me to be entertaining tonight!" Linda called from the bathroom.
"I don't expect anything, sweetie," Martin called back
from the bedroom. "I'm just relieved you agreed to come.
Relieved, she thought. I'll bet. She stood in front of the mirror,
naked, and pinched a roll of fat behind her hip. Then she cupped
a breast in each hand and lifted them up to where they had once
been. She let them sag again and realized she couldn't remember
when her body had morphed to this plump, middle-aged stranger
in the mirror. Time had just crept up on her. She had been cruising
along in life, feeling like herself -- a young, vital woman with
certain plans -- and then, wham! this stranger in the mirror had
appeared to show her something different. She realized she was
getting old. The better part of her life was over, she lamented.
Leaning closer to the mirror to check her eye shadow, she saw
that the bags under her eyes were still visible through her foundation.
Her hair was thinning, a fact demonstrated by the clot of copper
strands wound through her curl brush. She forced herself into
her bra and underwear and then wrestled into her sleeveless black
dinner dress. Her shoulders looked too bulky under the thin straps,
so she went into the bedroom to find a light sweater.
"Just promise you'll be cordial, at least," he begged.
"Don't push it," she said from the closet. "You're
lucky I'm even going. And who's this VIP we're supposed to be
"I told you. He's the CEO's brother."
"And tell me again," she said, trudging out of the closet
with her sweater, "why did you get the assignment of babysitting
the CEO's brother? Draw the short straw?"
"Ha. Ha. No, Linda. I volunteered. I saw a great opportunity,
and I took it. This guy might be appointed head of the board of
"La dee da. So why don't you just go out with him? Do some
guy things, like hang out at the club all night and then cheat
on your wives." She saw the comment stung him, and she was
Martin sat on the edge of the bed, and Linda knew he was pretending
he hadn't heard her. He quickly changed the topic. "He's
never seen a Polynesian dinner show. He wants to see the live
divers, and he's bringing his wife. I've told you. I can't very
well go to dinner with the CEO's brother and his wife, solo."
"Like I said, I'll go. But don't expect much enthusiasm.
I'm only doing this for you, god knows why."
"And I'm so happy you agreed to come, sweetie. I have to
make a good impression tonight. It could mean a promotion, you
know, and the CEO is very particular about who entertains his
brother when he's in town. We have to show a little class tonight."
"Wonder he should pick you, then," she sneered.
She fished her shoes out from under the bed and, after some effort,
slipped them on. Bloated again. No wonder he cheated on me, she
thought. But, my God. Why did he have to pick the meter reader?
Of all people! Isn't it normally the secretary? The co-worker
after months of late-night projects? The woman's own best friend,
even? But the electric meter reader! So what if she had firm legs.
What 25-year-old who had to walk all day wouldn't? But what kind
of a yo-yo gets to know their meter reader, anyway? How does that
"We better get going," he said. "We're supposed
to meet them at seven."
"One last thing," she called, heading back into the
bathroom. She closed the door and braced herself against the counter.
She took three deep breaths and looked herself over again. "I
hate you!" she mouthed.
It had been over a month since he had come home suddenly to sit
her down and tell her all about it. He had simply confessed, out
of the blue, yanking the carpet out from under her life in one
baffling sentence. She hadn't even suspected he was having an
affair before then. That was the weird thing. It wasn't supposed
to be like that. Weren't there supposed to be the suspicions first?
Then his denials? Then, ultimately, the discovery and bam! here's
your divorce papers, you son-of-a-bitch. But he had denied her
the intrigue, climax and denouement of it all. He had simply confessed
and then asked her to forgive him. What was she supposed to say?
She had to think on it.
Since then things had been awkward. Martin kept trying to be extra
sweet, kissing her ass, really. He had even bought her flowers
several times in the last month -- and for no particular reason.
She couldn't remember the last time he'd bought her flowers before
his big "confession". He was overdoing the "good
husband" thing and it was beginning to smother her. She hadn't
made up her mind yet whether to forgive him or to file for divorce
and just take him for half of everything. What she needed sometimes
was to talk to him about it. But whenever she brought up the topic,
he would clam up and just stare at her like some wooden statue
in a cigar store window, or he would quickly change the topic
and ask how she liked the recent flowers he had bought her. As
far as making a decision about what to do with their marriage,
Martin was being no help at all.
He opened the passenger door for her in the parking lot. It was
another self-conscious gesture that had begun recently, and Martin
always wore an awkward smile to match. Lately, his face often
wore the expression of a penitent puppy dog that has just been
caught peeing on the carpet. It was driving Linda crazy.
On the way to the restaurant, Martin pointed out some places that
should have brought back good memories. "Oh, and remember
that joint?" he said, pointing out a Chinese restaurant on
the corner. They were waiting for a red light. "That's where
I fell into the carp pond, and we both got food poisoning from
the General's Chicken."
Linda had stopped listening to him, though. Instead, she thought
about the recurring dream she'd been having recently. In the dream
she's always standing on the edge of the roof of a very tall building.
Safety lies behind her, she knows. But she always steps off the
edge and falls, tumbling headlong into an incomprehensible space
for an unintelligible length of time, and she always wakes before
hitting the ground. After she'd had the dream a few times, Linda
remembered that she'd once heard something about dreams that involve
falling: you could never hit the ground in a dream, her best friend
in grade school had told her, because if you did, you would die
of a heart attack in your sleep. Linda now wondered how many people
who died in their sleep had actually been dreaming they were falling.
The odd thing about this new dream, Linda realized, was that she
always chose to step off the edge instead of moving backwards
to safety. This was strange because she had always been deathly
afraid of heights. She remembered the time in swim class when
she was ten and all the students had to perform at least one high-dive
from the ten-foot board in order to pass. Everyone had lined up
to climb the ladder and, one-by-one, they all made their way out
to the edge of the diving board and jumped. In spite of her fear,
Linda had convinced herself she would simply climb and then jump
like the others, but she had made the mistake of looking down
when she reached the top. The board wobbled crazily under her
feet and she became dizzy. She had to sit, clutching the sides
for dear life. It didn't matter how much the other kids jeered
and laughed at her, she wouldn't budge. Finally, the instructor
had to climb up and bring her down to safety. Now, all of a sudden,
she was jumping off of skyscrapers in her dreams.
They met the CEO's brother in the restaurant lobby. He was a small,
round man who introduced himself as Richard, and his red-rimmed
eyes gave Linda the impression he'd already been at the cocktails
for a while. His white beard and mustache were trimmed in a distinct
Scottish style, which prompted Linda to wonder where he had left
his kilt and bagpipes. At his side leaned a tall but stooped woman
whose small eyes seemed too close together for practical function.
She was at least four inches taller than her husband but seemed
to be slouching on purpose to appear shorter than him. Richard
introduced her as Franny. Franny took Linda's hand and said nice
to meet you. Linda said likewise. Richard said he was glad they
had sent someone with such a beautiful wife. Martin beamed. Linda
smirked. Richard appeared to mistake this smirk for graciousness:
he winked back, obscenely. Franny seemed to wilt even more, and
her eyes appeared to grow smaller and closer together.
"Let's find our table!" Richard boomed with the abandon
of a drunk. "The show's starting in five, and we don't want
to miss it. I reserved us a place up high so we can see everything.
Did you know they actually have cliffs and real divers in there?
What a world!"
The restaurant décor was traditional Polynesian and loudspeakers
piped in the sound of tribal drums and tropical birds. The lights
were turned down to imitate nightfall. Designed like a theater,
the upper decks were little grass huts with dining tables in them.
The stage soared forty-feet high and looked like a wall of Island
cliffs. If one didn't know better, they might think a little piece
of Samoa had grown legs and marched itself right down to the restaurant.
A waterfall tumbled from the wall and into a small pool twenty
feet below. The pool extended the length of the cliff and jutted
out ten feet into the lower dining area. A concrete barrier surrounded
it. Tables were arranged around the pool, and a few families sat
there, eating. They were waiting for the show to begin.
The CEO's brother led them all to their grass hut. On the table
sat coconut husks that held their napkins, and Linda suddenly
felt like she had just stumbled onto Gilligan's Island. Martin
swooped in to pull a chair out for her, and, in his haste, their
feet got tangled. Linda nearly ended up going over the side. It
would be just her luck, she thought.
A waitress bounded up and set a basket of fresh fruit on their
table. She handed menus around, and Richard ordered another cocktail.
Franny declined to order anything and Linda followed suit. Martin
said he'd have what Richard was having. When the waitress left
with their order, Richard winked slyly at Martin and said, "Good-looking
waitress, huh? Ah, if we were just a little younger!"
Martin forced a guilty smile. Linda gaped across the table at
Richard, stifling an urge to claw his eyes out. Then she looked
at his wife. Franny had slumped a little farther in her seat and
now hid her face behind a menu. If she made herself any less conspicuous,
Linda thought, the woman would vanish into thin air.
"Martin," Richard continued. "I only have one rule
during dinner. I don't talk business. Let's keep it light and
enjoy the show."
"Anything you say, Mr. Johnson." Martin concurred.
my second rule. You have to call me Richard."
The waitress returned with their drinks and Richard leered at
her. "Ever wonder what it's like to be with an older man?"
He giggled suggestively.
"With or without Viagra?" Linda shot back. The waitress
quickly fled, understanding she had just been bailed out of an
Richard glanced balefully at Linda, and then looked to Martin,
who could only offer a slight shrug. As if pondering some great
riddle, Richard stared stupidly at Martin and took a gulp from
his cocktail. Suddenly he raised an eyebrow, as though he had
discovered the answer to his conundrum. He laughed out loud then.
"Viagra. Ha!" He slapped his knee and then turned to
his wife, smiling. "You really ought to order you a drink,
Fran," he chuckled. "You know I hate it when you're
Franny said nothing.
"You know she used to be a javelin thrower? Wouldn't imagine
it would you?" Richard announced, patting his wife on the
back. "Had a University scholarship, she did. Might have
gone to the Olympics, too, if it wasn't for that unfortunate accident.
I blame the wind, I've always said. But Franny, she never got
over it. Isn't that right, Fran?"
Franny smiled sheepishly, her cheeks coloring. Linda wondered
why Franny hadn't stuck a javelin in her husband's back long ago.
"Hey!" Richard said, turning to Martin again. "My
brother told me about this new strip club downtown. How about
you and me take the ladies home after dinner and we go paint the
Linda snapped shut her menu and Martin coughed, pretending to
choke on his fruit. Franny patted her lips nervously with a napkin.
Before Martin could answer, a sudden flash of lightening from
the stage lights bailed him out. Thunder roared over the loudspeakers,
and a young woman in a swimsuit appeared on a ledge above the
"Look! Look!" Richard pointed. "She's a hot one!
Nice legs on that one!"
Linda turned her chair toward the stage, her back to the nuisance
now. Franny sat stock still, hunched over her menu. Her small
eyes could have burned two holes in the entrée section.
The girl in the bathing suit stood poised on the cliff and then
let herself fall gracefully over the edge, jackknifing halfway
down and then straightening herself out for a smooth splash into
the pool below. Children in the audience stamped their feet wildly,
and their parents stopped eating long enough to applaud.
"Now that's what I call dinner entertainment!" Richard
guffawed over his cocktail glass, winking at Martin. "Oh,
A second young woman in a different colored bathing suit now stood
on the ledge. She too raised her arms in a diving pose and then
let her body fall forward. She wrapped herself in a neat ball
and did three somersaults on her way down.
"By God! If they would only do that naked," Richard
bawled. Linda slammed her fist on the table and stood to leave,
but a young man appeared on the diving ledge then. She sat back
down, fascinated suddenly.
"Hey! What's with this guy?" Richard complained. "We're
here to see the girls dive!"
Linda leaned forward in her chair and gazed at the young man perched
on the ledge. She imagined he was some college student, diving
for extra money to pay his tuition. He stood there in Speedos,
taut body erect, arms extended over his head, muscular brown legs
coiled, toes curled down over the ledge. At first Linda found
him attractive, but she suddenly realized she had nothing in common
with him. The young man was just beginning life, she thought,
probably full of hopes and dreams. He would finish college, get
some silly girl to fall in love with him and then marry her. They
might have children. He would work, and then work more, and then
wake up one morning and no longer find his wife attractive. He
would probably need to find someone younger then to make himself
believe he was still this same hopeful young man standing on the
ledge preparing to dive now. She had already fallen victim to
those illusions. That part of her life was over.
Linda suddenly hated him. She also realized that leaving her husband
would only mean a life of loneliness, unless she was prepared
to entertain men like these old, jaded wretches, men like her
own husband or, god forbid, like the CEO's brother, men with their
own baggage and broken dreams. She would be starting out fresh
with a major handicap on her scorecard.
The young diver bent slightly at the knees and then propelled
himself from the ledge. Linda immediately saw that he'd misjudged
his own strength. He folded himself in half to grasp his toes
on the way down. He snapped himself straight and then came down
directly on the concrete barrier surrounding the pool. The sickening
thud of a human skull hitting the barrier could be heard even
over the din of the loudspeakers. A collective gasp echoed through
the restaurant and everyone sat in silence waiting for an announcement
to tell them that it was all part of the show. The young diver
lay, crumpled, over the top of the concrete barrier, legs splayed
like a large dead bug. Then the house lights snapped on, nearly
blinding everyone. The children were the first to scream. At some
of the tables, women were crying. Two men in black suits scrambled
to the diver's aid. The restaurant managers, Linda thought.
She sat there looking at the unconscious young man and unexpectedly
felt an urge to laugh. It came on so suddenly that she couldn't
stop herself. She realized how absurd it was to be laughing about
such a tragedy, but she laughed out loud until she became hysterical
and tears came into her eyes. She looked across the table and
saw that Franny was beginning to laugh, too. It was a tiny laugh,
hidden behind her hand at first, but soon both women were laughing
together as though they had just seen the funniest comedy act
in the world.
"What are you two laughing at?" Richard demanded then.
Martin just sat there, wooden, mouth open. "What do you two
find so funny? The man most likely killed himself! There's nothing
funny in that."
Linda and Franny kept right on laughing and couldn't stop themselves.
"Fran! Stop that this instant. You're embarrassing me. That
young man must have cracked his skull in fifty places! Stop laughing."
The women only laughed harder. They were holding hands across
the table now. Richard looked at Martin as if to say, curb your
wife. Martin only stared back, stupidly, unable to understand
what was happening. Richard stood abruptly and took his wife by
the arm. "Come on, Fran. We're leaving. I don't know what's
wrong with that woman!" He pointed at Linda to indicate he
knew she was the instigator and had led his wife astray.
Fran left obediently with her husband, still laughing, and Linda
hoped she would someday find the part of herself that once enjoyed
Martin turned to his wife. "I don't understand you,"
he said. She was wiping her eyes with a napkin. "I guess
you never will. Let's go," she said. They made their way
to the car.
On the way home Linda tried to understand why she had laughed
at the young diver's misfortune. It was horrible really, and he
might have been killed. She wondered if he had realized his mistake
before hitting the concrete.
Linda understood that diving from such heights was dangerous business,
but the young diver had shown courage by diving in the first place.
Maybe you just had to jump and take your chances in life sometimes,
she thought. Before they reached home, she knew she would have
the recurring dream that night, and she was certain she would
step off the building and fall again. Suddenly she understood
why she always chose to leap. All she could do now was hope she
would wake up one last time before hitting the ground.
"A mediocre Golden Gloves amateur boxer at one time, I quickly
discovered less painful ways of using one's head than bobbing
or weaving as a target." His publications include 'The Crucible'
(Utah State University's literary magazine), The New Era magazine,
and The Dead Mule: School of Southern Fiction and in Literary
Potpourri. He's nearly completed a short-story collection.