This Sexiness Was Not Meant For Your Eyes
The sign said PLEASE PREPARE TO STOP in black letters over orange. Nell noticed it. She squeezed her sunglasses even tighter against her face and said nothing.
Caleb muttered upwind, “Please prepare to suck my balls.” He spoke inaudibly when he desired to say something stupid, because Nell never asked him to repeat himself. Her philosophy was that if something was worth saying it would be spoken volubly, and if something was worth hearing she would have heard it the first time.
Nell’s body was a tourist in the passenger seat. She did not know how to be a passenger. She had a habit of sitting on her hands. Caleb was sure she did it to prevent her hands from reaching for an imaginary steering wheel.
Once they got to the beach, got out of their car—and their clothes—and into the sand and the sound of waves tickling the shore, it would be a different day seen through an entirely different mood. What Caleb did not know was that a casual encounter with Jesus awaited them at the beach.
In the first fifteen minutes since leaving the house, Nell had criticized his turning radius, his hesitance at crosswalks, his slowing before a traffic light, and his improper use of the gas pedal in preparation to ascend hills. All of those complaints were repeated more than twice and with increasing vehemence over fifteen minutes. Then Caleb started making the errors deliberately, and she knew it. Her criticisms translated themselves to cold silences. He mouthed the mantra of “What is this, fucking driver’s ed?” to the wind. He wished she would say curtly, pull over, let me drive, because then he would happily comply, but he could not suggest it himself—that was one of the rules.
Whatever her body was doing to her hands to restrain them on the seat, her mouth was doing the same thing to her tongue for forty miles. She was not being tactful. Caleb knew exactly what she was doing: she was saving her verbal energy.
The dreaded conversation.
Nell and Caleb journeyed to Curallae Beach approximately twice a year. It was a place they visited never alone and never with anybody aside from each other. It was the place they went when they had something of ultimate importance to discuss relating to their marriage. Nell had proposed to Caleb over picnic sushi on a slippery rock during low tide six summers ago. The decision to conceive Chelsea—their blond-headed two-year-old daughter who was currently in the care of her aunt Claudia—was made during the subsequent trip to Curallae Beach, over white wine when the sun was bobbing.
Be prepared to stop? Fuck prepared to stop. Caleb was not sure how else to take it other than to take it as a bad omen that there was road construction taking place on Curallae Vista Road as soon as they got off the highway. None of their previous visits had began in this exact way.
Their heads turned slowly away from each other as the car slowed. Nell’s window closed and Caleb’s opened, and both stopped midway. Sweat formed in the crevice behind Caleb’s ear. His stomach would explode into a thousand tiny firecrackers if they did not get the hell out of the car, out of their clothes, into the sand and into the noise of the waves playing polite predatory games with the surf.
They both removed all their clothing without looking at each other while walking the wooded path. Caleb carried the cooler. They had never visited any portion of Curallae Beach other than the clothing-optional stretch.
Nell and Caleb lay side by side without touching each other, and remained in the sand until they could hear each other’s heartbeats. That was the only proper way for a conversation at Curallae Beach to begin. Caleb was certain he could hear it, could track its tempo, then he opened his eyes and there was only the imprint of her absent naked body in the sand. He sat up and surveyed. She was swimming. He laughed. This was good.
Nell had been raised Jewish. Caleb did not call himself an atheist, but was a cynic when it came to religion. They had agreed to raise Chelsea Jewish, but had never talked about the specifics. Now it had come time to talk about the specifics.
Caleb wiped sweat from his forehead languorously and looked down at his body. When there was more skin than ocean in his field of vision, his eyes became tired. His chest and abdomen pulled on his eyesight like gravity, unrolling it like a bedspread. His arms and chest were every bit as toned as they had been six years ago. He had a little bit more of a paunch than he preferred, but that could be lived with. His legs were still firm and unblemished.
He watched Nell flap her arms in the water and then huddle into a ball, clutching her knees and bouncing in the waves with a girlish smile, her teeth the only part of her that remained perfectly still. Their eyes caught, and she motioned for him to come join her. Caleb smiled back and shook his head. His eyes ventured down to the midsection of his body and stopped; Nell could easily ascertain from a distance what Caleb was looking at and thinking, and if Caleb took to wondering if Nell had always secretly been repulsed by the fact that he was not circumcised, wondering would progress to talking about it, and nobody could argue its irrelevance to the topic at hand, therefore Caleb did not wish to invite the inevitability of talking about it, so he refrained from looking.
He then realized that she never was waving at him to join her in the water. Her hand gesture was not a hand gesture that beckoned his physical presence, but a hand gesture that urged him to turn his attention to a spectacle taking place about forty paces to her left. A tall, thin naked man with long brown hair and a beard and a weary expression was standing on the brine at the crest of a small wave, bobbing up and down, surfing on nothing with his knees slightly bent, his legs sunburned but elastic looking.
Caleb shrugged and shamelessly scrutinized his sexual organs.
When he looked up, he found that looking at this man’s face—out of the water and standing before him—was more exhausting than any other sight that had fatigued his eyes before. Jesus said, “Perhaps, then, you should get a cat.” His voice sounded like an extracted heartbeat sped up proportionally so that an entire human life could be heard in a spoken sentence. It was the most tiring sound Caleb had ever heard.
“Excuse me?” Caleb spoke out loud but could not hear himself. He wondered if it was because he was saying something stupid.
Jesus said, “It would be less cumbersome—and require no trip to the beach—to argue over the religious upbringing of a domesticated feline.”
Nell was tiring of the water, and would soon be shuffling back to the towel to join the conversation. The first-word burden was on Caleb. That was why she was swimming.
“What do you mean?” said Caleb.
Jesus laughed. “Aren’t you curious?”
Caleb was curious, and knew exactly what he meant. “You mean…”
“You know what I mean, and it would be kinder of you to stop pretending you don’t.”
Caleb spoke softly, not so as to hide his voice. “I already discovered for myself.”
Nell was hugging him from behind, smothering freezing cold water into him. He tried to scramble out of her embrace and she laughed. Then she gave Jesus a casual nod.
Caleb wrapped the towel around Nell’s back and said, “So.”
Nell said, “So.”
Nell and Caleb looked at each other, both posing the same question: does this…change things?
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Portland Fiction Project
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