“WHY DID YOU COME HERE?”
By Don Kellin
David Simon scanned the ocean and the beach.
“Sucker!” he thought. “No sharks -- no her -- no me. Why the Christ did I come back here?”
A year ago to the hour, while spreading his new, striped serape on the same cool sand near the raised Palapa-covered deck of the crowded beach restaurant, the busboys, leaning over the varnished mahogany rails, teased, “You paid too much, Gringo,” even though they knew the leathery serape vendor had settled for a third of his starting price to salvage a lousy day.
Now, there were no boys, no deck; no nothing. Held up by the few surviving timbers, the thrashed palm-thatched palapa and the gutted New Yorker were the only leftovers from a hurricane -- and her.
He put down his suit jacket and briefcase, took off his shoes and socks, lay down on his stomach facing the sea, propped himself up on his elbows, buried his chin in the palms of his hands. He looked for silhouettes of dorsal fins cutting through the silver-black sea beyond the breakers. Still none.
A year that felt like a decade had past since the taxi driver in the Hotel La Mirador parking lot had insisted on taking him to the “shark beach” after watching the frantic Gringo running from car-to-car, looking for a woman with jet-black hair and turquoise eyes.
“Suavecito, Señor, the driver had counseled. “No woman is worth this. For only five dollars I will take you to Pie de La Cuesta, Señor! You must see our sharks, Señor. You must let me take you over the hill and be on the beach at Pie de la Cuesta as the sun leaves our sky. That’s when they start to eat, Señor. And so can you. You can have some camarones and cervezas, find a ‘chiquita,’ and watch los tiburones; and if you’re lucky, you will make love in the dark while they are feeding. While they are feeding their stomach, you will feed your passion.”
David had no idea why he had slumped into that taxi. He wasn’t hungry. He didn’t want a beer -- or a quickie. He wasn’t sure if he had wanted to see sharks or be eaten by them. Blinded by the setting sun as the taxi glided over the crest of the mountain on the two-lane pride of the Guerrero coast, he had felt like something someone had left behind on the back seat. Now, a year later, alone on that beach again, he closed his eyes and relived how it all started when he was blind-sided in New York by the woman he thought he would spend the rest of his life with.
David Simon was positive that their table against the reflecting pool at The Four Seasons was the ideal place to propose. It was in this restaurant, three years before, that he had left his table to crash Bab’s thirtieth birthday luncheon to tell her they were born on the same day in the same year. They had been an item ever since.
Barbara Banning, one of the ‘Apple’s’ relevant literary agents, was sophistication wrapped in beauty. She preferred emeralds to diamonds, her Caesar salad with a tart merlot, not a white; rack of lamb, rare, without “the sweet crap.” Both had been self-made, but she acted like old money; and until some of her osmosed, he acted like he tripped over his first bag of it every morning. The first two years of the relationship he knew he was in over his head, but she didn’t let on that she noticed or cared. He thought the past year had been wonderful; he felt secure enough to open up to her and allow himself the comforts of vulnerability. Things seemed perfect. So did the ring: antique, delicate, diamond-cut, pear-shaped, set in burnished eighteen-carat with two delicate emerald baguettes on each side.
He was as nervous as he had been dialing her number for the first time. Late as usual, she walked in, took his head in her antelope-gloved hands, bent over, kissed his damp forehead a cold hard hello, moved to her side of the table, threw her Valentino cashmere coat over the back of her seat, and sat.
She was a bit distant, but she was like that from time to time. He intended to wait until after the crème brouleè, but couldn’t.
“You complete me, sweetheart,” he sighed, pushing the forest-green velvet box across the white-linen top past the herb-butter ramekin with the undisturbed mint leaf garnish. (Only foreigners and people from the mid-west use butter in Manhattan)
Barbara looked down at the box, then up at him.
“My dear, sweet, David.”
She wasn’t smiling. He forced one.
She looked down again for a few seconds, then slowly raised her eyes, rested her chin on the heel of her hand. One solitary tear didn’t quite reach her cheekbone as if she willed it to stop.
“My sweet, David, I know that you need me, that I complete you. That’s my problem. I was going to tell you that today.”
“Tell me what, today?”
Suddenly they were the only two people in the restaurant.
“You’re bright, you’re so sweet, but, but --”
“But, what? Is it the completing me thing or are you a diabetic?”
“Funny, David, you can be so funny.”
He didn’t feel funny.
“David, most women -- I mean I -- I mean you’re a knockout, but --
“But, what?” he repeated, knowing he would have been better off sticking his forefingers in his ears and drowning her response in “aaaaaaaaah.”
“I need someone who’s complete without me,” Barbara continued as if she had already left. “I didn’t expect this today. I do care for you, David. I am so sorry, David.”
He never wanted to hear his name again.
She sat there a moment, then grabbed her coat and took off.
“Babs, I’m really pretty complete. It’s just a figure of speech!” David shouted as she hurried away, flinging the massive glass door open before the doorman could reach it, and then raced out onto Fifty-Second. David Simon stared into the reflecting pool rubbing his forehead, smearing her hello. A gust of air rippled the surface, his reflection disappeared -- like his ex-almost fiancée -- and three years.
The frost-bitten captain, clutching the green velvet box in his frozen fist, caught up to him at Park Avenue and Fifty-Fifth. He shrugged, handed him the box. David stood there staring at it, alone on a plateau, no one but him as far as the eye could see.
Plenty of advice followed:
“You have to get away.”
“You have to bury yourself in your work.”
“You have to bury yourself in a hooker.”
“You have to try a guy.”
“David,” his friend, Marvin, counseled, “It’s like when your dog dies or you’re in a plane crash. You have to get another dog or hop on a plane.”
“That’s great advice, Marv! Why don’t I combine the two and hop on a dog!”
A few weeks later he elected the plane option for, ‘The Two Week Acapulco Escape.’ The ‘escape’ part resonated.
His upper duplex at The Pierre Marques had a red-clay tiled stairway to a red-clay private terrace. It remained private for his entire stay. Although David hadn’t smoked a joint since college, he knew ‘Acapulco Gold’ wasn’t ten-carat Mexican jewelry. The boy-dealer waved him along the beach to a clump of driftwood, reached into a knot and produced twenty-five five bucks worth of ‘company.’ It was the only ‘company’ he invited to his terrace; that and a few pounds of guacamole, tortilla chips and spaghetti Bolognese. No one in New York had advised that Mexican spaghetti Bolognese offered temporary relief from heartsickness and loss of self-esteem.
“Todo baja control?” asked the chambermaid each morning and evening.
“Si,” David answered not knowing if he had given her permission to sell his jewelry.
Most of the day he stood, stoned, at his terrace rail contemplating his new mathematical theory of relationships:
‘Dozens of women x one commitment = zero.’
A few bikinied ladies waved up to him, lingered, smiled, waved again, then slowly moved away disappointed that he seemed preoccupied. For those few days he thought he regained the magic -- until he realized that the walkways around the duplex reeked of weed. When the twenty-five bucks worth ran out they stopped waving.
He finally dragged himself into town. The clubs were packed and swinging; he was wallpaper; not the decorative kind, the kind that looks like paint, like why was it there?
He cruised a few more clubs a few more nights; a waste of time. He decided what he was trying to find was somewhere inside him, not leaning against a mahogany bar top. He hit the beach four days before the end of his vacation. Acapulco has three beaches; morning, afternoon and evening. David chose Playa Condessa, the evening beach, because he felt akin to the rocks jutting out of the water one-hundred and fifty yards from the beach, anywhere or anyone. He sat on them, alone; looking back at the beach for awhile. Then he put his fins and snorkel back on and headed back to humanity. He swam until he was near the shore, cruised the bottom in waist-deep water scanning for shells and Manta Ray eggs until he noticed a sliver of turquoise suspended a few yards from him a few inches above the cloudy bottom. He kicked closer and saw two delicate ankles, one of which was adorned with a beaded turquoise bracelet. He rose slowly along her bronzed legs.
His head broke the surface below her hips; he looked up at her staring down at him, amused. Her eyes matched the bracelet. He rose a few inches from her. There was no way he could have prepared. She gazed into his soul, then down at the front of his Speedo edging toward her. Her smile broadened. He felt like a thirty-three year-old adolescent caught being naughty. She painted his face with her eyes, smiled as if he was an old friend, then turned and walked up onto the beach.
David Simon had been to many beaches; to his share of bars. He had made the scene, his advances were rarely rejected:
“My sign is ‘no parking’ what’s yours?”
“Have we met before, or am I just saying this to start a conversation?”
Even the erudite, Gentile, Barbara Banning, had relented, eventually. Yet, now, when it counted, he stood there frozen as she left and his Speedo returned. He watched as she glided toward the street untwisting her bun, allowing jet black hair to fall to her waist, then disappeared through a row of hanging serapes, piles of pottery and two-dollar puppets. A wave buckled his knees from behind, he rushed out of the water, up and across the beach and onto the street. But she had vanished.
He looked in every store on the Costera Miguel Aleman, in hotel lobbies, at their pools; he stopped at fishing fleet booths. A busboy at El Restaurante Paraiso translated ‘turquoise eyes and black hair’ for him.
“Ojos turquessa, pelo negro, ojos turquessa, pelo negro,” he butchered to shop owners as he retraced his steps until he was exhausted. He jumped on a bus toward the center of town and back. At the stop before Centro, a dead marlin hanging from a weighing hook caught his eye. They stared at each other thinking ‘how did this happen?’ until the bus moved.
He quit searching after dark. He walked the three miles to his hotel, in a daze, passed vendors, shops, honking taxis; through crowds of tourists and dozens of, “I only paid the guy a few bucks for this thing,” but didn’t see anything except her face or hear anything except:
“Why didn’t I? Why couldn’t I?”
He slumped down on a curb and thought:
‘Did Barbara ever know me? I never felt this way about her. Maybe she did both of us a favor.’
There was no reasonable explanation for checking out of the Five Star and into the motel, except that he felt like a motel.
Gilberto Lopez was the only employee on the guest’s side of the counter in the sort- of- lobby of the Noa Noa. Bellhop, waiter, busboy; restaurant, club and red light district guide; he knew where everything and everyone could be found. But after hearing her description, he raised his palms to his sides, shrugged his shoulders and shook his head, no.
“Lo siento mucho, Señor,” Gilberto had said. “I am very sorry. Such a woman can only be found in an expensive bottle of Tequila. Let me get you a taxi to take you to a woman who will look okay after a few cervezas.
‘How could I feel this way about someone I never spoke to?’ David Simon asked himself.
The answer came quickly:
‘I didn’t have to speak to her. I know how she made me feel. She seemed to know me.’
He had been leveled in less time than it would have taken him to ask:
“Are you here on vacation or do you live around here?”
If he couldn’t find her, his remaining vacation was pointless. He couldn’t.
Aero Mexico had no flights available until his scheduled departure. He would be stuck in a place he wanted to escape for at least two more days.
He spent the night in bed watching ants streaming along the pitted aluminum saddle of the sliding screen doors that had stopped sliding long before his visit. He lay there staring down at them going about their business, then up at the ceiling fan squealing heat and humidity around the stucco box the Noa Noa called a suite. He refused to close his eyes fearing he would see her again. He had resolved to forget her by sunup.
“Another day, another dollop,” said the expatriate waitress from Minneapolis putting a thick lump of Mexican sour cream over her countryman’s strawberries. “What else would ‘Mr. Intriguing’ like to have today?”
“Some excitement,” he answered without really wanting anything but his apartment on the East side of Manhattan.
“Then you must see the cliff divers at La Quebrada!” she suggested with gusto.
The waitress hesitated a moment, then added with a wink, “I get off at three. I can take you there.”
“No thanks,” he said. “That’s very nice of you, but I’ve had enough romance for this trip.”
“I can show you the sights,” she smiled.
“I’ve seen one too many for now,” he said.
“We’re not supposed to engage the guests, you know,” she whispered leaning down, showing some cleavage and her badge to the oblivious man.
“Engaged, I was almost engaged,” he said, detached.
“What happened?” she asked.
“She didn’t want to complete me.”
“She was crazy. I’d complete you,” ‘Buenos Dias, I’m Lois’ persisted.
“You’re too late. Now there’s too much of me to complete,” he said, matter-of-factly.”
“I give great completion,” she persevered.
“Thanks, anyway. May I have a check, please?”
“Well, okay, Mr. Hard-to-get. Anyhow you should see the divers before you leave.”
A huge crowd had already gathered at the Hotel La Mirador for the spectacle. They were crammed thick against a rail along the hotel’s cement deck rimming a portion of the edge of La Quebrada cliffs. He knew he had as much chance of seeing the daredevils dive as he would have standing in front of The Trump Tower on Fifth.
“At least they’ll take the plunge,” he said aloud to himself as he started to turn back.
He froze when he saw her hair. A gust of wind had blown it up above the sea of heads that separated them. She was at the rail! The nice American turned ‘ugly’ shoved his way through one language after the other, but she was gone. Now he could see the divers posed like statues on the precipice, but couldn’t care less if they did what he had done the day before: if they had stood at the edge and done nothing. He turned and thought he caught a glimpse of her eyes looking back at him. He plowed back toward the hotel through the same incredulous groups, bolted out of them, but she wasn’t there.
“Is it the grass? Is she a God-damned ghost? ” he mumbled as he searched the hotel lobby, ran out to the parking lot, inspected every car, talked to every driver, including the one who convinced him to seek renewal at Pie De La Cuesta.
He remembered the jolt of the ruts after that taxi left the black top heading for the beach.
“There are plenty of taxis at night, Señor,” said the driver, disregarding his fare’s offer to pay him to wait for him. The taxi took off over the ruts headed back over the mountain to Acapulco.
David ordered some shrimp and a beer, walked onto the beach, bargained for the serape. He sat eating and drinking while looking for silhouettes of dorsal fins against the setting sun.
The sharks never showed, but the boys did, with more beers. A few yards from the Pacific, he wondered why the sun melted flat before it touched the sea; why the waves were enormous, but there was no wind.
“The beach gets pounded; the sun’s denied its evening dip. I get pounded; I’m denied the sunset. A thousand miles from here or under my nose; there’s something I can’t see, just don’t understand.”
The breeze came up as the sun left. He lay down on his stomach, rested his temple on his forearm, and then closed his eyes for the first time since he had seen her. He dreamed ‘ojos turquessa’ was having dinner with him at The Four Seasons. She insisted on sitting beside him, cramped, rather than across the small table for two.
“Darling, you’re too far away,” she complained.
The captain hesitated, and then ordered the waiter to change the place settings. They stood there staring at her, smiling at him. They both knew she was the reason for being a man.
He was about to ask her name when he woke up. He sensed he wasn’t alone, turned, rested his chin on his forearm, his eyes began to focus -- and he saw the ankle bracelet. He sprung to his knees, looked up at her for a moment, then exhaled:
“Why did you come here?”
“I have only been with one man,” she answered, disregarding the question.
“A night?” he fired.
“I gave myself to him when I was sixteen. He told me he loved me and I believed him.” she continued. “Maybe he did for a few months; maybe he didn’t. That was eight years ago. I should have waited longer.”
“How did you know I would be here?” David asked.
“Because this is where I asked my cousin to bring you,” she answered, kneeling next to him.
“Your cousin was the taxi driver?”
“Si,” she answered, detached.
“And the people in town?”
“They protect me.”
“Is this your hobby?” he asked.
“Life is my hobby,” she answered.
“Why did you leave me in the water?”
“I wanted you to find me,” she answered, drawing closer.
“Why did you want me to find you?”
“I wanted to make sure before I kissed you.”
“Make sure of what??”
“Time is the only true test -- time and a kiss.”
David had learned about kissing from his first lover, a woman ten years his senior. She had taught him that he must learn how to breathe through his nose while the lady’s mouth was pressed against his.
“Only then can each kiss last long enough for lovers to become part of each other,” she had counseled.
Sharks swimming in the dark; the dead marlin staring at him; Barbara’s frozen kiss on his forehead; standing alone on Park Avenue; flashed thorough his mind the few times he caught his breath. For much of the night it felt like she was in him.
The stars faded and so had their strength as the sun began to rise somewhere in the East. He had closed his eyes for what seemed to be a minute or two, and then jumped up knowing she was gone. And he was right.
“I failed the damned test,” he screamed toward the sea, then dragged the serape toward the parking lot.
It seemed to him that a different person had made the plane trip home -- a person without senses. The February air wasn’t cold in the ‘teens.’ The gusts up the avenues no longer made him gasp when they should have. The snow on the ground wasn’t there when it was. The city seemed quiet at rush hour. And there were no attractive women in New York.
The time passed, slowly. Winter broke down. He went about his business; planned some estates, unplanned others. Barbara called to see how he was.
“You were right, Babs,” he told her, “A woman shouldn’t complete a man.”
“David, I --”
“She should complete his potential to feel,” he interrupted, then hung up.
Spring came and went. His friends and family couldn’t understand why the beach-lover had no interest in joining them at the shore during the summer. He dated a bit, caught a few movies, moved up to the penthouse, bought a car he didn’t need; but the car did have needs: one parking spot, two mechanics. His phony grins became smiles. Smiles struggled to become laughter. Autumn crept back. Leaves traveled the city to find a place to rest; David searched for peace. He made some progress -- his rhythm returned. The serape draped over the parson’s table in his entry foyer was slowly becoming décor.
David planned a few more estates, sold millions of term insurance and shares of stock -- and suddenly it was February again -- one year to the day since them. He was almost in orbit again, on the edge of weightlessness.
That morning, he dressed for his appointment, grabbed his briefcase, and handed the old elevator operator the usual straight line.
“How’s business Max?”
“It has its ups and downs,” Max answered as if it was the first time.
David hopped in a cab; it took off, turned the corner onto Fifth Avenue and stopped. He loosened his tie, looked out at the gridlocked traffic, helpless, frozen in time. He put the case on his lap and opened it. There were his Mont Blancs, a sliver of reading glasses and his masterful proposal sitting on top of the red, yellow and turquoise serape. He looked at the pens, paper, up at the forest of grey buildings, at the chalk-faced drivers to his left and right, staring forward, powerless -- and then down at the turquoise stripe. He was within a few blocks of his appointment when he directed the driver to JFK. Mexicana had nothing; Aero Mexico had less. American had standby. He was finishing his tourist card when his name called.
And so, David Simon, estate planner, sand in his cuffs, was on the Pie de la Cuesta beach again, alone on their anniversary, watching the sun melt into the water.
‘It’s not a total loss,’ he thought as his eyes closed, ‘At least the sun touched the sea this time.’
He drifted off face down -- and dreamed.
He dreamed he was back in New York at the appointment he missed.
“You look distracted, young man,” commented the prospective client.
“I am, sir. I love someone, but I failed her test.”
“What kind of a test?” he asked.
“I think it was my kissing, sir. She gave me a kissing test.”
The prospect rose from behind his desk.
“Son, the trick is you have to breathe while you’re kissing.”
“I do, sir, believe me I do. I can’t understand why --”
Their conversation was interrupted by her voice:
“Do you need me?”
“I tried not to,” David answered in his sleep, “but --”
“Do you or don’t you need me?” she interrupted.
He didn’t answer.
“If you don’t need me, why did you come here?” she asked.
He opened his eyes and rose slowly. She was kneeling beside him, her cheeks glistening.
“Why are you crying?” he asked.
“I’ve had a terrible year,” she answered.
“Waiting, hoping I wasn’t wrong this time.”
They embraced, separated and looked at each other.
“How was your year, my love?” she asked.
“Okay -- I guess,” David Simon answered. “Tell me your name.”
© December 2004
WGA REG# 8554473