They held hands. They put their feet in the water. I love him, Corey told herself.
Illustration by Ansellia Kulikku.
Corey Hughes hated Caspar Greenleaf.
He was one of the other artists staying at the barn during her month-long residency at the Edward Albee barn in Montauk. Corey hated him. She loathed him. She could barely make eye contact with him in the morning if they crossed paths in the kitchen. She hated his haircut, the gel that he used to make his short hair spike in the front of his head. Caspar worked with power tools. Power tools at an artist’s colony. Power tools when she was trying to write. Power tools when she was trying to drink her coffee. Power tools.
They had had another fight that morning. A screaming yelling fight when Corey confronted him, insisting that he turn off the saw he was using to cut a wooden board.
Corey had talked to caretakers of the house, a married couple who lived next door, about her problem with Caspar, but they said that he had gained admittance to the colony and that it was up to colonists to make some sort of peace.
Corey was not good at fighting with other people. Caspar said that he was willing to make peace but he would not give up his chain saw, his electric drill, necessary for his work. He would not agree, even, to a schedule, because he did not know when inspiration would hit him.
“Inspiration is bullshit,” Corey said. If Corey waited for inspiration to start writing, she would have never written a word.
Corey found herself shaking all over after her fight with Caspar Greenleaf. When it was over, she rode one of the barn’s bikes down to the beach and then she was happy. Nothing made Corey happier than swimming in the ocean. She would swim and swim. She would dive through the waves. She would sit in the tide and let the waves break, the water come in over her legs, while she played with the sand. She went for walks, feet in the water.
It was sort of a joke, the notion of actually writing during this month at the ocean. Corey had never had such a gift before. Her second novel, which she was struggling with, could wait.
On this very good day at the beach, Corey was able to entirely forget how much she hated Caspar Greenleaf and his power tools. She also did not think about her husband, who had not wanted her to go to the residency though he never came out and said so. Not in so many words.
Riding her bike back to the Albee barn, Corey heard a pop, and then the wheel spun out from under her, and then she was spread out on the ground, her hair in her mouth, her things on the pavement.
Tears welled in her eyes.
This is always what happened when Corey fell; she cried. It was involuntary. She thought that this was probably true for all people, but she did not know. She had not conducted a study. She had fallen going up a hill, on a quiet suburban side street. She put her things back into her bag, sunblock and her unread book, her water bottle. The palms of her hands were bleeding. Her knee was scraped and bleeding. It all stung like crazy. Even the crying stung, because of the salt water from the ocean had dried on her face. She had spent too long in the sun.
Corey picked up the bike.
It was not her bike, but she would have to bring it back, even though the walk back was uphill, a little more than a mile and the day was still hot. Slowly, she started to walk. She found herself getting unhappy again. She had promised to call her husband that night. He was coming to visit her the next day.
Corey had wheeled the bike onto the sidewalk when she felt the presence of a car much too close to her. She turned her head to look at the van idling on the street. Caspar Greenleaf was driving.
“Hey, Corey,” he said. “What happened?”
“I fell. The tire blew out, I think.”
“You know you’re bleeding all over?”
Corey looked at him. She was aware of the fact that she was bleeding all over.
“I’ll give you a ride home.”
Corey didn’t even argue. Caspar hopped out of the van. He put the bike in the back and Corey let herself into the passenger seat. She went to buckle her seat belt but it was broken.
“I keep meaning to fix that,” Caspar said apologetically.
“It’s okay.” Corey put her feet on the dashboard of Corey’s van. She liked to sit that way, but really, there was nowhere to put her feet. Wood chips and paint tubes and scraps of paper on the floor where her feet should be. “I already had my wipe out for the day. Just don’t crash, in the next mile, if that’s okay.”
“I would like to start over,” Caspar said.
“What do you mean?” Corey took a deep breath.
She looked at the cuts on her knee, the bright red color of her blood. Caspar opened the glove compartment of the van and pulled out a box of tissues.
“I always knew these would be useful one day.”
Corey pressed a tissue to her knee.
“Ow,” she said, more to herself.
“You are going to have to clean that out when we get back.”
Corey nodded. She could see small bits of gravel embedded in her skin.
“When we first met,” Caspar said. “I thought you were really cool.”
She had not thought much about Caspar either way until the power tools. She had told her husband Oliver about her fight with Caspar and Oliver said that maybe she had a crush on Caspar. Oliver had said that there was no other way to explain how upset she was. This enraged Corey almost as much as the power tools.
“I mean, seriously. You seem really cool, Corey. I took a copy of your book from the library. Seriously, just now, today. Look, there it is on the dashboard.”
And there, on the dashboard, was a copy of Corey’s novel. Corey did not feel like explaining to him that it strangely offended her when people took her book out of the library. It was out in paperback. It was not expensive. They carried her book in the small bookstore in Montauk in a section devoted to Albee summer writers.
“Okay,” Corey said. “Thanks.”
It was a short drive back to the barn, Corey told herself, it would be over soon. She looked out the window.
“Did you go swimming again?” Caspar asked.
One of the strangest things about the other fellows at her residency is that none of them seemed to love the ocean the way she did. The writer across the hall from her actually sat at her desk and wrote every day, something like six hours a day. Corey had taken a survey, and almost two weeks into their residency, no one else had gone swimming.
“I did,” Corey said, and then, despite herself, she smiled. She was sunburnt, bleeding, and she still hated Caspar Greenleaf, even if at this moment, he appeared to be okay. “The waves were perfect today,” Corey said.
Caspar Greenleaf smiled at her.
Corey was so glad that she had gotten a drive back.
“They broke just right,” Corey said. “They were big, but not scary big. You could dive through them, without being afraid that you’d get taken under.”
“Oh yeah?” Caspar said.
“I like the days when the water is calm, too,” Corey said. “But it feels good going through waves. I just hate days when it is too rough.”
“I want to go surfing one of these days,” Caspar said.
“I would always rather swim,” Corey said. “Be in the water.”
“That’s cool,” Caspar said. “You know, we really don’t have to hate each other.”
Corey looked at herself in the side mirror. Her face was ridiculously red. Her hair was sticking out at strange angles. She thought about her husband again, who had said that she had a crush on Caspar, which showed her how little he knew her. He had also applied for the same residency but had not gotten accepted.
“I don’t hate you,” Corey said. “I hate the noise.”
“I am not the noise,” Caspar said with a smile.
Corey could see how some women would like him. One of the other writers, there were three, the playwright, thought he was cute, but she was married, too. Corey was worried that her husband would also think that he was cute.
“You make the noise,” Corey sighed.
She wished now that she had walked. She wished that the bike had not spun out from under her.
She wished that she had a residency when there was not an artist working with power tools. She wished that she did not have a husband who called her every day on the community phone, missing her, when it seemed so obvious to her that she had the right to go away for a month and be happy.
“Friends?” Caspar said. “Let’s be friends.”
He held out his right hand, his left hand still on the wheel. It was ridiculous, they were not friends. Corey was a passenger in his van. Often, when women found themselves kidnapped, locked in basements, raped, imprisoned, it started this way, taking drives from strange men.
“Friends,” Corey said, taking Caspar’s hand.
Her eye went down to a small wooden shelf installed in front of the empty space where a radio would normally be. There was a half empty bottle of Poland Spring water. There was her missing container of Kiehl’s Ultra facial lotion. It had disappeared from the community bathroom the first week of the residency.
“You have my lotion,” Corey said quietly.
“Is that yours?”
“That is my lotion,” Corey said. “I have been looking all over for that.”
“Holy shit,” Caspar said. He looked truly upset. His cheeks turned red. “I had no idea. I thought it had been left behind, from the last group of people.”
“No,” Corey said. “That is mine. It has an SPF 30. I usually use it every morning. It is really expensive.”
“Oh shit,” Caspar said. “I didn’t know. I like to have lotion in my van.”
He used the same right hand which he had seconds ago used to shake her hand to take out the bottle of lotion and give it back to Corey. “I am so sorry,” he said.
He seemed to understand that their truce was already over.
Oliver came the next day.
It was a beautiful day, sunny, eighty-five degrees. Corey spent the morning at the beach, but she returned to the barn much earlier than she needed to, not knowing exactly when Oliver would arrive. She had gone to the supermarket and brought groceries for his visit. She took a shower so that she would not be sweaty and salty when he got there. He had told her that he would leave their apartment in Brooklyn in the morning; he had already borrowed her parents’ spare car for the weekend.
Waiting at the barn, Corey was forced to endure Caspar and his chainsaw. Corey had the odd suspicion that Caspar had no reason to cut long strips of wood on that beautiful Saturday afternoon other than to madden Corey. Corey did not confront him. She was nervous about the arrival of Oliver and could not bear the idea of a fight. She had washed her face in the morning and then put on her Kiehl’s facial lotion. She returned the bottle to its spot in the bathroom, hoping it would be a constant reminder to Caspar of his wrongdoing.
Now, she put on her headphones, which were not quite strong enough to block out his noise, but almost, and she stayed inside her hot airless room on the beautiful day, watching The L Word on her computer.
The serious writer in the room across that hall from Corey was not particularly disturbed by Caspar. She didn’t like the chainsaw but the noise did not fill her with rage. She worked through it.
“Life is all about disappointment,” she told Corey. They were not friends, Corey and the writer across the hall. The writer across the hall had short hair and wore serious glasses. Corey was certain the woman did not respect her, which angered Corey. While it was true that it was an artists’ residency and Corey was barely pretending to write, there was no doubt that she was more successful. Corey had published a book, the other writer hadn’t. The other writer was a professor but that was not the same thing, still.
The worst thing about a residency at a beach house in the summer was the other people. The only person at the Albee barn that Corey liked was the gay painter. He painted monochromatic canvases that had somehow made him famous in the art world. He was twenty years older than Corey and he had told Corey that it was a lucky thing that her first novel had not been a massive success, that early success would not have been good for her. He had told her that you had to think about the longevity of a career and early fame did no one any good. This pleased Corey though she also did not believe him. While the older painter of one-color paintings had not gone swimming yet in the ocean, he did ride his bike every day, long trips down the Montauk highway with sweeping views of the ocean. He wore the same light yellow sweatshirt every day. One time, he cooked her broccoli rabe.
Oliver had not arrived when the first episode of The L Word ended. Caspar was still using his chainsaw. The noise was intermittent. Whenever Corey felt safe to take her headphones off, it began again. Oliver had not arrived when the second episode ended either, so Corey started the next one. She was hungry, but she did not want to eat before Oliver got there, because she thought they would eat together. Corey needed to pee but she did not want to leave her room either, for fear of running into the serious writer across the hall or worse, Caspar, who walked around shirtless when he performed manual labor outside.
Corey was midway through her third episode when Oliver showed up, and by then, Corey was so engrossed in the show she had stopped waiting for him. Jenny Schechter had taken off her shirt, exposing her black bra to her lesbian neighbor and Corey was eager to see what would happen next. She wanted Jenny to cheat on her boyfriend, to do what made her happy. Corey did not hear the first knock on her door, or the second, and so she was completely startled when the door to her room opened. It was shirtless Caspar and Oliver standing right behind him.
“Corey?” Caspar asked. “Are you okay?”
Corey shut the screen to her laptop, wordless, guilty, though she was not sure why.
“What are you doing in here?”
“Oliver is here. I just showed him to your room,” he said. “I hope that’s okay.”
Oliver was holding his black backpack. His beard had gotten longer. Corey jumped off her bed and went to give Oliver a kiss, self conscious in front of Caspar, who had no right to enter her room. Corey could tell by Oliver’s posture that he was angry.
“You didn’t come out to greet me,” he said. “I have been driving all day.”
“I had my headphones on,” Corey said. “You were late. I thought you were going to be here hours ago. I had to do something.”
“Have a good visit, man,” Caspar said, patting Oliver on the back, as if he wasn’t witnessing Corey having a fight with her husband who had come to visit, as if he wasn’t thinking, what a bitch you married. “This one loves the beach.”
“Don’t I know it,” Oliver said.
Corey was relieved that Oliver laughed. Caspar disappeared down the hall.
“The traffic was insane,” Oliver said.
Now that Caspar was gone, he gave her a real kiss, wrapping Corey in her arms. It was a nice enough kiss, but Corey felt hot. She had been sitting in her room for so long, watching her show; she had not realized how stale the air was inside her room. She almost never spent time in her room during the day.
“It took forever to get here. It was an extra hour once I got off the highway, to go like three miles. I counted two fucking Maseratis. The people here are disgusting.”
“I told you it might be easier to take the train,” Corey said.
Oliver glowered at her.
“I am so glad you are here,” Corey said, squeezing him again, though it wasn’t the littlest bit true and his breath tasted bad, like old coffee.
“I want to drink a beer and take a shower,” Oliver said.
“Sure,” Corey said. She put her hands in her shorts pockets. She had not bought beer for his visit. She only drank beer when she was with him. It was too heavy to carry back to the barn on her bicycle. “I thought we would go out. There is this place I think you’ll like.”
“Was that Caspar?” Oliver asked.
“He seems okay, actually. I would have never found you if he didn’t show me to your room.”
“I am sorry,” Corey said. “I didn’t know when you were going to get here.”
“You could have waited downstairs for me. There are lounge chairs out front. There is a picnic table.”
“Well, Caspar was working. I had to block out the noise. I have been waiting you for hours.”
“You don’t have to be mad,” Oliver said. “I told you, the traffic was horrible.”
“I am not mad,” Corey said. “I am only explaining why I wasn’t downstairs. Let’s go out. Let’s go into town. Montauk is really cute. It’s nothing like the Hamptons. We can get you some beer. Go to the beach.”
“No,” Oliver said. “Not yet.”
“There is something else I want first.”
“What? A shower? I washed the towels for your visit. I am so glad you are here,” she said again.
Corey went to the closet in her room to get him one.
“No,” Oliver said. “You, dummy. I want you.”
He pulled Corey to him for a longer kiss.
He put his hands on her ass, and they walked over, locked in an embrace, to the bed. He pushed Corey down on to the bed.
“Ow,” she said.
Corey’s back had landed on the corner of her laptop.
“Just my computer,” she said. “It’s nothing.”
Jenny Schechter had recently taken off her t-shirt to reveal a lacy black bra to her female lover. Corey owned no undergarment of such kind. She was not even wearing a bra. Now that Oliver was here, she wanted to leave the barn. She had known that she would have to have sex with Oliver, there, in the Albee barn with so many other people in the house, so close by, the serious writer just across the hall. She had not thought it would be right away.
“Paper plates,” Oliver said. “Really?”
For dinner, Corey took Oliver to the place she had gone the weekend before with the painter and his boyfriend and also the playwright. It had been a fun dinner; they had eaten lobster and shared a bottle of wine, looked out onto the bay.
Corey was not sure why it wasn’t fun with Oliver. He didn’t really like lobster, said it was too much work to get the meat out of the claws, and of course, there were paper plates, and the food wasn’t cheap either. On her own, it had been a thirty dollar dinner, but taking Oliver there, the meal cost eighty dollars, because they drank two beers each, and they had been forced to share their outdoor picnic table with an elderly couple, and the wind kept blowing their napkins away, had knocked Oliver’s butter dish over his plate, making everything sticky.
“The lobster is really good here,” Corey said.
But it wasn’t as good. It had been overcooked and there wasn’t as much meat in the little legs that Corey liked to suck out.
“That’s disgusting,” Oliver said.
“Should we go to the beach?” she suggested, and they did. They took a walk at night. Corey liked this. It was not something she normally did. She put her feet in the water, and she wanted to walk and walk, but Oliver said he was tired.
Back in her room, Oliver wanted to have sex again.
“I missed you,” he said.
The serious writer across the hall was married. She had come all the way from California; this was the only colony that she had gotten into. That was why she had come there. Not because of the beach. Her husband would not be visiting her. Corey desperately hoped that the serious writer had earplugs, headphones, did not have to hear them have sex twice in one day.
In fact, while having sex, she could hear music coming from down the hall. Caspar’s room. Radiohead. Corey hated Radiohead. Of course, he could hear what was happening.
The sounds of sex in a shared space, that was more offensive than a chainsaw. Corey felt mortified, like she wanted to die. She hadn’t missed Oliver at all. She had only been gone for two weeks. He wanted her to come back early. He wanted her to come back with him, in her parents’ car.
“I am not doing well without you.”
“It’s just two more weeks,” Corey said.
“You said, before you left, that you weren’t going to stay for the whole residency.”
Corey, in fact, had said that. She had said that because she had thought that once she was there, it might not be an issue.
“I know I said that,” Corey said. “But now I am here. I like it here.”
“No, you don’t,” Oliver said. “You are fighting with that poser down the hall, and you aren’t even working on your novel.”
Corey wished she had not told Oliver that.
“I am going to start,” Corey said. “I have all of these ideas. I am going to start something new.”
“In all of your emails, and on the phone, all you do is complain.”
“I do?” Corey asked.
“You do,” Oliver said. “You promised me.”
Corey didn’t understand.
Why was she not allowed to go away to an artists’ residency for a month? She did not understand it.
“I don’t understand,” she said.
She started to cry. Oliver held her in his arms.
Oliver woke Corey up in the middle of the night.
“I can’t sleep,” he said. “This mattress sucks.”
Corey had slept on it for two weeks without any problem. The mattress seemed fine.
“It is horrible for my back,” he said. “It’s much too soft.”
They moved it to the floor, which was terrifically uncomfortable for Corey. Twice, Corey rolled off it and found herself on the hardwood floor. They were both up at five in the morning, before the sun rose.
“Let’s go out for breakfast,” Corey said.
They had to wait until six, though, for the diner to open. She wanted to take the bikes, but Oliver had driven the car all the way to Montauk and now he wanted to drive it. They went to the beach first to see the sun rise. It was gorgeous. They held hands. They put their feet in the water. I love him, Corey told herself.
The pancakes were good. Oliver liked them, too. He got bacon and eggs with his, which Corey thought was a little disgusting, but it was good, they were enjoying a meal together. It was like they were on vacation. They were the first people in the restaurant.
“I think I am going to go back after breakfast,” Oliver said.
“What are you talking about?”
“All night, I kept thinking about the drive back. I am up early, so it’s lucky. I could beat the traffic.”
“Don’t you want to go swimming?”
“I’d rather beat the traffic,” Oliver said. “And I am going to have to return the car to your parents.”
“I told you to take the train,” Corey said softly.
“I like the freedom of driving,” Oliver said. “I didn’t know the traffic would suck this bad.”
“I could have told you.”
“Why didn’t you?”
“I said to take the train.”
Oliver sighed. “You want to get some groceries before I leave?”
“Not really,” Corey said. “I can get them on my bike.”
“But you always complain about how heavy it is, carrying the groceries on your bike.”
Corey turned her eyes downward. The Band-Aid had come off her knee. The edges of her scab were crusted over, yellow. She had never cleaned out the cut and already it looked infected.
“I need to buy antibiotic cream for my knee,” she said.
“Will they have that at the supermarket?” Oliver asked.
At the local supermarket, Oliver marveled at the prices of the food. “It’s a beach town,” Corey said. “Of course everything is more expensive.”
At the deli counter, Oliver got a ham sandwich for the drive home.
“Why are you thinking about lunch?” Corey asked him.
Now that she knew that he was leaving, leaving early, not doing any of the things that she had planned for the day, a walk on a bluff that she loved, iced coffee at her favorite café after going swimming, she wanted him gone.
“I am going to get hungry later,” Oliver said. He always worried that he would get hungry. “And I don’t want to have to pull off the road.”
“They have food in Brooklyn,” Corey said.
Oliver did not dignify this observation with an answer.
It made sense to her, that they would not have a good visit this weekend at the Albee barn in Montauk. He had not wanted her to go. From the start, he had said she didn’t have to stay the whole month, she could finish what she working on, and come back early. More than five years ago, before her first book came out, Corey had gone to Yaddo. Oliver had missed her then, and it had almost been a relief when her computer had broken and Corey had a good reason to cut her residency short. She had had a friend at Yaddo, another writer, an older woman with a daughter just about Corey’s age. She worried about Corey, suggested that maybe the relationship was not a good one for her. This was before Corey had gotten married.
When they got back to the barn, Corey unpacked her bag of groceries. She had bought organic milk, cheddar cheese, seven-grain bread, yogurt, broccoli rabe, pasta, and a six back of IPA beer. She had forgotten the antibiotic cream for her knee. Caspar, naturally, was in the kitchen, shirtless, though there was lots of gel in his hair.
“Hey man,” he said to Oliver, shaking Oliver’s hand in a way that Corey found repulsive. What was it? Congratulations for having sex? Corey had not slept well with the mattress on the floor and she did not know how much coffee she had drank at the diner. Her head hurt in a way that was familiar. She would go for a swim in the ocean, as soon as Oliver left.
Caspar was making coffee. The painter was sitting outside at the picnic table in his yellow sweatshirt reading the New York Times.
“Corey?” the playwright asked.
The playwright was dressed in a long nightshirt. There was something about her and Caspar in the kitchen, both of them half-dressed. They couldn’t have had sex, could they? The playwright was married. Caspar was the only single resident in the group. But it looked like they had had sex. Corey felt appalled for the playwright. “Can we borrow some of your milk?” she asked. “Would that be okay?”
Corey had hoped to put her groceries away and disappear. Why weren’t they all asleep? It was ridiculous. It was not even eight o’clock on a Sunday. The serious writer came into the kitchen wearing a floor length purple robe.
She squinted at Oliver.
“You must be Oliver,” she said.
Corey felt her face turn red.
The serious writer shook Oliver’s hand.
Oliver, Corey remembered, had applied for this residency, too. What would it be like if it were her, visiting for the weekend? She would have wanted to spend it at the beach. She was so uncomfortable in the kitchen she wanted to jump out of her skin.
“Milk?” the playwright asked again. “Could we use some of yours? Earth to Corey.”
“Of course,” Corey said, taking out the new milk she had just put in the refrigerator.
“Thanks, Corey,” Caspar said, as if they were friends.
“It’s okay if you ask,” Corey said. She immediately regretted the comment.
“I said I was sorry about your lotion,” he said.
“You were the one who took Corey’s lotion?” Oliver asked.
When Corey talked to Oliver on the phone, or sent him emails, she told him about the things that were bothering her. Somehow that seemed better than letting him know what a wonderful time she was having. Which, for the most part, she was.
“Why don’t you take the beer?” Corey said to Oliver, looking at the beers she had just neatly lined along the top shelf of the crowded communal refrigerator. She didn’t really want them anyway. “For when you get back.”
Oliver agreed and Corey took the beer back out of the refrigerator. She walked him back to her parents’ car. The blue sky was quickly turning overcast, the sun covered by clouds.
“I think it is going to rain,” Oliver said.
“I guess you should go,” Corey said. “Before it starts.”
“Don’t be mad,” Oliver said.
“I am not mad,” Corey said.
“You could come with me,” Oliver said. “You won’t have to take the train.”
Corey shook her head.
“I miss you,” Oliver said.
“But you are leaving,” Corey said.
She made it to the beach just before the rain started. She went swimming anyway, the rain coming down on her head. It was exhilarating. It was also a little bit scary. She dove through wave after wave after wave, until finally, she realized that she was not doing this for pleasure but because the waves were not stopping. Corey was not sure how she could get out of the ocean and so she kept on diving through.
The lifeguards had not come out because no one went swimming on a rainy day. The very worst thing that could happen was she would drown. She had to get out of the ocean. Corey took a deep breath and rode a wave back in. When she went under the wave, the force of it held her down, sent her backwards and then forwards, up and then down. She came to the surface, beach on the shore, with a mouth full of sand.
“Fuck,” she said.
She was glad that she had made it out. Grateful. She would have felt stupid, drowning. Corey was crying. It was okay. She was alone on the beach in the rain and no one could see. Corey’s beach towel was soaking wet. Her clothes, though packed in her bag, were also wet. The idea of going back to the Albee barn was repugnant to her. She could go to the café she liked, but she would be wearing wet clothes. Instead, Corey walked her bike to a small motel by the beach that had an indoor swimming pool. She walked into the swimming atrium as if she belonged there. She said hello to the lifeguard before slipping into the warm water of the heated indoor swimming pool.
“Have a great swim,” the lifeguard called out to her.
Underwater, Corey closed her eyes.
She swam the length of the oval pool without taking a breath and then back again. She moved from the pool to the indoor Jacuzzi and then back to the pool. After her swim, she said goodbye to the lifeguard. She put on her damp clothes and walked into one of the local tourist shops. She bought a pair of shorts and a Montauk t-shirt and a sweatshirt on sale. She bought five postcards, pictures of the beach and seagulls with a Montauk emblem on the front of the cards. She went to the bar where she had meant to go with her husband. She ate a cheeseburger. She drank a beer. She drank another.
She wrote a postcard to a friend.
“I love it here,” she said.
Back at the barn, Corey discovered Caspar Greenleaf’s muddy sneakers in the bathroom sink, floating in a pool of brown water.
“Disgusting,” Corey said.
She drained the sink and put the sneakers on the floor. She went back to her room to discover her mattress still on the floor. That morning, she had woken up with Oliver. It seemed like a very long time ago. Corey was glad that he was gone.
Corey thought about those dirty sneakers in the sink and they made her angry. She went back into the bathroom and got Caspar Greenleaf’s dirty sneakers. She put them down in front of his closed door and walked back to her room. Somehow, though, that wasn’t enough. Corey went down the hall again. She knocked on his door. When no one answered, Corey opened it. She looked inside at Caspar’s room. It was less than half the size of her own. The visual artists at the barn got a studio; the writers got a bigger bedroom, more like a suite, with room for a desk. The floor of Caspar’s room was covered with strips of wood, dirty socks, his clothes, comic books. Corey put his sneakers on the pillow of his bed and ran back to her room. It was stupid, what she did, but the idea of those sneakers in the bathroom made her mad. Her heart was beating fast. Her hair was wet, dripping down her back. She had ridden the bike to the barn in the rain. It had rained all day.
Corey took off her wet Montauk clothes and lay down on the mattress on the floor. She fell asleep and woke up when it was dark.
She did not know where she was.
“Oliver?” she said.
Corey woke up hungry. It was two in the morning. It was safe. No one would be in the kitchen. She put on her pajamas and went downstairs, opened the refrigerator. She looked at all of the food. All of the nice things she had bought for Oliver’s visit that they had not eaten. Some leftover pasta that the painter must have made that night. An open bottle of white wine in the side door. A Tupperwear dish of cut-up watermelon. Corey opened the watermelon and took a piece.
She ate another.
The front door to the barn opened.
Corey closed the refrigerator door, guilty. She remembered, then, that the watermelon was her own. She had bought it for Oliver’s visit. She had not stolen those two bites, though that was just the kind of thing that she might do. The watermelon was hers.
Of course, it was Caspar who came into the house.
He said “Hey” without even looking at her and went straight upstairs. Corey sat down at the wood table in the kitchen with a piece of bread and cheese.
She felt like she had escaped something.
A moment later, Caspar was back, standing right in front of her.
“Did you put my sneakers on my bed?” he said.
“No,” Corey said.
“I just found them in my bed,” Caspar said. “I know you’re lying.”
“I am not,” Corey said, caught in her lie. Confronted. Who else would have done it? “But that was really disgusting, that you left them in the sink.”
“Do not ever touch my things,” Caspar said.
“Like you didn’t take my lotion.”
“I told you that I didn’t know that it was yours.”
“I wouldn’t touch your wet dirty sneakers in a million years,” Corey said. She hesitated. She couldn’t remember the name of the serious writer who lived across the hall. “Maybe the other writer did it.”
“Diane wouldn’t do that. I know that you did it.”
Diane. Somehow, the name wasn’t familiar.
“Why would you leave your sneakers in the sink?” Corey asked. “Do you know how rude and gross that it is?”
“I was washing them. I already cleaned the sink. The sneakers weren’t bothering anybody else.”
“They bothered me.”
Corey regretted saying that. It was good as admitting that she had moved his sneakers, which she had. She had been on her last bite of bread and cheese when Caspar came back into the kitchen. He had ruined it for her. He was trying to ruin it all for her: her time away, the beach, her solitude. He was a symbol, Caspar Greenleaf, a representation of everything that she hated, but he was also real. She hated the gel in his hair. She hated his sneakers, even when they were on his feet.
“Your husband is a such a nice guy,” Caspar said. “Too bad he had to marry such a bitch.”
It was a beautiful day.
Corey woke up. She went for a swim.
She said goodbye to the ocean. She said goodbye to the sea gulls. She said goodbye to the salt water that broke gently over her toes. She said goodbye to the sand.
Goodbye to the clouds.
She rode the Edward Albee bike back to the barn, her last bike ride, and she packed her things.
She had not come with much. A small suitcase full of clothes, some books. Her laptop fit in her knapsack. Her room was clean. She had cleaned it in anticipation of Oliver’s visit.
She thought about saying goodbye to the painter who she had liked from the start. She thought about saying goodbye to the serious writer across the hall, who was in her room, writing. Corey knew what the serious writer would tell her. She would tell Corey to stay. Corey also knew that she should stay.
She said goodbye to her pretty room.
It was an easy walk to the train station.
Corey always loved taking the train.
Marcy Dermansky is the author of the novels The Red Car, Bad Marie, and Twins. The Red Car, coming out this October, has been featured as one of Vogue’s “13 New Books To Read This Fall” and The Millions’ “Most Anticipated Books of 2016.” Her writing has appeared in McSweeney’s, Salon, and elsewhere.