Expiration Date

At a dinner party with the yacht broker who had sold me the boat, Betsy and I sat across the table from Mark, a good looking younger man, one of the craftsmen employed by the broker to outfit the yachts he sold.  Mark was highly competent, my favorite among the skilled hands helping me to ready the boat that would be called Mysterion.

He and Betsy had hit it off from the start.  He was not intimidated by her striking presence, her sexuality.  Over dinner she teased Mark for being a pretty boy, and he gave it right back to her.

So after dinner, we were sitting in the yacht broker’s living room telling stories.  We had all had a long day.  I was ready to head for the apartment and sleep.  Betsy told me to go ahead without her, and then asked Mark if he would give her a ride.  He smiled at her and said, “Sure, I’ll give you a ride.”

Betsy laughed, and then looked at me, and said, “You go on, I’ll catch up with you.”

It might seem obvious that I was being manipulated.  It did to me.  The desire for possession of her kicked me in the gut. I felt sick to my stomach.  All we had talked about, our partnership, the voyage to a baby, everything we had imagined was suddenly in doubt.  She had never humiliated me before.  If I reacted I knew what she was bound to come back with: “I just don’t feel like going home, what are you so upset about?  Mark is just a friend—don’t you trust me?”

I knew the trap.  The only way out was not to care, pretend to sever the connection with Betsy immediately, if not finally, give her the impression it might all be over, leave her sitting there.  When she came around, I could behave as if nothing had happened, or I could tell her to get packed, hand her an airline ticket back to Charlotte.

No doubt from her point of view, she had every right to her liberties.  We had been sleeping in the same bed without a romantic commitment, not having sex, only sharing a desire to procreate.  She gazed at me as though wondering what I was fretting about, trying to look innocent.  I never knew a pretty girl who didn’t play this game, and I was no good at it.

I hesitated to leave; then I just sat there, for an hour, probably more, until Mark left.

Walking to the car, Betsy and I argued, who was in better shape to drive?  I had had too much to drink and so had she, but according to her, she could handle it.  She wanted the keys, and I wouldn’t give them to her.

We could have called a taxi, but I would have had to call another cab to pick up the car tomorrow, and I had an early appointment at the boatyard.

Betsy was mortified that I asked the yacht broker if we could spend the night.  He and his wife assured me it was no trouble, invited us back in the house and showed us the guest room.  Betsy climbed into bed with all of her clothes on.

The next morning, I woke up tense, afraid that if I did not move soon to solidify with her, the opportunity would disintegrate.  She was impatient to be on the boat going somewhere.  I was too.  We had been in Clear Lake since June.  It was late September.  We were not having sex, and she was past ready to be pregnant.

I watched her sleeping.  I followed the line from her ankles to the swell of her calves and thighs, along the curves of her hips, thinking how her shape intimated that of a deepwater sailboat.  How accurate was Hemingway, in The Sun Also Rises, describing Bret Ashley: “She had lines like the hull of a racing yacht.”

Standing in the bathroom, looking at myself in the mirror, the circles under my eyes were swollen.  I could see the foreshadows of the bags that would some day hang there permanently.  I looked rough.  I’d been working in the sun all summer.  I was tired.  Labor on the boat was wearing me down.  I hadn’t slept well.  Usually I looked younger than I was.  My vanity was wide awake.

Did I want children or not?  Did I want this woman?  If not, who other than Betsy would drop everything and make this voyage with me.

I decided Betsy was a gift.  If I did not accept her soon, the option would expire.