Dead In The Water(2)

By: Julie Smith


So I was easy prey for Marty. She was someone who’d be so busy crying in her own beer, she wouldn’t mind if I did the same. In fact, she was so much worse off than I was that I could almost forget my own troubles. I didn’t for an instant buy that “really okay” garbage.

We’d met at a party. “Marty,” said our host, “has an aquarium even bigger than yours.”

“Saltwater?” I’d asked her.

“Uh-huh.”

Already I liked this woman. Saltwater aquariums are much rarer and tougher to maintain than freshwater ones. “How many gallons?”

“Let’s see. Nearly three-quarters of a million, I think—if you count all three tanks.”

Our host, I saw, had been putting me on. This was no living room fishbowl we were speaking of. “You must live in Monterey,” I said.

“Yes. I’m marketing director at the aquarium.”

The Monterey Bay Aquarium is one of the wonders of the world. I was momentarily filled with envy.

“How marvelous!” I blurted. “And how are ‘the lovely animals of the sea, the sponges, tunicates, anemones, the stars and buttlestars, and sun stars—’”

Marty took up the quote from Cannery Row “‘—the bivalves, barnacles, the worms and shells, the fabulous and multiform little brothers—’” She stopped, looking exhausted. “And so on. My favorites are the anemones.” Mine, too—Marty was making big points, but she didn’t even stop for air. “You should see what we got this week—a wonderful, funny Mola mola. It’s so ugly you want to take it home and kiss it.”

“But molas are open-ocean fish.”

She shrugged happily. “Now and then they wander into the bay, looking a little like bewildered Frisbees.”

Pleased with himself, if a little mixed-up, our host had drifted on, knowing he’d delighted a couple of aliens who’d found someone with whom to speak their native tongue.

Marty and I could have gone on about bivalves and barnacles for hours (and did for the better part of one), but our respective escorts eventually caught up with us—Rob and Marty’s husband, Don.

When the gents turned up, the conversation swung, as it often did when Rob made a new acquaintance, to why the Chronicle was such a bad newspaper. Since Rob thought it quite a good paper and adored working there, it might be imagined this was not his favorite subject. But he was infinitely good-natured about it, and even persuasive as to his own view. And so he and Don hit it off as well.

The four of us went to dinner after the party, and Marty and Don swore to have us down to Monterey for a weekend. But Don was always traveling, it seemed. Anyway, it never happened. On the other hand, Marty and I usually got together for lunch or drinks whenever she was in the city.

Now she had a dead marriage and two children—ages ten and twelve—who were sure to be as brokenhearted as she was. If you thought of the marriage as a fifteen-year investment, she also had fifteen years down the tube.

As we drank—she had white wine (quite a few glasses of it), I had red—I got the whole story, probably now in its hundred-and-ninth telling: “It was so sudden, Rebecca. There was no way to see it coming, no way to prepare.

“One day he came home and said we had to talk. I’d gotten off early and I was making vegetable soup. He said he’d fallen in love with somebody else and he was moving out.” She shrugged. “And that was that.”

“Pretty much of a shock.”

“The shock was the worst part.” She straightened her spine and stared straight ahead. “But I’m over it now.”

Sure she was.

Not knowing what to say, I let some time go by, thinking I was witnessing one of the worst cases of denial I’d seen. I’ve noticed some people cover their sadness with rage, and some, their rage with denial. Marty seemed to be in the latter class, but she’d at least gotten down to rage in one area. She said in a voice loud enough for everyone in Tosca to hear, “He didn’t even tell me who she was!”

“It was someone you knew?”

“My boss.”

Marty had a one-of-a-kind job. The family had moved to Monterey on her account, not Don’s. She might be in marketing—the least piscine of jobs at the aquarium—but she could be in marketing anywhere. She was there because she loved the sea and its wildly teeming life. She was as dedicated to that aquarium as if it were in her living room. You didn’t just walk away from a job like hers. But how could you work with a boss who had committed grand larceny in your bed?