copyright 2011/all rights reserved
OIL IN WATER
a novel by
“I don’t care how you do it. I just want it done.” Bicky’s anger was distinct even through a closed door. “And don’t come back to me until it’s finished. Capice?”
Sonia heard a muffled assent and, without even thinking, shoved the report in her brown leather backpack, knocking a cup of water across the desk in the process.
“Damn.” She grabbed a bunch of tissues and was mopping up when Bicky burst through the door.
“Sorry. I hope it doesn’t leave a mark.”
Bicky stared at his daughter as if he couldn’t place the face before bewilderment gave way to annoyance.
Sonia jumped to her feet. “Oh, sorry, I . . . was tired. Your seat is the most comfortable.” She stood, draped her backpack over her shoulder, and exchanged places with her father.
“How long have you been here?” he barked, and with a gentle touch antithetical to his tone, moved his mother’s picture out of the water’s trajectory and onto the windowsill.
“I don’t know. Half an hour,” Sonia said, clearing her throat. “I see you got a new Dickinson.” She nodded in the direction of Bicky’s rare book collection. “Nice catch.”
“It came at quite a price, let me tell you.” He smiled and Sonia regained her composure, relieved to be on neutral territory. Bicky took his seat behind the desk, a reigning monarch, and pressed the intercom.
“Phyllis, some paper towels, please.” Bicky released the intercom before Phyllis could answer, snapped open the humidor and pulled out a cigar. Sonia cleared her throat. He shut it with a muttered apology.
“So. What can I do for you, babe?” Bicky asked, adopting an air of lightheartedness. Sonia responded by shoving clammy hands into the wide pockets of her maternity dress and wrapped them around the baby.
“It’s about David. I just wanted to know – when is he coming back?” She squared her shoulders as if getting out the words freed her to stand straighter, and thrust her belly forward, marking her question with an additional exclamation point. Bicky stared at her and she held his eye, trying to remember if growing up had always been this emotionally draining. She remembered so little of her father’s presence from childhood that it couldn’t have been the case.
“I already dispatched a guy. Your husband’ll be on the next plane home.”
“Really? Oh, Dad, thanks!” She ran around the desk and threw her arms around Bicky’s neck, a move instigated by relief and unbridled hormones. Bicky shifted uncomfortably in his seat and looked to Sonia like he might run.
“Sorry,” Sonia said, stepping back.
“That’s all right,” Bicky said. He rubbed his neck gingerly, feeling for the welt.
Sonia hadn’t touched her father in so long, hadn’t wanted or needed to, and so had forgotten his adversity toward the simple act of it. She rarely saw her parents touch, much less kiss. It didn’t bother her, but under the circumstances, she never understood how she’d been conceived. She slumped in the closest armchair with relief. “So what changed your mind?”
Bicky waved his hand. “Your mother . . . she didn’t want you to be upset.”
So there it was. Kitty had trumped him. Sonia tried to summon some love for the stranger that sat across the desk sorting wet mail. Feeling none flow, she stood to leave.
“Thanks,” she said, grateful no matter what the circumstances that forced her father’s hand. Bicky dismissed the gesture with another wave and smiled, a cross between an impatient grin and a grimace. The phone buzzed and relief washed Bicky’s face clean.
“Where are the paper towels?” he barked into the intercom.
“Try the bottom drawer of your desk,” Phyllis responded, her tone syrupy sweet.
Sonia bit her lower lip. Phyllis had put up with Bicky since he came to Akanabi over thirty years ago and showed no signs of relenting. For reasons Sonia couldn’t decipher, Bicky attracted and held people in his life, quality people, like flies to the spider’s web.
The phone buzzed and Bicky checked the caller ID. “I gotta take this,” he said. He tried another unsuccessful smile as Sonia turned to go.
“Your mother wants you to come to dinner tonight,” Bicky said, reaching for the receiver. Sonia waited for any additional proclamations, but Bicky grunted and jerked his head toward the door. Sonia took this as her unmistakable cue to leave.
Sonia leaned against the smooth, polished walnut, fingering the clasp on her backpack and listening to Bicky’s imperial tone through the lavish doors. She reached in and touched the edges of the envelope. She could drop it on Phyllis’s desk, no questions asked, and walk out. Or…
“Hey there, girly. Where’ve you been?”
Sonia stumbled and Phyllis was at her side in an instant, directing her to a chair.
“I remember these days,” Phyllis said. “All top heavy and off-balance. Like one of those Weeble-Wobble toys. You remember them?”
“Weebles wobble, but they don’t fall down.” Sonia sang.
“Isn’t it amazing how you can forget your kid’s birthday, but remember ads from twenty-five years ago,” Phyllis said. Phyllis was a lithe figure, still beautiful well into her sixtieth year, all grace and high cheekbones. She pushed an ottoman in front of Sonia’s chair.
“Feet up,” Phyllis said with the authority of a drill sergeant. She smiled and squeezed Sonia’s shoulder. Bicky’s personal line rang and Phyllis put him on speaker phone.
“Where the hell’s my report?”
“Try looking on your desk.”
Bicky ended the conversation with a dial tone. Phyllis rolled her eyes at Sonia.
“Your father,” Phyllis started, “is not big on patience.”
“Or much anything else unless there are dollar signs attached. Really, Phyllis. How do you stand it? You couldn’t pay me enough.”
“Oh, he’s not so bad. He was so green when I first got him. All eager to prove himself to your grandfather. Who knew he’d grow to be the pompous ass he is today. I think a part of him died with your grandmother and it’s been rotting inside him ever since. And between you and me, I feel a little sorry for him. He’s just a kid who really misses his mother.”
Sonia considered this a possible reason for Bicky’s strong gravitational pull: memory and pity. Memory of what the man was; pity for who he’d become. And a desire to help him crawl out of the quagmire. Sonia had made the same mistake many times, thinking that her father would then include her as a relevant part of his life only to find that Bicky considered himself a single planetary solar system, a man who shared the cosmos with no one.
From the wet bar, Phyllis grabbed a bottle of chilled Evian and handed it to Sonia.
“When my son was born, my husband was in Vietnam. I thought I would lose my mind. I got through it, though. You always do.” She smiled and stroked Sonia’s hair. “We’re tougher than they are. That’s why we bear the babies.” Phyllis strode across the room, grabbed something off her desk and handed it to Sonia.
“I printed out a copy of his itinerary. He’ll be in about the middle of the night so don’t wait up,” Phyllis admonished. She smiled, revealing a lovely set of pearly white teeth.
“Thanks, Phyllis,” Sonia said, standing. She gave the older woman a hug. “I’ll call you as soon as something happens,” she said, a hand on either side of her belly. “They have these websites now, where you can log on and see the newborns just a couple days after they’re born. You won’t even have to go to the hospital.”
“Bye love,” Phyllis said, throwing a kiss to the air. Sonia watched Phyllis bound toward her desk before turning to the elevator.
The elevator opened in the lobby and Jerry stood waiting as if summoned.
“How do you always know?” Sonia teased. Jerry tapped his chest and smiled.
“My heart beats a little more quickly when you’re around,” he said. “You let us know the minute our baby pokes its head into this world.” He smiled, dazzling her.
Sonia kissed him on the cheek and turned to leave. “I will, Uncle Jerry.”
He opened the door and watched as she walked away, their usual ritual. At the moment before Sonia rounded the corner, she turned and blew him a kiss as she’d done a million times before. His turned his cheek to catch it, reeling backwards, holding one hand on his heart and the other over the newly planted kiss so as not to let it slip away. She smiled and disappeared around the corner; the smile did not leave Jerry’s face.
Dave Hartos knelt inside the base of an oil rig, fiddling with a stalled pump. He whacked his wrench against the pipe and the wrench clanged to the ground. Even in the bowels of the derrick, the sand writhed and swirled, infesting the machinery. With a heavy sigh, he lifted himself out of the hole and climbed the metal rungs of the ladder back up to ground level.
An open-air jeep approached, a dust bowl swirling behind. Andrew Mahajan, second-in-command to Hart and his best friend, got out grinning.
“Good news. You’ve been sprung.” Mahajan handed Hart a telegram. “Go home and help your wife pop that baby out.” Mahajan clapped Hart on the back with one hand and handed him a box of Cuban cigars with the other. “For when the baby comes.”
“Hey, I don’t need to get arrested on the way home.”
“Customs won’t bother if you have less than a box,” said Mahajan. He opened the lid and removed two cigars, clipping the ends. “Now there’s less than a box.” Mahajan produced a lighter from his pocket, but desert winds foiled attempts to light it. He shrugged and pulled a bottle of Jamieson and two whiskey glasses from the jeep.
“Let’s celebrate.” He wiped his brow with a bandana and motioned toward the trailer.
“Isn’t it bad luck to toast before the baby’s born?” Hart asked.
Mahajan shook his head. “Only thing bad is not taking advantage of an opportunity when it bites you in the ass. C’mon. A driver’s coming for you soon.”
Hart grabbed the glasses out of Mahajan’s hand. “You gonna be all right here?”
“Right as rain, buddy. Right as rain.” Mahajan wrapped an arm around Hart’s shoulders and pushed him to the trailer.
to be continued. . .