What Holds Us Together

Most of us already knew about the kiss. Friends told friends in confidence, all while keeping the secret away from the friend who would be most affected by it. We wanted to see what happened first, so we all pretended to forget about the kiss Mariah planted on that Olympic equestrian. She and Dan sent their kids to camp to work on their marriage. Hell, we all sent the kids to camp that summer, some of them to the same camp. A great pain, we discussed at the Yentz’s party one evening, to want everything for your child and to lack the skills or knowledge necessary to provide. In our childhoods, we learned in school and we learned at the library and then we learned on the street. The things we wanted were mostly within reach. When we wanted something better for ourselves, our parents said “tough,” or, “get to work then, Matthew.” I became something I had to work for, while our friends were groomed for their careers by private schools and Ivy Leagues. Camp was for sleeping outside near a fire, or at it’s most luxurious, sleeping in a musty spider-filled cabin with nine other kids. We know today how dangerous spiders are. How corruptible counselors can be. How nobody ever puts out the fire before they fall asleep. We became weak and fragile vessels that held our children inside us, because if the world came at them with knives out, we had to take it for them. We sent our kids to camps with dorms, stocked pantries, and positive reviews. Our wives warned them not to let anyone touch their privates.

With everyone’s kids off building character, getting feasted on by mosquitoes and giving each other bad haircuts, we decided we were all overdue for a good, long, drunk together. The Yentz’s home had a mountain view. Big picture windows framed by rustic wooden beams allowed us a splendid view of the waves of green, patched with skinny firs the sun painted gold and blue, and let the warm sheets of light fill the room as we sipped our cocktails and thought privately about what our kids were doing.

The Yentz’s sent their daughters to regatta camp.

My wife started with white wine, then switched to red if the party lasted after dark. She leaned against the emerald granite island in the open kitchen and held her glass like a freshly plucked tulip. Her awkward elegance was charming, one of the reasons people liked her so much, and in her dark jeans and blue tank-top under and open white shirt she radiated this rare harmony. I tuned out of my conversation with Lauren for a second and watched my wife from across the room.

“Hey, Matty, are you still thinking about golf this season?” Lauren Yentz leaned forward onto the back of the couch in a way that made his biceps throb. If one were to look only at his hairy forearms, one might think he was in the middle of climbing the flat face of a rocky range with no safety gear. Instead, his hands clutched a hilariously small cup of orange juice. If kids ever made fun of Lauren for having a girls name, they sure wouldn’t today.

“Golf,” I turned away from staring at my wife. “I’m not a member.” Lauren disturbed a pillow at the end of the couch with one large hand. I couldn’t help but think the word minotaur.

“I can get you in.” He left the pillow alone and turned, leaning his back against the couch. “We pay our rates and then some.”

“Tempting,” I said and did a half-hearted push-up against the back of the couch. I almost spilled my gin on the plush seat. “I’ll run that by Gill.”

Lauren nodded and threw the orange juice back down his throat. I expected him to crush the empty glass in his meaty hand. He nodded toward Mariah and Shelly talking in low voices against the east wall, lit by the far reaching light of the picture window on the opposite side.

“You know they’re talking about it,” he said. I lifted my drink and peered over at the women, close friends in our circle for as long as we all knew each other. Dan was demonstrating his free-throw techniques to a cluster of men in the driveway. It felt weird to watch him dash around outside while we talked about the equestrian. “Do you think he neighs?”

“I don’t think it’s worth talking about,” I admitted.

“Terry says it happened again, in a more…illicit setting.”

“What? A stable?” I asked, suddenly picturing Mariah in a skirt cut up to her thigh, ducking into a barn with the handsome Olympic trainer.

“She wouldn’t go into detail.” Lauren excused himself to the kitchen for a refill and I looked for the women again by the wall. They had disappeared. Gill came over and we clinked our glasses together.

“Here’s to a childless summer,” she sighed and sipped her white wine. “Do you think they’ll make friends?”

“If they don’t, we’ll have to send them back,” I said. Gill cracked up. We finished our drinks.

On my way to the water closet I passed a dark shadow in a dim room. At the toilet, I held my breath to save myself from the heavily perfumed air. I thought the shadow in the room seemed odd and out of place. I passed the room again and leaned in to inspect the shadow. It was still there, backlit by the big window, reading a thick book. It glared at me.

“Hi,” I said. “Sorry. Didn’t think anyone was in here.”

The young man did nothing. His black pants were frayed at the cuffs and he sat like the dignified owner of a dilapidated manor, the whole house awash in his shadow.

“Part of the Yentz clan?” I asked.

He shifted his weight and uncrossed his legs. “Sometimes,” he began. “They pass me around.” He sucked in one cheek like he was biting it and stared at me, feathering the pages in his book with his fingers. His eyes never left mine. I tried to be polite, but my vision darted around the room instead. The walls were bare except for a few tacked up items, unsettled and unsure of themselves. “Aunt Terry says somebody’s having an affair,” the nephew noted, as casual as if we were discussing baseball. “I heard her spill it this morning,” he smirked. “Those idiots think I don’t listen.” A draft came through an unseen open window and fluttered the images on the wall.

“Right. Well, nice to meet you,” I pulled back and turned to leave.

“Who are they?” he called.

I hurried back to the party. Gill handed me a drink.

“Did you know the Yentz’s have a nephew? And he’s here? He asked about Dan and Mariah.”

Gill swirled her white wine around, uninterested in my discovery.

“Sure, why not?” she said and waved at a friend across the room. There was something about the nephew that seemed improper, socially unkempt like it could be brushed out with the attendance of a few good parties. I wondered why he wasn’t away at camp, or why the Yentz’s kept his presence a secret tonight, or how a trivial crumb of gossip could lodge in his mind like a cud.

We continued to drink. The party had grown to it’s fully mature size. Gill stood with Terry at the picture window, watching the colors from the sunset change to darker hues. The men were moving between the basketball game in the driveway to the kitchen sink to gulp down more water. Once, I looked down the hall toward the bathroom, hoping to see the young nephew stick his head out of the room, his mussed black hair a clod of shadows against the pastel walls. Everything in the house matched, with lurid knick-knacks tucked into corners like goblins in the shadows. I searched for Mariah, suddenly sympathetic to her position—in a room full of friends, most of them clued in to her extramarital escapade if only by a fine tuned ear—yet unable to discuss it openly. I realized I hadn’t seen her since I saw her with Shelley, and that some of her other close friends were also missing from the party. In the dim light, the shapes of the men—the doctors and the golfers and the swimmers—dominated the area with their big chests and voices. It was a group I inherited with my marriage to Gill. She had the money, however small it might appear to some of our wealthier friends. We had what we had.

The men all came in from the driveway and fanned themselves with the wine enthusiast magazines scattered around the common area, cooling the sweat on their necks. Dan was beaming at everyone and no one, like a flashlight that had fallen to the ground. His sleeves were rolled up over his forearms and he looked less pudgy than when I last saw him, although he was never exactly fat. I sipped my gin on the couch with some guys who were locked in a conversation about ski resorts. I missed my son and daughter, who would be either just coming home on their bikes from a friends house, or sitting on the front porch together watching the fireflies, talking about things my wife and I could not access. I searched for Gill, but she had disappeared.

A shadow passed by the picture window, darker than the early night outside, and I recognized the nephew. My glass slipped from my hands. Gin-covered ice cubes and a few drinks’ worth of lime rinds spilled to the floor and slid under the couch. The men looked up at the noise and someone brought me a towel.

“Oh shit. It just fell out,” I said to Dan, who helped me scoop up the mess.

“Don’t worry, Matt. It’s just a drink.” We knelt on the floor and retrieved wayward ice cubes from underneath the couch. Dan carried the mess to the sink and rinsed his hands. I followed with the soaked towel. All the men were suddenly gathered in the kitchen, staring at the nephew and staring at Dan. The sanguine chatter of women was missing.

I approached the sink as the nephew said, “that’s just what I heard.” Dan’s head was hung between his shoulders and he gazed deep into his amber drink. I watched the liquid for ripples, not wanting to look at his eyes. His muscular body looked suddenly deformed in this awkward moment. He was just a pinched face on a mass of misshapen meat. The blur of gin drifted through my brain like a sail across briny water and I wondered how long it would take us to talk about this moment in the future. Finally, Dan sighed and threw back his drink with one gulp. He set the tumbler on the island and poured another, three fingers full. The nephew leaned against the sink, sober as a nun.

“I knew,” Dan said at last and we all silently released our breaths. “She told me it was over. We’re seeing somebody.” Half the drink disappeared down Dan’s throat and he shrugged, now feeling drunk enough to open up about it. “Have you seen the guy? I know she has a thing for horses, but this guy really loves horses.” The rest of the drink disappeared. “He has one tattooed on his forearm.” Several of us chuckled uncomfortably, picturing the Olympic trainer on his mighty steed, a horse’s flat face peering out from his sleeve with big, dead eyes.

“It’s probably in a wreath,” someone offered.

“Or rimmed with cursive letters!”

I laughed a little too hard and choked on some spit. We came back to life. Dan laughed earnestly, restored to his inflated form, his wrinkles smoothed over.

I needed Gill. It was dark outside the picture windows and the mountains turned ink black in the distance. I wondered if people were walking around outside, looking up into the lavish home, seeing a group of grown men bent around each other, leaning into or away from the moment of intimacy that dropped in the room. Gill wasn’t there. A tune drifted from below our feet and I found the staircase to the finished basement. I felt like a diver on my way down, about to enter the mysterious caverns of the ocean where beautiful fish gather after an evening spent in coral reefs, somewhere they could disappear. Halfway down the stairs the catcalls began. They snapped their fingers at me, knowing I was helpless to their taunts.

Blue moon, now I’m no longer alone without a dream in my heart, without a love of my own.

But the words were sung through smiles, through whoops and laughs. My wife snapped and swayed. She closed her eyes and leaned into it. Her voice dipped and rose and wavered out of tune, but her spirit was invested. The women lounged on the fat couches, reclined on the plush carpet, or twirled each other around in pairs. Mariah swirled past me and brushed a wine-scented finger beneath my chin. Those who knew the song sang together, and those who didn’t kept a steady beat.

I was dumb with joy.

Gill danced with one hand on her hip and the other spinning gently through the air. The women cheered and began again, pulling each other to their feet and dancing all around. I set my drink down, wrapped one arm around Gill’s waist, and grabbed her hand with the other. As I sent us spinning in a circle, navigating the drinks on the floor, she opened her eyes. The women cheered. Her red wine lips half parted.


One thought on “What Holds Us Together

  1. Pingback: Things are Happening! | annieraab

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