She liked her men like she liked her coffee: weak, milky, lukewarm. Which summed up me well. I've got all the character of a whiny door hinge. I blame my mother for breastfeeding me too long. But we aren't talking about my mother, unless you're one of those shrinks that think everything is an Oedipus thing. We're talking about Sally Soledad, my lover and leashholder, who was right at this moment doing her best to melt me onto her scuffed mahogany floorboards.
“How many times have I told you to refill the ice when you’re finished?” she asked, wagging the empty tray at me.
I shuffled my feet.
“Jack. You look at me when I'm talking to you.”
I looked at her. With difficulty. “Wasn't me.”
“It wasn't you.”
Sally smiled. Her mouth looked like a papercut. I fought gravity's push on the back of my head.
“It was Matt,” I mumbled.
“Matt used all the ice.”
“My three-year-old, two-and-a-half foot son, who doesn't like frozen yogurt because it's too cold on his teeth, climbed onto the counter, opened the freezer, and used an entire tray of ice sometime between eleven o'clock last night and ten o'clock this morning.”
“Jack?” she said with soft, slippery pleasantness. “What are you holding?”
“Rum and coke.”
“Rum and coke with what?”
“Oh. Ice from where?”
I caught her off guard with that one. She'd expected me to say the freezer, and this mild act of rebellion tightened her already pinched features. Sally had a face that could fit in Cinderella's slipper, and that might be a nice quality for a foot, but it isn't a nice quality for a face, let me tell you. Let me also tell you that if her beach house wasn't such a pearl, I would have walked out on her long ago. In the night. On my tiptoes. While she was asleep.
She recovered. “The sink is a rather peculiar place to find ice, wouldn't you say?”
“I didn't stop to think about it. I’d just woken up. My head was cloudy—”
“I'll bet it was.”
“—and I was thirsty.”
“I'll bet you were.”
“I started by taking the tray out of the freezer—I can't really remember the specifics, but it felt light so I put it back.”
“Because it was light.”
This conversation was in sore need of a steel chair and a windowless room. Maybe some pliers. “I think so. All I know is I didn't get ice from the tray. I got ice from the sink.”
“There's no ice in the sink now.”
“I used it all.”
“On one lowball?”
“There wasn't a lot of ice. Just a few cubes.”
“Where'd the rest go?”
“Garbage disposal, probably.”
Sally stroked her chin—not that she had much of one. You’re your theory is that Matthew, my son, is the culprit.”
My voice was like a deeply burrowed mole. “I guess.”
“What was that? Speak up.”
“Well. You know what my guess is? My guess is that a thirsty somebody—let's call him Quack—took a few thirsty trips downstairs in the night to replenish his glass. Trips Quack has since forgotten. And then another trip this morning, half remembered, in which he used the last fucking bit of ice from the fucking ice tray after dropping said fucking ice in the fucking sink like a clumsy fucking good-for-nothing asshole. Does my guess sound plausible to you?”
Sally tossed the tray at my feet with a clatter. Then she took the disappointed Collin's glass that was meant for her rise-and-shine mojito and threw it. It shattered. I jumped. “I'm going back to bed,” she said, pulling her sheer night robe tight around her breasts. “How long would you say water takes you to freeze?”
“I'll see you in thirty-five then.” She swept away, paused, and added, “Don't cut yourself when you clean up. The finish on the floorboards is getting old, and it doesn't do well with stains.”
Once she was gone, I filled the ice tray and put it in the freezer. After that I got down on my knees with the dust pan and swept up the glass, which had traveled far and wide. This house, you could fit a school cafeteria between the kitchen and the living room. No joke. It’s incredible. As I was hunting down the shards, I sensed movement way, way over in the entertainment area. A tiny, ruffled head peeked up at me over the back of the leather couch, and grinned wickedly with a mouth that was missing most of its teeth.
The little shit. He'd set me up, and spied on my chastisement, and now he was reveling in his victory. I ignored him. He didn't like that. He was the prized hog in his mother's million dollar pen, and used to getting all of the affection. At least until me. I'd cut down on his special scratching-behind-the-ears time. He waddled over to gloat in a ketchup-stained tee. I could see his chubby breasts through the fabric. They reminded me of his mom's, only bigger.
“You're in trouble,” he said.
I continued sweeping.
“Mommy's mad at you. She's going to send you away soon.”
“No she won't. She's got nine reasons to keep me around.”
By reasons, I meant inches.
Matt looked confused. It came natural to him. “I got you,” he said. “I'll get you again, too. Tonight. I'll tell Mommy you called me fat.”
“You are fat.”
The noise he made, there might have been a shot rabbit in his throat. He kicked me in the shin with one rock-hard sneaker, and fled the house as fast as his porky little legs would carry him. I sighed. Chances were I’d be packing my bags for that one. Which was a shame. I really liked this place. The sound of the waves underlining everything. The breeze salted like the rim of a margarita glass. Before here my life had been written in plain dark font. Now living was smooth, tipsy italics and sunlight. I didn't want that to change. I liked being happy.
I had time to kill while the freezer worked its magic, so I went out onto the balcony. The Pacific was a great big blue mirror gobbling up all the sun's attention, and as I leaned on the ledge, a few small stones crumbled away and peppered the private beach thirty feet below me. Like the floorboards inside, the ledge was in bad need of some love and care. All down its side I could see jagged lumps of granite waiting to fall. Maybe someday Sally would meet a handy type. Me, I was more like those loose stones. Just hanging on. Enjoying the view while I still could.
I closed my eyes and let the wind off the ocean kiss my face, and sometime later I heard a laugh down on the beach. After the laugh came a pained yip.
Matt was down there, chasing around a starved-looking cocker spaniel. The dog was limping and it couldn't get away, and Matt kept kicking it and laughing and falling down in the sand. Finally he got the small thing backed up against the cliffside under me, and maybe the dog reminded me of myself, or maybe I simply wanted to see if I could, but I reached down over the ledge and shook one of those big crumbly stones and set it free. The chunk landed on Matt's head with a sound like a maid fluffing a tired pillow. He tipped onto his side. The sand near his face darkened to red. He didn't move. The cocker spaniel gave his outstretched hand a tentative sniff, bit down on it, and shook it around some before getting bored and trotting off.
I went back into the house to check on the ice. It was ready. I refreshed my rum and coke and whipped up a mojito. The trick to a good mojito is slapping around the mint. You've got to really put it in line, that mint, make sure it knows who holds the leash.
Sally was waiting for me in bed sans nightrobe. I handed her not one but both drinks to hold, then I took off my shorts and showed her the only part of me with any backbone.
“Good boy,” she said.