Daphne sat down and took a good long gulp of the iced tea. She put the glass on the table, still holding it, staring pensively off at nothing in particular and probably gauging the tea’s effect. Her lips opened, she sighed.
“Well,” she said, “that’s an improvement. Now, Arnold, what did Dick say about me?”
“Um, uh —”
“Larry,” she said, commandingly.
“At your service, miss.”
“Will you be a darling and go get me some cigarettes. There should be a box on the big coffee table in the living room. I should have grabbed one myself but I forgot.”
Larry got up and left and she watched him go.
She leaned across the table towards me. She smelled like a garden.
“Quickly now. What did Dick say?”
“He wants to marry you. He asked my advice.”
“What did you tell him?”
“I suggested he wait a few years.”
“So you think that’s best?”
“What’s the rush?” I said.
“Good question. I’m only nineteen after all. Did he go for your advice?”
“I think so.”
“Well, that’s a load off. Now I can relax.” She rattled the ice in her glass and took another but smaller drink. “What’s the deal with you and this Calliope person?”
“Elektra,” I said.
“Elektra,” she said. “Well?”
“Um, she, uh — she and I —”
“She is very pretty, isn’t she?”
“Yes. More intelligent than I am.”
“You’re sleeping with her, right?”
“Well —” I realized that I was breaking out in a sweat again, for about the twelfth time that day — ”we haven’t exactly slept together –”
“You know what I mean.”
“Yes,” I said, my sweat immediately turning cold.
“Does she like it?” she asked. Then, “Wow, you’re blushing.”
Her mouth blossomed into a great smile, her eyes flashed, the hot sweat streamed like a river down my back.
(And where was Larry? How long did it take to go to the living room and back?)
“Okay,” she said. “You don’t have to answer that. But I was watching how she looked at you. I think she likes it. I think she likes it very much. So, are you two going to get married?”
“I don’t — think so,” I said.
“Wouldn’t a better question be ‘Why’?”
“Fair enough.” She rattled her ice cubes in the glass again. “Do you like to swim?”
“Very much,” I said. “I go for a long swim every day.”
“Come for a swim with me. I warn you I swim like a absolute seal.”
I wasn’t sure about this.
“I just had lunch,” I said.
“So go home and change into your bathing suit and we’ll take a little stroll or sit on the beach while you digest your lunch, and then we’ll take a nice long swim.”
My problem — or I should say one of my problems — is I don’t know how to say no to people.
“Okay,” I said.
“Good. Oh, here’s Larry.”
Larry came in with a carved wooden box; he opened it and held it out to Daphne, who picked out a cigarette and waited for Larry to put the box on the table and then take out his matches and give her a light.
“Thanks,” she said. “Arnold and I are going for a swim, Larry.”
“Yes. Want to come?”
“No. I think I’ll take a nap.”
She picked up her glass, rattled her ice one last time and then polished off the rest of her iced tea.
“Okay,” she said. “I’m just going up to get into my suit. I’ll be right down.”
And she flew gracefully out of the room, leaving behind only the trail of her cigarette smoke and the flowery scent of herself.
I had stood up as she left the table, and Larry had never sat down again.
He looked at me.
“Woo boy,” he said. “What did I tell you about women and maniacs?”
I looked at the box of cigarettes on the table. On the one hand I wanted to smoke two or three of them simultaneously while stuffing the rest of them in my various pockets. On the other hand I figured I had gone this long, why not keep moving and see if I could hold out till after my swim?
“All right, Arnie,” said Larry, and he grabbed my shoulder. “I’m gonna hit the hay. Good luck.”
“We’re only going for a swim.”
“Sure. Good luck anyway.” He pinched up the sodden material of my shirt from my shoulder. “You’re drenched with sweat.”
It was one of those statements to which no reply seemed necessary, or wise.
“Same time tomorrow?” said Larry. “We’ll dive into that second act.”
“Sure,” I said.
“Do what I do and try not to think about it till then.”
“Okay,” I said.
That would be easy for me. I barely think about my writing even when I'm doing it, let alone when I'm not doing it.
He patted my shoulder one last time.
“Enjoy your, uh, swim, Arnie,” he said.
“It’s just a swim, Larry,” I said.
“Sure, pal. See you tomorrow.”
He straightened out my shirt collar for me and then walked out of the kitchen. I sat down again and stared at the open cigarette box.
I reached over and closed the lid.
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Swing it, Ronettes: