Castanets
Jeff Landon

The restaurant is mostly glass, a glorified A-frame that juts over the river. Piped-in music plays, muted, floating notes, soft jazz. Spotlights sweep the water on this windy night, whitecaps lash the dock pilings, and Ed fills Marcy’s glass, again, with red wine. Tonight is a celebration. Marcy’s getting married to a man named Daniel Bryce. She’s excited, talking with her hands.

“He’s good in bed, Ed,” she says, and laughs. “That’s what I said, Ed. No, he really is. Jim was a disaster, you know? Two minutes of foreplay and then he’d just stick that thing in and expect me to be all, ooh, do me, you so good.”

Marcy’s slightly inebriated, Ed thinks, and she’s not the only one. The room, he notices, is spinning slightly. They need to eat. Ed signals the waitress and orders a plate of mussels, and Marcy goes, “I want some gin. May I please have some gin with grapefruit juice?”

“You look nice,” Ed says, and it’s true. She’s wearing silk, a blue blouse with tiny ruffles around the collar, black jeans, and shiny shoes. Her blouse is a plunging, V-neck affair. Cleavage, lots of cleavage.

“Daniel wants me to tone it down, wear sweatshirts, but believe me, Mr. Brown Shoes needs to work his own shit out first.”

“Can we not talk about the wonders of Daniel tonight?” Ed says. His stomach rumbles, and he cups it with his hand. Ed lives alone, in an apartment two miles away. He used to sleep with Marcy, but he tells himself now that it was never serious or all that great. In time, they turned into best friends, and now she’s leaving—now she’s leaving Ed and the whole state of North Carolina to live in stupid Florida.

“Don’t tell me what to talk about, Ed,” Marcy says. “He’s a good guy. Don’t be a prick.”

She fishes in her pocketbook for her cigarettes. She only smokes when she’s buzzed or upset. She smokes a lot. Ed watches her hands. She aims perfect, tiny smoke rings at the candle on the table. Her hands and arms are driftwood-brown. She’s lovely, of course, wearing lipstick that makes him think of mangoes.

“Of course you love him,” Ed says. “He’s the corn dog king of Jacksonville.”

Daniel owns a string of hot dog joints in Florida called The Orange Dog. They only sell hot dogs, corn dogs, and soda pop.

“I’m sorry,” Ed says. “Hey look, mussels.”

The waitress places a small bucket filled with steaming mussels beside Ed’s empty plate. Marcy raises her eyebrows.

“Yuck,” she says.

Ed tries to eat with something close to pleasure, but he can’t stop thinking about Marcy, about the hole she’s about to leave in his life, and, look at her, look how beautiful she is, dark eyes, hair tucked behind her ear, cleavage.

“You’re my friend,” Ed says. He wishes they were sitting together at the movies, watching something sappy, so he could cry without being a freak. He swallows a mussel—it’s rubbery, briny.

“Honey, I’m your best friend,” says Marcy. She forks a mussel off the pile. “We’ll write, call, visit.”

“But what about bowling night?” Ed cringes at the whine in his voice. He’s a grandchild, asking his grandmother for a pony. Still, they bowl every Tuesday night—it’s a three-year tradition. That should count for something.

“Ed,” Marcy says quietly. “Maybe you should make some new friends.”

Ed picks up two empty mussel shells and turns then into clacking castanets.

“Marcy,” he says. “Look at me here.”

“You’re evolving, baby,” says Marcy. “Maybe you should lose the bowling shirts.”

“No,” Ed says. “You gave me this shirt, Marcy.”

They pay their bill and walk outside. The night air blows in cool and steady off the water. Marcy drove, but she’s had too much to drink, and so has Ed.

“I’ll walk you home,” Ed says.

“No monkey business,” says Marcy. She lights a joint, and they amble down a dark side street. It’s late, and all the stores have closed. They pass a neon-edged pawn shop, red neon, a perfect square of red neon. It’s lovely, Ed thinks. Marcy sits on a bench to finish her joint. Ed takes a hit to be polite. A car drives by, someone lost, reading addresses on the mostly white-brick buildings. Ed loops his arm around Marcy’s back, and she leans her head on his shoulder. She exhales to the sky. No stars, a mangy crescent moon.

“It’s not perfect,” she says. “Daniel. I’m—I don’t know. I could be fucking up here, Ed. I mean, his kids, I’m not sure about Helen, the middle one.”

Ed wants to kiss her. He wants to kiss her and touch her breasts. He wants them to slow dance with no clothes on right here at this bus stop.

“He’s a good guy, Marcy,” he says, looking at the pawn shop across the street, trying to concentrate on the banjo in the lighted window. “You’ll be happy.”

“I’ll be something,” Marcy says quietly.

Ed stands up and does three jumping jacks.

“Simmer down,” says Marcy.

“I am trying very much to simmer down,” Ed says.

He reaches down and pulls her up, and they begin to walk back to her house.

“He wears whitey tighties,” Marcy says, laughing. “I love those things. I like to pull penises from the hole thing, in the front.”

“Penises?” Ed says. “Plural? Do you work at the penis farm or something?”

“Yeah,” says Marcy, laughing. “I wear latex gloves, a sun hat, and milk those happy penises all day long.”

She reaches down to grab Ed’s hand. They lace their fingers together. A truck whooshes by, going too fast.

“I like your haircut,” Ed says. “Marcy.”


Another story of lossóbut most stories are about loss, one way or another. This guy, Edówell, I feel bad for this guy. With most characters, there’s a sense of other lives, other possibilities, but this guy is losing his best friend, who also happens to be the great love of his life, even though he won’t admit it to himself. I can see him, years later, still wandering the streets, whispering her name.

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