by Con Chapman
They had paid for their vacation long before it had become clear, if unspoken, that they would break up, and so they embarked upon the trip to Martinique almost wordlessly, with much left unsaid. Or at least he had known that they would break up, even if she didn't, not yet.
He had finally met Dianne, the woman he'd had his eye on, whom he'd seen walking around Beacon Hill a fair amount. He had seen her outside the 7-11 on Charles Street one day, carrying her tennis racket, perhaps on her way back from the courts on the Esplanade. Then he had seen her again, walking up Beacon Street right in front of their apartment, her chin uplifted in an attitude he couldn't quite define. It was clear she wasn't the shy retiring type, that you'd better be able to give a good account of yourself to her, while with Barbara it was all nuance and suggestion; long-standing grievances would build up to the point of explosion, which was why he had to get out of the relationship.
The flight from Boston to Florida, and then by puddle jumper to Martinique, had not been easy; so rough, in fact, that when they landed on the island the passengers had burst out in applause. They had ignored the advice of the tour guide to keep covered up the first day and rushed down to the beach with the others, there to find that all the American women had promptly stripped to the waist in the manner of the French tourists. Barbara, always ready to demonstrate how uninhibited she was, had done the same, to his dismay. Yes he didn't mind seeing the other women on the flight in a state of undress—especially the big-eyed brown-haired woman who'd sat across the aisle from them—but he was uncomfortable that Barbara had done so. A Boston winter of no sun and little exercise made the sight unappealing.
They had gone through the motions, playing tennis, spending time on the beach; a native came up to them and made a hat out of palm fronds, for which he'd paid the man $5—probably feed the family for a week, he guessed. They had rented mopeds and gone to a French restaurant out in the country for dinner, then sat through a show by Calvin the Calypso King who kept singing what he thought were romantic songs to put the honeymooners in the mood. They made love once or twice, but he didn't think that it changed what was inevitable.
There were no screens in the hall windows, and as he was taking their bags down to the cab he heard a new song floating up from the patio that he'd just heard snatches of before they left the states—“Just the Two of Us.” It had a sort of island rhythm, and he wondered if it would be a hit here too; he was anxious to get back to the states. He recalled that he'd heard it at the bar where his friend had introduced him to Dianne; she'd written her phone number down on the back of one of his business cards, and he was hoping that he'd registered with her the way her image had imprinted itself on his consciousness; Roman nose and curly hair, or maybe Jewish, he wasn't sure which. Real color in her cheeks, not the faded flower complexion of Barbara, who always seemed to be unhappy because she was too introverted, and never really worked up a sweat. He could see himself playing tennis with Dianne, or jogging, or having a beer in a sauna; he figured she lived a real life, not just something she'd read in a book.
They paid, the bellhop brought their bags outside and they got into a white cab for the drive to the airport. When they were settled in he noticed a picture of the driver standing beside a giant wedding cake, hanging next to the meter.
“You two honeymooners?” the driver asked.
“No,” he said, hoping the fellow would let it drop at that.
“Because if you are, I make a fine wedding cake.”
“Is that so?” he asked.
“I went to wedding cake school in Chicago, to learn how. I lived with my daughter there.”
“That is so funny!” Barbara said. Just like her, trying to connect with ordinary people without any feel for how to do it.
“It is a serious school, you pay tuition,” the driver said. “I am certified now, very qualified. You can't go wrong with me.”
Barbara looked at him with a suppressed, playful smile, as if they were both in on a joke and would see how far the driver would go if they gave him enough line.
“I'd like a big wedding with lots of bridesmaids,” Barbara said. “Very fancy.”
He gave her a look of disapproval, as if he cared about the fellow's feelings.
“Then you need a very big cake, miss,” the driver said. “I have had brochures printed up,” he added, and handed one back to her. It featured him standing next to a cake that, when sitting on a table, was as tall as he was.
“That is my graduation cake, my thesis,” the man said, looking in the rear view mirror with a big smile. “I got an A double plus on it!”
Barbara couldn't help but giggle audibly, but the driver didn't seem to care. “Weddings are happy times. Where do you live?” he asked.
“We live in Boston—it wouldn't be convenient for you,” he said, turning to look out the window, hoping the conversation would end.
“Thee customer is all-ways right!” the driver said with emphasis. “I would come to Boston for your wedding.”
“That's great,” Barbara said, tucking the brochure into her purse.
“You're not going to make much money if you fly all over the world to bake a lousy wedding cake,” he said.
“Madame's cake will not be lousy,” the driver said. “It will be beautiful. Then, she will write me a wonderful recommendation, as these lovely brides have.” He handed them a scrapbook with letters of recommendation, all typed with primitive typewriters, signed in ink, containing many misspellings and other errors.
Barbara gave him a conspiratorial look, and reached out to squeeze his hand. He was struck by the improbability of it all; a taxi driver who believed so much in his future as a cake decorator that he'd get on a plane and come to America for a stranger's wedding. The guy would leave with a picture of the cake and a lousy letter and think he was ahead of the game. It was hopelessly optimistic, too naïve for words.
He looked at her, swallowed, then looked off through the windshield, where the sun was hovering just above the water line. He felt himself squeezing her hand back, and wondering if it was the glare that was making his eyes water.
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