The bedroom was stifling. The ceiling fan’s soft sucking sound as it moved through the humid air only intensified her discomfort. Of course he was asleep beside her; not much kept him awake. He hadn’t wanted to put the air conditioning in yet, saying it was too expensive, that the nights were still cool enough for sleeping with windows open, that the fan would regulate the temperature. So here she was lying awake in their new home, a perfect center entrance Georgian, hating him.
• • • •
They moved in a month ago and Marisol still didn’t believe it was real. They had left behind a small bungalow in the city for this gracious home in a beautiful suburb along a lake, twenty minutes away from the city’s centre. The place where the rich used to have their summer cottages, where executives from the car companies that drove the city’s economy had their mansions on the cul-de-sacs and leafy streets, where the executives’ lawyers lived two doors away in mock Tudors and homes with French doors.
It wasn’t a new suburb, like those terrible bedroom communities with the tiny yards and every house a replica of the next; this was old money, old WASP wealth cocooning itself here. Every house different, each lawn perfect, two shopping areas, The Hill and the Village, with coffee shops and dress shops, hardware stores and the Village Market grocery store.
• • • •
Marisol was drifting now, floating in a sort of heat-induced stupor, watching as the soft black shadows in the corners of the bedroom deepened and shifted, resolving themselves into a woman who walked towards the bed. A wide hairband held her hair back, and she wore a bright pink and green sleeveless shift, a strand of pearls around her neck. She skirted around the end of the bed and glanced once at Marisol, whose eyelids were getting heavier, closing almost, and Marisol saw that the woman’s blue eyes were nothing but glass beads and that she hated Marisol.
• • • •
The next morning Marisol woke up to Neil singing in the shower. The white hydrangeas and pink bows on the wallpaper danced in the sunlight, the pale blue check curtains billowing softly with an early morning breeze. Both had been in the house when they moved in. Marisol had ditched the Guatemalan rugs and mismatching thrift store finds painted in bright colours that she had decorated their bungalow with and embraced the Sister Parrish style of decorating that their new home seemed to expect. The furniture from Neil’s parents’ estate had helped; their four-poster bed, the sunroom wicker, the chintz-covered sofas all fit perfectly. Like the furniture, Neil belonged here. He had grown up in this suburb, and had always wanted to return.
“Once a Grand Beach man,” he said, “always a Grand Beach man.”
Small droplets of water fell on her cheeks. For a moment Marisol wondered if she was crying, but it was Neil, fresh from the shower, shaking his wet blond hair over her like a dog.
She reached out for him but he moved away, smiling with his perfect white teeth.
“Get up lazybones, get up. Today we’ll run some errands in the Village, and drive by the lake, have lunch in the park. Sound good?”
Marisol smiled and nodded. She got out of bed and walked to the bathroom. On the way there, buried in the soft pile of the rug, something hard bit into the ball of her foot. She bent down and felt for the object. She picked it up, holding it on the palm of her hand. It was a small blue glass bead.
• • • •
The Village was very clean; there was no graffiti, no garbage. Each storefront had period details to make it look like an American colonial town. As Marisol and Neil got out of the car, a chattering group of teen girls — long legs, tan, clean sheets of blond hair, tiny cut-off shorts and polo shirts — brushed by them. The girls were eating ice cream, their little pink tongues licking and darting, their gleaming teeth nipping at the cones. They stared at Neil for a moment, at his blond handsomeness, and then swayed on. Marisol felt very small and dark, a blotch on the bright place they had come to. While she stared after the girls, she felt something land on her arm. She looked down at her arm and saw an insect she had never seen before. It had a mealworm-like body, with two beady eyes and transparent wings that stood straight up. Marisol brushed at it with her hand, but it clung to her. She shook her arm, but still the thing hung on, staring at her with its caviar eyes.
“Neil, get this thing off me. It’s stuck, it’s laying eggs or something.” Marisol’s voice rose. She never had liked bugs, and though she had to be adult about it, this thing unnerved her. “Is it sucking my blood? What the hell is it?”
Neil held her arm still and easily plucked the creature off her by its wings. He tossed it into the air and it fluttered a few feet away and landed on the window of a car. “Haven’t you ever seen a fishfly before Marisol?” Neil asked, smiling at her.
“They hatch their eggs on water, so Grand Beach gets a big swarm of them around this time of year. One is nothing. Wait till they all hatch. Some years they are so thick on the ground your car skids, and they cover the windows of the stores until you can’t see in.”
“Jesus, Neil, that’s horrible.” Marisol rubbed her arm where the fishfly had landed. “Like some biblical plague.”
“Actually we’re happy to see them that heavy. It means that the lake is healthy.”
He put his arm around Marisol. “They don’t have mouths and they die after one day and one night. They just want to mate. They’re not interested in you.” He hugged Marisol to him. “Let’s go get that drill so I can put up your book shelves. I’ll protect you from the vicious fishflies.”
• • • •
The hardware store had a sickening rubbery smell, oily. But it was light and open, the front filled with displays of garden ornaments, backyard bar-b-ques, nylon flags with watermelons or baskets of flowers embroidered on them. There were aisles of cooking ware, glasses, ice tea jugs. It was only at the far back of the store that it started to look like a real hardware store, with displays of tools, coils of garden hose, and boxes of nails and screws.
“Neil, oh my god, how have you been?”
A tall woman with a shiny brown bob and big dark doe eyes was hugging him. Marisol saw her thin arms with long muscles and freckles on the tan skin, and took in her brightly painted toenails in bright green thong sandals.
“Bunny! It’s so fucking great to see you.” Neil gave the woman’s shoulder a shake, “I’ve moved back into town.” Neil stepped away from the woman and pulled Marisol next to him. “This is my wife, Marisol.”
Bunny looked at Marisol, “Marisol, that’s so unusual. Such an exotic name. Where are you from?”
Marisol looked at the silver Tiffany bean necklace glistening on Bunny’s collarbone.
Bunny smiled. “Houston. So hot there. But I meant originally, what’s your background?”
“My father’s Mexican.”
Bunny turned to Neil, “Oh my God Neil, you’ve got to come over for G&Ts sometime soon. Chip is going to flip out that you’re here. Do you still talk to any of the Rustic Cabins gang? Remember that night after your swim meet at Windmill Point?” Neil began to talk, Bunny shifted her weight to one hip, and Marisol knew they were going to have a long conversation. She slipped away down the back aisles of the store, looking for the electric drill that had been the original purpose of their trip.
• • • •
The back of the store with the tools and other bits of hardware was much quieter then the front where people milled about picking up lawn chairs and planters. Here the air was dusty, filled with the smell of sawdust and that silver black scent Marisol had first noticed when she came in the store. It was heavier here, and she didn’t think she could last very long. It was giving her a terrible headache. She trolled up and down the unmarked aisles looking for the drills. There didn’t seem to be any salespeople in this part of the store; perhaps they were all off helping other customers who were in desperate need of a cement garden goose. On the back wall of the store she found the drills; they were on shelves next to a hanging display of hammers. A heavyset man in madras shorts and a pink polo was standing staring at the hammers. He had the reddened wind burned complexion of a sailor, his hair flopped over one eye but was cut short over the ears, much like Neil’s own hair cut, what Marisol thought of as standard WASP man hair.
He didn’t look at Marisol, who was gazing at the drills in an agony of indecision. For some reason drills always upset her, she imagined them breaking through the soft bone at your temple, or through the eye, the way they used to give lobotomies.
Marisol glanced at the man, secretly hoping he might give her advice. Didn’t men like to give advice about the best tools and such? Because Marisol thought all the electric drills looked alike.
“Hammer will do the job,” Marisol heard the man say. She thought he was talking to her but he was still facing the display of hammers. “Hammer will get it done.”
The man reached up and pulled down a hammer with a silver head and a shiny wooden handle. He swung it once as if testing its heft. Marisol flinched despite herself. The man still seemed oblivious to her presence. Then the man turned and looked directly at her. His eyes were blue, glassy as if he were drunk. The corneas were almost perfect circles, like beads. The woman from her dream walked through her mind again, staring at her with hatred.
“Hammer will get it done,” he said again, slightly slurring his words. He was drunk. The man swung the hammer upwards and Marisol cowered; she saw now that the silver head was covered in blood, that the blood was running down the man’s tanned forearm, covering the little golden hairs there in a thick wash of gore. His eyes were beads and one fell out at her feet, rolling away down the empty aisle of the store and there was nothing behind it but a black hole. Marisol screamed, bringing her hands up to cover her face, protect herself from his blow.
• • • •
Neil was beside her, “Honey, what is it, what’s wrong?” Behind him Marisol saw Bunny looking curiously at her. There were other people there too; a man in a vest that said Village Hardware hurried over. “Is everything all right?”
“A man swung a hammer at me.”
“A man?” The Village Hardware employee glanced around; so did Neil. The others began to talk among themselves and glance down nearby aisles.
“He was drunk; I could see it in his eyes,” Marisol said.
Bunny laughed lightly. “A drunken maniac in Grand Beach. How exciting.” Marisol looked at the small crowd. Of course the man was gone. Marisol hadn’t expected otherwise. Of course now they would think she was crazy. Bunny smiled, and for the first time Marisol noticed what small teeth she had, like a little rodent’s, white bits of porcelain filling her mouth.
Bunny put her hand on Neil’s arm and said, “You must come for drinks some evening, we’ll put some steaks on. Call me?” Neil nodded, still looking at Marisol with concern.
“Goodbye Marisol,” Bunny said, smiling at her again with absolutely no feeling behind it. “It was great to meet you.”
• • • •
Marisol felt calm but she was tired. She begged off the park for the day, telling Neil:
“I didn’t sleep well last night with the heat. I probably had some sort of narcoleptic episode just now.” She laughed and Neil did, too.
He dropped her back at home, and went to work with his friend on his boat, helping to ready it to put in the water in a week or two.
“Then we can go for a sail on the lake.”
“That would be nice,” Marisol said, kissing him. “Have fun.” But she thought again about the fishflies and wondered if they would be even worse on the lake.
• • • •
She lay in the room with the white hydrangeas and the pink bows, the ceiling fan revolving above her, now sounding to Marisol like the rush of blood through her body that she heard when she pressed her ear to her pillow. She fell asleep and twitched in her sleep like a dog chasing a dream rabbit.
• • • •
The nights had not gotten any easier. Neil was still against air conditioning, told her to take a cold shower before bed and she would feel cool enough under the ceiling fan’s breeze. We are by the lake, he said, it cools down at night. Marisol knew he was echoing the words of his parents, who were echoing the words of their parents in a long lineage of cottages and camping, grand houses run with small economies to hide the old gold groaning behind every warped floorboard and tartan covered sofa. She had taken to walking the neighborhood in the heavy evenings, hoping to tire herself out enough so that she could sleep. A good night’s sleep was all she needed.
• • • •
No one in Grand Beach seemed to use curtains on their first floor windows, so the front rooms were open to anyone who walked by, like dioramas. Night after night as Marisol walked the sidewalks of Grand Beach she looked in the windows. The living rooms and dining rooms painted in the Grand Guignol red they seemed to favour here, the shining brass chandeliers, the baby grand pianos with the silver plated picture frames ranged across the top, the Ethan Allen dining room chairs waiting around a table.
Tonight it was particularly still. No dog walkers, no teenagers whispering past on their way to parties in parks and on docks at the lake’s edge. Moist air made her scalp itch and feel as if there was a thin layer of cream between her shirt and her back.
Marisol walked and peered in the windows, gazing from the sidewalk into all these other lives and wondering what they were like, how easily did they fit into their skins? Tonight there was a party. The biggest house on their street was lit up.
In the dining room Marisol could see people milling around the table, plates in their hands, eating canapés, holding drinks. In the living room, a man sat at the piano playing. The faint sounds of the Beach Boys’ “Help Me Rhonda” drifted out to where she stood. She had to see in; she crept closer to the house.
Yew bushes flanked the front under each of the bay windows. Marisol squeezed in between the bush and the brick wall. She felt the silken brush of a cobweb, but it didn’t deter her. Looking just over the window ledge she could see right into the dining room. The crackers and cheeses, the fruit, the half-collapsed cake. Birthday? Anniversary? On the sideboard bottles of wine, the inevitable gin and tonic, Pimms. There were fewer people in the room then earlier; they had drifted into the living room to hear the piano. Now Marisol could hear them singing along to “Rock Lobster.”
There were two women and a man left in the red dining room. The women — slender, wearing black shift dresses, and low black sling-back pumps. Pearls against the bronze of their backs where the dresses dipped low. One blond, the other brunette. The man was blond, in khakis and a blue sports coat, his white shirt opened at the neck. He looked like an ad for J. Crew. His feet were sockless in deck shoes. The group was half turned towards the window and Marisol watched them talk and eat. Their mouths barely moved as they did so, the women threw back their heads in laughter, and the man twisted the gin and tonic in his hand this way and that. They picked more food from the table, and began to talk more animatedly.
Now their jaws seemed to swing loose, unhinge a little and then with a short shake they would clack them back shut. The canapés looked, on closer inspection as Marisol pressed right up against the window, like bits of uncooked meat. The juice dribbled down their chins and they ignored it, smiling and clacking their jaws back into place with each bite. They put their plates down on the table and moved to the living room.
Marisol ran across the front steps in a crouch and squatted down again behind the bushes, under the living room window this time. Motown was playing, and the trio had positioned themselves on a sofa facing the piano. There was no blood on their chins now, and the strange shake of their heads to fix their dangling jaws had stopped. One of the women looked familiar to Marisol but the woman kept looking away, frustrating Marisol with her inability to place her. What am I doing spying here? Maybe I am asleep. But the cold of the bricks against her chest and the sharp cat piss scent of the Yew hedge told her otherwise.
When the room erupted in laughter and clapping, the woman stood up and went over to the man playing the piano and hugged him. Marisol knew now. It was Bunny.
Bunny glanced up for a moment and seemed to look out into the dark and see Marisol there, but her eyes were empty, reflecting back the light in the living room as if they were windows themselves. The man that had been with Bunny in the dining room joined her at the piano, shaking the player’s hand and Marisol saw with a sinking feeling that it was Neil. When did Neil go out? He had still been sleeping when she left the bedroom. But maybe it wasn’t Neil; they all looked alike here, cut from the same cloth.
Still Marisol wanted to go back home and reassure herself that Neil was asleep in their bed, snoring softly in his old crew t-shirt and boxers, the way she had left him. She crawled from behind the bushes and still staying low ran to the sidewalk. Then she hurried down the street, away from the house.
Marisol decided to go around down a block and head up the parallel street to her road. She didn’t want to run into Bunny, although that was unlikely. How would she explain being out alone this late? And what if that had been Neil? She wasn’t sure she wanted to confront him right now, at night, as if she had been following him like some crazy woman.
The houses on the street that ran right behind her street were slightly larger, with wider yards. Each one stood like a bastion of respectability. Their screened-in porches, well tended lawns, fresh awnings and paint unimpeachable. There was something dark at the foot of a driveway that belonged to a white Dutch Colonial house with green striped awnings and a wide porch with geraniums and wicker. A child’s bike?
But the shape was soft, the shape of the shadows that Marisol had peered into night after night in the corner of her bedrooms. She walked slowly, but knew she could not ignore it, could not run away. It would only be waiting in front of another house on another street.
It was a woman in a white eyelet dress that was hitched up past her thighs. Her blonde hair was spread around her like a halo and one of her arms was flung over her head as if she were waving. Her eye socket was crushed in, her mouth hanging open as if in dumb wonder at her own death. Marisol saw that the shoulder of the white dress was stiff with the clotted dark brown of the blood and liquid that had spilled from her eye. The cheekbone caved in. One white tooth glistened on her lower lip where it had been knocked from her head. Scattered around her were blue beads that shone in the light from a street lamp, one of the tasteful swan necked ones that lined Grand Beach’s wide and pleasant streets.
Marisol scooped some of the beads up and put them in her pocket. They made a pleasant glassy sound as they knocked against each other, a rhythm of sorts.
Closer to her house she began to see masses of winged creatures swirling around the street lamps. They flew at the lights in frantic motion; there were so many that it looked as if a black cloud was hanging below each lamp. Marisol felt the tickle along her arm, and then on her neck as they landed on her clothes and tangled in her hair. She pulled at them but they stuck, their long tails quivering with the effort to cling. She brushed at them fiercely, but still they came, on an erratic blind path towards something only they could sense.
It was fishfly season and they were swarming.
Marisol pulled fly after fly off her. She knew they had no mouths, but it seemed each one snipped a snippet of her flesh as they fell. She began to run, to try to outpace them, but they flew on in mindless waves. On the lake their egg sacs burst open again and again and they rose in clouds looking for others of their kind to mate with and die with.
The porch light of her house was on and they were dense under it. She would have to go through them to get in her door. So she covered her head with her arms and ran up the steps, frantically pulling open the screen where they clung and throwing open the heavy front door slamming it behind her before they could get in . . .
She stood in the front hall under the blazing copper light fixture and pulled off those that still stuck to her clothes and skin. They fluttered around, finally landing on the light. I’ll brush them off in the morning. In the morning when they have all died. Marisol left the light on in the front hall, so they would not follow her upstairs. She didn’t want to feel their bodies brushing up against her in the smothering night.
• • • •
In the bedroom the fan still moved through the air making no difference, the way she supposed Neil’s love would make no difference in the long run.
He was there, asleep, his mouth open wide, his arms and legs sprawled across the bed, into the space she slept, as if she had never existed.
Marisol went into the bathroom and switched on the light. She took one of the blue beads from her pocket and held it up to her eye. It was cool and smooth in her hand, and everything was faint beyond it. She held it closer to her eye, so that she could no longer see her own brown iris in the mirror.
Gently she rested it against her eyelids, just to see. She pushed a little harder.
Just to see, she told herself, just to see.