Joe Goes To The Beach
by Michelle Meier

Three men, one by name of Joe, sat in low neon blue beach chairs. 

“I get back Sunday,” he said in the direction of the ocean.  


“We’ll get a limo, some ladies, we’ll have a good time,” his rounder friend said with a laugh.


“Every Sunday night I have dinner with my father.” He repeated himself in a light staccato. “Every Sunday night.”  


A svelte Hispanic girl passed in a black bikini.  


“Don’t I, hon?” he proclaimed loudly. She seemed not to hear, or if she did, made no acknowledgement.  


Some seagulls called overhead. It was a Friday just before the 4th of July in New York, the kind of day on which it seems the beach itself knows the difference between weekdays and weekends, and slows its waves and cools its winds and puts forth an even, steady sun for the retirees, local teenagers, day trippers from the city, or men like Joe, obligated to no office. Tomorrow would be denser, with surges of people from the train station, violent splashing and swimming by sun singed children and adults, the sound of chopper wings flying low over the shore, beating out the far away whine of ambulances.


“How’s my girl doing,” he said, referring to a different woman asleep on a towel, on the sand just ahead.


“She went swimming while you were getting waters,” his friend in a baseball cap said.


“How’d her ass look?”


“It looked good, Joe,” the baseball cap chuckled.


“This one has J.C. written all over it,” the round one chuckled.


Joe looked pleased with himself. He was second generation Italian with wet salt and pepper curls and a stately Roman nose. In his youth, noting his reflection in the mirrored walls of restaurants or car windows of Long Island, he believed he had something of Dean Martin, and could charm a woman with a glance or a soft compliment in her ear, drawing her in with a hand to the small of her back. He was a man to speak of his money confidently and often, but vaguely, of his successes in the rum or sugar or coffee trade, out of Cuba or Puerto Rico or Venezuela. Today he was preoccupied with a bank account that he may or may not have overdrawn. Today he would have to call his bank.


“Did you talk to her while I was gone?” he asked the round one, who shook his head. Before his first move, it was anybody’s game.


“Well, wait are you waiting for?”


“It's a long weekend, Joe. I’ve got time.”


“You’ve got time. That’s funny,” Joe said, brushing invisible sand off each forearm. He got up and removed a water bottle from the cooler behind the chairs. 


“I think she wants one of these.”


He ambled over to where she slept on her stomach, sat down in the empty beach seat behind her and placed the sweating water bottle in the sand. From his shorts he drew out a pack of cigarettes, put one to his lips, and crossed his legs.  


“Hello,” he said while lighting it, speech muffled, right hand cupped to block wind.  


“Hello,” he said again, exhaling, long on the oh, as if to call through a windowpane into a vacant home, before gently rapping.


She awoke with startled, sleep edged eyes, uncomprehending of his close proximity or casual perch in her chair.


“Good morning,” he said, “this water is for you.”


She took a second before lifting her body in a push up like motion, flipping and turning to sit.


“I went to the deli to get waters, and I thought of you, and I thought, now she could use a cold water,” he said handing her the bottle. “You’ve been sleeping for awhile.”


She smiled at him for the first time, twisted off the cap and took a swig. 


“Let me ask you something,” he said, scanning her body. “Why are you wearing an orange bottom and a black top?”


“Oh,” she said, “for the tan lines.” She caught herself referring to her unseen parts, the pale and cold triangles that would glow in the halogen light of her bathroom mirror later. She revised, “I like the bottom of one suit and the top of another suit, so I put them together.”


“So basically,” he said, “you bought two suits you don’t like.”  


By the rocks a woman snapped pictures of her husband holding and kissing their infant child, with the seascape as backdrop. The baby buried her head in her father’s neck, turning away from the camera lens.


“My first wife had a whole closet full of clothes she didn’t like,” he added, not noticing the family scene. He flicked his cigarette into the sand.  


“And what’s this you’re reading here? Some kind of science book?”


“I’m a medical student,” she said. She stacked her arms behind her. She had nowhere to lean. 


“Medicine? Well, hon, that’s good. That’s something. And where did you say you live again?  Queens?” She hadn’t said. He was gathering information, with pace and pressure, like geyser water about to change state and steam forth.


“Valley Stream,” she answered.


“Nassau County? That’s good, hon. I’m on the North Shore. Lived there for most of my life, with both of my ex-wives. Except when I was traveling. I’ve been to Latin America on business, probably about fourteen times. Not including the islands. You look a bit Latin, am I right?”


“I was born in Puerto Rico, but I was raised here.”


“In San Juan?” 


She nodded.


“Did you know they confused the name of the island, that the whole place was supposed to called San Juan, and the port was supposed to be called Puerto Rico? Makes more sense like that, doesn’t it?”  He uncrossed his legs. “When my brother was alive, he told me that story. He’s dead now. He died of cancer.”


“Oh,” she said, “I’m sorry.”


“If there’s one thing that changed me, its my brother dying,” he said. “You have to savor every day.” He looked at her fixedly now, to teach her something.


“My brother and my second wife and I used to have a good time up on this boardwalk a few years back. You see that high rise?”  


He motioned up towards a pink sandstone building.  


“That’s the Avalon. It’s a nice place. You go in, you have some wine, some clams, it’s nice. We used to know all the good restaurants in this neighborhood and everyone that ran them, too.”  


She was unsure where he was going with this, but did not want to appear impolite about it.  Looking up, the sky appeared exceptionally blue as it was blank. But as her eyes began to focus she could make out the metallic glint of a tiny plane, miles overhead.


“You’re a good person,” Joe said to her. “You’re smart. I know you can tell what’s important, what really matters. And you’re young. You’ve got your whole life ahead of you.”


“Thanks,” she said, not knowing what else might be appropriate. “I’m going for a quick swim. I’ll be right back.” She stood up and adjusted her bathing suit bottom.


“That’s right, hon,” he said confidently, “you go cool off. When you get back, I’ll tell you a story about the famous bridge in San Juan.”


She headed towards the water. He smoothed back his curls and stood up, shaking some sand off his calves, and walked back towards his friends.


“This one has J.C. written all over it,” the baseball cap said again.


Joe sat down in his chair and scanned the sea. He could just make her out, wading into the waves.


“Is that her ass? I told you she was cute,” he said as a kind of confirmation. 


The sun had turned from gold to red gold, burning its way down.  


“What time is it?” he asked. 


“I don’t know, 5 o’clock maybe,” his round friend said.  


Joe went fishing in a bag. He pulled out a cell phone and wiped the screen with his hand.


“I can’t read this thing,” he said. “Can you read this?”  He tossed it to the baseball cap.


“Yeah, Joe, it's almost 5 o’clock.”


Just then she came jogging back to her towel and chair.


“Nice swim, hon?” Joe called over.


“It was great,” she called back, drying her short black hair with a towel, and wiping down her shoulders and arms. She stood in a wide stance, legs apart, balancing herself in the sand.


“Listen,” Joe called, “you live in Valley Stream, right? These guys are going in that direction, if you’d like a ride.”


“That’s nice,” she called back, slipping a white cover-up over her bathing suit, “but I’m just going to take the train.”


“They’re headed right that way, hon,” Joe said. 


It seemed that in less than an instant she was dressed and packed, towel rolled, chair folded, sand free, her face radiant from the salt and cold seawater.


“It was very nice meeting you,” she said kindly, striding past them.


        The three men went quiet. Barely detectable to a bystander, the pause held the simultaneous acknowledgement and forgetting of this rejection, a short stop over before willing amnesia. Joe could get any woman he wanted. This happened to the best of them.  


“Fucking beautiful day,” the round one said.


“Couldn’t be sweeter, “ the baseball cap said.


Joe’s arms lay still.


“Get my bank on the phone,” he said to the baseball cap. “I don’t care what time it is, dial the number I tell you to and get a human person on the phone. None of this automated shit.”  He said a seven digit number and the baseball cap poked at the phone before putting it to his ear.


“Tell me when you need my social security number,” Joe said. “And my mother’s maiden name is Aristone. Did you hear me? That’s Ar-is-ton-e.”  


“Tide’s coming in,” the round one said.


“Operator,” the baseball cap said.


“Bitch,” Joe said.

Deyaa Mounir