Violet molds her palms around the glass and watches the ice settle into the green liquid. She’s sweating despite the chill. Across the patio, through the black bars of the railing, the shrubbery shivers, making a blur the same color as the substance in the glass.
She glances at her watch. He’s five minutes later than last time she checked. The wind whips strands of Violet’s hair into her mouth. She glances through the closed window at the flashing silverware, the figures leaning close across white-clothed tables. Should she have sat inside? No. When Holt arrives, they’ll need the wide world around them for the conversation she’s about to start. Besides, they’d never let him in.
The waiter thought she was insane, requesting to sit on the patio, but a ten-dollar tip enticed him to unlock the door to this small outdoor table where she is on display to the entire patronage of the restaurant. The waiter also thought she was crazy for ordering a Green Goblin. The icy concoction is utterly unsuited to this last day of fall here on the California coast, where she needs a jacket against the chilly air.
She should be rehearsing the conversation. Instead she looks again over the railing, past the shrubs to the ocean. On a milder day the tourists would be out here oohing and aahing at the view. Today there’s a wall of fog a few hundred yards offshore. The effect of looking at the fog bank over the sea is like encountering the stark end of her own existence.
The ice has barely melted in Violet’s yet-untouched drink. She pokes at it and licks the crème-de-menthe-flavored liquid from her finger. Holt resembles ice. His smooth surface never softens but only slips away beneath her touch.
She is not thinking of him in any way that will be constructive for the upcoming conversation. She’s thinking of his unforgiving eyes and exterior sleekness. She loves both of these things about him. And she loves his long silences, which at first seemed companionable, but which she has come to understand indicate how comfortable he feels inside his body.
Violet lets her hand rest on her leg under the table and remembers Holt’s sharp touch on the flesh of her thigh.
The waiter appears, clad in black and balancing a round tray on one palm. He’s looking at her with the kind of puzzled, disgusted fascination her father used to throw her way over the dinner table.
“Yes. Fine.” She should be grateful for this bit of human kindness, even if she has bought and paid for it. “Actually,” she asks, “Do you have oysters?” That will be just the thing to make the bitter pill she’s about to feed Holt go down easier.
“Absolutely,” the waiter says.
“I’ll take a dozen.”
It’s only fog, Violet thinks, turning back to the ocean when the waiter leaves. It’s not storm clouds massing for a beach assault. The restaurant high on the rocks will be safe for today. If anything is going to be washed into the sea, it will be Violet’s concept of herself. And it won’t erode gently but will be hurled over the cliff into the roaring water. The sweet green drink and the oysters on the half shell are mere distractions.
She should have asked for the oysters whole. Holt would prefer them that way, though the request would have meant another tiresome explanation for the waiter. Her constant impulse to accommodate Holt, to bend herself around him, is exactly why things must end between them.
The oysters arrive pinkish gray and slick in their half shells on a bed of crushed ice with a cup of bright sauce like a pot of blood beside them. She won’t eat until he comes. Another glance at her watch. Of course he’s never on time. He lives in a world where the only times that matter are sunup and sundown, where seasons signify little, where fog occurs so regularly that he pays no attention to it. He certainly doesn’t invent silly metaphors about looking into the blankness of his own death. This is another thing she has grown to love about him and another reason it is impossible for them to stay together.
Holt materializes slowly, unlike the waiter who startled her. He comes from over the ocean, of course, taking form out of the fog first as a speck, then a dot, then a fluttering scrap of fabric. Violet leans over the oysters, squinting to be sure it’s him. She recognizes the rhythm of his movement, his strong neck, the noble curve of his head.
All her thinking fails to prepare her, as always, for his presence. She has dated so many men, whom she recalls as a procession of striped ties, curly beards, cleft chins, fleshy noses, collared shirts. Holt owns no ties and cannot grow a beard. He cannot pay for lunch or pick her up at her door. There will be no Sunday papers in bed for them, no PTA conferences with their future offspring, no rockers on the porch in their old age.
She nods to welcome him and looks away quickly to firm up her resolve. She has decided what she must do; she can’t back down now.
She cradles an oyster in her palm and holds it out. The wind chills the sweat under her arms. Holt turns his head and fixes her with a glittering aquamarine eye. He stares without moving for so long she thinks he isn’t going to accept the gift. Then he moves like a slicing knife toward her hand and the oyster is gone.
Violet licks the brine from the empty oyster shell.
“I have something to tell you,” she says. “But let’s finish the oysters first.”
Audrey Kalman writes literary fiction with a dark edge, often about what goes awry when human connection is missing from our lives. She is the author of two novels— What Remains Unsaid (2017) and Dance of Souls (2011)—and book of short stories scheduled for publication in 2018. She lives in northern California and is working on another novel. More at www.audreykalman.com.