Labor Day & Cold Spring


Donald Breckenridge

Excerpt from the novel In Many Parts. Originally published in The Evergreen Review Issue 112 in 2007.
Janet was on the couch, “please don’t shout at me,” with her pale legs tucked beneath her. Mark was seated across from her, “I’m not angry with you,” in the leather-bound chair to the right of the open window. Janet shook her head, “then don’t raise your voice,” and watched his expression cloud with disdain. Mark already sounded, “just what did you expect,” worn out by the explanation he assumed she would now demand. As Janet stood, “let me freshen your drink,” she wondered where Esther had run off to. Holding out his glass, “please.” Her bare feet crossed the parquet floor as the car alarm a few blocks away began again. She checked her lipstick in the small oval mirror above the kitchen sink before filling their tall green glasses with Gilbey’s, a few cubes of ice from the freezer and a splash of tonic. Mark placed his cell phone on the side table as she handed him the drink, “How can you be such a bad liar?” With a shrug, “I didn’t think you’d care.” She sat on the couch, “I don’t,” and crossed her right leg over her left knee. He was alternately regarding the drink in his hand, “then why bring it up,” and her bare thighs. She slowly kicked her leg back and forth, “Is she very beautiful?” The gin gradually numbed his tongue, “yes,” as he sipped the drink. They had been seeing each other casually, “I’m sure she is,” since mid-April, “and how,” and she had endured four months of his adamant insistence that their relationship shouldn’t become too serious, “and how did you meet?” The suspicions that had plagued her were now grounded in all of his artless excuses. “Through a friend.” She bit her lower lip, “Anyone I know?” Mark was convinced that this would be their last encounter, “perhaps,” at least for a few months. “And how long ago was this?” “Last year,” he cleared his throat, “last summer....” before meeting her expectant look for the first time since she returned from the kitchen, “we’re getting married in October.” Her foot came to a slow stop next to her ankle, “everyone is doing that now...” he raised his eyebrows and that prompted her to elaborate, “autumn weddings,” then ask, “where?” Mark weighed his response, “East Hampton... at her parent’s new place,” before taking another sip, “did you put enough gin in this?” She shrugged, “And that’s where she is now?” He suppressed a smile, “until Monday night.” “Does she care?” He shook his deeply tanned shaved head, “she doesn’t know.” “So she would if she did?” “Precisely.” Janet took a measured sip, “her first,” then brushed the spray of bubbles off the tip of her nose. He waited before asking, “First what?” Looking up from yesterday’s pedicure, “marriage.” A nod. The weary grin that pulled at the corners of her painted mouth, “so that’s why you...” revealed the drawn currents beneath her makeup, “didn’t bring me any flowers.” He smiled, “I should have brought some limes,” exhibiting both rows of his polished teeth, “you know I’ll miss you.” She leaned forward and placed her drink on the floor before looking up, “you are such,” and noticed that he was fixated on her breasts, “an idiot.” He gripped the armrests and stood, “shall we go to bed,” with a look of relief. The fond memories from Janet’s second marriage, “I needed a change of scenery,” were propagated by being in Cold Spring, “and wanted to go to Dia again,” and conflicted with the relationship she was fleeing, “have you been?” Mark was of average intelligence, “in Beacon...” dishonest and manipulative, “no I haven’t,” and often believed his own lies, “I hear it’s very impressive.” Janet had been lilting from panic and unease, “so I thought I’d do that tomorrow,” to disbelief and euphoria, “before going home,” since arriving by train in the early afternoon. “Why aren’t you staying in Beacon?” She awoke alone from her nap in a tastefully furnished bedroom, “I like it here,” overlooking a broad expanse of the Hudson around five o’clock, “and besides it’s only a cab ride away,” as the amber sunset flooded the windows opposite the broad sleigh bed and illuminated the oriental carpet on the pale oak floor, “then I’ll take the train back from there tomorrow,” and simply assumed her surroundings were a lingering extension of the dream she hadn’t quite woken from. “Where are you staying?” The relief in discovering a kindred distraction, “down the street,” seemingly far from home, “at a bed and breakfast,” gave confidence to her germinating resolve. As their relationship progressed through the spring and summer she became little more than a guilty pleasure for him to infrequently indulge. Mark was wearing a navy blue blazer, a white dress shirt with an open collar, “Which one,” pressed khakis and polished loafers that were resting on the wide brass railing rounding the bottom of the bar, “The Hudson House?” She took a sip of Muscadet, “yes,” while sitting on a bar stool in a moderately upscale French restaurant on a Tuesday evening in mid-April, “Do you know it?” Janet had been talking to Pascal about the unseasonably warm weather when Mark sat down next to her. He added, “I guess there aren’t many places to stay in Beacon yet,” as an elderly man with a leggy blond on his arm entered the restaurant. She watched as Pascal welcomed the couple with the same familiarity he had greeted her with and then seat them by the bay window overlooking the flowering dogwoods before turning to Mark and asking, “So let me guess... you just robbed a bank and need an alibi?” The train pulled out of Garrison and picked up speed as Janet regarded the front page of Times in her hands US Troops In Iraq Meet Fury And Gratitude while the female conductor announced the next station over the loudspeakers. Janet examined the color picture of two rebels brandishing AK-47’s while standing in front of a burning Humvee. The subdued play of sunlight on the water and a Heron taking flight. Members of a rebel militia, top, burned an American Humvee yesterday in Kuta, Iraq. A red and black tugboat pushed an empty barge northward as its wake gradually moved toward the shore. Two Americans were wounded. The color picture of an elderly man in a turban kissing the hand of a young desert-camouflage clad GI. In Falluja, right, an Iraqi thanked Cpl. Joseph Sharp after he and other Marines delivered food and water to civilians. Shadows stretched across the Hudson as clouds drifted in front of the sun. American officials agreed to call off an offensive in Falluja if local leaders can persuade guerrillas to turn in their heavy weapons. The conductor stepped down the aisle while removing ticket stubs from the blue vinyl seats 127 Hurt As Train Hits Another Near Penn Station and reminded Janet that her stop was next. The color picture of commuters lying on stretchers while EMS workers attend to them above the caption Emergency teams set up a triage area in Penn Station yesterday as injured passengers awaited ambulances as the man on his cell phone seated behind Janet insisted that his boss never had the ability to listen. An empty Amtrak train crashed into the back of a Long Island Railroad train full of commuters about a half mile short of Pennsylvania station yesterday morning hurling passengers down aisles or into the seats in front of them and injuring 127, the authorities said. She folded the paper in half and placed it on the aisle seat as the man behind her continued complaining. Mark regarded her closely, “that too,” as she became, “I was supposed to be,” yet another person subjected to his convoluted predicaments, “meeting a client and his wife went into labor on my way up here,” with a weary nod to his cell phone on the bar between them, “of course my secretary didn’t bother relating the message until I got here.” Janet was wearing a short pleated gray skirt, a semi-transparent black blouse, “well,” and a pair of black knee- high boots, “that sounds like a reasonable excuse to me.” He nodded thoughtfully, “let’s hope all his capital doesn’t wind up in her college fund.” “Oh,” her warm smile, “it’s a girl?” “Who knows... there’s a fifty-fifty chance,” gently rapping his broad knuckles on the bar, “assuming it wasn’t a blatant lie. Anyway that’s how I ended up here.” The doubts and presumptions that had made her anxious, “well,” the way hunger and fatigue often did, “it might be the perfect excuse for us to have dinner together,” had begun to dissipate, “that is if you-” “-That sounds great,” he interjected with a grin, “my name is Mark.” They shook hands. “I’m Janet.” He looked closely at her dark brown eyes, “it’s a pleasure to meet you.” She smiled, “Likewise,” before noticing that her glass was nearly empty, “so what are you investing in?” Janet crossed to the sleigh bed, sat on the edge of it and removed her boots. A framed reproduction of Sanford R. Gifford’s Hook Mountain, near Nyack, on the Hudson was hanging on the wall above the maple roll-top desk. She pulled down her stockings and tugged them off her feet before standing to step out of her skirt. The perspective in the painting was from the eastern shore near Croton-on-Hudson where the Metro North station was now located. She crossed to the chair before the desk while unbuttoning her blouse. The late September woods reached the bended shore in the foreground as the placid river proceeded between a thicket of trees on the right while the mountain range in the distance blended into the yellowing horizon. The clothes she draped over the back of the chair were the only ones she had to wear. Four sailboats and a steamer were suspended in Hook Mountain’s distant reflection. She turned back the patchwork quilt on the bed and climbed beneath the covers. A cloudless cerulean blue sky mirrored the river beneath it. The smell of recently laundered sheets mingled with the perfume on her neck and perspiration beneath her arms. She thought of the conversation she had with Cindy the night before while adjusting the thick feather pillow. They had cautiously discussed Cindy’s decision to have lunch with Andrew and what she should wear. The warm breeze scattered dust motes away from the sunlit window as she closed her eyes and listened to the southbound train arriving and then departing the nearby station. She recalled the conversation with the locksmith who arrived just minutes after Cindy had left for Brooklyn, as he changed the locks, and then presented her with a new set of keys. She frantically packed Cindy’s suitcase and left it outside the front door before catching a cab to Grand Central. Pascal walked behind the bar, “your table will be ready in a moment.” Janet smiled, “make it for two Pascal,” with a nod to Mark, “he’ll be joining me.” Pascal shrugged, “not a problem,” with a slight indulgent smile. Mark cleared his throat, “Can we get another round while we’re waiting,” then added a belated, “please.” “Of course...” Pascal nodded, “another glass of Muscadet,” then turned to Mark, “and a?” He pushed the highball glass with a half-inch of melting ice, “Dewars and soda,” across the bar. “Certainly.” Mark turned to Janet and asked, “So why the need for a change of scenery?” “Spring is in the air,” Janet watched the clear white wine being poured, “and I’ve got a sentimental attachment to this town.” The sound of dinner plates being stacked as the kitchen door swung open and then closed behind the young waiter who quickly walked past them. “But you didn’t grow up around here?” Janet shook her head, “no I didn’t...” as the blond woman in the dining room laughed. Mark interjected a smile into his observation, “I didn’t think so.” Janet added, “and neither did Pascal,” as he placed the drink on the coaster in front of Mark with a curt nod and then attended to the couple seated in the dining room. Warmth flooded her thighs, “although sometimes,” as she claimed, “I wish I had.” Mark tasted his drink before asking, “What’s that?” “Grown up here… where are you from?” “Long Island.” “Perhaps you should open that hotel in Beacon.” Placing his glass on the coaster, “So you’ll have another place to stay the next time you need a change of scenery?” As Françoise Hardy continued singing, “well,” on the small speakers built into the ceiling above the bar, “sometimes change can be a very good thing.” Janet stood beneath the awning in her beige raincoat as Mark drove up to the restaurant. She opened the door, “what a beautiful car,” and sat down. “Thank you.” The seatbelt slid across her chest as they pulled away from the curb. “Should we try and find a bar?” Janet leaned back, “I don’t want to get drunk,” already tipsy from the bottle of Échezeaux they had with dinner, “let’s go somewhere quiet where we can watch the river.” Gently stepping on the brake before the intersection, “In the car?” She nodded, “Is that okay?” He looked left and then right before taking his foot off the brake. The black BMW turned left, “there is an overlook in the park,” onto the two-lane street. The Victorian houses with darkened windows and tree filled yards, white picket fences, “How would you know about that?” and telephone poles slipped past. He lowered the front windows about six inches, “that’s where I turned around... after I got the message that my client was driving his wife to the hospital,” and the spring air mingled with the leather interior. “I think you should give your secretary a raise.” The digital speedometer on the dashboard climbed as he responded, “I was going to drive back to Manhattan,” while thinking about the condoms in the glove compartment. “Well,” resting her hands, “I’m happy you decided to stop on your way back,” on the black purse in her lap. Gripping the steering wheel, “Do you want music?” “I don’t know...” she pressed her knees together, “what sort of music do you listen to?” They drove past a black and white sign indicating the posted speed. Janet was lying on her back, “Why are you leaving,” as a pair of headlights crossed her bedroom ceiling, “if she isn’t coming back until Tuesday?” Mark stepped into the legs, “because I’ve got to,” of his designer jeans, “that’s why.” “Well,” Janet sighed, “thanks for stopping by.” “Listen I’m sorry,” he tightened his belt, “don’t do this okay,” in the dim light from the half-open window, “I’ve got to go.” She rolled onto her side, “at four-o’clock in the morning,” and rested her head in the palm of her left hand. He glanced at the faint blue dial on his diving watch, “it’s three-thirty,” a gift from her, “I should have left hours ago,” that he’d been reluctant to accept until she told him how much it cost. “Isn’t today a holiday?” She persisted as he reached for his shirt, “stay with me just said-” “I’ve got to be out there,” he pushed his arms through the sleeves, “by nine,” and buttoned it up. “Stay with me,” they were both embarrassed by, “stay with me until I fall asleep,” her urgency. Shoving in the tails, “I’ve got to go uptown and shower.” She made a face, “mine works too you know.” He stepped into his shoes before leaning over the bed, “then walk Bruno,” and kissed her on the mouth. Turning her head away from his wet lips, “I hope he shits on your rug.” He walked out of the bedroom, “I’ll call you.” She said, “don’t bother,” as he crossed the living room. The front door slammed then his rapid footfalls descended the flight of stairs. She swung her legs off the bed and crossed to the window as he bounded off the stoop just in time to wave down a passing cab. A breeze chilled the sweat on her chest and thighs as the cab sped away. The yellow glow from the streetlight above her bedroom window pooled on the pavement and on the hoods of the parked cars. Janet turned away from the window and discovered Esther on the end of the bed diligently licking her bushy tail. She took her camisole off a pillow and put it on while walking into the living room. After turning the locks and sliding the brass chain onto the door, she removed her makeup in the bathroom mirror. Two damp cotton balls smeared with pale foundation were tossed into the empty metal garbage can beneath the sink. Sitting on the toilet seat and wiping off his semen with a wad of toilet paper before peeing. She looked down at her pale feet and dark red toenails on the black and white tiles. Pulling back the top sheet and lying on the bed before pointing the remote at the television. As she adjusted the pillows behind her shoulders a terse male voice recounted the three-day hostage crisis in Beslan accompanied by the video clip of a lifeless girl in the arms of her weeping mother. She clicked to a beach-front infomercial pitching energy boosting vitamin supplements then to a music video with synchronized animated torsos gyrating in time with pulsating techno then to handheld video footage of a massive RNC demonstration interspersed with scenes from Bush’s acceptance speech before turning it off.