From across the sea, a leaky old boat was destined for the shores of San Catalina. Palm trees stood quietly; long shadows draped over golden dunes. The sun grazed the hairless head of Jorge Ramierez as he, out of habit, adjusted the lapel of his blazer. Through glints of light that shone through fingers as he looked out upon the horizon, a silhouette amidst the mirage emerged. A young man, pale cheeks flushed and glasses slipping down his slick nose, stepped out of the boat.
“How do you do, Mr. Alexander Roscoe?” Jorge Ramierez said. “If you follow me this way, we can check you in.”
If one was to ask Alexander what brought him to San Catalina, he would respond plainly that it was the most beautiful isle south of the tropic. It had long surpassed topic of conversation at the Country Club – where his mother’s friends would talk at great length of their latest visit – and was firmly settled in the consciousness of Vermont intellectuals. Not to be outdone by the likes of academics and widows, Alexander had given himself an indeterminate amount of time off work to vacation the south. This was all perfectly understandable given that the funeral – which he had no intention of attending – was set to occur this afternoon some hundred miles north. No matter, the proceedings were sure to go off well without his presence, his mother and sisters would see to it.
Indeed, San Catalina a sun-soaked paradise, the likes of which he had seen only glimmers of in watery pina coladas, crab infested sands, and evenings filled with a million flittering mosquitos. Promises of romance blew through the breeze as it threaded the half-naked bodies scattered across the sand. Bellhops, all starched black slacks and red caps, carelessly kicked up sand as they carted away trays and glasses. And, how divine was that breeze! Scents of salt and sea, fragranced with coconut and oil and rum.
Alexander followed the deft footsteps of the concierge across the beach, leaping onto the garden path that led unceremoniously to The Reception Hall.
The concierge said, “If it pleases you, I can take your suitcase up to your room while you sign in,” and Alexander passed him the case.
His sandy sliver toed shoes tapped like a typewriter on the tiles of The Reception Hall. He was still yet to message home regarding his absence. It could wait…although, since he had the opportunity, perhaps he should inquire if The Resort was even able to send off telegrams so far north. The funeral was surely underway and now, after such a fool hearted endeavour, what could there possibly be to say to the grieving widow. Mother STOP, no, too direct, Dear Mother STOP I apologise for missing Father’s funeral STOP, that would not do either, best to pretend the telegram had been sent before he had missed the funeral, as to elevate assumptions, albeit correct assumptions, that he had purposefully evaded the funeral, Dear Mother STOP I regret to inform you that, too long, Dear Mother STOP I cannot go to Vermont STOP Condolences Alexander. Perhaps it would be best not to send a telegram after all.
At the other side of the Reception Hall, a man with a guitar case tapped the elevator button, swearing under his breath.
The receptionist smiled up at Alexander and asked him if he would like the room on the top floor or the one closest to the beach. No, it would not do to send a telegram and he would not inquire. It would risk spoiling the trip.
Alexander looked over at the musician, noting the large yellow aviators that obscured his face and the sliver of torso that shone through that gaudy print shirt. Then a woman entered in The Reception Hall and pressed the elevator button. Through the sepia tint of his glasses, the pretty young thing scrunched her nose and smiled at Johnny.
Perhaps the room on the top floor would be best. Sweeping views of the peninsula, the morning breeze from the balcony; solitude, typewriters, wine. Perhaps too secluded however…
“Where is that young woman staying?” Alexander asked as he gestured to the woman who scrunched her nose at the smell, perhaps, of the musician. The receptionist did not know where that beautiful woman was residing. No matter, the top floor would do.
As the receptionist handed over his room key, she mentioned that the Jazz Lounge on floor three had recently been refurbished, a famous musician – disguised as a lounge singer! – was to play there that evening. Jazz was not Alexander’s genre of choice. In truth, he would rather appear a tad pretentious, listening to Bach, stretched out a sunlounge with a glass of wine and Dostoevsky, than court the idea of a night out in the smoky haze of some sordid jazz lounge.
Yet, as he entered the Jazz Lounge that evening, it was clear that the normal staples of drunks gulping cheap cocktails and coloured musicians banging on instruments were not to be found in San Catalina. Low tones of a dark voice and the airy deep vibrato of saxophones soared with the soft tinkles of piano. The musician’s fingers curled upon the keys, back arched like a writer at his desk and microphone kissing his lips, as his body contorted to match the contours of the music. As the musician looked around, Alexander followed his gaze and there, only a few stools down, sat the woman from the elevator.
Alexander had never been one to ogle beautiful women. In his life there had been too many to come by and most could be easily won with a cold shoulder and a smile. Yet this woman was quite remarkable. Eyes transfixed at the mirror behind the bottles at the bar, she made no move. The condensation from her ever-warming glass of tonic dripped a perfect circle upon the napkin; undrunk.
Jorge Ramierez, having found a moment to himself, leered in the doorway of the Jazz Lounge. He smiled as Mr. Johnny – a daft pseudonym made up by the distinguished musician –stepped off the stage. The bosses would be pleased with him bringing business to the hotel – three shows a day five nights a week. With his airy floral shirt and a white blazer swung over his shoulder, Mr. Johnny drifted to the bar, nearing the unsuspecting Mr. Alexander Roscoe.
The musician slid down the bar, knocking Alexander’s elbow as he said, “She’s a beauty, isn’t she?”, and it seemed the musician’s thought mirrored his own – albeit far more lecherous. The musician swept back his long hair, greased by sweat, and sat upon the plush barstool. As he crossed his legs, pink socks flashed against the yellowing ends of bell bottoms.
“The most beautiful I’ve seen since I arrived,” Alexander said as he turned back to his whiskey.
“Barkeep, another round for the both of us.” Johnny flashed a charming smile and a rolled bill that refused to flatten. “She barely looked at my set. I thought I would get to play guitar here, they said I would get to play the guitar. But they just want me to play piano and sing.” Johnny smiled at the businessman – for he certainly looked the business-type with his horned rimmed glasses, jutted jaw, and tailored suit.
The businessman turned back to the woman as he said, “How strange is it, that two men such as ourselves, despite our dispositions, despite our paths, can be led to the same desire for the same woman.”
Johnny agreed. As he looked to the woman, he saw the raw jewels that adorned her slight fingers, and her rebellious spark of amber hair. Yet it was within the tenderness of those fingers and the softness of the smile that played upon her lips, that she seemed to sing a rhapsody of truth and freedom that synthetic music and record deals and cocaine could never provide. He was possessed by the thought that to be loved, even for a night, by a woman like that, would be enough.
Yet, Alexander knew that his own desire for the woman was unparalleled. His desires and sufferings alike were far more realised than the charades of suffering orchestrated by famous musicians costuming themselves in the poverty of a lounge singer. No, this was true suffering; the absurdity of inane conversations repeated in different mouths at the garden party or the country club or the office or father’s funeral. Only she could satiate it.
Oh, how those men suffered, for they looked so destitute at the bar as they stole glances at the woman. How terrible for the rich and the famous to look upon their lives and realise that it is not enough. Jorge Ramierez, steadied himself, surprised that he had indulged in the pity of men who would never know his name.
“Enjoy your drink, I have a woman to attend to,” Johnny said as he shrugged on his white jacket.
“Wait a moment. If it is not too bold, I must say that I feel as though myself and this woman are perfectly destined for each other. Perhaps it is I who should approach first.”
The musician laughed in his face. “It seems that we have reached an impasse for I, too, feel a connection with this woman.”
The businessman offered a tight-lipped smile. “It would seem that way.”
“Hullo there!” Johnny called over to the woman.
“Stop it,” Alexander said.
“She can’t hear me.”
“She’s ignoring you.”
Johnny eyed the businessman suspiciously as he began to walk towards the woman. The businessman shadowed him; breath heavy on his collar.
The two men stepped towards the woman, and…how strange. Upon closer inspection, those eyes were milky and that skin, soft and iridescent but a moment ago, now emanated that slight yellowing hue of jaundice. When Alexander looked upon her face, some off-coloured milky discharge secreted from the hollows of her sockets. When Johnny looked upon her ears, he could see that they were covered in clumps of wax and flecks of dried blood. Her rouge lips, too, seemed no longer crafted for song, but to bare desiccated scabs.
“Can she not see us?” Alexander asked.
“Is it at all possible that she can, but will not?” Johnny said.
“Don’t be a fool.”
“Well then what do you suggest?”
“I suggest you leave and allow me to speak with her.”
“Not likely! If anything, it is your presence that disturbs her.”
Although Jorge Ramierez knew that a man of conviction was a hard man to change, he half supposed the two men would recoil at the woman. It was to his pleasure that the revelation of her falsity only heightened the fervour of their pursuit. No matter what the men did to ingratiate themselves to her, be it to throw money at her feet or wave in her face or pull at her hand, she did not stir, and they in turn felt that they had not tried hard enough yet. Of course, it was easier to blame themselves, blame each other. Because to not be seen at all was as painful as it was humiliating.
So, the two men, as worldly and honest as they thought themselves, indulged in histrionics: arguing with the other, swearing at the other, casting insults upon the other. And the woman simply sat, drink untouched, gazing at her own reflection.
The two men continued to fight and, with no clear winner in sight, Jorge Ramirez quietly left the Jazz Lounge to attend to another guest, who was destined to arrive shortly.