Fiction

A Caring Rescue

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 FICTION



A Caring Rescue by Andre Dubus III  

Officer Lester Burdon left his engine running and walked over to my window and I

swung my leg off the seat and sat up. There were sweat stains under his arms, and

his gold star hung away from his shirt. “I’m sorry about the coffee, Kathy, I got a call

on a domestic. Did you wait long?”


    

“Just an hour or two.”


    

“I am sorry, I —”


    

“I’m kidding. Forget it, I drove around.” I hoped I didn’t sound as happy as I

felt seeing him now. “Still want coffee?”


    

“Yes.” He had both hands on the door, looking right at me with a dark look —

a wanting, I thought, definitely a wanting. I glanced down at my hands on the

steering wheel.


    

“You mind riding in a patrol car?”


    

“Only if you’re not busting me.”


    

He smiled and I parked the Bonneville behind the truck stop between two

eighteen-wheelers. I walked to Lester’s cruiser and when I slid in and pulled the

door shut he asked about my eviction, his face hard and soft at the same time. I told

him about waking up in the house this morning, about the carpenters and the piece

of roof in my yard. Lester started to shake his head and get that long-eyed look for

me I didn’t want, so I told him again how my lawyer promised to have me back

home by the weekend and now I had someone I could celebrate with. I felt a little

too naked putting it that way, and Lester didn’t say anything back, just put his

cruiser into gear and pulled out of the truck lot, heading west.

I looked at the black radio set into the console, the green and orange scanner

lights. There was a shotgun clipped under the dashboard, and I glanced over at

Lester behind the wheel. He was shaking his head.


    

“Does your lawyer know you’re sleeping in your car?”


    

“She thinks I’m with friends. That’s what she wants to think anyway.”


    

“What do you mean?”


    

“I mean there’s a limit to how much she wants to help, that’s all; she has her

limits.”


    

He drove onto the Cabrillo Highway and went quiet a minute.


    

“There’s no one you can stay with, Kathy?”


    

I shrugged, my face heating up. “You don’t meet a lot of people cleaning

houses, I guess.”


    

I felt his eyes on me. I squinted out at the bright ocean. I was tired and I

wanted my sunglasses. We passed a few cars and I watched the drivers hold their

heads still, glancing down at their speedometers and keeping their eyes on the road,

only looking up once we’d pulled away.


    

“You ever get used to that?” I said.


    

“What?”


    

I nodded out the window at the slowing traffic. “People you don’t know being

scared of you.”


    

“You really think they’re scared?”


    

“Scared enough to mind their P’s and Q’s.”


    

Lester turned off Cabrillo into the lot of a hot dog and ice cream shack on the

beach. There were picnic tables on both sides of it and in back, and five or six teenage

boys and girls sat at one near the order window. Their arms, legs and faces were

tanned or sunburned. When they saw Lester get out of the car they looked away like

he was the fourteenth cop they’d seen in the past ten minutes, and I liked being on

the other end of that look. I could smell cooked hot dogs, the cigarette smoke of the

teenagers, somebody’s tanning lotion. The girl working behind the window told

Lester they didn’t have coffee so he said two Cokes would be fine, but then he

looked over at me to check and I smiled at him.


    

In the shadow behind the shack Les carried our drinks while I walked

through the cigarette butts in the sand. We sat at a weathered picnic table, and way

ahead of us the Pacific Ocean seemed to be pulling out into low tide, its waves

coming in long and small before they finally broke. Out on the water was a blue-gray

cloud bank, the kind that usually came in as a fog, and the sky around it was a haze.

Lester sat next to me on the bench facing the beach and for a while we just looked

out at the water. I drank from my Coke and turned to him enough to take in his

profile, his deep-set brown eyes, the small nose and badly trimmed mustache. Again,

there was this gentleness to him, this quiet.


    

“How did you ever end up in that uniform, Lester?”


    

“Les.” He glanced at me and smiled.


    

“Les.” I was smiling too, but like a flirt, I thought. Like I wasn’t really

interested in the answer to my question.


    

“I was planning on being a teacher, actually.”


    

“That’s what you look like. I mean, that’s what you seem like to me.” I

wanted to light a cigarette, but didn’t want the taste in my mouth, not right now.

“So then how come you’re a boy in blue?”


    

He shook his head and looked down at the old tabletop, at a plank where

someone had carved two breasts with X-shaped nipples. “My wife was pregnant. The

academy was cheaper than graduate school, the guaranteed job afterward. That kind

of thing.”


    

“You like it?”


    

“Mostly.”


    

“Mostly?”


    

He smiled at me, but his eyes had gone soft and he suddenly seemed too

tender so I looked straight ahead again, at the cloud bank that had moved closer in

just the past few minutes, the haze around it too. The beach sand wasn’t as bright as

before, and I caught the smell of seaweed. “Fog’s coming in,” I said. I could feel him

still looking at me. I drank from my Coke until the ice slid to my teeth.


    

“Kathy?”


    

“Yeah?”


    

“I’d like to ask you something personal, if I could.”


    

“All right, get it over with.” I was kidding him again but I couldn’t look at

him so I kept my eyes on the green water, on the haze it seemed to make.


    

“Why is your husband not with you any longer?”


    

I watched a low wave ride all the way into the beach, and just before it broke, I

felt I was rooting for it, hoping it wouldn’t. “I wanted kids and he didn’t. I don’t

know, I think if he really wanted me, he would have wanted them too, you know?”


    

Lester put his hand over mine on the table. It was warm and heavy. “He’s a

fool.”


    

I looked down at his hand. “Have you been watching me, Officer Burdon?”


    

“Yes.”


    

“Good.”


    

“It is?”


    

“That you didn’t lie.”


    

He took a breath. “I haven’t stopped thinking of you since the eviction,

Kathy.” I looked at him now. His voice was quiet, but there was something like

boldness in his eyes. Our knees were touching. He

lowered his eyes, but then, as if he’d made himself do it, he looked back at me, his

brown eyes not bold anymore. He reminded me of me. He squeezed my hand and I

suddenly felt so close to him that kissing him didn’t even feel like a forward

movement. His mustache was prickly and soft against my upper lip and I let my

mouth open and I tasted his sweet Coke. I held his back and he held mine and the

kiss went on for a long time, it seemed, until we finally took a breath and pulled

apart and the fog was floating in close to the beach and it was getting hard to see the

water. I looked at him, at his small straight nose, his lower lip beneath his

mustache, his shaved chin. When I got to his eyes that were taking me in so

completely, my mouth felt funny so I focused on his gold star badge, his name

etched on the tag beneath it, and I wanted to run my fingertips over the letters. The

temperature had dropped and I had goose pimples on my arms and legs.


    

“Let’s find you a place to stay.” Les stood up and grabbed our empty cups, and

as he helped me over the sand to his car, I didn’t say anything. We rode quietly

through Corona into San Bruno, where he turned north just before the El Camino

Real Highway. Under the gray sky we passed one-story houses with small grass

lawns. Behind them was the highway, and I could see the cars and long trucks going

south for towns like Hillsborough, I guessed, San Carlos, Menlo Park, Los Altos, and

Sunnyvale, towns I’d driven through alone for months now, telling myself I wasn’t

looking for my husband’s gray Honda. Les was quiet behind the wheel and even

though we were in his police cruiser, it was so familiar to be sitting on the

passenger’s side of a car with a man driving again that I felt sort of up and down all

at once. Then we were away from houses and in a neighborhood of gas stations, fast-food restaurants and a shopping center right next to the highway. “So where’re we

going, Les?”


    

He looked at me, then rested his hand on my knee and turned left, driving

past the shopping center to a stretch of motel and travel inns on a grassy hill along

the El Camino Real Highway.


    

“You want a pool?”

Without waiting for me to answer he turned into the small parking lot of the

Eureka Motor Lodge, a two-story white brick building with a fake-looking terra-cotta

roof. Outside the office door were two Coke machines and an ice machine. A carved

wooden sign hung over its window: Eureka: I have found it!


    

“This neighborhood’s better than the other one, Kathy. I can’t let you sleep in

your car.”


    

“I’ll have to pay you back.”


    

“Shh.” He put his finger close to my lips. I pretended to bite it and he smiled,

then went into the office, all uniform, gun and wedding ring. For a second I asked

myself just what I was doing anyway, but then I concentrated on how good a bath

would feel, a firm bed with clean sheets.


    

The room was in the back, away from the highway, facing the pool. Les

helped me in, then excused himself to go to the bathroom. I sat at the foot of a

queen-size bed covered with a periwinkle spread. The floor was carpeted and clean.

Against the curtained window were two cushioned chairs on each side of a small

glass-topped table. In front of me was a color TV on a stand next to a walnut dresser

and mirror. I couldn’t see my reflection from where I sat, so I started to stand when

the toilet flushed; the water ran, and Les walked back into the room drying his

hands on a towel he dropped on the dresser.


    

“Looks like you’ve done this before,” I said.


    

“Why do you say that?” He stood where he was, a hurt look on his face, his

hands resting on his gun belt.


    

“Sorry, it was just a joke.”


    

He opened his mouth like he was going to say more, then he squatted at the

mini-fridge on the other side of the dresser and pulled out two cans of Michelob,

handing me one. It was cold in my hands and I looked down at it in my lap, like I

was seeing an old Polaroid of somebody I used to know and for a second didn’t

know why I didn’t anymore. Les opened his and drank from it right there, standing

over me. But I couldn’t even look up at him. I let the can drop to the floor and I

flopped back on the bed and covered my face. What was I doing? I wondered if my

thighs looked fat from where he stood. I heard him rest his beer can on the dresser,

then squat to pick up the other, the leather of his gun belt creaking. The mattress

sank with his weight and I lowered my hands and he was looking into my face,

leaning on one arm so his shoulder moved up to his ear. He looked almost

feminine that way, and for some reason it made me want to kiss him again. He was

moving his middle finger over my wrist and forearm, and though his eyes didn’t have that

boldness, they didn’t look sad either.


    

“You have no idea who I am, Lester.”


    

“I think you’re the most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen.”


    

I put my hand on his warm hairy arm and he leaned down and kissed me.

His tongue was cool from the beer and I could taste it and that did something to me.

I scooted away from him and sat back against the headboard.


    

“What, Kathy?”


    

I wanted a cigarette, but didn’t know where I’d left them. I crossed my arms in

front of me. Les sat at the foot of the bed looking at me like I was about to say

something deep. “I haven’t had a drink in almost three years, Lester.”


    

“I’m sorry, I didn’t know.”


    

“I know you didn’t, but you don’t know much about me, do you?”


    

His lips were parted beneath his mustache and he looked away, stood, then

walked over and took his can of beer into the bathroom and I could hear him

pouring it down the sink. I wanted to tell him he didn’t have to do that, but I didn’t

trust my voice not to sound bitchy.


    

“You didn’t have to dump that beer, Les. It’s not like that.”


    

His eyes caught mine. “What’s it like then, Kathy? I’d like to know.”


    

“You would?”


    

“Yes. I would.”


    

I put my hand on the spread. “Come here.” He hesitated a half second, as if

he didn’t know what I had in mind, and truthfully, I don’t think I had anything in

mind. But when he sat on the bed beside me, then leaned over and kissed my

forehead, my cheek, my lips, his hand pressed to my rib cage, the other stroking my

hair back, it was like I was an empty well and didn’t know it until just now when he

uncovered me and it started to rain and I pulled him on me and opened my mouth

and I held the sides of his head and kissed him so hard our teeth knocked together; I

kissed his cheeks, his eyes, his nose; I licked his mustache and kissed him openmouthed again. I began to unbutton his shirt and he pulled my T-shirt over my

head, then everything slowed down as he touched my breasts. A change came over

him, and me too. He looked into my eyes, checking on something one last time,

then he sat up and very slowly untied his shoes. He put them aside, unsnapped his

pistol from its holster and laid it on the bedside table. When he pulled his shirttails

from his pants, I swung my legs to the other side of the bed, unsnapped my shorts,

and pulled them and my underpants off. My fingers were shaking, and I was thirsty,

but a throbbing heat had moved between my legs and I lay back on the bed just as Les

stepped out of his boxer shorts, his rear small and dark. He turned to face me and I

made myself look up at his crooked mustache, at his messed-up hair, his narrow

shoulders. I was sixteen all over again, Ma gone shopping, Dad at work, plenty of

time before we get caught. I gripped his shoulders, drew my heels up along the backs

of his legs and pulled him forward.

 


ABOUT THE AUTHOR:


Andre Dubus III is the author of a collection of short fiction, The Cage Keeper and Other Stories, the novel Bluesman, and House of Sand and Fog, from which “A Caring Rescue” is taken. He has published in a variety of magazines (and been reprinted in both the Best American Short Stories and Best American Essays series) and has won a Pushcart Prize and the National Magazine Award for Fiction among other prizes. He is also an actor and a carpenter, and is married to dancer/choreographer Fontaine Dollas. They live in Massachusetts with their three children.

©1999

Andre Dubus III