Could Be Cadiz

 

Could Be Cadiz

By Greg Harris

 

Rosen blamed the keening of gulls, the gentle crash of surf on Positano’s pebble beach, and the cries of the Italian children at play. They had lulled him, and he had gradually forgotten his ship, anchored far to the south, forgotten ship’s security, and forgotten even himself. There was no other way to explain the knuckle-headed mistake he had just made, telling Fritzi that the USS America’s next port of call was Rota, Spain. Or the worse mistake, telling her the exact dates in May. You’re in over your head, old boy, he told himself, and bit his tongue, his senses having finally roused toward alarm. You’re here to enjoy Italy, not commit your future.
 
Fritzi’s head lifted, at the mention of Rota. He felt her eyes on him, her cool green gaze, before she resettled herself more firmly against his shoulder. The sun’s heat, pressing his whole body into the towel, forbid his raising so much as an eyelid. Even the traffic rumbling uphill along Via Cristoforo Colombo had a constant, dreamy quality, though this morning he’d been cursing as they’d fought their way from Naples on the borrowed motorbike.
 
Some minutes passed, their only marker the frictionless turning of the earth, and a designation on the calendar, April 7, 1967, slowly vanishing and never to come again. Fritzi’s flat belly moved with her breath beneath his hand, both of them drifting while her fingers made little circles against his chest. He turned slightly, to catch the cypress fragrance of her hair.
 
"Really?" she asked, sitting up and turning toward him. He opened his eyes, knowing what he would drink in, the curves of her in the bikini he’d bought her in the shop near Piazza dei Martiri in Naples. It was two weeks’ pay, almost. He couldn’t help thinking: a week for each piece. Thread for thread, the most expensive thing he’d ever purchased. But there had been no hesitation. The blushing coral was perfect for her, the little golden rings clasping it at her hips irresistible. They’d taken it right out of the front window and left the mannequin bare.
 
She leaned forward, and put her hand beneath her chin to contemplate him. The space between her breasts was a canyon in which he could rest forever. "I could join you there. My mother wants to vacation at that time with the whole family."
 
“In Rota? It’s not exactly a hot spot."
 
"No. But… it could be Cadiz, if I talked her into it.”
 
He struggled onto his elbows, wincing a bit as they dug into coarse sand.
 
“That's right by Rota," she clarified. "It's right across the harbor."
 
 “I know,” he said miserably.
 
She straightened and pulled away from him, hugging her knees. He turned his head slightly away.
 
The sun was more westerly now, the wind from the sea picking up, the shadow of the cliffs starting to march across the beach. An older woman, bony hips, long stork-thin legs, walked up the beach past them, her skin so loose and textured by wrinkles it was nearly feathered.
 
Impossible to imagine Fritzi would ever be a harpy like that.
 
“Is everything cool?” Fritzi asked.
 
“I’m thinking.” But he never could, when Fritzi put her accent to things. ‘Cool’, as she pronounced it, shaped her mouth in a pout. He kissed it away, tasting the sea on her lips, breathing her coconut skin.
 
He lay back, slightly dizzy, and she also, breath coming more quickly, put her head back on his shoulder. Not for the first time with Fritzi, he wished he could take away his head, and everything in it, from his supremely happy self. What he felt with her was like all the happiness history denied.
 
And yet a certain burden came with being a military man, or maybe being a Jew; you were alert to things about human history. On a promontory above Positano’s beach was a stonework tower with tapered, square walls, punctured by tiny windows. Beneath it, carved into the rock of the cliff, were networks of passageways and stone chambers, partially open to the sea. To many eyes, probably, this was scenic, as decorative as the figure of bride and groom atop a wedding cake. Rosen could, with effort, see it this way. But his mind kept turning to what he knew that its builders, deadly practical, had meant it to be. A defense against invasion. Against whom? The Saracens, five hundred years ago? The Corsairs, a hundred and fifty? The aggressors of Milan? British privateers? In an earlier incarnation, Rome?
 
During World War II, the tower would have held some number of Fritzi’s kinspeople, with precise German optics, glaring out into the Bay of Salerno.
 
Tourism and legend put a Vaseline glaze over things, shined them up with colorful names, but the realities stood beneath, like the shoals of the Li Galli triplet of islands, “The Roosters,” visible now as black interruptions of the sun’s afternoon rays. His tour book had the Sirens living there, that race of half-human nymphs, vultures who lured sailors to their death, and whom even Ulysses would not have resisted, without the foresight to have himself lashed to his own mast by a crew instructed to be deaf to his pleas.
 
It was a pretty story. But it wasn’t true. The truth was the rocks, and their toll on shipping over millennia.
 
“Jake…” Fritzi said. “I like to see you. I like you very much. But there are no promises between us, and I don’t want to make you feel you have to do anything.”
 
She thinks it’s about the relationship, he realized. A simple case of too soon. How could she have no idea?
 
Then again, when he’d chosen to study German in high school and at the Naval Academy, it had seemed a purely pragmatic decision, a way to leverage the Yiddish he’d grown up with. He’d had no idea how heartbreaking the sound of Du could be, when a German girl shaped her lips around it and a moment later kissed you. Which Fritzi did, for a long moment in the shadows, while the town of Positano rose above them, each house leaning on the ones behind, a frieze of sorts, something classical, capturing the exact quality of a cultivated but unnamable endurance.
 
 
On the motorbike back across the Sorrento peninsula, her arms encircled his waist, and her honey hair whipped both of their faces. Her knees, squeezing against him, communicated an electric sense of almost. Almost sundown, almost the after-dinner hour when by arrangement her roommate would go to the movies and they'd have the room with the balcony to themselves.
 
They made it to Vico Equense by dark, and ate at a trattoria on Via Filangeri with shuttered doors flung open. The cook had a radio on in the kitchen, a football match, the excited, jabbering voices rising and breaking into static. The padrone waited on them personally, apologizing that his usual waitstaff was out sick. An older man with flowing gray hair, his body seemed too large for his restaurant.
 
Rosen made restless conversation. Fritzi had amusing things to say about her brother’s girlfriend, whom she detested, but was sure he would marry. “She’s a throwback to the fraulein,” Fritzi said. “Already forty years old and with two children at age nineteen.” Rosen had to ask her to repeat it in English, since he was sure he’d heard the German wrong, but then he got it. “If you took off her shirt you’d find a bra wired like this,” Fritzi said, making the shape of rigid cones in front of her. In fact, just then, as she made her point, it was underlined by a spontaneous movement of her own rather more casual breasts. “But it’s what my brother deserves. If he were any less of a pig, he’d see that she lacks all imagination.”
 
“But they’re compatible?”
 
She shook her head, sadly. “She’s only compatible with his worse side, not his better. But he himself wants to forget his better side.”
 
“What do you mean?”
 
She pushed her fork through the pasta. “He was a magnificent boy, but he grows into a silent and unhappy man. He doesn’t want to be reminded. When we were children, he was the artist. I used to sit on the foot of his bed to learn about Goethe and Husserl. His ideas! I still have his diagram—how the subjective world intersects with the phenomenological.”
 
Rosen had to ask her to clarify again in English. Precisely because her English was so much better than his German, they spoke German to suit his learning. But at times his limits were too frustrating.
 
What he got was that her brother had failed a crucial exam, leading, in Fritzi’s view, to a depression. Then he’d taken a different, more practical track, and become an engineer, now working for a helicopter parts manufacturer in Ottobrunn. “You can’t tell him he’s become our father, but when he visits home now he sits in my father’s chair and they talk about breeds of dog and he is in every detail a Bürger in the old way.”
 
“Except he doesn’t work for the Nazis,” Rosen couldn’t stop himself from adding.
 
Fritzi shrugged dismissively. “His overseer in Ottobrunn designed engines for Messerschmitt in the war. Their work now is on anti-tank missiles. My brother’s character, pff. It wouldn’t matter who was in charge. He should marryand live his stuffy life.”
 
She was a flower child, a peacenik, an art photographer. Her tender interest in him seemed to bruise, last summer in Cannes, when he’d spoken of his genuine belief in military duty, in the necessity of containing the Soviets, in American ideals that were also his, freedom, democracy, honor. But she’d sprung back, laughingly introducing him to her friends as ‘Captain America.’ Smiling even more when he corrected her: Lieutenant America.
 
He let his fork drop to his plate, and stared out the doorway. A family of Vico Equensians, or whatever you called them, strolled past the trattoria, the father a weary man with a good-natured, put-upon expression, one daughter on his shoulders, another pulling him impatiently by a forefinger. The wife jabbering away in Italian. Probably on their way to the pub down the street that sold pizza by the meter. That’s where he would be, if he weren’t thinking of Fritzi. Or was married, and he and Fritzi were surrounded by their own children.
 
The direction of his daydream alarmed him, and he cast a quick glance back at Fritzi. Frederica. She seemed, in that European way, entirely comfortable with silence. What am I doing? he wondered, not for the first time since he met her. Was it really so simple: despise and reject your father, and the entire burden of genocide no longer had anything to do with you?
 
It didn’t work that way for Rosen. Not that he’d always been immune from trying. At age eleven, moody on an afternoon when he was burdened with Torah study, he’d declared his disbelief in God, which was also his disbelief in his parents’ mild and fussy synagogue life. Expecting an argument, he’d followed his father to his downtown office, where from a file in his desk had come photographs, news clippings, a single heartbreaking postcard from Poland, 1937. Your great-aunt, his father told Rosen. Inviting him to see her as Rosen now always had: brown cordwood stacked for the ovens.
 
They’d chosen this quiet, scenic place for their first real night together—there had been no time alone in Cannes. Vico Equense was an easy train ride back to Naples for Fritzi and her roommate, both of them art history students at the university. And at 0730, when he’d leave her to begin the four-hour motorcycle trek back down to Taranto to rejoin his ship, the view of Vesuvius should be spectacular.
 
 “I’m so glad we’re here,” Rosen said. He intercepted her white wrist and pulled it to his lips, licking the clam sauce where a strand of spaghetti had trailed from the fork and wrapped around her like seaweed. Her eyes widened. He crossed her palm with kisses, nibbled the soft arch between her middle and ring finger.
 
Unfortunately, behind her was the too-interested stare of the padrone.
 
“Forgive me,” the man muttered, when a red-faced Rosen and Fritzi hurried to pay him, and he added, in Italian, something too quickly spoken for Rosen to understand, accompanied by a look he didn’t quite trust. In fact, seeing Fritzi bite her lip, he assumed something insulting, and was reproaching himself for having left a tip.
 
Then, when they were outside and a little bit away, beside the motorbike, she exploded into giggles. “Apparently he’s quite impressed by the show we’re making of American-German friendship,” she said. “He was in the war.”
 
“Imagine how much more impressed he’d be if he knew I’m Jewish.”
 
Fritzi got more serious then, and put her hand on his cheek, and said in English, “It won’t matter to my mother. Were you worried about that, earlier? She is an enthusiast about the Jews.”
 
“That’s sort of strange to hear.”
 
“Why? Not everyone was a Nazi.”
“I mean, just the term, ‘the Jews.’”
 
Fritzi looked chastened. “Is it improper?”
 
“No, not improper. It’s just—” Rosen could feel that he hadn’t named the problem, that it was something else, or something more. “I was thinking about my father. He’s scheduled to visit Rota at that time as well. And, well—it’s perhaps not for the Germans to decide if they’re enthusiastic about the Jews, anymore. I don’t think he’ll—I wasn’t sure if I should—or if I was going to—”
 
Fritzi waited. Her windswept hair was knotted into a casual ponytail, and she’d pulled a simple cotton shirt over her bikini. Her lively green eyes held an affection as brave, and welcome, as searchlights at sea.
 
How could anyone not love her? From the moment she’d brought him a drink, in that café in Cannes where he’d been so strung out at the end of last year’s Mediterranean deployment, he’d had the same reaction. She was for him.
 
“Let me put it this way,” he said, though, like his mentioning Rota in the first place, he could feel that the real decision had already been made, and all else was cavil. “There are probably several ways I could kill my father. But the most obvious is to bring home a German girl. He won’t even buy Bayer aspirin.”
 
She nodded, solemnly. “Jake,” she said. “This is what I am.” Taking both his hands, she sat back on the driver’s cushion of his borrowed Vespa, drawing him between her knees. “I know it creates a problem for you.”
 
The problem for me, he wanted to say, is that it doesn’t create a problem for you. How did Europe live with all this history? The motorbike she straddled, even. Its maker, Piaggio, had been Italy’s leading warplane producer until Allied bombing destroyed the factory. Probably, among the men who had trained him, had been several of the Allied bombers responsible.
 
But he had to be less tiresome than this. All the arguments back and forth had already played out in his head. How there were Germans who opposed the war, who were imprisoned, even as far as Auschwitz, for that opposition. Hadn’t the Frankfurt trial just ended? The headlines he’d memorized for come-arounds at the Naval Academy, the heroic efforts of the Hessian attorney general, himself a prisoner in Terezin, who had exposed seemingly ordinary Germans—a Hamburg businessman, a nursing home attendant in Koln, a woodsman of the Black Forest—as mass murderers. The genuineness of the crowd’s repulsion, captured in photos of slack-mouthed horror, women covering their faces in anguished shame at the man who had injected ten thousand Jews personally with shots to the chest, and moonlighted as the Angel of Death on the rooftops of the gas chambers, wielding buckets of crystals of Zyklon B. So many who spoke at the trial had been Germans who had witnessed. Who had protested.
 
She was granting him—everything. Tonight. Nothing was held back with this girl. It was he who had an extra chamber in his heart where everything echoed strangely. He who was unnatural. “I don’t have a problem,” he murmured, close to her ear. “I could not feel better about what you are. My father presents the problem.”
 
“Hm,” she said.
 
The albergo was so close by, and the Italian air so sweet at the hour of sunset, that they didn’t even bother getting on the bike; he just pushed it along the laid-brick street past the train station. It was a small hotel, family run, advertised by a stenciled white sign set into the stone face of the building. A wrought iron gate opened into a garden, with oval stepstones receding like bubbles toward the office. Rosen secured the motoribike and walked beside Fritzi, his hand in hers, up the side stairs toward her room.
 
Signori,” a voice said from the office doorway. “Signori.” Improbably, it was the same man they’d checked in with early this morning on the way to Positano, a middle-aged man whose crooked jaw and deep frown lines gave his face a brooding, inturned aspect. Rosen had joked to Fritzi that the size of the silver crucifix around his neck had to indicate a fascination with sin. “A message from your friend: she is in her room with a headache and hopes you’ll forgive her canceling the dinner plans.”
 
Rosen looked on while Fritzi interrogated him further in Italian, eventually thanking him and drawing Rosen a little up the stairs so they’d be out of sight of the man’s lingering gaze. “He says Monique went out at noon and seemed to be fine, and that she came back half an hour ago looking upset. Not sick; upset.”
 
Rosen glanced back down toward the office. “He’s keeping close watch.”
 
Fritzi made a face. “That’s what a family place does.” Monique, her roommate in Naples, had heard from a friend about the hotel, which was not in any of the guidebooks. It would not have been Rosen’s choice, magnificent as was the view from the third-floor balcony. He wanted something as anonymous as possible. But Monique was what Fritzi described as an old-fashioned girl, a neighbor from their little town outside Stuttgart, attached to Fritzi from a very early age. She had wanted a measure of safety and oversight. “You sailors have a reputation, you know,” Fritzi had said jokingly.
 
“I hope to live up to it,” Rosen had said, straight-faced.
 
About Monique, Rosen had formed only a brief impression from their last evening in Naples, of a thickset girl with yellow hair and ruddy, sullen features, who seemed to regard Fritzi, rather unhealthily, as her charge.
 
“Should we just go to the other room?” It didn’t have the view he’d paid for—but he discovered he was uninterested in the view, or anything in Italy other than Fritzi.
 
“Shh!” Fritzi glanced up and down the stairs for the proprietor, who had been particularly keen to understand that the two girls were the ones sharing a room. She shook her head. “We need to see what’s going on.”
 
“Why?”
 
Fritzi rolled her eyes. “She’s my friend.”
 
I don’t think so, Rosen thought. But he bit his tongue while Fritzi tapped lightly at the door with her fingernail. “Moni?” There was no answer.
 
Rosen was standing close behind her in the narrow corridor. He placed his hands on her narrow waist. She nestled back against him and, after another nervous glance down-corridor, turned her head up to kiss his mouth. After a moment, she broke free with a sigh and tapped again.
 
“Moni!” She turned to Rosen. “Should I ask the padrone for an extra key?”
 
“You should skip it.” He pinned her against the wall and sought her tongue. A blissful, blind stretch of minutes went by as they became creatures of some hot sea, hearts thudding, lower halves curved to press against each other. Mmmmm, she sang, and then laughed as if she wished she could stop, and then dissolved again, the pleasure pouring through her. MMMMmmm.
 
Rosen pulled away, panting. “Shhh, not so loud. The padrone.” His clothes felt sticky, constricting; he wanted to tear them off the way you did in the man-overboard drills. Fritzi rested her head back against the wall, exposing her neck, and the flush spreading beneath the wings of her collarbones. Unselfconsciously she loosened the top button of her shift.
 
After a few breaths, she straightened and looked right at him, green eyes like shaded lagoons. “I can’t help it,” she said. “It’s how I am in pleasure.”
 
Now Rosen groaned, too, lying against her the way he’d lain out on the beach, falling toward her though they were upright, yearning to recreate in the joining of two bodies the briny sea of their formation, streaming and intricate as turtles coursing from the waves. The taste of Fritzi against his mouth, the mingling of salt and song, came to an abrupt halt. The doorknob had rattled, and Monique stood gaping at them.
 
“What, Moni, don’t stare at me like that!” Fritzi said in German, straightening her shirt. Rosen uncomfortably placed his left hand in his pocket, tried to look casual. “You wouldn’t open the door.”
 
“I was asleep,” the girl said thickly.
 
“Are you okay?” Fritzi asked, shifting immediately into a state of concern.
 
Monique’s pouchy eyes drifted briefly to take in Rosen, then focused back on Fritzi. “I have a fever.”
 
“Ach, Moni, I’m so sorry,” Fritzi said.
 
“I’m probably contagious.” She sniffled. “I spoke to the padrone and he was kind enough to bring some broth for supper.”
 
“We can bring you anything,” Fritzi said. “Are you drinking liquids?”
 
“I’m fine.”
 
Rosen dared remove his hand from his pocket and stand more naturally. The three of them were at awkward angles to each other, Monique’s watery gaze still fixed on Fritzi. Rosen hoped his annoyance didn’t show. Wasn’t the logical thing, if she was ‘fine,’ to withdraw and sleep for the night? He desperately needed to get past this moment of feeling becalmed, caught in Monique’s whirlpool of misery, but the moment dragged on and on. Monique eventually offered, “I did go out. I saw the two of you in your ristorante. You were having fun.”
 
“Moni, ach, you must have felt very sorry for yourself,” observed Fritzi. “You should have said something.”
 
Rosen said, “You’d have been welcome to join us. In fact, we’d be happy to take you out now.”
 
Monique glared. “I said I was sick.”
 
Rosen felt his teeth set on edge. “How high is the fever?”
 
“I didn’t bring a thermometer.”
 
“The padrone didn’t have one? Or know of a pharmacy in Vico Equense? I would be happy to get you something to measure.”
 
Fritzi shot him a warning look. Okay, no sarcasm. But Monique could not have made it clearer what was going on. And her story of the padrone and the broth didn’t square with what the man had said.
 
“Can we come in, Moni? Maybe we can have a quiet talk and keep you company.”
 
Moni shook her head. She had the blue bedspread wrapped around her shoulders, though the evening was warm. Now she sniffled again, and wiped her nose on it.
 
“The two of you shouldn’t be around me. I said I’m contagious. It could be encephalitis.”
 
“That’s ridiculous, Moni,” Fritzi said.
 
“So I’m not switching rooms. I don’t want to expose you.”
 
Rosen nearly groaned out loud. Of course. This was Moni sulking, taking for herself something in compensation for being dragged along as a third wheel. How old was Monique? Twenty-five? Mentally she was eight. Rosen had paid for both rooms with the understanding that he and Fritzi would be able to enjoy time in the good one. But he’d give it up: it didn’t matter.
 
“Don’t be ridiculous!” Fritzi said. “We’re not scared of germs. You can—”
 
“It’s fine,” Rosen interrupted. He took Fritzi’s waist, pulled her close to him. “Really. We dig, it’s cool, no problem,” he said in English. “You need your comforts. Just give us the key and we’ll stay in the other room.”
 
Moni’s eyes shot in his direction for only the second time, and they were piercing in their dislike. Without a word she sank back into the room, letting the door close.
 
While she was gone, Fritzi whispered to him, “You shouldn’t be so hard on Monique.”
 
“There’s nothing wrong with her.”
 
“She’s moody.”
 
“She hates me. She’s torturing us.”
 
 “This is just how she is—
 
“You use that line a lot.” He didn’t know why he said it. Felt ridiculous for saying it. Her words, just moments before, had been the best thing in the world. It’s just he couldn’t get out of his head stories he’d heard his whole life. Holocaust survivors, turned out of their homes all across Germany and Poland, driven from their refuges on farms, by Aryan women like Monique, out to get some small thing to satisfy their seeping, horrible persons.
 
Fritzi was clearly stung. Monique reappeared in the doorway and with another sniff dropped the key into Fritzi’s palm. “You said to stop you,” the girl said. “You said we’d stay together.” She closed the door in her friend’s face.
 
“Stop you from what?” Rosen asked. Fritzi raised her arms in disbelief and frustration, her hands frozen almost into claws. Then she wheeled toward him and one of the talons shot out and grabbed his arm.
 
They went down, down four flights of stairs, leaving behind the view of the Bay of Naples, winding in an ever-narrower way to the only other room that had been available, a basement suite that, if you troubled to pull back the thick green curtain, looked up at the dirt yard behind the kitchens. Water stains marred the walls, and there were overlapping smells of decay, from mold and trash barrels of organic compost outside. Rosen tried without success to force the window closed and eliminate at least one source of eddying odor. But it was stuck in quarter-open position.
 
“Stop you from what?” he demanded again.
 
“You’re being really unfair to my friend.”
 
“Me unfair to her? It’s unfair she’s inflicting herself on us. I know I shouldn’t say anything against someone you grew up with, but she’s the very definition of wet blanket.”
 
“What?” He started to explain the idiom, but Fritzi shook him off. “I don’t want this,” she said. “I don’t want someone this unkind. You’re like every other sailor. You want to sleep with me, so you pretend to be nice. Then your true colors come out. I’m gladMoni interfered.”
 
“Oh my God,” he said. “Every single other pilot in my squadron is out right now carousing in bars in Taranto and screwing Italian whores, and I’m not there because of you. That means something, and you—”
 
 “Go, already. Go fuck a whore.” The vulgarity was shocking from her lips, a reminder that German had resources of gutturalness English couldn’t touch. Geh ficken ein nutte.
 
“I. Don’t. Want. To.” What he wanted to do was throttle her. It was a feeling he couldn’t ever remember having toward a girl, especially one he was more than half in love with. She was sitting on the bed now, arms behind her, her breasts pulling apart the buttons at the front of her shirt. The astonishing, proud line of her lifted chin had the grace of a heron, and her eyes the singular cold intensity.
 
“You couldn’t have been more plain with poor Monique. You didn’t care that she was sick, you didn’t care how alone she was. You didn’t see her as human.”
 
“She’s not sick. She’s manipulative.”
 
“That’s how she’s human.”
 
It was a point that sort of staggered him. She saw that. But he refused to say anything to acknowledge. Instead he sat next to her on the bed.
 
She looked over at him, a little scared, a vein pulsing in her neck, and he felt the risk she represented—no, the certainty of what she was. A girl soaring and substantial and beautiful and free, the first in his life who inspired thoughts of promises. And this his first grown-up fight.
 
 Could he explain to her the trouble he sensed in Monique, that couldn’t be separated from the plain dumb dislike on her face and what it implied? Why couldn’t Fritzi see?
 
You couldn’t say the past was just the past. You couldn’t say the Holocaust was over. He didn’t mean to bare to this peace-loving girl the violence eating his soul, how since childhood he’d been seized by visitations of fist-clenching anger, images of himself unloading fiery death on the authors of the ovens and gas chambers and transports. He hadn’t wanted to get into this issue at all. But neither would it go away, and now he trembled from it. Waited, silent, as she got up from the bed and stood with her back to him, looking up at the stains where the wall joined the ceiling.
 
After a long while she turned to face him again, her face grave. “You will never be able to see me,” she said. “You’ll always see a German.”
 
He felt as if he’d swallowed bottom mud that filled his stomach with its cold weight.
 
“I’ll tell you,” she said, “what Moni was trying to stop. It had nothing to do with her being a… Nazi. It has to do with me.” She sat on a worn velvet chair beside the little table with the lamp. “I ruin relationships. I take men in”— she made a gesture like a hug—“too far. Too fast. It’s not good for me. The wrong kind of men. Men who are entirely hopeless to be partners.”
 
“No, Fritzi, I’m not like that. I—” She had never appeared more lovely. Her eyes were bright; he realized they were watering up.
 
“You don’t mean to be. But you hate, Jake. You hate me. What you love is—this—” She waved a hand toward her body, as if it were disconnected from her. “It attracts. That doesn’t mean who it attracts is good for me.”
 
The thrill of having a grown-up style fight was dissipated now, and instead there was something else. A weariness that felt old, as if the weight of history that he’d argued for was settling now over them at the bottom of this hotel. And he no longer wished it.
 
King Canute had proven: you could not command the waves. You let them come.
 
“Frederica.” He took her hand. Pulled her to the bed, where she sat, not happily. He cupped her face in his hand and kissed her wet cheeks. Her lips. “I’m here for you. Only for you. For what you… are.”
 
She shook her head. She continued to cry. He held her gently. Caressed her smooth shoulder. Slid her shirt half off her shoulders and, with her hand holding his, began to undo her front buttons. He nuzzled the warm dark space between her breasts, kissed her rose nipples with his mouth. She made no noise but her arms reached around his head and clutched him to her. “And your father…?” she asked, the words traveling through her flesh, his bones.
 
“Will need to make peace with the fact of having an adult son,” he said, his voice echoey and strange in the depths of her. He pulled back a bit so he could see her. “He’ll have some interesting conversations with your mother in Cadiz.”
 

“In Cadiz.” Her voice stronger now, though breaking a bit.

         

Copyright © Greg Harris 2017

Greg Harris, adjunct lecturer in public policy at Harvard Kennedy School, has taught journalism, creative writing, and persuasive writing in the Harvard College Writing Program and in the Extension School. He is the founding editor of Pangyrus, a journal of literature, ideas, and politics, and is founder and co-director of Harvard LITfest, the university literary festival. His stories and essays have appeared in The Chronicle of Higher EducationThe Boston GlobeHarvard Review, and elsewhere. His translation of Seno Gumira Ajidarma's novel, Jazz, Perfume, and the Incident was published as part of the Modern Library of Indonesia in 2013. He holds an MFA in creative writing and an MA in cultural anthropology, and spent 2011 as a Fulbright Scholar in Bulgaria, researching his latest novel.



 

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