Siegels By The Bay I: Just Like A Woman

The following is the first part of an original serial that will be regularly published.

Karen Siegel tugged at the neck of her sweatshirt. Somehow, the old thing’s elastic had remained taut enough to leave an imprint on her skin. She looked out over the bay, a beautiful view, and was disappointed by the fact that she didn’t feel completely grateful. The bay is wonderful, she thought, but it’s not the ocean.

She turned around and looked at herself in the window. Time saps youthful beauty, but Karen Siegel was putting up an enthusiastic fight. She stood straight with her shoulders back. She was barefoot, her feet sore from being constrained in tight tennis shoes for a few too many sets – but it was a reasonable price for the competition she craved. Her eyes continued up to a purple sweatshirt displaying the words “Amherst College”, her alma mater, in peeling appliqué. It hadn’t been that long, just fifteen years. She had arrived there as Karen Roth, with loose brown curls and a bag of racquets. She picked at her skirt, pulling it against her legs and leaning slightly forward, attempting to conceal a bit of weight gain that she made too big a deal of. It was unlikely that anybody noticed.

She felt ashamed of her vanity and slid open the screen door separating the deck from the kitchen. She looked around, listening to the refrigerator’s insipid hum. The sun dully lit the countertops – marble, an imprudent choice. They looked so elegant at first. Years of use had left them chipped, scratched, and deprived of their sheen. Karen Siegel, who always looked for some kind of heightened meaning, felt the countertops were a metaphor.

———

Eric Siegel had slept in, relatively. He woke up at 9:30, a good two hours after his normal revelry. Karen usually would wake up at a quarter to seven and go for a brief swim, and then open the blinds. She must have forgotten this morning, he thought. He paid it no more mind and opened them himself. The sun had no mercy, and Eric wasn’t ready for the light. He used his hand as a visor and turned around, walking down the stairs. He hesitated in front of the living room, and gazed at his piano. The sunlight caught every last thread of dust against its keys. In spite of its daily use, it appeared a long untouched relic.

Every morning, Eric would have a quart of water, three eggs, and then a cup of coffee. He was very particular about his coffee, and one of the things he loved about Karen was that she could make it exactly as he liked it. A few years back, he would go out for a cigarette with his coffee. When he and Karen had decided to have children, he gave it up. They didn’t have any, but he was proud of himself for quitting and so the cigarettes were gone. He grabbed a large jar, repurposed for drinking, and poured water to the top, taking sips as he removed the butter and eggs from the fridge. As he cooked, he set water to boil for coffee. Karen was nowhere around – at tennis, Eric thought. He ate in silence, poured his coffee, and walked to the piano.

Eric Siegel was an excellent pianist. He was not Gould nor Argerich, but they were geniuses. Eric was not a genius, and he was smart enough to know that. He was just a man, and through discipline, time, and engaged parenting had developed nearly exceptional ability. Besides, he had no great love for classical playing. He found it melodramatic and bombastic under his fingers, and left it for the true virtuosos. He most took after Bill Evans, his favorite, and he began “Nardis”. He felt fully invigorated. His coffee sat there neglected, cooling on a bookshelf.

———

Karen’s favorite thing about her summer house was that it was a short walk to the club. Boats weren’t allowed to be kept on the beach, so the moorings had to be in the bay. It was about a ten minute walk, and she relished each way. The trip to the club was better, because she knew she’d be away for a few hours. The walk back was more tense, as she gathered up her graces, but she usually was in the afterglow of having won a match. She was always atop the Ladies’ ladder, and the other women accused her of sandbagging. Karen found this satisfying, a confirmation that she was in this aspect better than the people she always felt considered themselves superior to her.

She walked in through the front door, by the staircase and to the right of the living room. Eric’s playing moved through the entry, and Karen was temporarily charmed. Her heart felt warm, and she was relaxed. In the kitchen she took a drink of cold water, its chill extending to her temperament.

“Eric, Sweetheart? I’m home.” Karen was disgusted by the sound of her voice. It was saccharine , almost transparently so. Eric didn’t respond, and Karen didn’t pursue it further. She went upstairs to take a shower. She took a long look at herself in the bathroom mirror. Flush from exertion, she looked younger. She was satisfied in that, at least.

Drying off, she pulled a comb through her hair and put on a pair of tan shorts and a sleeveless pale yellow button down shirt. With her feet, she reached around for her canvas shoes and slipped into them. There was another mirror above the dresser and she looked into it with imprecise longing. To no one, she asked, “Karen Roth, what are you going to do now?”

———

Having tired of playing, Eric Siegel grabbed a Kronenbourg from the fridge. It was his favorite beer, and it used to be Karen’s too before she grew to favor gin and soda. He didn’t know the cause of her change of heart, whether the beer was too fattening, or just a random change of taste, or because it made the couple seem too much alike. He shuddered at that last one, aware that Karen had recently become more distant. He had these thoughts often, but he never asked about it. He wasn’t as bold as he used to be.

Karen saw Eric shuffling through drawers looking for a bottle opener.

“It’s in the drawer next to the sink. It’s always been there.” She said, trying to suppress her annoyance.

“Thank you, hon. I can never remember.” He took a strong swig of his beer. “How was tennis?”

“Good.”

“Did you win?”

“Yes.”

A series of one word answers makes a conversation feel more like an interrogation. Terse discourse had become more common at the Siegels’. Bereft of even the passion of anger, it was ambivalent; without venom but more ominously without concern or curiosity. Eric didn’t even know why he bothered asking. It was reassuring in a way – when Karen answered, he knew that she had been listening to at least a few words, enough to provide a response. Otherwise they would simply be sharing a car, a house, a bed, occasionally their bodies when biology dictated that necessary, but no words.

Cautiously, Eric said “You always win. That has to feel good.”

Karen looked back with a mischievous smile. “I do. And it does”. TC mark

Michael Nissenbaum

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