Happy Hour

Jun 12  |  Phebe Jewell

The incoming tide pushes against Janie’s knees, but Hank is calling Happy Hour. Even at the Water’s Edge Motel he makes a killer margarita. She gives the beach a quick good bye glance before joining him on the deck. Happy Hour comes early on the coast, right after lunch and a short siesta. Hank hands her a glass and the day slides into yesterday and tomorrow. Janie’s halfway through her first drink when Hank offers a second. Why not? Who’s keeping track?

Words stick to Janie, burrowing their way under her skin without leaving a mark. When she was a little girl the words people said to her were friends: “honey” and “baby,” turning into “what is wrong with you?” and “why do you stink?” at school. Even at home words grew teeth, demanding she “shut up” or “be more like your brother.”

Someone parked a gray sedan on the beach, leaving the lights on. Janie watches the distance shrink between car and water. Maybe swimmers will step out from the waves, shedding their wetsuits before stashing gear in the trunk. Or beachcombers, pails full of shells and agates, giggling as the sedan gains traction and fishtails away from the shore. Janie sips her second margarita and the ocean spray splashes the front tire of the car.

Janie knew she was getting a good man when she married Hank. She could overlook his simple tastes and lack of imagination, for he added “good enough” and “just the way you are” to the lexicon inside her.

The tide is up past the top of the car tires now. Maybe they should call someone. Maybe there’s somewhere they should go. But they’ve had too much to drink and it’s not safe to drive. All the swimmers and surfers have retreated to hotel rooms or bars.

Janie lifts her empty glass and Hank pours another. The horizon is a streak of purple and crimson and gold. The empty beach is broken by the dark oval of the car, lit by dim globes of light. As the sun drops in the sea, the car lights flicker then go out.

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