Sean Dennison, BFR Editorial Staff

            Robert,

                        Another day, another hundred errands. Could you please take Robbie to the beach? I’ve packed some snacks for you. For dinner I’m thinking pizza. Call for trouble. xoxoxoxoxo

                                                                                                Mathilde

*

Robert thought of paintings on the drive to the beach. The sunny day expressed every detail in his sight with loving focus. Robbie rolled his window up and down, stealing highway breezes that kicked up his hair. Another day, another Mathildeless venture. The hours and the errands she said she did didn’t match. Neither did her car’s odometer.

“Dad, are we gonna catch fish?”

“Maybe, buddy,” Robert said.

Robbie started clapping his plastic shovel and bucket together. Robert let the hollow sounds soundtrack his thoughts. Would Amy be there? He’d told her last minute, but figured they were both used to it by now. Mathilde only smiled at Robert’s complaints about working on nonexistent work projects. As for “getting to this point,” he’d long since gotten over it.

“Maybe, buddy,” Robert said again.

“Huh?” Robbie asked, but they were already pulling into the beach lot.

**

The woman walked up and down along the bottom of the sheer cliff face that overlooked the jetty. What was a jetty anyway?

We’ll be at the jetty, he said.

The what?

Just meet us—me—at the beach, near the cliffs.

Us. He was being sloppy again. She kicked away a spinachy pile of seaweed. Seagulls flew overhead, and she resolved that, if shat on, these meetings would stop. She found a small pool where she chased crabs with her finger. It was easy to disrupt them, or anything, really. Hell, she’d let him disrupt her life after a chance meeting at a coffee shop.

“Hello,” she finally heard.

She worked up a smile before looking at him.

“I’m not doing it here, in public, with your son here she said,” pointing to a small boy with a plastic bucket and shovel, running to the tide pools with his back toward them. “Lotta fucking nerve bringing him here.”

“I just wanted to see you, Amy,” he said. “It couldn’t be helped.”

“Well, you see me Robert,” she said. “Now, what can be helped?”

***

The starfish looked like his Mom’s jewelry. He liked to watch her put it on for big parties, a five-pointed sunset red necklace. He reached in the tide pool to pull the ocean gem out. Saltwater wetted and weighted his clothes, but the starfish felt as light as the paper masks he made at school. He couldn’t wait to show Dad.  They could take it home to Mom, who wasn’t really with him and Dad anymore except at dinner and maybe breakfast. Mom would love the starfish.

“I’m gonna take you home,” the boy whispered, stroking its five limbs. He ran back to where Dad was.

Dad had his arms around a lady. He’d seen Dad wrap his arms like that around Mom. The lady smiled, and now Dad kissed her. He did that with Mom too. He never saw Dad do that with anyone else. He clutched the starfish tighter. He didn’t know he walked to them until he was right next to them. The lady noticed first.

“Robert,” she said.

Dad quickly unwrapped himself from the lady and took a few steps back.

“Got a fish, buddy?”

Robbie nodded and held up the starfish. He touched his thumb to the center. He imagined a magic button on the starfish’s center, and when you pushed it the ocean would rise, higher and higher until it turned the world into a pool.

“It’s beautiful,” the lady said.

****

Mrs. Robertson noticed Robert and his boy pull up in their driveway while she watered her plants and went to say hello.

“Why, hello there, handsomes!” she said.

“Hi,” Robbie said without looking at her, and headed straight for the house. He threw a plastic shovel and bucket set on the grass.

“Hold on, buddy,” Robert said. “Hi Mrs. Robertson.”

“Robert, how are you? Father-son outing?”

“Yah, beach day today,” he said. Mrs. Robertson smiled at him. His face was red, and he kept tugging at his collar. He noticed he had missed a button on his shirt and fixed it. “Robbie found a starfish,” he said after some silence.

“I hope the next time I go to the beach I find one,” she said. “Take care.”

“You too.”

She thought of Robbie and Robert. They looked exactly like each other. But Robbie had Mathilde’s eyes and nose. The mother’s car wasn’t there. She’d be back later this evening, then, to cook dinner. Robert, Robbie and Mathilde sometimes ate dinner with the drapes open, and every now and then Mrs. Robertson would see them eating together.

What a lovely family, she thought, and continued to garden.

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BFR Blog – Losing Myself in Venice

Lauren Cooper, BFR Managing Editor

I once read a short story by Daphne du Maurier about a man in Venice who got lost in the winding alleys and trapped by the canals. As he walked faster and faster, finding himself more and more lost with each turn, he grew desperate. But I didn’t care about his dilemma; the man was just a vehicle to move the story along. The real main character was Venice. The alleys and canals were a network of arteries, and the buildings were alive. As I read, one thing became clear to me: the man wasn’t simply lost—the city overtook him.

For years, I wanted to visit this Venice and immerse myself in the strange reality the city of the story had seemed to create. Last summer, I got my chance. I packed my backpack, flew into Marco Polo Airport, took the train to Santa Lucia Station, and when I stepped onto the street… I found Wi-Fi. And souvenir shops. And signs in English, and German, and Chinese. I found that the GPS on my phone could locate me even on an island with no cell phone reception.

My vision of getting lost on my first day and making uncharted discoveries in an ancient city was clearly unrealistic. Major sites were mapped, and no matter how many times I chose a random alley to wander down, I eventually emerged on the Grand Canal, just a few yards from where I had started. No one had told me that Venice was so small.

By the end of the next day, I had given up trying to lose myself. I looked at a map and set out to see some landmarks. I used my GPS. And halfway between a hospital that looked like a palace and a palace that looked like it was about to crumble into the Grand Canal, I stopped thinking, wandered through a doorway by accident and found the strangest bookstore I had ever seen.

I was in awe. Masks hung on the walls. Gondolas filled to the brim with books on Venice’s high tide season crowded the main room. A cat lounged on a bookshelf. Wandering through the narrow aisles I choked back ecstatic coughs as I tried not to inhale half a century of dust. I picked up books that were yellowed around the edges and smelled of must. And I reveled in the fact that the store was empty. I had done it! I had discovered something!

Making my way to the back, I saw a staircase made of books. The climb was unsteady, but from the top, I could see all the way down a canal to where it met the main street. I planned my next move and readied myself to make my next great discovery. And on my way out, a group of nearly thirty tourists pushed past me into the bookstore, shattering the silence and sending up clouds of dust.

So, maybe I hadn’t been the first to discover the book-filled gondolas or the Venetian masks. As it turned out, quite a few people knew all about it—it had a 4.5 out of 5 on TripAdvisor. Maybe in a world with travel sites and free Wi-Fi I could never fully lose myself in a deserted street. Maybe a city would never overtake me. But from the top of that staircase built of books, just for a minute, I lost the crowd. I felt I had found something amazing, something I had never known existed.