There were some men that Bertrand could not stomach. Tommy Bahama was one of them. Bertrand could see him down in the back yard, in his lemon yellow Polo shirt, collar up, maroon sweater, draped over his fey, weak-looking shoulders, and loosely knotted in front. The sight of the man was enough to raise his gorge.
Bertrand carefully drew the bathroom curtain closed and stepped back from the window. The movement caused barely a ruffle, just enough to coax a breath of Cape Cod Fog from the air freshener on the sill. He was sure he had gone unnoticed.
He had brought his daughter to her friend’s sixth birthday party at their next door neighbor’s house. A floor-through brownstone at the top of Carroll Street, near the park.
At the door, he let go of Margaret’s hand as Marion lightly air-kissed his cheek, handing him a glass of wine. White. Gewurstraminer, he thought. She smiled at him in that way he found continually alluring.
In Marion’s kitchen, where the other men had congregated, he made nodding eye contact with a few of them but did not feel invited into their conversations.
One on the men was the youngish tall blond with a thin mustache and a pair of Tommy Bahama sunglasses uselessly perched at the back of his head. A style Bertrand thought cloyingly pretentious.
He’d once played tennis against him on the courts in Prospect Park. The young man hit the ball with a choppy under-spin that caused the ball to hit the soft court, stay low to the ground, and bounce in an odd and unpredictable way. Like the balding older men in sweat-stained blue Brooklyn Dodger baseball caps who played doubles at sunrise and napped for the rest of the day.
For that reason alone Bertrand took a dislike to him. Perhaps dislike was too strong. He might be more apt to say that he thought less of him for his untutored and somewhat sloppy approach to the game. Bertrand believed that the importance of form in tennis could not be overstated.
He recalled that they had played hard that day and were tied at 6-all when the man asked if they could stop. Bertrand was certain that, given the chance, he would have beaten the man handily in a tie-breaker, having by then figured out how to attack the clear vulnerabilities in his hacker’s game. And, to Bertrand, a tie was an ultimately unsatisfactory, frustrating, and frankly anorgasmic, ending to their match.
Bertrand had not seen him again until that afternoon at the party.
From the window, Bertrand had seen the children at play in the narrow back yard. Crawling up the slide, climbing the ladder in two’s. Pushing at one another, grandstanding, taking chances the way boys do. Always pushing the limits of dangerous. Ignoring caution.
And then, as if Bertrand could have predicted it, Evan, the birthday boy, teetered on the edge the slide. Grabbing at the air for balance and purchase. He cried out as he fell to the ground.
Bertrand had seen the whole thing. From the window in Marion’s upstairs bathroom, avoiding the one downstairs in the hall so that no one would be privy to the comical and embarrassing plashing sound of his urine hitting the water.
He saw Evan cut in front of two of the others waiting to climb the slide. One of them Bertrand thought could have been Tommy Bahama’s child by the way the man approached the boy and told him to go back to the end of the line and wait his turn.
At that, Evan ran around to the front of the slide and started to climb up the steep shiny slope of the slide itself. He was fast and surefooted but his left foot slipped, his right hand reached out to grip the edge. The man caught the boy’s right arm and pulled, perhaps in a gesture to save him. But, despite that effort, or because of it, the boy fell off the side, wrenching his arm. He lay on the ground. His arm bent beneath him at a grotesquely oblique angle.
Bertrand paused. He looked at Marion’s things. The blue-glass cup holding Q-tips and cotton balls beside the sink. Her hairbrush. The thin strands of her light brown hair caught in the bristles. He looked at his reflection in the mirror.
He inhaled a deep draught of the Cape Cod Fog and felt he should find his way downstairs, and act surprised at the commotion, to offer to help. Hoping to be the one to drive Marion and her son to the hospital.
And then, he thought, that much later, when they had returned from the hospital with Evan’s arm in a cast, or perhaps he might wait until tomorrow afternoon when Marion had settled down, he might visit the boy. He might stop by for a drink, perhaps bring Margaret with him, and then quietly, privately, tell Marion, just the two of them alone in the kitchen, in hushed but his insistently consoling tones, that he had seen the tall youngish man with the thin blond mustache and the Tommy Bahama sunglasses throw, perhaps unintentionally, the boy off the slide.