Specks
A Short Story by Doug Dean
Written using the suggestion "Symphony"
Originally featured on 01-27-2010
As part of our series "Senses of Togetherness"

I chug down the last little bit of a glass of Yellow Tail Cabernet with my feet up on the coffee table and the credits to All In The Family rolling down the television. Ricky is sitting next to me.

“Guess what I’ve got,” Ricky says.

I flare my eyebrows.

“Cigars,” Ricky says.

We head outside onto the back porch. The crickets are in full summer swing, chirping away.

“So is it official?” Ricky asks.

I nod.

Ricky lights a match and puts it to the cigar in my mouth.

 

I awaken to sounds of birds, the blankets wrapped around my warm feet, and Ricky in my doorway.

Ricky’s got permanent laugh lines at the edges of his eyes. His trimmed beard is like part of his face. The dark blue tee-shirt he’s wearing has ‘Black Sox’ sewn onto the back in black lettering, a homemade gift from his ex-wife. Above his Saucony runners, I see black sox.

“So I’ll see you downstairs in ten minutes,” he says without a wink, though the wink felt implied.

I peel away the covers, glance at the sun-glazed window, and rotate, finally placing my feet on the floor. I’m not tired. Just the opposite, in fact. I walk over to my dresser, pull open the top drawer and grab a white tee-shirt, not sure which one, and put it on. There are shorts in the second drawer. I put them on. I grab balled up socks, shut the drawer, look in the mirror, shrug, and hook my index and middle fingers through the backs of my sneakers and carry them out with me into the hallway.

The hallway is quiet. There’s sun pouring into the hallway through the window. The tan carpet is warm where the sun has been. I take my time walking on the warm patches along the banister on my way to the stairs.

It is a good thing to have somewhere to go when you wake up and to not be in a rush.

 

 

Ricky is tenacious when he serves. He plays racquetball sometimes. He gives the ball a low toss then comes over with a tight swing of his racquet which gives his serve a line drive shape, almost no arc and a deadening spin.

My feet feel light as I skip over to return his serve. I return it back towards him. He is at mid-court and delivers a cross-court winner, which I race towards and futilely, swing at. I smile and jog to the back fence to pick up the ball. I throw it back to him and then I’m back at the base line to receive another serve.

“40-15.”

I nod.

His first serve hits the net. I bend my knees and lean forward. The second serves comes in low with a lot of spin. I charge it and lob it back towards the baseline. I keep moving towards the net and wait there for the return. Ricky forehands it back to the opposite side of the net. I anticipated it and I’m there to volley it. My net shot is at too tight an angle and is impossible to get to. It ricochets off of the bench and bounces back towards his baseline.

“40-30.”

I’m trotting backwards to my baseline.

It’s inspiring to wonder how things are going to turn out and to not be worried.

 

Ricky always gets the same thing at the diner.

He bites off half of a strip of bacon. Two eggs — over-easy; two strips of bacon, home fries, cup of coffee — two sugars, one cream; and a large glass of orange juice.

I cut through my feta and bacon omelet.

The silver comes rolled in a paper napkin encircled by a paper ring here. There’s never so much as a water stain on any of piece of silverware, ever.

“She’s probably going to leave you her number written on the check,” says Ricky. “If she’s got any sense.”

I smile.

“I’m sure she’ll make some sort of an effort to give me her contact information,” I say, dryly.

He nods, and lifts the other half of that bacon strip into his mouth.

“I’m not so sure about her,” Ricky says, chewing and eyeing Rachel as she makes change for the elderly couple at Table 8.

“No?” I say, my fork on its way to my mouth.

“She might be another crazy,” says Ricky. “You might want to steer clear of her.”

I grin. “Okay, I’ll keep her at a distance.”

“Yeah, act naturally when she brings the bill, but don’t acknowledge any of her advances, okay?” says Ricky, still eyeing Rachel. Then his eyes move to mine. “Seriously, okay?”

I swallow a bite of salty bacon, feta and egg and nod.

Rachel is at the table.

“How is everything?” asks Rachel, mostly to Ricky, but with a half glance at me.

“Fine, thanks,” says Ricky with a nod. “The bill when you get a chance.”

“Great,” I say and take a swig of coffee.

“Okay,” says Rachel with a smile, mostly at Ricky but she smiles at me for a second before leaving.

“I got this,” says Ricky. “Don’t even argue. There’s no way you’re paying for that omelet.”

I know that I’m going to let him buy me this meal, but I hesitate for a selfish second looking at him, taking in the generosity in his eyes before I nod and say, “Thanks Ricky, that’s nice of you.”

“Whatever, happy birthday, man,” Ricky says before grabbing his orange juice and chugging some.

 

 

Ricky listens to NPR when he drives. We’re listening to market analysis and heading downtown to check movie showtimes for District 9.

I see a mariachi band playing in the promenade.

“Hey, pull over,” I say. “We’ve got a little time, right?”

“Yeah,” Ricky says, signaling.

He pulls his jeep to the curb. I get out of the car. The street is vacant but for the store fronts and a few pedestrians.

I reach into my jacket and grab my wallet as we approach them. I’m filing through my bills, when Ricky sees and says, “I got it.”

Then he throws a five-dollar bill into the sombrero.

The mariachi band is four men. They all wear matching black embroidered shirts and blue jeans. Three of the four wear moustaches. One of the guitarists, the leader, nods at Ricky and calls out the new count.

At first I’m just nodding my head, but then I start swaying. I start breaking it down. I look over at Ricky and smile. He starts clapping along. In a second, he’s moving too.

Ricky punches the air when he dances. He doesn’t move his feet, just his hips and arms. I like to twirl around and act like I’m being electrocuted.

I see a pretty girl with brown hair and a blue dress standing in the doorway of a clothing shop. She’s watching us dance. I wave.

Waving to a pretty girl never seems to get older.

 

Ricky keeps bathing suits and towels in his car. The movie starts at five. So we had a couple of hours to head over to the beach and jump in the ocean.

I run along the sand at full speed towards the surf. It’s hot on my feet and just the idea of the ocean’s temperature sends a chill down my spine. But I keep sprinting headlong.

I splash through twenty feet of shallow salt water before diving over a wave.

The cold hits the top of my head first, then jolts my whole body as I coast underwater, an inch above the sand. I hear waves breaking above and behind me.

I pop up and Ricky is waist deep, water dripping down off of his chin.

“No feeling like it!” I yell.

“Right?” says Ricky.

“Right,” I say and dive back under. I move my palms back and forth in the sand as I coast along the floor. I dig my hands in, feeling the grains getting under my fingernails. Then, I pop back up.

Ricky’s there again. I splash at him, aiming for his face, and then dive back under. I open my eyes under the water. It stings a little, the saltwater. I pop back up.

Ricky throws seaweed on my face. “Ha Ha!” yells Ricky. Then he dives under.

I tread water and look at the beach. The shore stretches on endlessly in both directions. And it’s just a speck on a map.

 

 

Ricky’s re-lighting my cigar. I like the way my feet feel on the wood of the boardwalk. A towel drapes down from my head onto my shoulders.

“You know what would be cool?” says Ricky.

“No. What?” I say.

“If everybody came to the beach on Tuesdays after work,” says Ricky.

I tilt my head, inquisitively.

“Not for the whole night, but for a couple of hours, to say hello and hang out.”

I nod.

“You mean everybody, or everybody we know?” I ask.

“Nah, I mean everybody,” says Ricky.

The sun is at two o’ clock in the sky. Everything is still bright and there is only a hint of dusk behind the clouds.

 

 

Ricky is manning the stove. I’m sitting at the kitchen table with a glass of Syrah. The room smells of Marsala sauce.

“Everyone would react to that,” says Ricky. “It’s the type of thing that would prevent anyone from going on, ya know, as if things were normal after that.”

“But I think that’s the point the film was trying to make,” I say.

“One of the points,” Ricky says.

“Yeah, there were numerous points, but one of the points,” I say, “is that if aliens came down, we wouldn’t have any clue of what to do with them. We’d carry on as close to normally as possible.”

“Okay, true,” says Ricky, pouring more wine into a sauce pan. “But everyone would know that things were different, that the game had changed and that nothing would be quite the same as it was.”

I take a sip of Syrah.

“Okay, yeah, maybe in the back of everyone’s mind they’d be aware of a difference. However, their day-to-day emotions would probably be exactly the same,” I say.

Ricky turns down the flame, puts a lid on the sauce pan, grabs his glass of Syrah off of the stove and joins me at the table.

“Well, the constant human concerns will always be at the forefront — food, play, money, entertainment, whatever — but the context would be different for everyone,” Ricky says.

“I don’t think that context matters too much to people anymore,” I say.

“I disagree,” Ricky says, raising his glass. “Cheers to you, bro. Happy birthday!”

I raise my glass. “Cheers, thanks,” I say.

“I think that everyone is just chomping at the bit for something like that to happen. Something that would put everyone on the same page like that. Something to clear away all the blocks.”

“You always say that,” I say. “And yeah, I don’t disagree that people like a lightning rod. But aliens?”

I feel comforted by the inanity and irrelevance of this conversation. It continues as we eat and we segue into others of equal pointlessness over more wine and a birthday cake. My birthday ends with me falling asleep on the couch.

It is a significant pleasure to feel at ease at the close of a memorable day.

Read More By Doug Dean

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