As the woods hole ferry departs for Martha’s Vineyard with a blast of the warning horn, Wendy stands at the rail watching the terminal recede from view. It feels like someone else’s life now, all those summers they drove their Jeep, jam-packed with kids and sports gear, onto this ferry. Why had she bothered to book this season’s passage and choose an Edgartown rental house when everything has changed? Beside her, Hank keeps his back to the rail, eyeing the other passengers. Women turn their heads. With little effort, he has kept his good looks into his early fifties. His coarse, dark hair is threaded elegantly with gray. His stomach appears flat under his Eric Clapton T-shirt. After the five-hour drive from New Jersey, Wendy’s cotton dress is rumpled and damp with sweat, and although she’s as fit as her competition—she’s a champion golfer—she’s not exactly on her game.
“You’re not going to freak out,” he says, “if I go look for the bar, are you?”
“Don’t do that. Don’t turn me into the warden.” It comes out harsher than she intends. “I’ll be fine,” she tries, more lightly. “If I get lonely, I’ll make friends.”
He follows her gaze to the four men in golf shirts and khakis, sitting a few yards off in the rows of benches. “Your clan. Let me help with introductions.”
Before she can object, he sets off with a swagger that’s meant, she decides, to amuse her, but she has the sick feeling she’s about to be humiliated. Serves her right for trying to make him jealous. The men draw Hank into their circle. One gestures with his cup toward the lounge. When Hank gives her the thumbs up, the others turn too. Their scrutiny makes her queasy. A few days ago, she lost her assistant golf pro’s position at Red Oaks. She’s waiting for the right moment to tell Hank. Now she heads in the other direction. In the restroom the droning engines insulate her from the commotion outside. One week on the Vineyard always seemed too short, but now she worries it’ll be too long. She dampens a paper towel and reaches inside her collar to swipe her vinegary armpits.
What did those golfers see? Her reflection in the murky mirror seems to peer at her from under water, her shoulder-length blond hair, narrow gray eyes, and whitened teeth glowing in the darkness. She recognizes in her own face the hunted, wild-eyed look she’s seen on the older women that come to her—used to come to her—for golf lessons. A last resort, they said, in their quests for their husbands’ attention. She tosses the paper towel into the trash. The boat rolls, and she lurches for the door.
She checks the gloomy lounge—no sign of Hank—and then she reenters the bright, dousing sunlight on the upper deck. The bodies are packed in tight like bowling pins, faces lurid with drink and sunburn. A restless anxiety prickles her skin. The decision to stay with Hank after his affair had been easier to make than the one to trust him. She heads toward the stern, scanning the faces. She smiles with relief when she sees him down on his knees stroking a black lab. At home, they have two golden retrievers and are in negotiations for a third. Dogs need a pack, Hank maintains, and two does not a pack make. As she draws closer, she notices the woman hovering over him—a waif in her twenties, with cropped blond hair. She hesitates.
“Wendy!” Hank stands and flashes his charming smile. “This is Maxine and—” he bends to rub the dog’s snout—“Daisy.”
“Another black lab!” Wendy tries to modulate the manic brightness in her voice. “They’re everywhere. Is it a coincidence or a massive lack of imagination?”
“It’s because of the Black Dog Tavern in Vineyard Haven,” the girl says. “The T-shirts anyways.”
“Of course it is.” She touches the girl’s silky arm. Youth. Is that what attracts Hank? No doubt he wants to relive every exquisite moment of his, while Wendy only wants to erase hers. “Isn’t it weird though,” she says, “that such a beautiful place gets associated with the symbol for depression and death?”
“Death?” The girl looks at Hank.
“Don’t pay any attention,” he tells her. “Sometimes a dog is just a dog.”
“You remind me of our daughter,” Wendy says. “She’s about your age. Never knows when I’m joking. Right, Hank?”
He doesn’t answer. He squats to scratch Daisy’s glossy head. “Who’s the pretty dog?” he coos. “Are you the pretty dog?” In the girl’s fond smile, Wendy sees his demotion from possible sugar daddy to awesome dad. After the girl walks off, Wendy says, “What’d I tell you about talking to strange dogs?”
• • •
TO READ THE REST OF THIS STORY, PICK UP A COPY OF VOL 51.3
JANIS HUBSCHMAN’s stories have appeared in Glimmer Train, Michigan Quarterly Review, Colorado Review, StoryQuarterly, Bellingham Review, Pleiades,
Ascent, Green Mountains Review, and elsewhere. She has won first place in Glimmer Train’s Fiction Open Contest and Bellingham Review’s Tobias Wolff Award. Her work has been supported with a Bread Loaf-Rona Jaffe Fiction Scholarship and a Virginia Center of the Arts fellowship. She teaches fiction writing at Montclair State University.