Fiction - Spring 2009

Promises, Promises

By Joseph O'Neill | March 1, 2009

In memory of David Foster Wallace

They’d promised an ocean view, and they’d delivered. Down below was indeed the ocean and the little white tassels made again and again by its waves, as if what might actually be on view was a vast, vastly repetitive offering of bluish, greenish rugs. It was six in the morning and six surfers, sitting on their boards, had the water to themselves.

Fritz shouted out, “Coffee?” and Anne, twisting, shouted in, “No.” She turned back in time to see the sextet spring up and go. Then she saw that farther out, much farther out, the water held a little head. The swimmer was moving directly away from the shore. Anne watched him—him, because there was something masculine about the motion of the arms, she’d decided—watched with surprise as he kept going out, out.

“How far would you say he is?” she asked Fritz.

Fritz took a slurp of coffee. “I’d say half a mile.” If Fritz sounded expert, which he did, it was because back in Tucson they owned a lap pool which was in effect Fritz’s lap pool, since every morning he swam 72 laps, which came to a mile, he maintained, and Anne wasn’t about to check his mathematics. She never swam in the lap pool. She found it oppressive, this blue coffin of water, just as she found oppressive the gym next door to her downtown office, a tank of light in which a row of runners every night ran and ran toward the window.

They watched the swimmer swim farther away. “Every friggin’ beach has one,” Fritz said. “It’s compulsory under the Beach (Dramatis Personae) Act of 1886. There’s the three hot chicks walking in the surf, there’s the kid with the bucket, and there’s the guy swimming out toward the horizon.”

Anne had heard variations on this joke before and said nothing. Her attention was on the seafarer. He was completely on his own. Every stroke out was a stroke he’d have to take back, and therefore every stroke counted double. But she wasn’t counting.

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