Wednesday 28 December 2022

An Unknown Woman by Barry Vitcov, rye

 The Pacific is leaning toward the coastline. A full moon casting vibrating light on the breakers, the creaks of seabirds punctuating the light tympani of tides. With a full view, he sits with Beatrice, a nine-year old, black standard poodle, watching a sloop making its way from north to south. He wonders about the sailor's destination while Beatrice patiently waits for another treat. It’s been a pleasant day of walking the bluffs, reading the latest Silva thriller, and enjoying the vista with a Knob Creek rye at hand. The mood is broken by a knock at the door and a quick bark from Beatrice who leaps toward the entryway tail wagging and eager to meet whoever is there.  

            He opens the door to a tall woman with long, black hair and binoculars hanging from her neck. She wears a loose fitting, white linen blouse and black pajama-style pants. She smiles and casually tells him she’s late because she was watching whales spout and breach in the bay. She gives him a light peck on the cheek, reaches down and gives Beatrice a playful squeeze behind her left ear, and strides in saying she would soon have dinner on the table. He closes the door, turns and asks, “Who are you?”

            She pauses, looks back at him with a smile that dares him to ask again, and suggests that he return to whatever he was already doing while she goes into the kitchen. Beatrice seems unfazed by the woman’s appearance; in fact, is accepting of her affectionate gesture. He has always trusted Beatrice’s instinct toward novelty, so he returns to his leather chair without a thought for the peculiar nature of what was happening. He resumes his attention to his whiskey and the view of the ocean. He is a writer by profession, a dreamer by nature, and a seeker of harmless adventure. He takes a sip of rye and waits patiently for whatever may ensue while Beatrice curls at his feet.  

            Minutes later cooking sounds and smells emerge from the kitchen. The fragrance of onion and garlic with the sizzle of sautéing ground beef fills the air with familiarity and he thinks a sauce is being made, perhaps a Bolognese to go with some fresh pappardelle pasta he had recently purchased at the Italian deli in town. The refrigerator door opens several times and there is crack of lettuce being torn and the clack of a knife cutting other produce. He figures she must be making a salad. She calls from the kitchen saying dinner won’t be long and he should open a bottle of good red wine and set the dining room table with a salad plate and bowl for pasta. He’s pleased with his knowing. 

            Beatrice alerts him to a flock of gulls swooping low over the shoreline. She’s shown an interest in birdlife since early puppyhood. Fortunately, her incessant barking as a young pup has matured into a low growl and single yelp whenever sighting any of the many birds who make their home in Sea Ranch.  He pushes himself up from his chair, walks to the dining room, with Beatrice at his side, where wine is stored in a climate-controlled closet and chooses a zinfandel from the Dry Creek terroir. He opens the drawer at the end of the table, removes placemats, retrieves plain white bowls, salad plates, and cutlery from a sideboard and sets the table for two. He uncorks the wine and places a couple of Riedel wine glasses beside the place settings. She calls out from the kitchen to thank him for having San Marzano tomatoes in the pantry and that dinner is only minutes away. He knows it will be at least another thirty minutes before the sauce has a chance to develop and mellow its distinctive flavor, so he pours himself another Knob Creek and settles back to watching the ocean. Beatrice looks at him with a cock of her head and slightly raised ears before curling at his feet without any verbal comment.  

            As he expected, a simple dinner of pasta a la Bolognese and green salad lightly dressed with a vinaigrette expertly made with olive oil, lemon, minced garlic, salt and pepper. They sit without saying a word. Beatrice finds her regular spot under the table and safely away from pesky feet that might disturb her own dinner dreams. Having allowed this beautiful, unknown woman into his home felt like a reverie, a story conjured from his overly active imagination. He looked into her jade green eyes before filling the wine glasses and taking a bite of pasta and commenting, “One of the best I’ve ever had. Where did you learn to cook?”

            She lifted her glass toward him with a suggestive look and answered, “Here and there.”

            He had once read a short story where two strangers met in a coffee shop, ended up spending several hours over espressos before leaving for his beachside apartment and an unforgettable one-night stand. They had never learned each other’s names and said goodbye after post-coital lattes at the same coffee shop where they began an inexplicable fantasy. The story enchanted him with its improbability and eroticism. He often wondered if such a scenario were really possible or just the lustful thoughts of male libido.

            He asked, “Did you walk far?”

            “You already know the answer,” she replied with the smile of an enchantress.

            The fiction he had read involved gorgeous people. Like the woman sitting at his table, she was tall with long dark hair and jade green eyes. The man in the story was also tall with a well-proportioned body and an athletic walk. Unlike the man in the story, he has no athletic ability, is tall with poor posture, unstylish reddish-brown hair beginning to gray at the temples, and a face blotchy with freckles. He doesn’t drink espressos or lattes and has difficulty carrying on a conversation for more than a few minutes. His friends describe him as shy with a receding personality. The redundancy is unfortunately appropriate. He’s thinking he must be the victim of an elaborate practical joke.

            With every bite of Bolognese and sip of wine, he becomes both more curious and comfortable with the situation. He relaxes into a deeper state of ambiguity, in which he is edgy about where this scene is going and yet at ease with this unknown woman’s company. Until sitting at the dining table, he felt caught in a visual fog, but now details began to emerge. He notices a small, almost imperceptible, scar on the ridge of her right cheekbone, which acts to highlight her perfect olive complexion. Her fingers are long and elegantly manicured and painted magenta. The few words she’s uttered remind him of what he imagines a Southern belle might sound like, a slight musical drawl but without the blond hair. She sits with perfect posture, slowly savoring the meal she prepared. How did she know what was in his kitchen and where to find the necessary cooking gear?

            “Just visiting Sea Ranch?” he asks.

            “You might say that.”

            When he was a boy growing up in San Francisco, he became a fan of a group of jugglers who regularly performed in Golden Gate Park. Every Saturday at noon, a VW bus brightly painted in a psychedelic motif parked near the panhandle and six jugglers emerged. Three men dressed as clowns and three women in harem outfits, sporting pierced navels and bodies that moved like octopuses. They loudly drew attention with poor puns, dry wit, and skillful juggling with an assortment of objects. He watched for the entire hour’s performance savoring the encore when flaming batons were tossed back and forth without a care for personal safety. The only miscue was when a tossed knife nicked the cheek of one of the woman jugglers causing a gasp from the observers and indifference from the performers. The crowd that had gathered broke into hoots and applause and filled the juggler’s hats with coin and paper money after the show. He thought it was a great way to earn a living and tried for months to teach himself how to juggle. Unfortunately, his lack of coordination led to many broken plates and bruised fruit and he abandoned all hope of being a performer. Instead, he used the experience to write a series of stories about a troupe of traveling jugglers who popped up unannounced at parks across the country. Those stories eventually became a ten-volume set of bestselling young adult books affording him the luxury of living at Sea Ranch. He remembered that one of the women jugglers looked very much like the woman sitting before him.

            Dinner continued without conversation until Beatrice stood, walked over to the woman and placed her shaved muzzle on her right thigh. The woman looked down at Beatrice, put her fork on the edge of her plate like a well-mannered sophisticate, and reached down to scratch Beatrice behind both ears. Beatrice had a way of developing relationships whether ongoing or temporary. The woman smiled at Beatrice and told her she was a sweet girl. Beatrice reacted to the compliment with all the nonchalance of a well-schooled debutante.

            “Beatrice doesn’t like everybody,” commented the man.

            She said, “I have a way with dogs.”

            The first glasses of wine were finished and another poured. Dinner was also finished and the woman stacked the dirty dishes, collected the used silverware, and took them to the kitchen. She directed, “Wait here, we’ll have dessert.”

            He sat savoring the wine. Dry Creek was a region not far from Sea Ranch. It was famous for lush vineyards and world-class wines, especially its zinfandels and cabernet sauvignons. He kept a good selection in his wine closet, but rarely had the opportunity to share a bottle and certainly not share a bottle with a woman who mysteriously shows up, enters his home with hardly a word, and makes a fabulous meal, which they eat in relative silence. Who is this woman? Why did he allow her into his home? Did this bode for a tragic ending? Were there compatriots waiting outside to storm his home, cause bodily harm, and steal whatever they might find? And what could she possibly be offering for dessert?

            She returns with two dishes of ice cream. He forgot about the unopened quart of spumoni in his freezer. He had purchased it several months ago at the market in Gualala and now it was being served after a delicious Italian dinner. Coincidence? Planning? None of what was happening made any sense. Beatrice was fond of spumoni. There were no other foods she would beg for, but now she sat at the stranger’s side faithfully waiting for the icy treat. Without asking him permission, she scooped some of the ice cream with her forefinger and offered it to Beatrice, who happily licked it and sat waiting for more.

             It suddenly dawned on him that this woman might be an employee at the grocery store and maybe that’s the connection. “Beatrice has made a lifelong friend,” he said. “By any chance, do you work at the Surf?”

            “She’s a sweet girl. No, I don’t work.”

            He wanted to ask the most important question, “Who are you and what are you doing here?” but didn’t want to break the mood or the spell he seemed to be under. Between the two Knob Creeks and two glasses of zinfandel, he was feeling warm, cozy, and safe in this woman’s presence. Beatrice continued to approve of the woman while consuming most of her dish of ice cream as it was offered finger scoop by finger scoop. He had not eaten any of his spumoni and it had melted into a gob of dried fruit, nuts, and a pool of watery gelato and whipped cream.

            She suggested taking their wine and going to the living room. He sat back in his maroon leather chair cradling his goblet, as she on the matching sofa across from him. He did not want to be so forward as to sit next to her. They both had views of the ocean, which, in a full moon’s light appeared magical with lit whitecaps and shadowy tides. They sat quietly for almost thirty minutes. Beatrice jumped up on the sofa and snuggled against the woman’s hip. Beatrice had no problem being forward.

            Finally, the woman broke the silence. “I once read a story about a beautiful, dark-haired member of a traveling troupe of jugglers. One day she met a handsome man at a coffee shop where they drank espressos, talked for hours, and had a torrid love affair without ever sharing identities. It’s the strangest story I ever read.”

            “I believe I know what you mean,” replied the man. 

About the author 

Barry Vitcov lives in Oregon with his wife and brilliant poodle. His collection of poetry "Where I Live Some of the Time" was published in February 2021 by Finishing Line Press. A collection of short stories The "Wilbur Stories & More" was published by Finishing Line Press in July 2022. 


Did you enjoy the story? Would you like to shout us a coffee? Half of what you pay goes to the writers and half towards supporting the project (web site maintenance, preparing the next Best of book etc.)

No comments:

Post a Comment