Karen Dowell

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Another Perfect Day

For five years, the Morgans and Golds had summered in Maine, renting the same cottage on a secluded cove midway up the coast. It had been a happy accident that they proved such compatible vacationers. They'd met at a party in Boston, discovered they led similar lives, had similar tastes in movies, music, and motoring along the back roads of Maine. So when Keith Morgan suggested they try renting a house together, his idea was unanimously applauded. Six months of planning resulted in two weeks that bonded the two couples' friendship. And though their subsequent summer vacations had never been quite as flawless as that first idyllic summer, they kept coming back. The second year, Liz Morgan was pregnant, which put a damper on boating excursions that prolonged her morning sickness. The next, the Morgans were apologetically consumed with their new baby, while the Golds silently disagreed about their childlessness. This year, young Grace was old enough to remember Maine and the summer house, and Sharon Gold came alone, leaving Warren back in Boston with his new girlfriend.

But it was that first summer that Sharon couldn't get out of her mind as she sat on the granite ledge, where they had decided to set up their girls-only picnic. Grace was exploring patches of sand among expanses of pink and gray rock as her mother soaked in the pastel summer light. And Sharon was day- dreaming about perfection, specifically perfect relationships. After only three days in the cottage, she decided that Keith, Liz, and Grace--and their exemplary "nineties" family style--were making her slightly ill. As were the voices whispering, squirming just behind her left temple. She was frowning, trying to decipher what the voices were saying, when a squeal of delight broke her concentration.

"Look! More sea glass!" Grace held up a piece of sanded blue glass for her mother to see.

Liz opened one eye to admire the cloudy, grit- covered jewel her daughter had sifted from the coarse sand at her feet. "That's great baby. Why don't you put it over here with the rest of the glass and shells. We'll make something with it tonight. Maybe daddy will give you a cigar box and you can glue it to the top like you did in school."

"I'm going to monti-saurus school!" Grace jumped over to show Sharon her glass prize. She stood, brown and naked, hopping with random excitement, unaware when the rounded glass chip slipped from her hand and landed on Sharon's foot.

"Really? That sounds like a place where dinosaurs named Monty go to school, not a place for little girls. Are you going to be studying with dinosaurs?" Sharon picked up the sea glass and examined it carefully, as she shaded her eyes from the soft, hazy afternoon sun. Her headache throbbed.

Grace thought for a moment. "Yes. Big purple ones. I like the purple ones best." She ran off to climb onto a granite rock that was starting to wade as the tide came in. Franny, Sharon's black lab, trotted over from the tall grass on the other side of the shore to join Grace--and see if she had any more apple juice. Fascinated with this child who was just the right height for licking and herding, Franny had become a notorious juice box snatcher.

"Interesting, I haven't thought about that in ages." Sharon placed the blue glass on the pile of shells, rocks, and glass bits that was growing between her and Liz.

"Mmmm? What's that?"

"See more glass."

"I've seen enough glass today courtesy of my daughter, thank you very much."

"No, it's from a story my mother was obsessed with when I was a kid."

"What are you talking about?" Liz reluctantly opened both eyes and turned to examine Sharon with a sleepy, amused irritation, and caught a glimpse of Grace out of the corner of her eye. "Don't put sand in your mouth, Gracie. The puppy peed on it."

"When I was about Grace's age, my mother wanted me to say 'see more glass' all the time. She thought it was incredibly cute and clever for her little girl to parrot the words of a character in a J. D. Salinger story. I was her little cocktail party prop. She also used to love to show me my name in print and tell me I was famous."

"You're losing me, Shar."

"A Perfect Day for Bananafish." A Sharon stretched out her legs and leaned back on her elbows. "That's what this is."

"Bananafish?" Liz closed her eyes again and blindly felt for her wine glass. Caressing the rim, she brought the glass to her lips and took a long sip of the golden yellow chardonnay. "Sounds like some Caribbean delicacy. And all we have in the fridge is lobster, scallops, and halibut. This is Maine, not Martinique."

"That's the title of the Salinger story. God, Liz, I'm surprised you haven't heard of it." "I've never heard of anything. I'm a heathen when it comes to cultcha, remember? My bookshelves are lined with Stephen King, Dean Koontz, and the occasional Judith Krantz romance. I've heard of Salinger, but I can't say that I've actually read anything by him. Keith probably has though. Maybe you should be telling this story to him. He'd appreciate it more. Can you believe this weather?"

"Amazing...I didn't think it was possible to get through high school without reading at least Catcher in the Rye."

"I don't remember high school either. Thank god. I doubt it was much fun. Grace, don't go out too far, OK baby?" Liz smiled as her daughter pointed to something just below the water surface, then bent down to retrieve a crab shell, which Franny immediately confiscated. Grace splashed and sloshed, shrieking, after the dog with three-year-old glee. "What a pair. So what's the story about?"

"What? Oh, it's kinda complicated. I only had a bit part in it anyway."

"Excuse me? Come on, Sharon, don't make me think too hard, OK? I'm on vacation, here."

"Well, it's about this guy who commits suicide at a resort in Florida."

"I can understand that. Florida is a very depressing place. Way too hot and humid. And everyone there is old as hell. Does he kill himself over you?"

"Hardly. You know, I don't remember exactly why he does it, but before he shoots himself, he has this conversation on the beach with a little girl, who's very jealous of another little girl named Sharon Lipschutz. That's my maiden name, by the way. Lipschutz."

"Lipshits? Jesus, Sharon, no wonder you married Warren. Make sure you keep the house _and_ the name." Liz nursed her wine as she watched Grace and Franny dog paddle. "So, you have the same name as a character in book. Big deal. What does that have to do with sea glass?"

Sharon brushed her brown bangs out of her eyes and stared absently over at the island just offshore. "Seymour Glass. That's the name of the guy who committed suicide. I never did ask my mother why she identified so much with that story. By the time I was old enough to read it myself, she was already...well, she was in another world. She didn't like her own life very much."

"A lot of people don't," Liz said, pocketing her sarcasm as she realized Sharon was uncharacteristically serious. Sharon drained her wine glass and poured herself another, emptying the bottle.

"I used to be convinced that the only reason that I existed was because I was in that story. It kinda started out as a mind game my mother played with me, centering on that `see more glass' mantra, then it evolved into something I spent years in therapy trying to sort out." Sharon paused, wondering whether to continue. She and Liz had always been intimate in a superficial way, loaning each other tampons, comparing careers and marriages, but never exploring the depths of their emotions or traumas. She suspected Liz had never had a trauma. Not a real one anyway. Not one that made her lose track of reality. Jump the tracks and skid down into black muck that smelled like old-fashioned molasses. Sharon wiped her fingers on her shorts, but the stickiness wouldn't come off. She ripped a paper towel off the roll they'd packed with lunch, and began rubbing each finger meticulously.

"You never told me you were in therapy."

"Yeah, well, it never came up. Besides, it's not really that important. I'm just one of those people who sees themselves in terms of other people. As long as I'm in a steady, successful relationship, I'm OK."

"And what happens when you're going through a divorce?"

"I don't know yet. I probably either disappear or go crazy. Of course, now that I've traded my unfaithful husband in for a dog who believes in unconditional love, I should be fine. Don't ya think?"

"Maybe it wouldn't be a bad idea for you to talk to Keith when he gets back. I think the Warren thing may be getting to you a little more than you're letting on. That, and getting laid off. Those sort of `big life changes' can sort of sneak up on you." Liz reached out and touched Sharon's shoulder, which was glowing with a slight sunburn. "He is a doctor."

"Oh, Liz, I'm just kidding. Honestly."

"Kidding?" Liz peered into Sharon's hyperactive eyes, which avoided hers.

"Of course I am. My maiden name was Schutz, not Lipschutz. My mom preferred cross-word puzzles to Salinger--thought he spent too much time skirting around the story, instead of just telling the damn thing. She never had cocktail parties. And she certainly would never tell me I was famous because I had my name in a book. I'm just full of shit." Sharon dug her toes into the pink sand and shrugged as she admired Liz's classic oval face and polished rows of pearl white teeth peeking out from a mouth dropped in disbelief. "Just fooling around. That's all. You have gorgeous teeth, Lizzy. I'd kill for teeth like yours."

"Sharon, what is wrong with you today?" Liz laughed nervously. "That's not funny. Grace, come here baby! Let's dry you off. You're starting to shiver." Liz wrapped Grace in a large, green towel that covered her from neck to toe, and began rubbing warmth into her.

"I'm sorry, I'm just kind of...it just feels so fucking weird to be up here with you guys while Warren's down there screwing around with a girl half his age. It's like there's some chemical imbalance in the air and it's making me say some incredibly stupid things."

"I'll go along with that." Liz pulled a flowered dress over Grace's head and reached for lavender training pants. "You're definitely not yourself. I don't know what's gotten into you. I really wish you wouldn't swear around the baby. That's not like you either."

"I don't wear diapers anymore," Grace interrupted proudly.

"I know you don't. You're such a big girl!" Liz fluffed Grace's blonde curls out from under the neckline of her dress.

"Franny sure does like Grace," Sharon mused. "I didn't think she'd like kids."

"Really? I've always heard that labs are great with children. After this trip, Keith will probably want to get a dog. He always had one when he was growing up. He wanted to wait for Grace to get big enough to appreciate a puppy. Seeing these two together ought to take care of that."

"Maybe you should take Franny."

"Sharon! What are you talking about? You love that dog."

"I know. She's great, but I'm not much of a companion these days. I've just been thinking maybe I should do a little traveling now that I'm not working. Take some time off. Go to Asia or India. Some place where I can clear my head of any residual Warren dust." Sharon stroked Franny, who had bounded over at the sound of her name.

"Well, we'll always be glad to take care of her. She's a sweetheart." Liz began to pick up Grace's toys and stuff them into her bag. "We're going to go on back to the house. Time for Grace's nap. You coming? I could make some coffee, warm up some of that cranberry bread. Maybe we could talk if something's bothering you." Liz let the invitation hang there, framed by her hopeful, yet concerned expression.

"Nah. I want to watch the tide come in. I'll be up in a bit."

"Don't stay too long. You're starting to get a nasty sunburn."

"I won't. Hey, don't worry about that stuff, I'll bring it up." Sharon motioned to the picnic paraphernalia scattered by their chairs.

"You sure? You sure you're OK?"

"Positive. Go on. Get that baby out of the sun."

Sharon watched Liz carry Grace up the granite slope and disappear. Franny ran up to the top of the ledge and looked back at Sharon for a moment before charging off to join the mother and child who always seemed to have food nearby. "Another betrayal," she whispered. "It always starts so innocently. So goddamn innocently."

When she heard the screen door slam, Sharon stripped off her shorts and shirt, and folded them neatly by her beach chair. She automatically adjusted the straps of her bathing suit, which looked blood red against her white skin and pink shoulders. Her bones jutted, exclamation point reminders that she'd stopped eating and taking her medication shortly after Warren moved out. She picked up the knife Liz had used to slice cheese an hour before, waded out into the frigid water, and began to carve perfectly straight lines that traced tendons and blue veins.

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