Mystery Drama Romance

When I wake up, the fresh sea breeze tells me I am near the Ocean. I stretch out my hands and grasp for my gold Spanish pocket watch, but it is not on the nightstand. Seeing the sun peer through a set of heavy drapes, I realize I am no longer at sea but in a hotel suite.

“Are you hungry?” she asks, coming into view with a plate of honeydew and canary melons and a lump of cottage cheese. I begin to remember why I am here.

The air is thick in the dark suite with the drawn drapes, and she sits naked in her chair, knees up, feet perched, with her blonde hair falling like wheat down her spine and along her back and across her bare right breast.

“Did you find him? Did you gloat?” she asks.

“He wasn’t hiding,” I say.

It amuses me to think of her as she must have been when she and Harry first met—a ruddy hellcat studying philosophy in an Italian café. What lunar signal endeared her to the young seminary student traveling through her town on his way to see St. Peter’s Cathedral? What impulse called her out to the piazza by the Spanish Steps that night? I wonder what draft dulled her reason before those first intoxicated couplings.

She comes to me and kisses my cheek softly. “Don’t be angry, but I miss him.”

“He’s not in a good way, not that it matters much,” I tell her.

“I have to see him,” she says. The scenario of a false betrayal goads the trickster in my nature. Am I up for it?

I pull open the drapes and step out onto the porch. Heavy gray clouds roll over the ocean, mirroring the sea below, and the clap of thunder echoes with the promise of a downpour. Melanya comes out to join me, still naked and intoxicated by the gravity of her own desires. She sits next to me in a white plastic chair, props her arm on her perched knees, and invites me into a conspiratorial circle.

“There is Harry. There is you. Do you think, when we die, we really live out eternity with just one person—or is it the picking and choosing and fighting all over again?” she asks.

“I don’t know which is better,” I say. Which is the truth. And though I have inside knowledge on the subject, I am forbidden from revealing it to the living.

“It is also possible that we are just like fish frolicking in the ocean, and when we’ve lost each other once, we never cross paths again,” she says.

“Well, eternity is a long game,” I say.

“Sometimes I think you can feel all of eternity in a single afternoon,” she says with the loveliest smile dawning on her cheeks in magenta and lavender.

“Consider yourself blessed. Anyone can die—and all do,” I tell her, “But not all love, not all can.”

“It is so sad how everything ends badly,” she says.

“That’s debatable. Now, we’ll have to disguise you if you are going to see him. I don’t want to give away what we are up to. Unless you don’t want to go through with it?”

“No, Nicholas. My mind’s made up. You know what it is? I can’t compete with God. I really thought he’d give up that one-sided affair when he saw that people were going to live their lives and do what they pleased, Hell be damned. But he never did. Our whole marriage was a long string of losses to the almighty, and it dawned on me, you know—I’m always going to be the other woman. And that’s why I must leave him.”

I go inside and take some of the violet dye I use to excise the yellow-white streaks from my own hair, get the brush from the bathroom, and fill a bowl with water. I mix some ammonia and violet in the water and swirl the murky liquid which smells of sulfur.

She still thinks I am a handsome opportunistic process server. Little does she know that death itself looms over her painting her golden locks midnight black. For her, there is the delicious anticipation of the question of what will unfold, whereas my universe is merely a question of how. That choice is of great moment, for in that final exclamation—as a painter capturing his subject in a portrait—if done well, is an epitaph that reveals an entire life.

“The first thing is to dye your hair,” I say.

She leans back in her chair and closes her green eyes—olive in the light, chartreuse in the dark. She gives over to me completely, like she has done several times before. I begin to brush the dye onto her scalp and along the length of the yellow stalks with long fluid strokes.

The storm reaches land and small drops begin to splatter on the porch. Some splashes against her bare thigh, tan and throbbing with the heat of life, near to where her slender tufted mystery lies exposed. I reach my hand around, insert my fingers, and listen to the gentle moans—breathless, plaintive, and burning.

I hand her a shower cap.

“Go take a soak for thirty minutes and let the dye set?” I tell her.

“You’re teasing me?” she says.

“It is time for me to go and set up the rendezvous,” I tell her, “But I’ll be back.”

“Come here,” she says, and she kisses me with the full heat and steam of her lips and breath.

She is full of the uncertainty which attends the coming night, and all her coming nights.

* * *

The rain has scattered the tourists into movie theaters and hotel rooms. The beach is full of unattended multi-colored umbrellas beyond the dunes. The towel and umbrella folding chair boys are huddled in their sales coves watching the cold wet female lifeguards calling in some reluctant bathers.

Harry has found his own respite at the Sand Bar, a watering hole in Manasquan. Some race boats are docked on the wharf, where a few eager drivers were running practice laps to raise the profile for the race weekend. They glisten as the water beads against the wax. A Doberman Pincher is down at the docks, by a discarded moth-eaten rowboat, guarding a little stick he has pulled from the water. In the haze of the purple afternoon light and the spotlights reflecting on the boats, his coat shines with a spectrum of dark shades of purples, maroons, and magentas.

I settle into a stool at the bar and order a Black Death. The Sambuca and cream burn and cool my insides at the same time. Refreshing.

I see him sitting alone by the window with the paper.

“Come to the bar and have a drink with me,” I say.

Harry McBride stretches out his arms and follows me without comment. He coughs a muffled cough into his hands. I can smell the cancer. Amid the ditty of the rising and falling of bar glasses and the penumbra of voices in mixing conversations, his breath resounds heavily—and I can hear the progression of the disease in his lungs. I can smell the rot. I can feel the stifling grip like iron, slowly suffocating him.

“Rough day?” I ask.

“On the horns of a dilemma,” Harry says.

“Barman, those bottles, there, from the local vineyards, we’ll have a glass of each of those in succession, and when we’re done, we’ll start over with the best of the batch,” I say.

Mackie Belza, the bartender, stares at the convex chalices with satisfaction. He clears his throat dramatically and says, “The Roaming of Bacchus. Yes, yes. Some live their lives searching for the perfect draught, some delight in what’s at hand, and some others—care not what they drink—only what they drink to. Here, here gentlemen, you’re in for quite an evening.”

Mackie Belza stands unchanged by his years. He is otter-like with an oblong head, small eyes, and a broad nose. His rotund belly curves outward with a friendly deportment. His bulbous lips are clamped down on the wet nub of an ever-lit cigar which seems an outgrowth of the gray tufts of his dragoon mustache. He wears a hunter-green, plaid paddy cap.

“Start with this, a ’96 canopy-grown Chardonnay from the DeMayo vineyard, a real sun-nectar, with apple, melon, and pear—aged in French Oak.” He pours four fingers of the gold juice into two wine sifters.

“I haven't seen you in for a time,” Mackie says.

“I’ve been abroad quite a bit—the Donbas, Crimea, Turkey, Ukraine-making the rounds,” I say.

“Ukraine, huh? Lots of business there, I guess,” Mackie says.

“Times like these, I imagine the taps stay wet,” I say in response.

“Sure, sure,” Mackie says, “times like these.”

“It’s women that bring us to drinking,” Harry says.

“Look at them,” I say, pointing to the bar crowd, “They’ll all marry assuming that their partners are acting in good faith, are true—never guessing it is a war of the wills.”

Mackie laughs and pours two glasses of a dark merlot. “This is an old lunar blend, dark, with hints of cherry and aged in cedar with horse chestnuts.” The bar rumble has fallen to a lull, and the five-o-clocker’s in for the beginning of the baseball games have been replaced by a younger crowd of partygoers, crowding in throngs around the nucleus of the bar. They waft in with the smells of cologne and perfume and youth—and possibility. About their grins is the easy promise of excitement and the full grip of chance, which like any drugs, lose their potency from the first pull. At length, they are all chasing the dragon.

“It’s my fault for neglecting her,” Harry says.

“Would have made no difference,” I say, taking a sip.

“I think this is going to be the death of me,” Harry says.

“Could well be, friend, but if it is, the least you could do is go off with a smile,” I say.

“I like you,” Harry says, “There is something very honest and trustworthy about you. I can’t put my finger on it. But I don’t think—I’ll never get over her.”

“Never is a strong word. Say, if it’s a woman you need, don’t trouble yourself. A few more of these and we’ll have you back on your feet.” I motion my arm, opening it up to the room, as a shopkeeper displaying his wares.

“I could never,” Harry says, tapping the wedding band on the lip of the bar and then clinking it on his glass.

“There’s that word again. I hate absolutes. It is a personal hang-up of mine. Tell you what. Before the night is over, I’ll prove you wrong.”

“Look at all these sinners,” Harry says with a grunt.

“One could argue that sin is necessary for God to display his mercy and his love—without these rebellions—what good would his open arms be?” I ask.

“Jesus, I feel like I am back in seminary. Look to Romans, friend—grace doesn’t justify sin—it pays for it.” He slams his wine glass on the counter and Mackie appears with an unopened bottle of Pinot Noir.

I pull out my pruning knife and slit the seal in one stroke, pulling the foil off the knife’s edge as Mackie takes the wine key and in three spins removes the cork.

“That is a man’s perspective on things,” I say, nodding.

“There’s no charity or godliness anymore,” Harry says, growing way too melancholy for my tastes. Sigh.

“I’ll just say one more thing and then I’ll drop the whole business,” I say, “Isn’t it possible you lean a little too heavily on salvation and the hereafter—maybe there is some bliss here, tonight, as well. Huh?”

“Cheers to that,” says the priest, lightening up some.

The band has come on and the bargoers have taken to dancing over by the stage.

I watch him take off his wedding ring and put it in his pocket.


* * *

A woman sits at a table by the marina side of the bar. She has jet-black hair and mint-green eyes, and drinks from a carafe of white wine. She is dressed in black tights and a white blouse set off with spring tints of apricot. She smiles at me, and I wave her over.

“Here’s one now,” I say. As she approaches, standing between us, I put my arm around her shoulders and say, “Stunning, just stunning—what’s your name my dear?”

“Evelyn,” Melanya says in a whisper. I notice what she has done with her makeup and how she has cut her hair short. The darkness of her features, the inflection of her voice, and the way she has transformed her complexion with makeup make her unrecognizable.

“Nice to meet you,” Harry says, offering his hand. She goes and sits down next to me, with Harry on the far side of us. The glasses turn over quickly, and somehow the conversation has turned to laughter. Nothing much is being said. Nothing chaste, at least. Thank God.

“I pity the lovers,” she says.

“Ehh, the hell with it,” says the priest, “there’s only one sure cure for heartache.”

“Aren’t you a frisky one,” she says.

“You see this mark on her forehead,” I say pointing at a little glittery diamond she has pasted on. “That is a lovespot—and I’ll bet every man in here is vying for that charm. And here you are love, with a couple of old crones—chin chin.”

I walk out onto the patio and stand in the full light of the moon, which comes into the path of the Earth, cloaked in its shadow. With the light of the sun blocked by the Earth, the moon looks like a baby’s head crowning from the bosom of creation. The Pincher barks. He is hungry and tired. Waiting for his meal.

I think for a moment that people do not really belong to each other, but they do belong to something else. It binds them. Unites them. Comrades at arms.

But it also ruins them for each other.

Other people are the wrong food for the human soul.

The Pincher barks again.

It is getting late.

* * *

They have walked out under a canopy of trees, into a clearing, where they can observe the spectacle of the eclipse on some blankets. They do not speak. Harry puts his hands on Melanya’s face and looks at her in the moonlight. She drapes her arms around his shoulders and pulls him into the embrace. They stay there like that, and in other ways, for a long time.

I wait down by the shore.

But the time comes, and she brings him back inside, makes an excuse, and kisses him goodbye.

“I won the bet, priest,” I say, observing the smile on his face.

“She is something,” he says, reaching for his glass, which he fumbles so that it falls and shatters on the floor behind the stool. Putting his foot down he slips on the liquid and slides off his feet, landing on some of the glass shards.

I help him up. There is some blood on the left side of his stomach. I pick some shards out of his side, while he sits there groaning. It makes him cough. A fresh volley of coughs. Deep coughs from the diaphragm, phlegmy and productive. His face is red, but he regains his composure and swallows—his throat dry and his voice soft.

“I’m mortally injured,” he says, full of drama. Then he laughs and says, “Get me another glass immediately—to dull the pain before I die.”

I look at him earnestly.

“I’m not going to lie to you Harry, it’s not in my nature. There is some business to attend to tonight, some important business.”

“Are you one of those process servers, papers from my wife?” he asks.

“Well, there is that,” I say, “But that’s not what I came for.”

I walk him out onto the porch.

The Pincher barks at me again, saliva dripping from his jowls.

Everything in the world is ending. The young beauties are escorted to cars by their lovers, anticipation welling in their stomachs. The boats are all heading into port or docked in the marina and turning lights out. A truck has pulled up to load the band’s equipment into boxes and head off to a hotel. A little crow is out by the water wrestling with the pulsing orb of a jellyfish, a last snack to satiate him until morning.

The sea is trolling in gentle drowsy cascades, and with the eclipse past, the moon is hoisted high above the numinous lapping of the waves. A shadow passes over the moon, shuffling the dark shade into the image of a black boar.

I walk the priest down to the shack by the boats and give Pincher the choice sirloin Mackie saved for his dinner. As he chews into the beef and snarls, I take the priest out on a rudderless boat and sit him down in front, while I take the back to row.

“Isn’t it time I’m getting home,” Harry says.

“Yes, soon enough,” I say.

The boat is carried out to the East on the tideless night.

I hand an envelope to the priest.

“Here are your papers,” I say.

“From her?” he asks.

“No, not from her,” I say.

“Will she be there, on the other side, how she was?” he asks.

I nod to him. “Felix Culpa. O happy fault!” I say.

“So, I have nothing to worry about?” Harry asks.

“You never did, my friend—you never did.”

October 16, 2023 06:51

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E.D. Human
14:47 Oct 27, 2023

Very evocative and sensual -death never arrived as so appealing a last moment Great work


Jonathan Page
14:53 Oct 27, 2023

Thanks, E.D.!


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Nik Alxndr
23:14 Oct 25, 2023

You write like some of the greats from ages past. You weave words well.


Jonathan Page
14:53 Oct 27, 2023

Thanks, Nik!


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Jarrel Jefferson
11:36 Oct 25, 2023

Very well written, Jonathan. Nicholas/Death is charming. Did you draw inspiration for his character from a specific source?


Jonathan Page
13:21 Oct 25, 2023

I was imagining a situation like in the Sandman series by Neil Gaiman where there is a Reaper character/role where they usher people into the afterlife, and a devil character/role in Mackie Belza whose job is to tempt people and try to place them in moral dilemmas or tests. Basically, personifying some of the aspects of myth and religion. I was imagining that the Reaper character would take some pleasure and artistic license in plying their craft.


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21:48 Oct 23, 2023

Wow, great story!


Jonathan Page
22:04 Oct 24, 2023

Thanks Vicki!


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Kevin Logue
11:35 Oct 20, 2023

Not surprised this is extremely well written. I am in awe Jonathan that you can produce so much. Keep up the great work.


Jonathan Page
04:05 Oct 21, 2023

Thanks, Kevin!


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Mary Bendickson
01:33 Oct 20, 2023

So well written, again. I'll assume this one to be a winner. You give me too many choices. Thanks for liking my cookie story.


Jonathan Page
04:05 Oct 21, 2023

Thanks, Mary!


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Laura Eliz
17:05 Oct 19, 2023

Thank you for a good read!


Jonathan Page
04:05 Oct 21, 2023

Thanks, Laura!


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Suzanne Marsh
23:42 Oct 16, 2023

Interesting story


Jonathan Page
01:44 Oct 17, 2023

Thanks Suzanne!


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