ADULTERERS IN PARADISE
They sat looking out on the harbor from Wharf Street. It was their last evening in Lahaina, and the sun would touch the ocean in less than an hour. Their ritual was the same each evening. Ignacio sent down to the bar for a Russian Lady for Holly, and a Hurricane Rum for himself.
Keezu Breen, who was back from his early shift on the Sea Horse doubled as bartender and waiter. He mounted the stairs carefully, but loudly, as if he wanted to be sure they knew he was coming.
“The usual,” Keezu said with a grin, giving them each their drink..
Ignacio gave him a tip. “The whales running today?”
“Same old, same old,” Keezu said. “We saw a couple this morning. Pereira’s bringing the Sea Horse in soon, couple of minutes maybe. Maybe he was luckier. It’s like they’re hiding this week. Last week we almost took one on the bow. This week, like they’re under cover.”
“You’re not afraid one of them will do a Moby Dick on your boat?”
“Boat’s pretty solid.”
“They hit you much?”
“Once or twice they just splash us, or maybe touch, but not hitting. They like to play.”
“You got plenty life jackets?”
“I don’t need a life jacket,” Keezu said. It was clear from looking at him that he’d be a powerful swimmer. “You should come out. Maybe you both bring luck.”
“Not me,” Ignacio said. “Not on the water when the humpbacks are on the lookout. I don’t swim much. You’d have to carry me in on your back.”
“No, you could have one of the humpbacks bring you in.”
“You like being out there?” Ignacio asked.
“Yeah, sure. I give the talk on the luncheon cruise. You know their tongues can weigh up to a ton? And they mate for life?”
“That right?” Ignacio said. “You’re still not going to get me out there. If I fell in the water I’d be a traffic hazard.”
Keezu thought that was funny. “No, man, we’d get you a board, then we paddle you in. You should both come out and see what this place looks like from the water.”
“We’ve done that,” Ignacio said.
“Beautiful sight,” Keezu said, after looking out on the water. “Enjoy,” he said, heading downstairs.
Ignacio raised his glass and touched it to Holly’s and wished them both health and luck. For a few moments they studied the water and the cloudless sky. They had walked under the Banyan tree on Courthouse Square, watching people with their digital cameras framing their vision. The children were remarkably well behaved, standing near their parents, sitting on the rounded benches waiting for something interesting to happen. Families huddled while strangers took their picture and then laughed as if they were going to appear in a Sunday Supplement.
“Do you have anything lined up for spring?” Holly asked. She planned to nurse her drink until the sun went into the ocean. This was their last evening on Maui and every gesture made her think of the long days ahead. “I can get away in April, late. There’s a Nike conference in Charlotte Amalie I need to attend.”
“It’s in April?”
She nodded. “Yes, I think I can get away. How about you?”
“I can’t tell yet.”
“Can’t or won’t?”
He looked at her. His eyes were blurry from watching the reflection of the sun. “They are changing some of the assignments. It’s hard for me to tell now.”
“But you’ve got the same accounts, don’t you?”
“Yes, but that doesn’t mean I’m able to tell if I can get to the Virgin Islands. This recession could get worse.”
“But your business isn’t hurt by recessions, is it?”
“Shouldn’t be, you’d think. Of course, I’m not really sure. I sense something of a turn-around, but I’ve never had to go through anything like this.”
“I thought you just sold “The Sun Chaser” over there.”
“Yes, I did. That was another reason I could be here.” He studied the pier and the boat basin.
She sipped her drink and looked out into the harbor. “The Sun Chaser” and some of the other large yachts already had their interiors lighted. She wondered what kind of life those people lived. She imagined candle-lit dinners with romantic music, then wonderful parties with dancing.
“Most of the them are tax write-offs,” he said.
She smiled. “You’re reading my mind.”
“The owners are ordinary people.”
“I can’t believe that. We’re ordinary people. Those people are extraordinary. They have millions. We don’t even have each other.”
He thought for a moment. “You’re right. But I get to go out on one of those boats every so often, too. And we have each other when we can.”
She didn’t know what to say to that. He was right. She was right. What they had was essentially on loan. After her mother’s funeral, Her father said that we all had life on loan. There would come a time when the loan would be paid. She had met Ignacio years before in Kanapali where they took a tennis lesson at the Royal Lahaina with an instructor who paired them off. She was a better player than Ignacio, but Ignacio seemed to pick up on the instructor’s suggestions much more quickly than she. As a result their games were almost even. She asked him why he bothered to take lessons that day and he said he wanted to meet people on his day off. In turn, she simply said that the lessons were part of the package with her room. But that was not the truth. She had met the instructor at the bar the evening before and he told her that if she were in Kanapali alone, tennis lessons were the best way to meet new friends.
Ignacio did not mention his wife that night, and she did not say a word about her husband and her three boys. Instead they talked about their youth. She had gone to McGill and he had gone to Concordia and they had overlapped by a year. She had been an economics major and he was in marketing. That evening, how many years ago now?, began their sunset rituals on the veranda looking out at the endless sea.
Before they made love that first night they learned a great deal about each other. Ignacio could not swim, yet he was a yacht broker for Christensen Shipyards, which built Privacy for Tiger Woods. Holly told him that she did not play golf, but she was a V. P. for Nike and met Tiger Woods in Kapalua at the Plantation Course in January, 2001. Unfortunately, he lost to Jim Furyk, who rode away in his prize, a Mercedes sedan. She reassured Ignacio by explaining that when she was in college she was on the swim team and was a strong enough swimmer to save him if he ever fell into the water.
They had come a long way from Montreal. When Ignacio reminded her how far they had traveled this week to get away from the cold, Holly laughed. In Canada they saw each other only in summer when Nike supported a golf tournament near a deep water harbor. It was a great luxury to be in Maui in January during the tournaments at the Plantation Course. With everyone at home living underground, the ocean breezes in Lahaina were a soothing balm for them.
Holly almost expected him to ask rhetorically how many years they had been meeting here. How many nights had they spent together in Lahaina? She said she knew. They had met here for eight years and had spent thirty-seven nights together. Was that a gift? Or was it pathetic?
“You know you have never asked me to change anything?”
“Yes, like figure out how to make this permanent.”
“You haven’t either. Did you want to make this permanent?”
She sat there a while. The sun seemed to change its shape as she stared at the sea. The Sea Horse, Keezu’s whale watching boat, made its way back to the pier, moving slowly, languorously toward them. She could see the tourists holding on to each other for stability. She could not make out their expressions, but she knew enough from being down on the dock that they were tired, worn, and a little disappointed. It was the nature of things.
“I don’t know,” she said. “Do you think it is a cliche to say that somehow, this is perfect as it is?”
“Cliche?” He meditated on that for a moment.
“Yes, it sounds like something I heard in a movie.”
“Bette Davis, probably. Yes, I could imagine that. But I don’t think so.”
“Bette Davis,” she said. “My God, that would take us back. Not even our own generation, is it? What passed for adultery then was almost pristine. Wasn’t it Paul Henried who gave her up for his wife? Or somebody?”
“I think so. Maybe. All I remember is white suits and a white dress. And the two cigarettes. You think of that as adultery?”
“What would you call it?”
“An affair, I suppose. An affair to remember.”
“That’s just being polite,” she said. “Sophisticated. No one would talk that way any more. People are much more direct. Hooking up, that kind of thing. It’s really a bit gross that way, isn’t it? What ever happened to romance?”
“I think we somehow have that ourselves. Romance. I never really knew quite what that was all about before I met you. Love, yes. And commitment. Those are things I understood. Standing by someone. Oh, and yes to responsibility.”
“And don’t forget obligation.”
People in the street below shouted out to friends across the road. The young girls ran across and under the trees. The whale watchers were stumbling blindly onto the dock and trying to get their balance.
“Do you think we are free of all those things? All but romance?”
“Oh, what a question,” she said. “Here we are, adulterers in paradise.”
“Is there an obligation in adultery?”
She laughed. “How little you know the world. Adultery usually produces the greatest of all obligations. If you don’t feel a sense of obligation, why are you here?”
“Is that why you are here?”
“No,” she said, very quietly. It was true, she was not here because of a sense of obligation, and it was also true that she wanted, over all these years, to make it clear that she did not wish to create a sense of obligation in him. “It was pleasure that brought me here. I think you know that. Not obligation. That would ruin it all. For both of us.”
“Some say obligation is the truest form of love.”
“Well, I don’t say that. Just think of what we have done. You live in Vancouver, where it’s relatively mild, but I am in Toronto and right now I couldn’t stay out in the open air for more than twenty minutes. Here I’m free. Don’t you feel free?”
Ignacio sat still. He turned and smiled at her in what seemed agreement, then he took a sip of his drink. He was getting to the bottom of the glass. The sun was flattening itself against the horizon, perching on an exit line. “I suppose I do. Yes, I think you are right. It all fits, doesn’t it? Paradise. Pleasure. You.”
“What did you expect from this?”
“From back when we first met?”
“I expected to feel guilty.”
She laughed quietly and touched her Russian Lady to her lips. “And did you?”
“Of course. Didn’t you?”
“No. Not for a moment.”
“Yes, really. I didn’t expect this to happen when I first met you. I know you said you had never touched another woman but your wife.”
“After marriage, of course. And that’s still true, except for you. You are the only other woman in my life.”
“That is romantic.”
“And it’s true for you as well?”
She thought of playing coy for a while, but then decided it was silly. “You know it’s true for me, too. We’re getting to be like old marrieds.”
“Yes, but we’re not old marrieds.”
She thought about that. Would they never be old marrieds? And is there a virtue in never being old marrieds? She supposed there was. People talked about affairs in terms of spice, spicing up their lives. But that whole idea seemed shallow to her. Only shallow people needed spicing up in their lives. And yet, was there something to it? Was Ignacio the seasoning in her life? Did she represent the spice in his life? She would not ask him that question because she didn’t want to hear his answer.
“Have I become important in your life?” she asked.
“You need to ask? I think you saved my marriage.”
“Saved your marriage? That’s an odd thing to say.”
But she didn’t really think that was so odd. There were times when she wondered how well her own marriage would have functioned without Ignacio. In these last years it had been relatively easy for her to coordinate her few trips with Ignacio’s, and only two or three times have there been problems. Once, heading to the Florida Keys where Ignacio’s sales conference would have given them privacy and anonymity, her husband, Macklin, decided that it was the perfect time to make it a family vacation. She hid her disappointment, and without giving him any hint of her feelings, she told him he was right. It was the perfect family vacation. Instead of whining or complaining to Ignacio, she suggested he do the same. Take his wife with him, and he did. They sketched out a plan to avoid the same restaurants, the same hotel, and the same haunts. But when it was all over and she was home, she found herself longing for the evenings that she and Ignacio had always planned, walks by the water, cocktails with lush sunsets, dinner and champagne in their room, and love-making that lasted late into the night.
The sun was halfway below the surface of the ocean. They touched their glasses again and concentrated on the changing colors, the postcard radiances in the sky. It was picture perfect, the very essence of paradise as the world imagined it. Even down on the street below and out toward the docks and the whale watching boats, there was calm and quiet. This was a perfect evening. Lahaina never looked so splendid, so inviting.
“There it goes,” Ignacio said.
“Yes, there it goes.”