20080113

Cecelia Chapman


Savage Rip

Fog is a funny thing. Suppose you heard a scream in the fog? Depending on the type of fog, the scream might sound closer or much farther away than it actually was. There's misty fog, dense, dry fog, and fog that weeps. Fog can come in like fingers grabbing at things, or stream like crazed, phantom shapes or swirling currents of water. Then there's the way light acts in fog, bouncing around inside the fog, making distorted and double shadows. Gauzy fog cuts the light in half and you can't see it. Fog creates illusions. I thought a lot about fog after that night. I thought about everything carefully. You can get lost in fog.

I was waitressing in Joe's restaurant in a small fishing town twenty miles south of the city. It was south of wine country, west of the big valley, and north of the things tourists want to see. But Joe's view of the most nihilistic stretch of water in the world overlooked great white shark breeding grounds with treacherous currents carrying tankers. Your ship might be flattened in sudden fog. If you survived that, you'd end up at open sea. Or your boat might disappear in the fog. That happened the most.

Joe's bar window view made me sense disaster and every day crises occurred in that landscape. Search and rescue helicopters, life guards checking sites, firemen in the rocks, hikers from the city roughing it and falling, police searching for lost people who they thought fell off the cliffs. Cliffs just falling with houses attached. Huge, hazardous surf or no surf with swift shark attacks and marauding currents. Or an elephant-seal bull was on the rampage and had cornered tourists. A whale got caught on the beach. A hang-glider hung on a cliff. Then the fog would come in and you couldn't see anything. Or it would go out and you'd see you were someplace you didn't want to be.

Women entering Joe's quickly realized they were in the wrong place so Mother's Day Brunch was over early. Joe's son was buffing glasses and cleaning the bar. Joe's sister was leaving. "Tony?" the sister called.

The cocktail girl stage-whispered to Tony, "Go to mommy, Tony-baby..."

"Tony-baby," the sister called, "I'll be back later after I get the girls all set for school tomorrow."

"I'll be working the election party..." Tony answered.

"I know. Sounds like fun..."

"It might be late..."

"That's ok, I'll wait..."

Over by a window the new mayor and his wife were talking, they didn't see me in the pantry off the banquet room. I was almost finished preparing for their election party later in the evening when I overheard them.

"Helen, this isn't a good time... there's a lot to do before tonight. I thought you were going to decorate for the party?"

"...we didn't come all this way just to be mayor, Paul. It's my career too... I didn't follow you here to be Mrs. McWifey..."

"I told you. I talked to the sister. She says she'll sell. Besides, we bought those old beach condos and I want to check out the golf course restaurant. It's for sale, we just have to wait..."

"Wait for what? That other apartment next to Joe's can be my studio. I'll keep the east coast one too. But look at those curtains! So Sinatra. I want to rip them out right now, before the photographers get here. We talked, remember? You need a unique image to stand out. This is it. This will be your office, our home, my studio. People will remember it. Especially if the wife of the new mayor redesigns. Of course we'll change the name... Oh hi."

I stepped out of the pantry, "Hello, I'm Susan. I'll be your waitress for tonight's party. Whatever you need, please just ask me..."

"We're busy right now, Susan." The Mayor didn't even turn around in his handmade suit. His wife Helen waved me out with her golden arm.

I went upstairs to see Tony. He liked to stay in bed in his apartment on the top floor, near his bottles, video and pornography collection. "Those Tunney's down there are blabbing. They asked me about selling this place. I said no. Then they went to my slut sister like I was already dead. If they go near Tony, that bum son, I'll throw them out. I don't give a crap about politics. And if my sister doesn't keep away from Tony! What a whore. Doesn't matter she's my step-daddy's daughter from another woman. She needs to set a good example for my three nieces...and I just paid for boob jobs for two of them! I'm not going to see that wasted. No, I'm going to violate space if that no-good sister doesn't watch herself. She thinks she can do whatever she wants because I put her in my will and took Tony out... that loser... who just all-of-a-sudden decides to come back after all those years away 'traveling' hah!... Look! The fog's coming in. Tell those parking valets to place traffic cones on the street and up their asses if anything happens out there tonight while I'm sick."

On the street a valet was pointing to sea, to a sailboat, tilted, seemingly disabled. It was being dragged by the current, a savage rip-tide, out to open ocean, and into the bank of fog. Then we saw another boat beating it out to their rescue.

Around six p.m. the mayor was flanked by his staff and wife posing for photographers on Joe's restaurant deck. The deck was set back in a cove, like a shark's jawbone, of weather-blasted rocks white-topped by gulls that shit all over everything. Smoky fog drifted up from the sea around the mayor's feet. Blue-black crows cawed and dropped in on the photographers' shiny gear while Mr. Tunney, the newly elected mayor, gave his speech.

"A lot of you looked askance at my background. It's valid to say I'm a business manager and not a local politician. But this city council knows exactly what it's doing by engaging me...it sought after and found the most qualified candidate to run this city into the profit zone...and I've hired the best local professionals to guide me..."

Later Mrs. Tunney raised her gold arms high, a champagne flute in each hand, toasted her new home, her new town and neighbors. Her jacket had fallen back, so that her husband picked it up and stood there holding it.

"...so we'll be staying here in Tony's apartment until we find a house, much thanks to our gracious host, who is upstairs and not well. But I personally will make certain he is getting more chicken soup..." She laughed and tossed back both glasses of champagne fast. And everyone laughed and started drinking heavily.

By the end of the party the fog had socked in the coast, you could put out your tongue and taste it. I was trying to pick up glasses, clean up trash. Visibility was one foot. At the very end of Joe's restaurant deck two shadow-shapes hugged the railing. Disembodied voices, laughter, whispering.

"...don't tease...Mrs. Mayor, you'll get yourself in trouble..."

"...ooooh scary, trouble. I love trouble...give me a double trouble straight up, bartender. Shake it real hard..."

A figure ran past me, then another. I heard someone being dragged, slapped, hit. "You slut, I knew I'd find you in his room! I'll help you find Tony... You want Tony? Look, there he is with Mrs. Tunney..." The fog muffled a slap and struggle. I heard Tony laugh and Mrs. Tunney laugh. Hard steps echoed on the wooden deck, mist clung swirling around running bodies. Screams fell away into silence. I think Tony and Mrs. Tunney saw me and then lots of people came running.

It took six hours the next morning to recover the bodies from the rocks. Much was made of the accidental deaths, and Joe's sister's clothing, or lack of it, or choice of clothing for eleven p.m. Sunday night on Joe's deck. Both Joe's and his sister's bodies contained enormous amounts of alcohol. Everyone said they were fighting and they always fought.

Tony moved into Joe's room and shut down the business for two days. He hired two more cocktail girls and re-hired me to manage the restaurant. I wondered when Mrs. Tunney would take my apt. #2 for her design studio. I wondered when the mayor would realize what Tony and Mrs. Tunney were doing in apt. #3, and I wondered about the surveillance cameras in apt. #3., originally Joe's cigar and gambling room before it was his bedroom. One day when Tony was gone I used Joe's old key and read the camera directions still pasted to the closet wall.

"How are you Mr. Tunney?" I asked handing him his menu when I saw him next, "I hope your apartment is comfortable and if there's anything you need..."

"The doors stick in my apartment, the windows are hard to open, I guess that's just the damp..."

"Yes...the place has so many eccentricities since Joe built it by hand. Did you know apt. #3 had surveillance cameras? Joe installed them so he could sit back with his sick wife in apt. #1 and watch the boys playing poker in #3. Yes, the screen in your closet, you can turn it on, funny..."

Then I waited. I heard Mr. Tunney pacing his room, crossing the room, looking out the window, dropping ice in his drink, re-crossing his room. I saw him from my window, looking out his window towards the sea, all the while watching his wife with Tony. The closet door was wide open, the clothes pushed back, I could see the shapes on the screen.

Later I heard Mrs. Tunney on the stairs, I heard her go into the room and greet him.

"Oh," she said after a few seconds. Then Mr. Tunney walked out.

I heard Mrs. Tunney start laughing, she laughed so loud and slammed the closet door so hard Tony came up the stairs. He saw the Tunneys' apartment door open and went in.

"He'll be back." Tony said and slapped her. She stopped laughing.

 
 
 
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