The lights of the Montclair Holiday Resort loomed wistful and gray in an unseasonably cold rain for that time of September. All throughout the wooded valley and the surrounding lake district, the same dull flat drab bank of clouds crouched low and stubborn between earth and sky. Beaches that formerly flocked with screaming families and smoking barbecues in summer months now stood empty, and the blue waters that rose in arcs with speedboats and the plop of a fisherman’s lure now sat silvery, silent, and regarded the wine-dark sky above with suspicion. Up this gray landscape moved a single set of headlights, carrying a single couple, crawling slowly along the only road that snaked back and forth along the windy shore, through the white-picket village of Montclair proper, up the hill to the top of the ridge-line, the roost of the Montclair Resort. A faded sign in flaking white paint stood by the entrance, illuminated by a floodlight in the drizzle, with the words: “Welcome to Montclair, the Wonder of the West.”
The taxi driver pushed the couple out in front of the sliding double-doors and drove off after throwing their bags unceremoniously on the pavement. The man flicked off the departing cab and shouted obscenities after him, but the woman didn’t notice, she was too busy turning in circles and gazing around at the darkened grounds, her arms and fingers swooped out like a ballerina. She laughed and spun faster while the man mumbled to himself and bent over the luggage. A small mountain of velour luggage bags sat on the wet asphalt, bags all embroidered richly with Catty in pink trim, except for one small, beat-up leather backpack. The girl: perhaps twenty-six, long blonde hair down to her waist, but wearing sharp-rimmed glasses and a plaid skirt and wide-shouldered jacket that made her look more like thirty. The man, named Logan: maybe thirty-three, maybe older, given the flecks of gray in his beard, wearing thick canvas pants and a dungaree vest left open to the mid-chest, like something from a safari. He had thin legs and wobbled slightly as he hoisted one of the larger bags on his shoulder. Heaving, chest puffing, the bag made him collapse, and he stumbled down to the pavement. From the wet asphalt, he stared up at the side of Catty’s face: she had stopped dancing, and was staring down at her phone. In the garish blue glow from the screen, she bit her lip, and smiled wide. Logan saw everything happen and thought: I bet she’s texting him again. I bet the two of them are having a great big laugh.
Catty brushed her hair back behind her neck and turned to stare front-face.
“That was my mother. It’s good enough just to be back in this old place, do you feel it? The air’s making me young again. ”
“Yeah, real young. Can you take one of these bags?”
“For sure, the weather was better at Sandy’s wedding, but I’ve got enough indoor ideas to keep us occupied this weekend, don’t you worry. Baths, bodies, candles: you’re invited, I’m happy to inform you.” Catty ducked her chin and raised one eyebrow up-teasing at him, smiling and flashing her white teeth, her red lips. She laughed and covered her face, then rose up again glowing. “Can you believe it’s been so long since we met here? I can’t wait to see the ballroom again. Oh, Logan, do you see that? I can see the top of the boathouse where we hid-”
“Grab this, let’s just get checked in already. I’m starving. Although judging by the state of this place I”ll be overjoyed if they have hot water anymore.”
They (Logan) had to ring the bell four times before someone showed up at the front desk. The receptionist, a bleary-eyed old man who looked like he had just woken up, initially couldn’t find their reservation. After tracking down the hotel manager, the receptionist managed, despite considerable delay, to find Logan and Catty space in the resort’s last available honeymoon suite. The guest’s bad news was your good break, the receptionist explained slowly, while cleaning his misty glasses with a dirty rag. The mother of the bride just called to cancel. The groom never showed up.
As Logan listened to the news, Catty stared at his face and watched how his face melted and molded over anew with each passing liquid second. How he fouled, then brightened, so easily, at the small foul-up with the room, then the unexpected upgrade in accommodations. A chill sat over her. Not once in the two-hour cab ride, not once, had he touched her. Not once had he looked her in the eye for more than two seconds. She frowned and twisted the ring around her finger. While Logan carted up their luggage and wheeled it off down the hall, Catty lingered and requested kindly that the concierge send over a bottle of champagne to their room as soon as possible. We’re celebrating, you know, she added. We met here a long time ago and now we’ve come back to celebrate. The old receptionist put back on his glasses, more dirty and smudged now than ever, and nodded with a slow yep, yep, I understand, each time.
Soon the champagne bottle sat empty on the dresser and Logan couldn’t find a single thing wrong with the world. Catty was getting ready for dinner in the room while he showered and sang along to the radio with an Italian operetta he admired in a poor, yet passionate, accompaniment. Outside, he knew, the moon was long and bright, the night was stretching far out in front of them, and they had their whole lives left to make new memories, build new fortresses, bridge new frontiers of trust. He finished and turned off the water and stepped out onto the smooth white tile and dried himself off with one of the downy-soft towels from a closet stuffed from floor to ceiling with linen of all shapes and sizes. He slipped on a white robe and emerged out into the room. Catty was looking in the mirror, affixing an earring. He slid up behind her and slipped his hands around her waist.
“I’m glad we’re doing this,” he murmured.
His breath was heavy with stale champagne. Catty broke free and turned to face him. She put a soft hand on his cheek, and kissed him once on the lips.
“Me too,” she said. “Now let’s go catch this reservation before we’re late for dinner.”
The resort restaurant was situated in an old ballroom that had served as a dance hall in the forties and fifties. The same wooden stage still lined the long wall, and flanked on either side, tall scarlet curtains still rose up to the high painted ceiling, but the stairs leading up to the stage were rotted and bent, and dust rose off the curtains and spun softly in the yellowish floodlights that lit everything from below with sharp, dark shadows. A mossy-green carpet of synthetic material had been installed over the old floor, and over this surface someone had arranged rows of tables with white table-cloths. The room was nearly empty when Logan and Catty entered. The hostess, a teenager who had been slumbering at the stand when they arrived, jumped quickly to her feet and showed them to their table, returning with menus and an ornate candelabra that she lit and placed on their table.
“Enjoy,” she said.
Catty bit her lip throughout and asked herself how much longer she could wait. In the month since they reconciled, not once had he mentioned their separation. To him, she reasoned, the entire episode was as if an ugly step-child had stolen six-months of their relationship, and that, in acknowledging the theft, some sort of validation would be going on. That, or he was afraid. She watched him as he looked over the menu and spoke in quiet, respectful tones with the waitress. His beard, darker and longer when they first met, was beginning a definitive turn to gray. Soon, he’d be the only gray-bearded reporter at the Tribune, all the other staff reporters having quit, retired, laid off, graduated to a book deal and occasional op-ed postings; that, or they’d been mercilessly slaughtered by the horde of recent college grads desperate to avoid scraping together contracts for blog posts and willing to work for pennies. Catherine wondered if he’d dye his beard instead. Logan, looking bored, raised his hand for the waitress and asked her for a bottle of wine, to be followed up with another promptly when the first was gone.
“It’s marvelous that we’re back like this,” said Logan, “absolutely marvelous. The wait staff is impeccable, you were right, I was overly harsh on them earlier. This kid they’ve got is a real natural, she’s going to take this restaurant to the next level, Michelin stars and everything.”
“I am! I mean it. Well, partially. I’d never get caught dead here by Morrie or any of the other Tribune editors, even if they are shills. It’d be embarrassing for everyone involved. They know how much they’re paying me, it’d probably be too much for their consciences to bear, seeing how the grinders that support all their bullshit have to live.”
“Can we not talk about work, Christ. We had five new cases go through pre-trial this week at the prosecutor’s office, I’ve barely slept five hours consecutively in a month, I’ve had to drink three red bulls just to be awake for this dinner, and all I want to do is eat greasy food and get drunk. Can we do that? Can we eat shitty food and drink? Not everything has to be a life-and-death struggle for the ‘revolution’, you know.”
His face turned to her and changed a deep beet crimson. Eyes flashed daggers. His mouth opened, but before he could say anything, the waitress re-appeared at his elbow. All was smiles and deference as they placed their order - lots of ‘go on hon, you order’ and ‘will you split this with me babe?’. The waitress grinned and nodded enthusiastically, in a way that Catty found off-putting. Was this dumb plucky teenager happy to be there at the Montclair Resort ballroom at nine pm on a Friday? Was she happy to be stuck living in the mountain hills where there was nothing to do but scream? Catty scowled and stared bullet-holes into the back of the waitress’s young, well-benighted head as she walked away. In the silence, breaking it like a bullet, Catty’s phone rang. Unconsciously, before she could think, she raised the phone and checked the message. Logan emptied the last of his wine glass and laughed.
“Is that Craig from the office checking in on you? Or Jeff? Tell him we’re doing great.”
“Ew, gross, can you stop. Craig is just a work-friend. You’d know something about those if you were a bit friendlier yourself.”
“Networking, you mean. People-shopping. Yeah I tried it on Morrie a couple times, and maybe if I had sucked his dick a little more like the other guy, I could’ve gotten that promotion. But I don’t people-shop. I’m a journalist, Catherine, I’m a worker. I investigate, I write stories, and if they’re good and help people, I climb. That’s it. That’s how I keep my life simple. The world needs more than just blood-sucking lawyers.”
“You’re so right, Logan, and they won’t be sucking anything of yours soon, either.”
“Tired, are you, after six-months of blowing another guy?”
Blood-pounding a wine-drunk rhythm on her temples, Catty stood up and found herself quaking with rage. A million dagger-deep insults hurtled through her head. His age at his office. His subservience to younger employees. The ridiculous way he dyes his beard and thinks no one notices.
“I’d like to go now.”
“Cat, I’m sorry, I didn’t, you know, I didn’t mean that.”
“I. Don’t. Want. To. Be. Here.”
They frog-marched back to the room together, the unfinished bottle clenched tightly under Logan’s hand, an expression of fury across his face, the other arm wrapped tightly around Catty’s waist, as if he were a guard escorting a disobedient prisoner back to their cell. The grip, oddly enough, made Catty tingle. The tightness of his hand around her hip. The feel of his fingers, hot on her skin, in the gap between her top and her skirt. Maybe it’s just the wine, she told herself. Though there was something striking about seeing Logan in a worked-up state the likes of which she’d never seen before. His chin was jutting straight-forward as they walked, determined not to look at her, his eyes cold and flinty. The boyish baby fat around his cheeks seemed to have vanished. The flecks of gray on his stubble suddenly looked distinguished again. It started slowly. By the time they were at the door to their hotel room, it was difficult to tell one hand or one leg from the other, or one person.
The storm outside had grown to a dull roar. Inside, the lights dimmed. Soft sounds fell silent, whispers rose. Rustling sheets, opened drawers, flickers of light in the bathroom, now there, now here again felt finger-tip over finger-tip in the dark. Neither one of them spoke more than a word, here and there. Everything seemed to be going well. Ah, Catty wanted to say. That’s all there is to it, in the end. Then her phone rang. Logan stopped and threw her aside at once, and dove for the phone.
“No,” she screamed.
“What in the hell is this? You - you lied to me.”
A long night passed. A storm blowing up from the south tore through the whole valley, knocking out power from one end to the other. Branches blew down into the pool. Trees fell in the parking lot. Water flooded the lower rooms. Emergency backup lights flickered on, and in the red gloom, Logan laid back on a couch in the unoccupied lobby and stared up at the ceiling, unable to sleep, and waited for morning.
The Montclair Resort looked sad and shabby when they checked out the next day. The receptionist, while apologizing profusely from the bottom of his heart, was deeply saddened to see the couple leaving early. This sort of thing really happens quite rarely, he explained to them, you know you’re experiencing history in a way. At this, Logan laughed, loud and oddly strained. The receptionist looked at him oddly, as if he were sick or diseased. It’s all one great big joke, he thought to himself. All these illusions, all these schemers and dancers about nothing. All one big joke.
Their car wound back down the ridge, through the town of Montclair, and back onto the long stretch of highway that quickly whisked them out of the hills and back into flat, open country filled with planned suburban communities that repeated themselves endlessly out to the horizon. Something critical burned in Logan’s throat, but for once, he didn’t voice it. Soon, they’d be back in the city, and he’d have to deliver his story to Morrie on Monday. He tried to think what he would write, but couldn’t come up with a closer for the life of him. Involuntarily, as if his eyes were working against him, Logan let his gaze drift up to his rear-view mirror and glimpse Catty sitting silently in the back. The barest flicker of a smile creased her face. She twirled her finger, and watched for the sun.