We watch the manta rays. One of them swims away. The other one drifts uncertainly in the floodlight’s glare.
“Does he talk about me?” I ask.
“I want to know.”
“Why?” She smiles coyly.
“I want to know what he says about me.”
“He doesn’t say anything.”
“Really?” I ask, mildly surprised.
“He doesn’t talk about you.”
The manta ray floats there, paddling.
“I don’t believe you,” I say.
“You have no choice,” she says.
The next day, Tim and I are on the beach, under a calm, seamless sky, playing backgammon. I am winning. He is listening to his Walkman, not really interested in the outcome of the game. I roll double sixes. He gazes listlessly at the beach, his face drained of emotion. He rolls the dice. A small red bird lands on our green umbrella. Rachel walks up to the two of us, wearing a pink lei and a small blue bikini, sipping Perrier.
“Hi, Les. Hi, Tim,” she says happily. “Nice day.”
“Hi, Rachel,” I say, looking up from the backgammon board, smiling.
Tim nods without looking up, without taking off his sunglasses or removing the Walkman. Rachel just stands there, looking first at me, then at Tim.
“Well, see you two later,” she stammers.
“Yeah,” I say. “Maybe at the luau?”
Tim doesn’t say anything. I move two men. Rachel walks away, back up to the hotel. I win the game. Tim sighs and leans back against the chaise longue and takes off his sunglasses and rubs his eyes. Maybe the odds have not been good from the start. I lean back, watching Tim. Tim looks out at the sea, warm, stretching out like a flat blue sheet to the horizon, and maybe Tim is looking out past the horizon, his eyes disappointed at finding even more of the same flatness, and the day begins to seem colder even if there’s no wind and later in the afternoon the ocean darkens, the sky turns orange and we leave the beach.
I do not pull back the curtains of my window until somewhere in New Mexico. I do not open them when the train leaves New Hampshire and moves down through New York and I do not open them when the train pulls into Chicago or after that, when I board another Amtrak train, the train that will eventually take me to Los Angeles. When I finally do open the curtains in the small compartment, I am sitting on my bed and staring at passing images beyond the window as if they are a movie and the clear square window a screen. I watch cows grazing beneath overcast New Mexico skies, endless rows of backyards, pale laundry hanging on lines, rusted toys, bent slides, crooked swing sets, clouds growing darker as the train passes through Santa Fe. There are windmills in fields, which begin to turn faster, and yellow daisies that lie in clumps on the side of wet highways, which tremble as the train hurtles past, and I’m moved to start humming “This Land Is Your Land” to myself, which leads to taking the dress I’m going to wear to my father’s wedding out of the suitcase and laying it out on the small bed and staring at it until the train stops in Albuquerque and I’m immediately reminded of the Partridge Family and a song they sing.
My father tells me about the marriage when he visits Camden in November. He takes me into town and buys me a couple of books, then a tape at the Record Rack. I don’t really want the books or the tape but he seems unusually persistent about buying me something so I oblige and try to seem excited over the Culture Club tape and the three books of poetry. I even introduce him to two girls I run into at the Camden bookshop who live in my house and whom I don’t like much. My father keeps tightening the scarf around my neck and complains about the early snow, the cold, how nice L.A. is, how warm the days are, how comfortable the nights seem, how I still might get into UCLA or USC and if not UCLA or USC maybe Pepperdine. I’m smiling and nodding and not saying too much, suspicious of what his intentions are.
At lunch in a small café on the outskirts of town, my father orders a white-wine spritzer and doesn’t seem to mind when I order a gin and tonic. After we order lunch and he has two more white-wine spritzers he begins to loosen up.
“Hey, how’s my little punk rocker doing?” he asks.
“I’m not a punk rocker,” I say.
“Oh come on, you look a little, um, punk.” He smiles and then, after I don’t say anything, asks, “Don’t you?” his smile slipping.
Suddenly feeling sorry for him, I say, “A little, I guess.”
I finish the drink, chewing on ice, deciding not to let him carry the conversation, so I ask about the studio, about Graham, about California. We eat quickly and I order another gin and tonic and he lights a cigarette.