The Surfing Lesson (Digital Original)

BOOK: The Surfing Lesson (Digital Original)
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Beautiful Day


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If anything was going to change Margot’s mind about divorcing her husband, Drum, it was the presence of Hadley Axelram ahead of them in line at the Juice Bar on the third night of their Nantucket vacation. The day had been hot and sunny, with a high of 89 degrees, the second hottest August 18 on record. There were forty-five or fifty people packed into the front of the shop and snaking down Broad Street, creating a traffic hazard for the Jeeps and SUVs streaming off the late ferry. Margot’s attention was consumed with making sure her three children didn’t get hit by an overly excited driver, and so it was surprising that she even noticed Hadley Axelram, although for the past ten years Margot had experienced a personal barometric drop whenever the woman was nearby.

Storm approaching.

Hadley Axelram had dated Drum off and on for the three years before Margot met him. Hadley Axelram had a certain look—to Margot, it was the look of a twelve-year-old Thai boy—which Drum and certain other men found themselves powerless to resist. Hadley was five foot two and weighed ninety pounds. She had no chest and no ass; back in the days when Margot used to see her in a bikini, she had been startled by the sharp protruding bones of Hadley’s hips and rib cage. Hadley wore her dark hair in a pixie cut, which made her brown eyes look enormous and sad, like the eyes of an extraterrestrial stranded billions of miles from home. Hadley always wore a choker. Years ago it had been a black suede cord wrapped around a jade green stone that nestled in the hollow of Hadley’s neck. But now, the choker was caramel-colored leather embellished with recognizable gold hardware—Hermès. When Hadley reached up to idly finger her choker, Margot noticed that her nails—longer than anyone would expect on a person so obviously striving for androgyny—were painted the purplish-blue of Concord grapes.

Drum had spent much of those three on-again, off-again years competing for Hadley’s affection with his best friend, Colin O’Mara, who had been the second finest surfer on Nantucket, after Drum. Drum was as graceful and elegant as a person could be on a board. “Like watching fucking Baryshnikov,” Margot had once overheard a spectator on the beach say. Colin’s surfing, on the other hand, was all about brute strength and the relentless desire to outdo Drum.

The same dynamic had been true in their pursuit of Hadley Axelram.

“Look,” Margot said, nudging Drum and pointing ahead in the line with her chin. “There’s Hadley.”

Drum nodded once but said nothing, which meant he had already seen her.

Over the past ten years, Margot had pieced together the following facts: Hadley, who was not Thai but, rather, Indonesian—her grandparents were some kind of royalty in Jakarta—had spent the summer of 1999 drinking nightly at the Lobster Trap, where Drum worked as a bartender, until Drum asked her out. They fell in love—Hadley first, but Drum harder. That September, Hadley left Nantucket for graduate art-history studies in Florence. Her departure had stunned Drum and everyone else who assumed that Hadley was little more than a Lobster Trap brat and a surfing groupie. Drum felt like he had been shot in the chest (his words), but he put up an unaffected front.
he said to Hadley when he dropped her at the airport with her steamer trunk.
When Hadley returned to Nantucket the following summer and appeared at Drum’s cottage unannounced, Drum administered what he called a “hate fuck” and then showed her the door. And this was when Colin O’Mara stepped in. Supposedly with Drum’s “blessing,” Colin dated Hadley all summer, going so far as to let Hadley drive his beloved CJ5 all over the island and letting her live with him rent-free in his parents’ enormous summer home on Shawkemo Hills Road.

The line moved forward a bit. Margot and Drum and the kids crossed the threshold off the sidewalk into the actual ice cream shop, which smelled powerfully of vanilla and just-pressed waffle cones. The kids knew the rules: Once they were “in,” they were allowed to talk about what flavors, what sauces, what toppings, what kind of cone. Drum Jr. and Carson became absorbed by this, as did Drum Sr., who read the names of the flavors out loud to Ellie. Margot was free to scrutinize Hadley Axelram, who was four people over and two people ahead, one spot away from ordering.

Hadley had two children in her custody. One was a boy Drum Jr.’s age, ten, who had inherited Colin O’Mara’s Irish coloring—the strawberry hair, the freckles. The other child was twoish, younger than Ellie, young enough to be carried, and this child, also a boy, had dark hair and olive skin like Hadley. Margot wondered how Hadley could stand having the child straddling her hip in the close, crowded heat of the shop. She was a good mother, Margot supposed.

The first son was Colin’s, born only five months after Drum Jr., as though getting accidentally pregnant outside of wedlock had been a fad that year. Unlike Drum and Margot, Hadley and Colin had never married—her parents, who were apparently quite strict or religious, had forbidden it. They had stayed together for a couple of years and then split. Colin lived in Kauai now; he sent Drum and Margot cards at Christmas, pictures of himself on far-flung beaches or on the lips of volcanoes. In the last picture, there had been a Polynesian woman in a grass skirt at his side; it looked like he had snagged her from the luau at the Hilton.

These cards made Margot sad.

The second son, Margot knew, had been sired by an up-and-coming painter named Jan Jaap. In a victory of biology over history, his pale Dutch coloring had been colonized by Hadley’s Indonesian genes. Margot and Drum had unwittingly walked into one of Jan Jaap’s art openings in SoHo and, finding Hadley there, were treated to the love story. At that time, Hadley had been pregnant. She was one of those women who looked as though she had tucked a cantaloupe into her camisole.

That night had ended in a vile fight between Margot and Drum, as so often happened on nights where Hadley was involved. Drum had climbed into a cab and screeched back to the apartment alone, and Margot had stumbled into a Burmese restaurant and cried over her momos.

The painter, Jan Jaap, had never quite fulfilled his potential, Margot didn’t think. She wondered about the Hermès choker.

Drum Jr. declared that he wanted vanilla ice cream in a cake cone; he was overly cautious with his taste buds, afraid to try anything new, no matter how alluring his father made other choices sound.

“How about chocolate fudge caramel ripple, buddy?”

No. Drum Jr. would not be budged. Margot sighed. A twenty-two-minute wait for vanilla in a cake cone?

Carson went the opposite route. He asked for a waffle cup filled with a scoop of raspberry sherbet and a scoop of maple walnut, doused with hot fudge and topped with gummy worms. Margot admired his creativity even as she knew this would end in a stomachache, and possibly a cavity.

Ellie wanted a cup of mint chip with chocolate sauce and a squiggle of whipped cream. She would eat three bites, and Margot would be left with the rest, which meant Margot shouldn’t order.

Drum Sr. turned to Margot. “I’m going to have the pistachio.”

He was as predictable as their eldest child. Margot said, “Note the look of surprise on my face.”

That decided, there was nothing to do but wait. Margot eyed Hadley Axelram. The woman had inspired jealousy more insidious than Margot ever could have imagined. How many times had Margot told Drum that she knew he was still in love with Hadley? How many times had Margot ransacked Drum’s underwear drawer, where he kept photos from the summers of 1999 and 2000? These photos were mostly of Drum and Colin and Dred Richardson and the other guys who had surfed Cisco back then, but some of the group photos featured Hadley. Margot would stare at Hadley’s waifish, sexless figure and wonder what it was that had been so attractive. Then Margot admitted that there were certain women who possessed magic powers, they bewitched and captivated, they got in a man’s bloodstream like a virus that never died—and Hadley Axelram was one. Every time they had happened across Hadley in the past ten years, Drum got a look on his face like a kid who wanted a puppy.

But now that Margot’s reservoir of romantic feelings for Drum had run dry—and when she said dry, she meant DRY—she found herself excited, happy even, to have an unexpected encounter with Hadley Axelram. This might be just what Margot needed. Hadley Axelram’s presence at the Juice Bar might be seen as a miracle, a last lifeline. Jealousy as defibrillator.

From her spot a chess move away, Margot listened to Hadley Axelram order. Double scoop of butter pecan in a waffle cup with caramel sauce and crushed Heath bars for the older son, a kiddie cup of cookie dough for the younger son, and… pistachio in a waffle cone for Hadley.

Margot almost couldn’t believe it. But then she recalled that in the periods of their dating—not only the summer of 1999 on Nantucket, but also part of the summer of 2001 on Nantucket and briefly in the winter of 2002 in Aspen—Hadley had exerted enormous influence over Drum. She was the reason he got the tattoo of the god Ganesh on his hip, she was the reason he listened to Better Than Ezra, and apparently she was also the reason he always ordered pistachio ice cream. For all Margot knew, Drum and Hadley had come to the Juice Bar together times too numerous to count and had ordered pistachio ice cream together.

Margot wanted to care. She yearned to care.

Once Hadley had received her cones and cup, Margot beamed in her direction, her smile as bright as a searchlight.

Hadley turned, saw Margot and Drum, and her expression appeared to be one of genuine delight. Not to see Margot, of course, but to see Drum.

“Hey!” Hadley said. She had her hands full with her ice cream and the child’s ice cream and the child, and she had to twist and maneuver through the crowd toward Margot and Drum, which was not a path anyone else waiting in line wanted to clear for her.

Margot heard Drum mutter. “Oh, Jesus.”

Normally, it was Margot who would have said this. Years before they had bumped into Hadley at the art gallery, they had seen her at the Matterhorn, in Stowe, Vermont. She had been wearing a white cashmere sweater and jeans and long feather earrings. She had been drinking a beer at the bar, surrounded by men ten years her junior. Margot had spotted her first and said, “Oh, shit.” She and Drum had had both boys in tow, Carson was pitching a fit after having spent all day in the Kinderhut, and all Margot had wanted was a glass of wine. She was the one who had insisted they stop at the Matterhorn, but once Drum saw Hadley, Margot’s dream of a fun, relaxing après ski was ruined. Hadley had shrieked with joy upon seeing Drum, causing her other suitors to scatter. Margot had been left to deal with her recalcitrant and exhausted children while Hadley and Drum “caught up,” Drum with that insipid look on his face. Margot had been bitterly jealous then, her stomach roiling with concealed rage.

BOOK: The Surfing Lesson (Digital Original)
4.86Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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