CHAPTER 28 -- ON VACATION
Paul has a few short vivid memories of the next twenty-four hours, all of them cinematic enough to be worthy of inclusion in his mental movie file. He remembers getting to his feet and staggering to the front gate, struggling to get his key in the front lock, then closing his eyes and falling. He remembers Sarah, the old lady from the back apartment, kicking him as she got her mail from the mailbox.
“Get up! You’re staining the sidewalk!” she hissed.
Paul remembers someone carrying him, and opening his eyes and seeing Rupert’s face staring down at him. That bugged him, that Rupert could carry him so easily, like he’s some doll. Wasn’t he supposed to be out of town?
He remembers Maggie driving him in her car and glancing down and seeing that the front seat was covered with towels to catch his blood. He remembers waking up in the hospital emergency room and seeing Maggie arguing with a nurse. He heard wheezing, then glanced to his left and saw a man with a kitchen knife sticking out of his chest, and each time he breathed his chest whistled like a kid’s toy. He remembers doctor grabbing his nose between his hands and pushing the broken bone back into place with a click, which sent white lightning bolts of pain shooting through his skull right to his brain stem. He screamed. Paul hallucinated that he was lying on the cement out in front of the Chinese Theater again. Hands stuck wads of cotton up his nostrils, then glued his nose into place with what felt like duct tape.
“Open your mouth,” he hears Maggie say, and she drops in a pill, followed by a straw. Paul sips and closes his eyes, and lets the black curtains in his head close completely. The curtains part just four more times, for brief but vivid moments.
“Paul!” he hears Maggie yell. He opens his eyes and sees that he is on the couch in the apartment. She holds up some ugly plaid surfer shorts that he doesn’t remember owning. “Lift your legs, I’m dressing you!” He glances down and sees he’s in just his underwear. Maggie yanks the shorts up his legs and he lifts his ass off the couch enough so she can pull them the rest of the way up his waist.
He wakes up in a shuttle van full of people speeding through the blue pre-dawn light. He can’t stop shivering, and then realizes that he is dressed in beach clothes while everyone else in the van is wearing autumn coats. Maggie sits next to him with her jaw set, staring straight ahead with laser-like focus.
"“You’ll live.” He drifts away again.
“Is he fit to fly?” someone asks next. Maggie props him against the plastic wall of the jetway ramp leading down to the plane door, and leans against him to keep him from falling over. Maggie pulls out a white piece of paper and shows the stewardess, who stares into Paul’s eyes as f looking for life. He smiles and flashes a “thumbs up” at her just before the black curtains close again.
“Yuck, he’s drooling on me,” someone says, and Paul feels an elbow jab him in the ribs. He wakes up on a 767 jet in the center row of chairs, leaning over a teenage girl with blonde dreadlocks and a pierced eyebrow.
Maggie tugs him upright and wipes his mouth. “Brace up, we’re almost there.”
How is she doing this? Does she have super powers? he wonders, and the black curtains fall again for many hours.
Paul wakes up in blackness. The only light is the green glow from the radium on his wristwatch, which says one o’clock. He stretches and feels crisp white sheets around him. He touches tentatively, worried that he’ll find moist stickiness from yet some other gooey accident, but all is fine. A low and thin horizontal line of light appears at one end of the room. Paul eases out of bed and moves towards the line. It’s daylight seeping through the base of the curtains. His outstretched hands finally touch fabric and he pulls them open.
The room fills with light. Palm trees and a white sandy beach stretches out below, while some other island floats in the blue ocean on the horizon. A catamaran loaded with people coasts up to the beach. Light and dark bodies dot bright towels on the beach and around the pool below. He made it. He is in Hawaii.
He looks at the room. It’s big, with a king size bed, a sofa and two chairs and an enormous TV. Maggie’s side of the bed is messy, which reassures Paul that they are, in fact, still sharing a room. He wanders into the bathroom, turns on the light and blinks when he sees his reflection in the mirror. He has two black eyes and a swollen red nose covered with a broad strip of surgical tape. His skin is so white against the black marble that he seems to glow like an alien. He hears the door open. Paul grabs a white robe from the hook before stepping back into the room.
“Look who’s back from the dead,” Maggie says. She wears a yellow bikini with a blue silk pareo around her hips, sandals and a broad beach hat. She takes off her sunglasses, throws her beach bag on the bed and plops into a chair. She looks like she’d been living in Hawaii for months. Paul smells coconut oil coming from her smooth skin. She stares at him with no emotion on her face.
“Is this Kauai?” Paul asks.
“Maui. Kaanapali Beach. I changed our plans two weeks ago. I told you that.”
“I look like shit.”
“You sure do. And I worked my ass off getting you here.”
“I appreciate it.” Paul leans over and kisses her. She meets his lips and kisses him back, which is a good sign. The leaning makes his head throb, but he doesn’t dare wince. Paul eases down in the chair opposite her.
“How’s the pain?”
“It’s a dull throb. It’s not that bad. I guess he broke my nose.”
“You got that right. And I had to pay for the emergency room with my credit card, which came to $1500. Plus, those repo guys broke the garage door to get your car, which my landlord is going to love.”
“They can’t do that. And they can’t just hit me. That car was paid off, too. We’ve got a lawsuit if we want one.”
“All I want right now is a vacation, so I’m only going to ask this once. Are we on vacation or not?”
Paul lifts his left hand and put his right hand over his heart. “I will not mention work or Joel or lawsuits or moan about my injuries for two whole weeks. I will swim and snorkel and sail and surf and not complain once. I swear.”
Maggie pulls him by the hands across the room, opens his robe and pushes him back on the bed. Paul’s skull aches when it hits the pillow, but he remembers his promise and keeps his mouth shut. Maggie runs her hands across his chest.
“You need some color, Phosphorescent Man,” she whispers as she straddles him.
He reaches up and pops her breasts out from her bikini top. She is already getting tan lines, which makes her sexy in a whole new way. He rolls her over and gets on top, but his pulse throbs straight up his neck into his swollen nose. He falls back down onto the sheets.
“You better stay on top. My head might explode.”
“No complaining,” Maggie giggles. “You promised.”
They have nothing to do except to obliterate their distinctness from one another. His feels his pulse throb equally in his groin and his nose, but it matches the pulse he feels inside of her, until all pleasure and pain merge and they disappear into one wonderful ache with no end. And then the ache is released and he feels the last six months end too, and he is free. Their vacation begins, and all memory of the TV show disappears.
They lie on the beach and fall asleep under palm trees while reading Elmore Leonard novels. They eat grilled fish burgers at a beachside cafe and gulp sweet rum drinks decorated with fruit slices and paper umbrellas. They get up early and order room service and watch the sun rise from their hotel window while eating sourdough toast and jam and sipping Kona coffee. They swim in the clear ocean water and feel schools of small silver fish dart between their legs. They get massages in the hotel health spa, and use their hotel coupons to get discount tickets to the hotel luau. They watch beautiful Hawaiian girls do the hula in the warm ocean breeze, and see a dance performance that depicts the ancient sea voyages of the original Hawaiians -- brave men and women of the South Pacific who followed the flight paths of migrating birds north until they discovered the most remote islands on earth. They walk on the beach at night, under so many stars, they can’t pick out any constellations in the mass confusion.
The beaches and pools and restaurants are packed with tourists from every state in the U.S., from Japan, the Philippines, Korea, Latin America and Germany. But Maggie and Paul speak to no one else and feel as if the island is theirs alone.
When his nose shrinks down to two times its normal size, Paul risks putting on a diving mask and sticks a snorkel in his mouth. His pain level triples, but he flashes Maggie the thumbs-up nonetheless, her happy smile makes the pain worthwhile. They hang onto hotel boogie boards and kick out to the outcropping of black lava rock on one end of the beach and stare at tropical fish from a psychedelic dream. They see Christmas wrasse, parrot fish, yellow tang, butterfly fish, spotted eels, spiny puffer fish, and the stripped trigger fish with the impossible Hawaiian name -- Humu-humu-nuku-nuku-ua-pa-a -- which they whisper to each other at dinner that night.
They crawl into bed and make love at the end of every afternoon and watch how their skin turns a darker brown each day, set against the white sheets. After a long nap, they wake up and dress for dinner. Before going downstairs, Maggie gently pulls off the surgical tape from Paul’s face, revealing a perfect white tan line across the bridge of his swollen nose, then applies a fresh strip to start the evening.
At the end of the first week, they’ve gone no further than five hundred yards from the hotel. They are in bliss. That night at dinner while they gaze out at the waves, a Japanese bride and groom walk by on the beach followed by a photographer who snaps the couple’s wedding photos against a golden sunset framed by perfect palm trees. Maggie sighs as she watches them.
Paul smiles at her and winks and she blushes. At this moment, the idea of marriage doesn’t seem so terrifying. Granted, he is on vacation and feels briefly in control of his life, which will change once he got back to Los Angeles, where no job and more bills were waiting. But then again, what are his life choices? He can:
1) Dump Maggie and have wild casual sex with dozens of gorgeous women. This is the silly goal of every single man in Los Angeles, many of whom are better looking and better off than Paul. Plus, wild casual sex is never the goal for any woman. This choice is impossible unless you’re a movie star.
2) Date Maggie forever. When he was twenty-one, dating someone for more than eight months WAS forever. Now six months pass every time he exhalew, and Maggie will dump him a long time before “forever” ever rolls around.
3) Examine Reality. He’s been avoiding this for years, but now is the time to face the truth. For ten years, he’s been banking on his youth, talent and potential, but now he is thirty and that mojo is running out. Talented twenty-somethings with amazing student films move to Los Angeles every day, ready to take his place. The odds of him making it huge are slim and getting slimmer, and he’s losing time to have a more typical life. People settle into a marriage and a career by this age, and if he keeps hanging on for a bid at fame and fortune, he may lose his chance for a regular life and career.
He does have a good personality, which has always worked for him. But he’s not getting any younger, and he’s aged at least two years in the last six months. He can’t do better than Maggie, but she sure can do better than him.
Like Rupert, that pompous tanned Englishman with the cultivated accent. Paul remembers what Sarah said in the laundry room. Maggie and that tea bag must be spending some time together, otherwise Sarah wouldn’t have said anything. Paul shakes his head. This is torture, he can’t think this way.
The photographer finishes and bows to the Japanese couple, and they bow back. Maggie stares as the groom leads his bride back up the beach, steadying her in the soft sand as she holds up the train of her wedding dress.
Paul touches Maggie’s hand and squeezes. Maggie looks at him.
“What are you thinking about?” he asks.
“Nothing,” she lies. “What are you thinking about?”
“How happy I am with you. And how I should try harder to make you happy.”
She smiles and wipes away a tear. He hadn’t mentioned marriage, but Paul sees it is enough for her to read a lifetime into it.
“What do you see in me, anyway?” Paul asks.
“I wonder that myself all the time,” she says and laughs.
“Ouch,” Paul says.
Maggie face turns serious. “You’re talented. You work hard. You have integrity. You are kind and loving when you’re not self-absorbed, and we have fun together…
“And I’m in love with you,” she shrugs. “Sorry, I just am.”
They stare at each other. This is beyond a movie moment. It’s so real and genuine he wants to rip open his mental movie file cabinet and destroy every entry in it as fake and self-indulgent.
He holds both of her hands. “I love you, too. And I’m not sorry.”
“Good. What are we going to do about it?” she asks.
Paul remembers something his grandfather said to him years ago, which only makes sense to him now:
When a man loves a woman, he never wants anything to change. When a woman loves a man, she sees all the possibilities and starts to plan.
“I need a new plan for my life,” Paul says.
Maggie closes her eyes and nods, as if Paul finally understands something she’s known for a very long time.