hand for whenever his wife carried things a bit too far. One girl working in a store that mainly sold T-shirts began to hear about their adventures of escaping the clutches of a secret society whose name seemed to change with every telling, but Dick adroitly stepped in to ask the bemused clerk the price of a T-shirt with an illustration of a tall ship on its front. For more than a half an hour, Dick found sanctuary at the Methodist Campground, a surreal spot discovered behind a block of stores that had, at its center, a great wooden tabernacle that suggested a Pentecostal revival tent, surrounded by gaily painted gingerbread-style houses. Diverted, they slowly walked the circular drive that encompassed the tabernacle and was itself ringed by the fantastic, ornate houses. It was just like navigating one’s way through a storybook. His wife was delighted and she chattered on and on about the eccentric features each one of the little houses possessed.
Finally, Honoria declared she was hungry. They regained the main street and pushed on, now completely ignoring the shops and looking only at restaurants. She rejected all of Dick’s suggestions until they hit on a place call Nor’east, which displayed a menu in front with no prices listed.
“You want to eat here?” Dick asked, already regretting the damage his wallet would surely suffer.
“Oui. This is it. We must eat here,” she said with finality.
Feeling too casual in his pleated shorts and loafers, Dick allowed Honoria to lead the way. The interior of the restaurant was done in the motif of a luxury ocean liner, with exquisitely-wrought cherry wood paneling and shiny brass nautical instruments placed wherever the eye could rest. The maitre d’, a youngish man, slightly pudgy with a receding hairline but dressed in a finely-tailored black suit, approached the pair.
Something about the way Honoria fretfully scanned the dining room set off warning bells in Dick’s head. The restaurant was full, but Dick immediately picked out two empty tables, so surely having to wait for a seat wasn’t the cause of his wife’s apparent distress.
“Two,” Dick said to the maitre d’.
“This way please,” the man replied, gathering two menus and a wine list.
“Wait!” interjected Honoria. “Where do you intend to seat us?” The maitre d’ glanced back at her inquisitively.
“Does it matter?” Dick asked her.
“Monsieur,” said Honoria to the maitre d’, “we are being followed. We cannot let down our guard, not even for a moment. You must place us at a table along the wall, over there in the corner.” The man and Dick looked at each other. “Where we can see without being seen, so to speak,” she elaborated, animatedly pointing to the section.
Both the maitre d’s and Dick’s eyes flew to where she indicated, a dimly-lit, congested corner without an empty table in sight.
“I am sorry madame, but as you can see, there is no place to seat you.”
Honoria turned imploringly to Dick. “Henri—!” she pleaded.
Dick took the maitre d’ gently by the elbow and led him several steps away from his wife. “Look, I’m going to need a favor here.” He already had his wallet in hand and extracted from it a fifty dollar bill.
“Sir,” the maitre d’ said, his expression stony except for his eyes, which betrayed the faintest trace of contempt. “Fifty dollars will not make any of those tables less occupied.”
Dick returned the fifty dollar bill to his wallet and then produced a hundred dollar bill.
“What about this then?”
“Sir,” said the maitre d’ with all the impassivity he could muster, “we’re still faced with the same little problem, aren’t we?”
Dick pulled out yet another hundred dollar bill and addressed the haughty young pup in the pricey monkey suit by saying: “Listen, I’m not asking you to change the laws of physics, or part the Red Sea, or solve the riddle of the universe. It’s not magic that I’m looking for. I just want for us to have a table right there against the goddamn wall.”
Five minutes later, the maitre d’ directed two waiters and a busboy to find room for an extra table in Honoria’s preferred section, which was done with the greatest possible commotion, involving the scraping of chairs, many apologies, and outraged looks on the part of the diners. Honoria found herself seated precisely where she wanted to be and smiled gratefully at her harassed husband who slumped himself down beside her, absorbing the black looks of their immediate neighbors who were suddenly dispossessed of much of their rightful elbow room.
They gave their drink orders to the waiter and, when he returned, ordered their meals.
“Filet mignon,” Honoria announced. “Medium rare.”
“Very good, madame,” said the waiter.
Dick then gave his order and, just as the waiter began to depart, rose from his chair, excused himself to his wife, and accosted the waiter.
“Pardon me,” Dick said in a hushed voice close to the waiter’s ear, “but don’t give her the filet mignon.”
Dick pressed a ten dollar bill into the waiter’s hand. “She’s really a vegetarian. Give her the portobello mushroom thing, only—” and here he leaned in a little closer, “—call it filet mignon, all right?”
The waiter, probably a college student on summer break enjoying this bizarre sequence of events and already framing in his mind the story he looked forward to telling his friends, pocketed the money and said, “Sure,” as if he understood everything and was in conspiracy with Dick.
And so the night wore on, Honoria saying whatever she pleased and Dick running interference with the vigilance and intensity one sees in those performers who can keep six or seven plates spinning simultaneously on slender poles. Finally, near midnight, they slowly ambled their way back toward Paul’s house, retracing their path across the park until they came to the bandstand.
“Henri, let’s go up inside it,” said Honoria.
Dick surveyed it up and down. “I am sorry, dearest, but no. See? There’s no way in.” The structure was set high on a platform and was encompassed by a railing. Dick saw there was a door at it’s base which was quite naturally locked. He could hear the soft hum of machinery inside.
She turned her wonderful black eyes to him and said, “Find a way,” not imperiously, but in an affectionate, coaxing manner. Dick met his defeat once again. The solution was thought of in half a minute, when Honoria kicked off her shoes and climbed up Dick’s back and launched herself off his shoulders, swinging expertly and gracefully over the rail. Dick, no mean athlete himself, found a way to scrabble up with a maximum application of his biceps.
From where they stood, they could see the dark outline of the sea and the many stars impossible to view from their home in the city. They looked at the grand old houses that stood sentry-like all around the common, many with their lights still burning. They could hear the surf and feel the salty breeze and Dick admitted to himself that being there wasn’t such a bad idea after all.
“It’s lovely,” she breathed.
Dick gently slid his arm around her. “It is.”
“Let’s stay here all night,” she said, turning to nestle her face into his chest.
“Against the law, my sweet,” he replied. She gave him a playful little punch on his chest.
Several long minutes went by with Honoria standing quiescently in her husband’s sturdy embrace. There was no hurry; it seemed time no longer was a thing to be measured. She was an exotic bird to him; how life had led her his way was something he still marveled at, because clearly he didn’t deserve anything so fine and rare as this, his wife of six years. “I’ve been meaning to tell you all day,” he said at last, quietly in her ear, “you’re not French. You know the language even less than I do.”
She put her face up to his and kissed him. Later, when they made it back to the house, Dick guided her upstairs to the master bedroom, where he unhurriedly and with extreme gentleness made love to Honoria or Susie or whoever she was for a full hour or more.
The next morning Dick rose very early, leaving his wife softly snoring into her pillow. He shaved, went out for a long run along a bicycle trail, showered, and then set about making breakfast. The aroma of cooking eggs and pancakes and brewing coffee drew his wife somnolently thumping down the stairs. He had just finished setting the table and she seated herself before the plate he prepared for her, her hair completely disarranged. She wore an extra long T-shirt backwards.
“So it’s Susie again?” inquired Dick from the stove, pouring her a mug of coffee.
She made a little pout and eyed him ruefully. “You!” she suddenly said accusingly. “You were a dick, Dick. All day.”
“Ha ha, thank you very much. Now eat those eggs before they go cold.”
“They smell good,” she remarked. “Oregano? Garlic?”
“And a hint of chili powder,” said Dick, placing the steaming mug by her plate. “Now tuck in, dear heart.”
Dutifully, she tried a bite of the scrambled eggs. “Mmm,” she said. Then: “So now it’s your turn.”
“I suppose it is.”
“What will it be then?”
Dick seated himself opposite her. “An English baronet I think,” he replied in a passable British accent.
Susie put down her fork. “Dick, you’re not even trying anymore. Every time we do this, it’s the English baronet or count or lord—”
“Ah,” interposed Dick, “but with a difference. While you were napping yesterday, I took the liberty of rummaging through some of Paul’s things. Did you know he’s a scuba diver?”
Dick reached down underneath his chair and produced a pair of flippers, holding one in each hand and framing his face with them.
Susie’s eyebrows rose questioningly.
“I’m going to wear them,” said Dick, now barely containing his glee, “all . . . the . . . time!”
Susie’s eyes widened and then she uttered a single, sharp laugh, like the surprised bark of a small dog. Then she threw her head all the way back and laughed and laughed until tears stood in her eyes. Dick cheerfully gazed at her, extremely pleased that he achieved the effect he was looking for. Finally composing herself, after wiping her eyes and suppressing a last rogue giggle, she looked at her husband with pure adoration and, holding both hands out to him, declared, “Brilliant!"