"You're sure it was George Stephanopoulos?" Lowell says to me, as Kathryn volunteers to lead the ladies to their rooms.
"It had the ring of truth about it," I say.
"I bet the president would have liked the dinner we had tonight, and then he could have played Last Year at Marienbad with the three of us!" Daphne giggles, as she follows Kathryn toward the stairs.
I am amazed that the twenty-something highlighter doesn't ask, "What's Last Year at Marienbad?"
Then she does, pronouncing the last two words so that they resonate amusingly. The words are "marine" and "bad."
The mere idea that I might have thought to take down George Stephanopoulos's phone number provokes merriment at breakfast (frittata and an orange-coconut salad; two-shot con leches all around).
Antonio, his wife informs me when I call, is spending the day fishing off a pontoon boat. She will have him return my call when he returns.
"Maybe he decided McDonald's was easier," Daphne says.
"Impossible. His wife was going to be along," Lowell reminds her.
Someone who is driving from Miami for the bris will pick up the highlighter at the discount sandal store ten minutes from our house, and give her a lift to the Casa Marina. I'll give her a ride out to the highway in another half hour.
"You'd think they'd call," the highlighter says.
We sit around, like a bunch of kids nobody's asked to dance. In a little while, when I go out to sweep the deck, the highlighter follows me.
"Are you guys gay?" she says.
"No," I say, "but you aren't the first to wonder."
"Because you're hanging out in the Keys. And you've been together so long, and all."
"Right," I say.
"What kind of tree is that?" she says, stepping around the pile of leaves.
"Kapok. It doesn't always drop its leaves, but when it does, it does."
"So listen," she says. "I didn't offend you by asking?"
"No," I say.
"Because if you're not a couple -- I didn't think you were a couple -- but I mean, since you're not, I'm going to be at that Casa Marina place for a couple of days after Izzy gets snipped, and I wonder if maybe I could take you out."
It's the first time a woman has ever invited me on a date. I haven't been on a date in years. I only vaguely remember how to go on a date.
"There's a private party in some place called Bahama Village. Gianni Versace's sister invited me. It's some house where they took out the kitchen and put in a swimming pool. He's given her a bunch of ties to give out. Not that you'd want a tie," she says.
"No particular use for them," I say.
"Doesn't seem," she says. Then: "So. Would you like to do that?"
"To swim in someone's kitchen?"
"If you'd rather we just -- "
"No. No. Party sounds fine. I should come around to the Casa Marina, then? What time?"
"I think the party starts at ten."
"Little before ten, then."
"Great," she says.
"See you then," I say. "Of course, I'll also see you in about five minutes, when we should leave for the sandal store."
"Like to sweep for a few minutes?" I ask.
That drives her away.
The next day, there is still no word. Could the potato-mango gratinée have been a moment's passing fancy? Antonio knows nothing, except that the Clintons will be arriving at his restaurant February 11, and that the restaurant will be closed after the first seating on February 10, when it will be secured by the Secret Service. The following day, they will watch Antonio and one assistant prepare all the food. He worries aloud about finding good quality estragon.
Just as I am about to step into the shower, the phone rings. It is George Stephanopoulos. He is apologetic. The president has been put on a new allergy medicine, which had unexpected side effects. Mrs. Clinton has been preoccupied with other details of the trip, and only realized that morning that further communication was needed from her. She is prepared to talk to me in just a few minutes, if I'm able to hold on.
Excerpted from Perfect Recall, copyright (c) 2000 Ann Beattie. Reproduced with permission from the publisher; all rights reserved.
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
- PW Starred Review
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