Rise, Shine, Et Cetera
Vincent scraped the remnants of dinner into the trash and handed the dishes to Cheryl for washing. Alexa and Harry, their spouses, were on the porch with a deck of cards and the last of the gin between them. Cheryl worked leisurely, and Vincent exploited this, drying the plates until they squeaked between his fingers. Tiny water spots flecked her dress; there was another one.
“Thanks,” Cheryl said when they had finished. “Some hostess I am, putting you to work.”
“A pleasure,” Vincent replied.
They took their seats on the porch. Harry was facing Alexa, his thumb and forefinger hovering, pincerlike, over the cards she had fanned before him. It was her one trick: she arranged the deck in such a way as to know whichever number and suit were pulled. Harry finally chose a card; she collated the rest.
“You screwed up, honey,” Vincent said. She’d forgotten to note where the deck had been split.
“Hold on, hold on.” Her head down, she thumbed through the cards, bouncing her knees as she always did when flustered. The ice in their glasses rattled. Harry leaned and whispered into her ear. She placed the deck to her temple, closed her eyes tight, and said, “I’m sensing the seven of clubs.”
Harry slapped the card onto his forehead, where it stuck. “Ta-da!”
Laughter, then Cheryl volunteered to go to the store for more gin.
“I’ll go with you.” Vincent nearly upended the little table as he stood. He looked at his wife, half-surprised that she hadn’t pinched him in the pants for the way he’d shot up from his chair. Later, when they were alone in the guest bedroom, she might make mention of it, maybe twist his leg hairs as they began the first fondlings of sex, a reminder that they owned each other. Now, she only swirled her drink.
“You two okay to drive?” Harry tilted his glass till all the ice came crashing down on his upper lip.
“Are we okay to drive.” Cheryl winked at Vincent as she reached inside and grabbed a set of keys from the hook on the wall.
“Toodles,” Harry said, topping off Alexa before pouring the last of the bottle for himself.
Feeling the liquor now, Vincent followed Cheryl’s summered legs to the car. The old Dodge Dart—the same dull blonde as Alexa’s hair, he noted with some guilt—had been left behind when Cheryl and Harry bought the place. A bit of a jalopy, the car reminded Vincent of high school, and he realized for the first time all weekend that he felt as happy as he had when they were still teenagers. It cheered him to think that their little group had made it through their twenties intact, and he was thankful that none of them had children yet, that they were still just young and married, friends who could sit around and get drunk, afternoon or evening. He looked out the rear window as the house receded from view. It was a postcard Vermont home, a tall white thing with a wide front porch, black shutters on every window, and an ancient maple off to one side, everything surrounded by green hills that rose and dipped like a rumpled bedspread.
“Isn’t it beautiful out here?” Cheryl said. “I mean, there’s nothing.” She stuck her head out the open window and inhaled. Her black hair whipped ecstatically. “Try it.”
The warm wind rushed over Vincent’s face, sweet and fermented. It made his teeth dry, but he couldn’t help smiling. When he pulled his head back in, he felt drunker.
“You guys should come up here every weekend with us. You’re more than welcome, you know.” She gave his knee a squeeze.
“It’d be nice if we could get a place like yours. I worry about the money, though. I don’t think Alexa would go for it.”
“Tell me about it. I practically had to sign a blowjob contract with Harry to get him to buy the place.”
Vincent laughed with her, feeling the heat rise in his cheeks, not because of the lewdness of her statement, which was tame by her standards, but because he instantly thought—was certain of—how capable she must be with her mouth. “How far is the store?” he asked.
“About fifteen minutes each way. In this car, maybe a little longer.” She patted the steering wheel. “I don’t like to push the old nag. You’re not in a hurry, are you? Those two aren’t going to die of thirst anytime soon.”
“No,” he said, “I’m in no hurry at all.”
Dusk had settled by the time they returned. The air was still humid. The black vinyl bench of the Dart stuck to Cheryl’s thighs and made a sex-like sound as she got out of the car. Vincent followed those legs, carrying the bottle of gin like a bouquet.
On the porch they found Alexa curled up in her chair like a child, her hands in prayer beneath her cheek. Harry’s chin was on his chest. Their drinks were melted.
“Snooze city,” Cheryl said in a low voice, then silently gathered up the glasses and brought them inside.
Vincent put the bottle down on the table, waking his wife, who always slept lightly; even his footfalls in their carpeted bedroom at home were enough to rouse her. “Rise, shine, et cetera.” Vincent leaned down and kissed her forehead. “You miss me?”
Alexa rubbed her eyes. “I think I need a lie-down. Just for a little bit. I’ll catch my second wind.” Vincent kissed her again, and she went in.
“Hey, old man.” Vincent shook Harry’s shoulder.
“Time is it?” Harry yawned and showed a white tongue.
“Time for a drink.”
Cheryl came out with lime wedges, tonic, and two fresh glasses, in which she deftly made two drinks.
Harry rose and grabbed his stiff neck. “All right, let me just freshen up.” He walked slowly into the house.
“He won’t be back.” Cheryl took his chair. “My husband, the lightweight. Cheers.”
They clinked glasses, drank, and watched the sun disappear completely.
Sometime later—three cars had passed, they’d been counting—Cheryl said, “Don’t you like being married?” She had her feet up on the railing, her shoes discarded beneath her chair, the hem of her dress piled high on her legs. Like a ceremonial offering, she held her glass in both hands.
Vincent took a long drink. “Of course.” Long Sundays lying in bed with Alexa, the silly coded language they shared, the security of her body, the intimate knowledge of that body—he did like being married.
“Can you stomach some girl talk?” Cheryl asked.
“I think so,” Vincent said.
She took a tiny sip and put her glass on the table. “You see the tree there?” She pointed to the old maple, with its thick umbrella of green leaves hanging low. “Earlier this summer, on our first weekend out here, Harry and me, we’re over by the tree. We’re acting stupid, chasing each other around the trunk. It became like a dance and we kept circling, circling.” She took her glass up again and drank. “So, you know, we started kissing and then we just did it right there, up against the tree. And afterwards, I feel like this stinging—this burning itching—and I look down at my leg and there’s all these little red bumps, bug bites, you know? And Harry points at the ground and says, ‘Shit, we’re in a nest of red ants.’” Cheryl laughed quietly. “So, yeah, marriage.” She closed her eyes and smiled.
“I thought you were going to say he’d carved your initials into the tree or something.” He paused. “Now I’ve got to go bed thinking about Harry’s hairy ass polluting the view.”
She stretched a leg towards him and gave him a gentle prod with her foot. “I’m sure that’s just what you’ll be thinking about.”
He grabbed her ankle, held it a moment, and let go. “Turn in?”
They left everything on the porch for cleanup in the morning. Now Vincent was at the end of the bed removing his shoes and pants. His belt buckle jangled, and, as expected, Alexa stirred. She sleepily kicked the sheet from her body and let out a quiet moan. The blue light from the window shone on her thigh. He lay down beside her.
Her mouth still smelled faintly of gin and tasted sweet. She said nothing, but grabbed the hair behind his ears as he moved his lips down her body. She was trying to restrain him, but he would indulge himself.
“Vincent,” she said.
Tomorrow they would all get up and gather once more. They would laugh. Vincent would steal looks at Cheryl, and Harry would flirt with Alexa. Vincent would sit next to Alexa, next to his wife, and together they’d go to bed.
“Alexa,” he said.
He ran his tongue over the inside of her leg and paused mid-thigh; here was a spot that seemed warmer, saltier, more alive than the rest of her flesh. He kissed the spot as tenderly as a wound.
“Vincent,” she said.
There were little bumps, and these he traced with his lower lip.
“Alexa,” he said.
A vague circle of little bumps.
“Vincent,” she said.
Tiny pincers of red ants.
“Oh, Alexa,” he said.
He bit, too.
About The Writer
Joseph Fazio writes fiction and lives in Boston, Massachusetts. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in The Kenyon Review, Post Road Magazine, and 236, the Boston University Creative Writing Program alumni literary journal. He is working on a novel and a collection of short stories.