Honeymooners by Kristin FitzPatrick
From her wheelchair, Tammy watches a fat lady board the wave runner. The boat guy starts her engine and guides her off into the bay.
Tammy unlocks her left brake.
The boat guy returns to his chair and stuffs seeds into his mouth. Palm branches scratch the roof of the shed where they store the Sea Doos.
“You’ve been watching all week from your window, ma’am,” he says. “Want a ride?”
“Of course not,” Tammy says. She unlocks the right brake and wheels herself toward the edge of the dock.
He follows her and grabs the top of her chair, his fingernails scratching the leather. “Stay a while.” He wheels her back to the shed and parks her next to his own chair.
Tammy keeps watching the fat lady who’s full throttle now, bouncing above the water, her hair an orange flame.
“You ever go out with them?” Tammy says.
He shakes out more seeds from the bag. “Nah. My brother’s the one they like.”
His name is Justin, he says. He hands her a bottle of Red Stripe, so she drinks, to what? To her wedding last week. The promise of a lifetime.
Justin props his own bottle on his thigh. He leans into her armrest. “I could take you out.”
She snorts. “I didn’t mean with me.”
He says he’ll drive slow, and if she wants, he can put her legs in special restraints.
“No,” she says. “I’m fine.” Fine to go through with the ceremony, the reception, the honeymoon. Fine to be pushed around the island.
“Wouldn’t your husband be proud of you for doing something brave?”
Last month, Chad was the brave one for sticking with Tammy after the accident. He told her on their wedding night that she was his reward and not his obligation, and his face showed no strain as he lifted her up, over the threshold.
Chad the Brave, the Innocent, the Loyal, finally getting his goody-two-shoes payoff, and now Tammy’s not so sure what to call him. He’s been leaving the condo at three o’clock each day of this trip to shop for dinner, because wouldn’t it be romantic to cook, to stay in? On his way to the market, he might stop at the café, tip a few back. He will listen to high-heeled tourists click by and watch waitresses lean over. He will call them miss when he asks for another. Chad the Invisible.
At the water’s edge, Justin’s brother appears. He is beefier than Justin. He waves the Sea Doo in to shore and helps the fat lady off. She clutches him, and he almost loses her. They giggle. He slips his arm over her shoulder.
Justin laughs and chucks a mango pit at his brother. “Look who dragged his butt back from lunch!”
His brother runs to the shed, his feet squeaking in the sand. He says he’s taking an early dinner. “It’s dead today. You break, too, J.” He nods toward Tammy. “Feed the lady. Entertain her.” He trots back to the fat lady and wraps a towel around her.
The wet Sea Doo shines. No soccer balls ramming into it today, no birds pecking or shitting at its base.
Justin spits. “Slower than a kiddie ride, ma’am. I promise.”
Ma’am. She will be called ma’am now, because she’s a married woman. Set for life.
She scans the bay hoping to spot another wild fat lady, a daredevil on water skis, an old couple in a paddle boat—somebody, anybody—but no one is out there.
She could get her arms and legs around Justin, but if she bounced off, she couldn’t tread water. He’d have to save her.
Before the wedding, the drowning feeling grew worse every day. Whenever she was in the same room with Chad, it was hard to breathe. He did everything right. With him, she’d be set for life, her friends said, but who wants to spend a whole life trying to keep up with someone so perfect? When she left the house the night of the accident, Chad was reading the paper, something he never did. As if that paper told him exactly what she was up to.
“Back to work,” Tammy said, “to pick up another tax file.”
He kissed her foot. “Don’t stay for a drink this time.”
In the accountant’s car, she could see and smell that the scotch had worked through him beyond the point of courage, beyond joviality and justification for his slipping away from home, working to distraction, working toward the locker room at his country club after hours, where no one would see him and Tammy the bar manager, except the towel boys maybe, but who cared about them, because wouldn’t that be brave, for a wild girl to have a little more fun before she tied the knot? Afterward, it was the scotch and the courage and the joviality that yanked the steering wheel and melted its leather into the accountant’s fingers, slapped the windshield over his head.
That’s what the nurses told Tammy when she woke in a stiff bed, to a lemon bleach smell: the driver died immediately. On a snow covered median between dark lanes.
Justin checks the locks on her wheelchair and slides one arm behind her back, his other arm under her legs. “Come on,” he says. He lifts her up. “I know you got guts.”
Kristin FitzPatrick is the author of My Pulse is an Earthquake, a short story collection published by West Virginia University Press. Her work has appeared in Epiphany, The Southeast Review, Colorado Review, Necessary Fiction, Best of Gival Press Short Stories, and Ventura County Star. Her writing has also been chosen for the Thomas Wolfe Fiction Prize, The New Short Fiction Series, and Stories on Stage. She is the recipient of fellowships from the Jentel Artist Residency Program and The Seven Hills School. Originally from Michigan, she has lived in Illinois, Japan, and California, where she teaches writing at Chabot College.