She unfolded the map as her husband drove down the highway.
“Y’know, it is a good thing that we left so early. I told you that there would be no traffic on a holiday weekend if we left on Friday and made it out of town before the sun was up.”
She kept looking at the map.
“Do you think that the others know what we are up to? I think that I should have called ahead before we decided to do this, but since we always head out there for the holidays, I didn’t see any point to telling anyone.
“I mean, it was a different holiday last time. Not in the winter and we had all that traffic around us so we barely moved an inch, remember? We had to deal with all that heat and the cars around us were full of families that were even more disappointed than us. At least we don’t have the humidity and the bugs around us. Remember those mosquitoes that messed up the windshield and the wipers got stuck, so you had to get out on the highway and check and then the cars started moving again. Really lucky that we did not have an accident.”
Her husband was nodding along to her (or was it the radio, she thought?).
“Really a beautiful day. We had the whole beach front to ourselves and that was before any of the others showed up. Just a few boats in the water and there was that guy with his dog who threw that stick in the water and thought it would drown. Why would he do that if he thought the poor thing was going to go out into the lake and drown (poor Labrador)? Silly and stupid thing to do.
“Michael showed up with his Shirley. I saw them coming down the sand when I was trying to find the lighter for the grill and she was all like, ‘You need a hand?’ As if I needed her to show me what to do with the food. I know that she was a new one for him, but to be all like nice and fake like that just made me… You know, right? You talked to her.”
Her husband changed the radio station; it was now light jazz.
“Can you believe that he did not even tell us what he was up to with her? ‘All brand-new relationship,’ he said, like he was talking about that stupid car or a new washing-machine that he just bought. At least she was a nice person. She had that. Almost felt sorry for her when she sat next to me and had to hear all that crap from him.
“Darling, I think you should stay in the left lane…
“Anyway, I talked to the poor dear while you two clowns were goofing off or doing whatever it was on the beach that you liked to do when I can’t hear you. Found out a lot about her. Could have been awkward if she just spoke to…
“Yes, the left lane.
“A teacher. A geography teacher. I thought that maybe she was a throwback to one of those old-fashioned housewives who just stay at home and let their husbands do all the dirty work with business or sales or whatever it is Michael does. Sales, I think.
“Really, she could help me with this map right now. I don’t know if the left lane is going to last on this highway. I mean, I don’t know if you will have to merge or…. Never mind.”
Miles Davis was coming in clear and loud from the speakers.
“I like this one. I remember this is what you played when we all decided to have dinner in that cabin. I remember that this was the same music there. You wanted us to have a drink first, but my head was bothering me and she agreed with me before I could share my health status. Michael already had a glass in hand and was grinning like a demon. Knew what he thought. Well, I thought I did.
“Yeah, he apologized. Right in front of his wife he started acting like he was in a bar and you told him off. My knight in shining argyle… No laughs now?
“He is still your friend, but some friend. Drunk and stupid on the first dinner where we find a nice quiet spot and his Shirley – why do I keep calling her that? – just on the verge of crying up a storm. So young, too. Did you notice that? I bet you didn’t. Like all men, you see what you want to see and then think you got…
“Right hand lane. Two more exits.”
It was getting darker on the road in front of them.
“You were right to take her home. I had to tell you to do it while we were in the kitchen. I had just mentioned the man with the Labrador and Michael just went off about how he always liked me and that he did not need to hide it from an old friend. ‘We can say what needs to be said.’ Unbelievable. What a toad.”
The lights winked on around them in warehouses, homes and apartments.
“Thankful that I got the keys to the car from him. You were so late coming back, you said, that I had to grab them away from him. And he chased me, remember? I told you. Had to head down to the beach and let him stumble around like a bum while I looked around for someone to help. And guess who? The dog owner. Remember that guy with the Lab? He saw what was happening and he whispered something to the dog. And that thing just took off and almost took his arm off. Really funny to see them in the surf like that.”
Miles was replaced by John Coltrane interpreting “My Favorite Things”. Their exit was coming up soon.
“A real shame that you did not see what was going on then. The guy with the dog, Morris – the guy’s name, not the dog’s – wanted to call the police until I explained what was happening. Your pal’s blubbering did not help, but we got out of there after I thanked him and found a leftover bone for the dog. And I did have the key.
“I mean, really, what kept you? All you had to do was drive her home and check up on your friend. I know you said you came back and we were gone, but it was such a long time and I never saw or heard a peep from their house. Even Michael looked confused as I opened the door and called out for you two. Guess he just fell asleep on the couch…
“Next time, don’t spend so much time away from us. People could talk.”
They were only a few stops away from Michael and Shirley’s home. The cold was beginning to grow in the car.
“Glad we brought the map. Could have missed it. And it will be good to talk about that day at the beach. Bygones and bygones.
“I am so glad we decided to do this.”