Among the Finer Gifts

Drin is aware that his fellow serious Symphony patrons are mostly auditory people. They can remember voices but not faces.  They do not respond to, nor do they think of appealing to, visual sensory input–which explains a lot about the Metro’s ads and website content. Their houses tend toward the speaker-heavy, TVs in every room–either a lot of racket, or a dead hush that magnifies whatever sound is permitted. Other senses are just not important to them.

That was why, in the early days, Drin was gratified to see those posters pinned up in Dance’s bedroom, the flowers in his garden, and Emma’s splashy-colored clothes. They both modulate their voices to suit Symphony patrons, but it also makes sense for the two of them to understand and reach those areas of other people’s brains too, connecting with those folks in the audience who respond as much to the look of things.

Dance and Emma are not blind. Or noseless. Dance responds powerfully to scents, Drin realized that much just from the kind of stringently herbal, piney things that Dance dug into his garden.  When he considers gifts for his partners, he thinks about satisfying many kinds of sensory appreciation at once.

But he thinks of a particularly wonderful combination, a unique gift he can give them both. He schedules an afternoon together for all three of them, claiming that he has to discuss what they’re going to do about the house. He chooses the restaurant carefully, out in one of the sleepier beach towns, and he warns the waiters that it may get loud and rowdy.

And then he opens his can of worms, once they are stuffed full of big sloppy pizza slices overloaded with cheese and meat and artichokes and olives.  He shoves all the artichokes at Dance, laughing.  Dance could probably live happily on pickled artichokes, goodness only knows why.   He adores certain brands.  Something about the herb mix they use in the olive oil, he says, and shrugs happily.  He smiles up at Drin, lips gleaming.

“It’s about the house.”

“Yeah, what about it?” Emma is wearing her opened-mouth look of satiation, so damn distracting.

“We own it, we’ve bought it.” Drin says.

“How did we bought it?” Dance demands. “I can’t buy it, Emma can’t. You bought it, Drin.”

“Is that so? Then I don’t know why you two have as much equity in it as I do.”

“What!” Emma is shocked out of her stupor. “Bloody– Drin, why our house? There’s no fucking investment value in the neighborhood, and the place is a dump!”

“And we got it for a song,” Drin says calmly, “so Dance’s garden will always belong to him.”

“My– garden? But it’s only dirt and cuttings.”

“Yeah, and your Baroque violin is only some wood and catgut.” Drin smiles at his husband. And keeps on smiling, the way he smiles every time he remembers signing the papers at City hall. People took pictures, handed them flowers and bottles of water and hugged them. The whole string section was there, playing Lohengrin and laughing their asses off, by God.

“And plastic, don’t forget!” Dance covers his mouth and burps. “Onions, man.”

“You son of a bitch.” Emma says as she raises her pointing hand. “I knew it. I effing knew it, I could tell you the day and the time when you got the deed– two months ago! And we’ve been paying rent!”

“Yeah, that’s still around, tucked into your 401(k)s, my beloved.”

“I don’t have a 401 alphabet,” Dance says, blinking at him.

“Lemme at him!” Emma struggles to her feet, stumbling around the table while Drin laughs and cowers. “I’ll fucking teach you a lesson, damn you!” And Drin finds himself with all of her beautiful, sweet-smelling person in his lap. First she grabs his ears and she squeezes–damn, she has strong hands!–and then she rocks his head from side to side, growling at him, and then she kisses him. Great big rude sloppy cheese-flavored kiss all over his mouth, halfway biting him. “You set up retirement funds for us? For Dance?”

“Oghlf-ffh- of course I did!”

Dance starts to laugh. “Get medieval on his ass!”

“You did.” Emma sits back and looks at him with tearful eyes. “You really did. But you lost all your own money, and you still set this up– Sweetheart.”

“Oh, now don’t scare me like that, Killer, calling me nice things. I’m used to that feggeleh mouth, you know, the queer Yiddische insulting thing there–”

“Is that what the 401 is, for retirement?” Dance’s eyes widen. “If I grow too old to play in any orchestra?”

“You’ll always have a home, and you’ll always have an income.”

“Well, barring the collapse of the financial markets that we both predicted was–” Emma says, and she looks at Dance with the gloss on her eyes falling down into tears. “Oh damn your eyes, Drin, you’ve fucked up my makeup again. You’re always making me do that.”

“Your money isn’t in anything so volatile, trust me. I don’t want either of you left like that.”

“And I’ll always,” Dance says, “Have you. Always.” That’s when Dance starts to cry.

Emma kisses him, too, and she gets streaking eyeliner on Dance’s face, and then they’re finger-painting each other, and laughing, and smearing it on Drin’s face too. Emma kisses Drin again and puts lipstick all over his mouth.

Then he’s got both of them in his lap crying and laughing and smacking him as much as they smack each other.

Fortunately, Emma’s amazing purse has baby wipes in it which are up to the task of taking clown faces off children, and they work well on pretty brown men and girls with storm-blue eyes.

Then he takes them shopping among the odder little tourist boutiques along the boardwalks, where they exclaim over the brilliant colors of the dichroic glass in the art bead places Emma loves.  They laugh over the bizarre tee shirts in the head shop, and the shells and the driftwood in the nature shops, and the seascapes in the one really decent art gallery. They’re so used to not having money that neither of his beautiful partners even thinks to covet anything. They just admire, pointing things out that they know somebody else will like, and giggling at the really silly trashy stuff. The thought of asking him to buy anything doesn’t seem to cross their minds, they just love looking.  They never ask him to buy things.  They never did.  But they’re even more careful about it since he locked his main wealth away into trusts.

When he does pull out his wallet, they’re both frowning, worried. But he buys Dance a dragon pendant on a silver necklace from the nice gallery place, and he buys Emma an outrageous silk wrap dress with the underwear it deserves from a boutique, and he buys them both bright lycra running shorts and shirts and jackets, and he gets kissed a lot when they think nobody is looking. He spends rather a lot of money from the amount he’d saved for this, and is well-satisfied he’s getting value for his investment.

It probably speaks to their level of trust in him that they don’t ask questions when he insists they step into a shoe shop. He buys pool sandals for everybody. This is what money is for, he thinks.

When the pizza has been walked off and they’re feeling peckish, he takes them to one of his favorite seafood stalls, and introduces them to fried squid that melts away on the tongue. Then he takes them back to the car, and they stop in the gas station restrooms to change into the lycra. Then he drives down to a parking lot off the beach, the one closest to the cliffs.

West Coast beaches are not friendly places, not in the warm, shallow, sandy, welcoming sense known on the East Coast, in places like the Carolinas or the Keys.

Many of the surf zones of the West that he’s seen are forbidding and rocky, where one climbs around on frozen igneous flows, or one observes, through binoculars only, huge granite cleavages plunging four and five hundred feet straight down. These are places where rookeries of gulls and cormorants and seals are the only tenants, and landscape features deserve names like The Devil’s Elbow.

Further south, you get cliffs made of mess instead of rocks.  It’s not even sandstone, it’s just sand.  In this town, houses are put up on slopes with stilts, just for the views among the steep fire-prone canyons, and the night air smells of flammable sage and eucalyptus. The consulting geologists brought in on legal cases at work carry big rolled maps with elevation markings which step down slopes so tightly that the palisade maps look like magnified dollar bill engravings of George Washington’s nose.

Hiking what’s left of the wilder wrinkles, Drin has found the canyons are amazing. Very steep, very pretty, amazingly unstable, and dangerous as hell. These cliffs never made it up to the status of real stone. They are hills made of loosely cemented sand that is full of cobbles, and these humps erode right under your feet.

Black's Beach Sunset by moonjazz
Black’s Beach Sunset, photo by moonjazz on Flickr

The sea isn’t anything like the tourists expect either. It is an Alaskan bolt of frozen nutrients pouring down the gullets of the astonishing variety of intertidal life, and it is colder than hell. The surfers all wear wetsuits. Nobody is quite sure if wearing bright colors reduce the risk of looking like a seal, but the dive shops make promises all the time. Great white sharks normally predate on the seals out on the offshore rock stacks and islands. People taste bad and just aren’t fat enough, and get spit out. Usually.

Needless to say, he is not talking Emma into taking her easily-chilled back spasms into the water. That day, the water is a colder, tougher, stormier gray than her eyes, which is saying something. Out on the beach, smiling into the bright shadowless light, her eyes are a wonderful strange blue.

Ahhh, but the sound of that surf, nibbling away at the ragged matrix of cobbles, streaks of clay, beds of sand, and almost-sandstone. The sound of it, that’s what he’s come for. The colors are pretty intense, too. The cliffs rise two hundred feet above the parking lot in streaks of color, with bald rocky bits broken up with little tufts of chapparral hanging out like a man who hasn’t shaved for a couple of weeks. The surf shifts the beach sand away every winter, and causes collapses after every storm.

There’s the birds wheeling and calling over the rookeries, the seals barking behind the protective fences that the Park Service put up to keep people from pestering them too much–and as much for the safety of the people as for the animals, because seals have jaws and teeth every bit as powerful as a large dog.

Beach never seems like the right word for this place, to Drin. To him, for some reason, beach connotes a bright happy Caribbean steel band, or a shouting cheerful NOLA funeral parade celebrating somebody’s life.

This? This is more brooding than that, and oddly rewarding. It’s all far more like Beethoven in a dark mood–the Pathetique or the Moonlight Sonata.

One can hike for a hundred miles, if you just keep walking, and you don’t mind getting wet.

The water has a sound to it that does something deep to a person’s soul, if they respond to it at all.

It does, as Emma says happily, induce a larger sense of perspective in a person.

They hike slowly along the winding piles of seaweed, darting down to the water’s edge whenever something flashes, wandering about and turning in circles very much like the little bewildered sandpipers trying to probe the sand. They’re exclaiming over driftwood shapes and making silly faces, and helping one another over the rocks when there’s no other way around.

The strand narrows down until the water intrudes among the rock stacks and broken bits of cliff.

Beach, La Jolla
sea cliffs and caves

“Oh, a sea cave!” Dance exclaims, and he touches the cobble-laced wall of it, turning into the hollow of it, and staring upward with his mouth open wide. He cocks his head to listen to the echoes of the surf slapping and pulling at the walls. Then he smiles at Drin, slowly. “Listen.”

Drin just smiles back. After a long quiet moment of listening, watching their faces, he smiles wider. Then he says, “There’s more. They all sound a little bit different, at least to me they do. Something about the harmonics and the cave’s size, maybe.”

“Wow,” Emma says. “Look at the light bouncing around, too!”

“Yeah,” he says, watching the reflected watery light bouncing in hypnotic lenses and colored shapes all around the walls. The best light is like this, when the sun hits a certain strong late afternoon angle, not quite heading toward sunset. “This is a little cave. There’s some bigger ones you’ll like. We might have to get our feet wet, but you’ll like it. And the tidepool anemones are awesome too.” He points.

“Oh, my God!” Emma exclaims, “They’re pink, look–” and she goes back out of the cave into the light. “And that one’s orange. My God, they really are that color!”

Dance puts his hands up on Drin’s chest. “Drin,” he says.

“Yes, my dear?” he says quietly.

“You are awesome. You are the best husband. You make us so happy.” And he kisses Drin on the nose.

Drin folds his arm around his husband’s bright lycra jacket, feeling the very solid muscles inside it, and he smiles, and kisses Dance on the cheek. Then Dance slips out of his arm, and follows Emma back out into the sun, and he squats down to point at something and he laughs with her, waggling his fingers.

Drin, watching, sees Dance cock his head to one side, hears Emma whoop suddenly, over a sudden crack of surf. Spray stings his face. Out of nowhere they are surrounded by an armada of paper drink parasols, fully opened, green and violet and luminous blue, tossed across the rocks by the sleepers and swept up from the little drainage stream, and on and down the beach, hundreds of them, just there, whirling in the surf, then vanishing, gone.

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