"He had set himself to the study of the aristocratic art of doing absolutely nothing."—Oscar Wilde
“I’m smarter than you,” said Andrea. Kid was nine.
“So what?” I said. No use arguing. It was of precocious intellect. Quick as a cockroach. One did well to fear it.
“Everybody’s smarter than you.”
“I think that’s probably true,” I yawned.
We were on a beach, I, full-length in a hammock between palms, the child standing by to annoy me, pail and shovel in hand. It had awakened me by leaking a trickle of sand from its fist into the dip between my collar bones, causing me to twitch and roll such that my upper half now felt to be in a hair shirt.
“Go and tell the waiter to bring me a champagne cocktail. It might help me sleep.”
“See if you can master the art of getting lost.”
“Go ahead. I’ll give you fifty cents.”
“Tell him to bring it on a tray with some French fries. I’ll give you one of the French fries.”
“Have you been swimming yet?”
“It’s too cold.”
Which was true-ish. We were wintering on a Canary island, I forget which one. Sand and sunshine, but that Atlantic can be numbing. “Not when you're way way out,” I said. “It’s warm out there! Don’t you like to swim?”
“You can swim, can’t you?”
“Come on, I want to see.”
“You can’t see from here.”
“Sure I can.” I shaded my eyes like Lawrence and demonstrated the distant gaze.
“I’m not s’posed to go way out.”
“I give you permission.” But what would its mommy say if it were swept off by the undertow while in my supervisory presence, and there were no little Andrea to run and greet her? What would I tell her? Oh well, I’d think of something. “Go ahead,” I said.
I mean if a shark eats the child, is that my fault? Everything is my fault? “It’ll be fun,” I said.
“Just quit it!”
“Don’t be obtrusive,” I said.
“Look it up.”
The child consulted its iPad. “It doesn’t say.”
“Tell you what, go get that champagne cocktail—make it two champagne cocktails—and order also a big big dish of your favorite ice cream, which I myself, personally, will pay for.”
“You never pay for anything.”
“I will this time.”
“Mommy pays for everything.”
“I’m going to pay this out of my own personal money.”
“You don’t have any own personal money.”
“OK, well look, if you don’t want the ice cream, go and play or something. I’m having my siesta.”
It smiled. “I am playing.”
“Yeah, but I don’t want to play. Buzz,” I said, enunciating with finality, “off!”
I looked at it. It looked at me. There was a pause.
“How deep can you dig that hole?” I said.
“That one.” I looked past it, as at a hole. “Over there.”
“There’s no hole over there.”
“It’s right there.”
“No it isn’t.”
“Waiting to be dug.”
“There’s no hole there, Toby.”
“That’s because you haven’t made a start. One scoop, and there’s a hole.” I looked around for the waiter, and waved, rather bitterly, at no one. “Better get to it.”
“Dig a hole?” it said.
It was not unintrigued, and began to pace around the prospective hole, the Platonic concept of the hole, kick at it, foot-scrape sand away from it.
The waiter, apologetic, emerged from the trees. “Two champagne cocktails—no, just make it a shaker-full—French fries, and ice cream—what kind of ice cream?” I asked the child.
It was already bailing sand out of what was becoming a significant crater. “Butterscotch.”
I confirmed this to el servidor with a glance and waved him away, the child up to its neck in a shoulder-wide pit. I lay back and watched it. Of course I was already lying back, but now I surrendered to the position, gave myself to it.
The waiter placed beside me a tray with the jug of drinks, a long-stem glass, the which he filled with a flourish, the fries, and the ice cream.
Little pailfuls of sand flew up over the rim of the hole, the child, invisible, on its way to Australia, while I sipped the cocktail and scarfed up the fries. You have to be careful with champagne; the bubbles can give you that full feeling before you’ve quite dealt with the rations. Belching with satisfaction I lay back—I seem always to be lying back—and, all unawares, passed into unconsciousness.
A soft but deeply heavy whump stirred me, rolled my head, opened my eyes, and I saw, not a hole, but a depression in the sand, pocked with an unsettled newness. The mine shaft must have caved.
I looked around for the waiter to do something—I mean, I was responsible! Funny how they fuss over you till you tip them. I waved ineffectually, hung on my elbow and waited.
The child’s hand emerged like Something From The Grave, then the other hand, then the head, the features studded by the courser grains.
“Boy, Toby, you didn’t even help me!”
“I want to encourage a spirit of independence,” I said. “You weren’t even dead.”
“Boy, you’re gonna get it!” It came over and glared at me. “Where’s my ice cream?”
We looked at the empty bowl.
“Oh,” I said. “I ate it.”
It dropped its jaw and squinted at me.
Post a Comment