Avi Ben-Zeev :: Troubled Waters ::

Flash Fiction

Southern legitimacy statement: Okay, so I’m not from The South, and even though I sound American, whatever that means, I was born and raised in the Southern Levant (AKA Palestine). But The South called one day, specifically, the psychology department at Jackson State University. “We want you to talk about your stereotyping research,” they said, and I flew in during a nasty storm because no way was I missing an opportunity to humiliate myself. And if that doesn’t count towards my Southern cred, I howl Nashville Cats (and anything Del McCoury) with gusto despite being kicked out of choir in the 3rd grade. A cultural hybrid, I now live in London, South (Eastern) UK.

Troubled Waters

The San Francisco Guardian covers half of Angel’s face. “How about a trip to York Beach for our anniversary?” he asks, lowering the newspaper and raising his bushy but manicured eyebrows.

“York Beach? Never heard of it.” I sip a burnt espresso and sputter. Fuck, I told Angel we should toss out that damn coffee maker, but, no, he’d repair it, he said.

“It’s in Maine, but trust me, Avi’le, you’ll love Cape Neddick! It’s the most iconic lighthouse in America.”

Lighthouses are your thing, not mine, I almost blurt out, but stop myself just in time. What was it, our couple’s counselor said, wagging her finger? Ah, yes, Gentlemen, be kind.

“What makes this lighthouse in the freezing North so special?” I ask, wiping spittle off the kitchen table with a muddying napkin.

“You hate this idea.” Angel’s face clouds. “Forget it, then.”

“No, seriously, tell me. Why are you so excited about Cape Medic?”

“Neddick.” Angel rolls his eyes. “Alright, picture a tiny island with a quaint, late eighteen hundreds Victorian keeper’s house, wrought iron lantern, the works. Then there’s the lighthouse itself, so spectacular NASA sent a digital photo of it to space.”

“Really?” Now he has my attention.

“Yes, on the Voyager II probe.”

“I don’t get it.”

“You know, for aliens to learn about us humans.”

“Aliens? I should’ve known. It’s always aliens this and aliens that with you. It doesn’t matter that I said no to going to San Clemente, UFO capital of the world. Chile’s great, but I’m not into spaceships, I said, remember?” I should catch my breath, but I’m on a roll. “And now, you say let’s travel to the East Coast to see a lighthouse, but it’s still all about the fucking aliens.”

“You sound crazy, you know that right?”

“I’m not the one who believes in my psychic connection with the little green men.”

“Little green men?” Angel’s lip curls. “What an ignorant viewpoint of extraterrestrials. NASA believes that there’s life on other planets, but, no, you know so much more than NASA about the universe.”

It’s not that I don’t believe that there could be sentient beings out there, but I’m a Carl Sagan fan—give me evidence, not anecdotes. Better the hard truth, I say, than the comforting fantasy, were Sagan’s words. But wait, why am I even considering justifying myself to Angel? Fuck him, and fuck his sanctimonious bullshit.

“Why did NASA bother with Cape Medic when they should have sent a photo of you on the Voyager II with your phone number? Could save a whole lot of trouble for the poor aliens to have access to Angel, the extraterrestrial whisperer himself.”

“You can’t help yourself. You just feel this constant need to mock me, don’t you?”

“Do you blame me?” I’m still mad at him for what he’s done; a 9 out of 10. Worse, I’m mad at myself for staying livid for this long. And, I know, I know, being stuck in negativity is ridiculous; we’re all going to die and all that jazz, but still, how could Angel have—? No, I can’t go there right now, or I’ll smash the coffee cup against the wall.

Angel touches my shoulder. “I’m sorry, okay. I’m sorry for keeping this secret for so long, and—”

“Don’t.” I shrug his hand off.

“Please, can I at least share why I suggested Cape Neddick in the first place?” He looks like his younger self again, the guy I met on a bus in what feels like yesterday and a lifetime ago. The man who changed everything.

“Tell me,” I say.

“When I was a boy, the ocean terrified me. It still does. Before going to sleep, I’d have these images swirling in my head—sailors lost at sea in the dark of night, praying for safety.” Angel puts his hand on his chest. “I prayed with them, too, for that guiding light home.” Oh no, is he tearing up?

“Okay, let’s visit your Neddick,” I hear myself say.

“Mean it?”

I take a sip of tepid espresso and cough. “Yes, but we’re getting a new coffee maker, okay?”

“That damn machine.” Angel dabs his eye with his finger. “I have this bad habit of promising I’ll fix things when I know jack shit about how to do that. I’m really sorry.”

“It’s just coffee,” I say.

“No, I’m sorry for—”

“I’m not ready to forgive and forget.” My tone’s way too harsh, so I soften it. “Save your apology for when we’re at sea, okay?”

“I get it, but we’ll be okay, right?” Angel looks at me with eyes I used to know, and I want to forgive him, and I want to scream. How could you do this to me? To us?

A lighthouse is a beacon, or at least Angel thinks it is, and I want to believe him. And, yes, right now, the waters are troubled, but maybe, just maybe, a towering light will guide us back to ourselves and each other. And maybe, just maybe, I’ll be ready to say sorry too.