The gray water of Lake Michigan sang throughout the afternoon. The grime of the Midwest steel cities down the interstate tanned the cold lake water in the late August daylight. I stood on the worn-wood balcony of the 1920's summerhouse. There was a beauty in the majestic grayness that perched heavily over the loud waves, a majestic dullness. I am nothing, my body muttered to me as I looked out. I enjoy nothing. With others, it's different, but for me, I am nothing.
           The high season was over in Michigan City. A few suburban families still stuck around for the last of the kindness of the fading summer. 1986. I had gotten away from Chicago for a while, came to this Midwest beach town--a place I had known from vacations with my own family since I was young. I called up a local friend I'd known for years, Ray the bar-owner, and told him I couldn't get the thought of taking some time out from grad school while I could. We made some arrangements for me to rent out the loft room in the faded summer house he had inherited from his late parents.
           "I got some guests now, but I'll give you a call when they're out of here. No one stays here long, you know how it goes. I'll give you a deal, too, buddy. Don't worry about it."
           "Appreciate it, Ray."
           "We had a murder here last year. Don't know if you heard. My theory is it slowed down business a little this summer. Young guy got shot, and the damn cops couldn't put in the time to find the guy who took him out."
           "I hadn't heard of that."
           "And might as well tell you now, Roscoe. I, uh." He took a breath. "Donna left. I've been on my own a while."
           "Hate to hear that, Ray. We'll talk about it when I get there."
           "Looking forward to it, Jack. Jack Roscoe back in town."
           It had been two years since I had last been in town and had a beer with Ray. He met me at his lake-front cottage and took my suitcase from me, showed me to the room, and put his wide hand on my shoulder before taking off to the bar again. There wasn't much feeling in me for socializing, but Ray was a good guy, and I wanted to hear what he felt the need to say about him and Donna. He told me to come over to the bar, get a sight of the fine-figured jazz singer he had come by on the weekends.
           I unpacked some books, some Jung and Rilke, from my suitcase into a sparsely filled bookcase-nightstand in the wooden room. The dingy off-white blinds and yellow bed sheets provided the only color to the otherwise monochrome pine brown of the walls and ceiling. Ray didn't have much of an eye for color coordination, evidently. I wouldn't expect him to put much work into the place when the season was over. The Lighthouse and skirt-chasing kept him busy enough.
           The dim late afternoon light seeped modestly in-between the old blinds. I saw my reflection in the vanity mirror through the shadows of the room, my dark hair, the pale face with its joyless expression, as if I hardly were there behind the moss-green eyes. I lit up a Marlboro, its smoke pulled out the open sliding door, through the swaying blinds, into the heavy industry-darkened cloud-scape. My thoughts pressed heavily on my head as I stood rooted on the balcony, though all I could think of was nothing.


Ray's Lighthouse was a short drive from the shore, right off the corner from the main strip in town. The pinching smell of spilled domestic beer pounced on me as I stepped in. A few guys in plaid shirts ripped at the sleeves tapped their cigarette ashes carelessly over the bar as they guffawed, cracked peanut shells. The grime-patched brick walls buzzed with neon signs of beer logos. Jimmy, a middle-aged regular, looked up through his glasses from his shot at the pool table and smiled at me.
           "Long time no see, Jack."
           "It is. I got you in a game of pool later. Don't let me forget."
           "My pleasure, Jack."
           Ray towered over the bar. The guy must have played as a linebacker in varsity football in high school in his day; I always forgot to ask him. His thin black hair was combed back for the shift. He dabbed the sweat off his brown-lit, smooth-shaven face as he listened to the locals' stories, his deep-set Italian eyes lighting up when he laughed. Two guys in blue jeans and black shirts fumbled with wires over in the corner where some tables were cleared to make a makeshift stage for the live music. One flipped on the white guitar amp there to see if they finally got the right extension cord.
           "Mr. Roscoe, what'll it be?" Ray said, not looking at me as I sat down.
           "Just a beer, Ray. Budweiser."
           "Little late to vacation, isn't it?" Joe, another regular who was sitting a few bar-stools from me, asked me in his glib way, his aging beady eyes peering right into my soul.
           "I wouldn't say I'm on vacation."
           "You sure as hell aren't coming here for business."
           "I come here every now and then."
           "You know this place is going to hell."
           "It's a fine place."
           "That's charitable."
           "Ray told me there was something that happened last summer, guy got shot."
           "Yeah, God-awful thing. Army guy."
           "At least he died on home soil," another guy butted in next to me. "Better than getting some Arab bullet in his head."
           "It would have been my taxpayer money to ship his body back."
           Ray slid a mug over to me and hunched over the bar, kept his head down.
           "How've you been holding up?" I asked him.
           "Fine enough. It's just life. Gets easier. Been about eight months now."
           "Some time."
           "Yeah, she's gone. Hell with the little broad."
           "Why'd she go?"
           "You tell me."
           "You weren't running around?"
           "No, actually. Not this time."
           "What do you think it was?"
           "She just wanted something else. You know how girls are. I hardly blame her when it comes down to it. Michigan City, Indiana? A looker like her, I'm surprised she wasn't out long before."
           The warm mirth of the night carried on in its unhurried tempo. The saxophonist with the brown Jew fro barged in the front door, smiling as if in a fine dream, still wearing his large-frame green sunglasses for some reason, his instrument strapped around his shoulder and swinging around. He held the door open for some of the other band members who lugged in their black cases, stared down at his shimmering blue shoes. Must have been a guy who knew a good time.
           "I did some thinking about it," Ray went on. "I'm fine with this place. I work, drink my Jack and Coke, play some pool. The water ain't far. I'm good. I'm golden. She was a pretty thing, wanted to make the most of her time. Felt she had to be where the action isNew York, LA, Paris, God knows."
           "Fine enough conclusion."
           "What can you expect from a girl who's used up?"
           "I admit I find it hard to believe you weren't man enough for her," I said, squeezing his sturdy forearms over the bar.
           "Two sides to everything, I suppose. Not a lot of good men out there either these days," he said. "I can't say I did my part there."
           "We guys are only after one thing, aren't we?"
           "I don't know if I believe that," Ray said.
           I looked on at him with an intrigued smile.
           "I might not have been the man for her, but women, they get nothing but stupid without a man. Even if they don't want onethose are the really damaged ones."
           "Perhaps so, Ray."
           "Marry a virgin. Don't make my mistake."
           "I haven't given this much thought, personally. I assumed if I ever manage to fall in love, that'll be that."
           "You'd be surprised, Jack. You know what they say, 'love is blind.'"
           "I'm sure you understand these things better than I do, Ray."
           "I've done some thinking, that's allspeaking of stupid beauties, our finest should be here any second."
           "Our jazz singer."
           He wiped off the ash and fragments of peanut shells from the bar for a second and went on gathering mugs before nodding over to the door, never looking up. A reddish-blonde-haired girl had just come in, the good-time band members happy to see her, encircling her as she balanced in her bright black heels and hugged them one by one with a cordial, feminine smile, her dark brown eyes capturing short flickers of the bar light. Her slightly-curling mall hair jostled around as she took each light step into the bar, the guys following behind her. Her pale hands fell gracefully out of the wide sleeves of her sable petticoat; more than a few guys had their eyes on her taut calves, forgot about the beer-wet mugs in their hands.
           "She comes in three nights a week or so and sings us some Sinatra," Ray went on.
           "A charm as always," Joe said.
           "Hey fellas," she spoke into the retro silver mic, slowly taking off her petticoat, gave a shy smile as some of the pool boys whistled. Joe hollered out sharply next to me like an animal.
           She stood bare-necked in her off-shoulder evening dress, which soaked up all the dull light in its rich red as she tossed her petticoat gently off to the side. The dress, with its fine-curving mermaid shape, fell down past her knees, seemed to be of a nice jersey fabric or something or other.
           "Well-liked apparently," I said.
           "Look at her. Every man in town would take her if they had the chance," Ray answered.
           "She's a pathetic girl. Just wants to be liked," Joe said.
           The mustached guitarist in the bow-tie tuned his blue guitar silently.
           "Is that the case, Ray?" I asked.
           "Women, they've all got problems. It's always something, daddy issues or something."
           "I'm Marilyn, most of you know me," the girl went on with her soft Midwest nasal accent that made each "o" sound sharp and endearing. The portly keyboardist behind her rolled some wide, nostalgic jazz chords to set the evening mood. "We're going to start with an old standard called 'Lush Life.' Something we know a lot about here."
           The neon beer signs went on buzzing as the pool players paused their game, looked on at Marilyn as all the light and red and brown colors of the dingy barroom fell onto her neckline.
           I used to visit all the very gay places
          Those come-what-may places
          Where one relaxes on the axis of the wheel of life
          To get the feel of life
          From jazz and cocktails
           Her singing voice rang out in a more tenor register than I had expected, low and soft, pure and just a little breathy. The sophisticated harmonies of the piano danced around beneath her melody while she swayed to the silent rhythm with an elusive, hand-on-hip softness.
           "What's her story?" I asked Ray.
           "Chicago girl, pretty well-off family, if memory serves me right."
           "What's she doing hanging around here?"
           "Good question."
           Then you came along with your siren song
           To tempt me to madness
           I thought for a while that your poignant smile
           Was tinged with the sadness
           Of a great love for me
           Again, I was wrong
           "That guy who got shot?" Ray went on. "She was dating him that summer."
           "They rented out my place."
           "How old is she?"
           "Little younger than you. Twenty-two or so."
           Ray watched her briefly, his lips folded up, before taking off to the other side of the bar. Marilyn at moments closed her eyes while concentrating on some soulful tenuto, at other moments opening her wide eyes and scanned the room, her flushed cheeks giving her the likeness of a doll.
           "There's a rumor," Joe said softly, leaning over to me. "That girl's why Ray's wife left him."
             I watched Joe lean away with a full smile before he pointed back at Marilyn with his burning cigarette. She went on swaying in the light, serenading us up-to-no-good beer-drunk men.
           Life is lonely again
           And only last year
           Everything seemed so sure
           Now life is awful again
           A trough full of hearts could only be a bore
           A week in Paris could ease the bite of it
           All I care is to smile in spite of it
           Down the bar, I saw a young, clean-shaven, buzz-cut cop sit down in-between two wide-shouldered frat-looking guys, his stoic brown eyes looking at nothing, as if apparently unaware of Marilyn's music.
           "Magellan! Already off duty?" Ray greeted him a little loudly.
           "Just getting started," I seemed to hear him say.
           "Then it'll be our little secret," Ray said, leaning into him.
           I'll forget you, I will
           While yet you are still
           Burning inside my brain
           Romance is mush
           Stifling those who strive
           Ray made his way back over to me, looked on at Marilyn as she dragged her soft voice lushly over the quavering, chromatic melody. The grinning saxophonist shook his head to the music.
           "Friendly with the local police?"
           Yeah, Declan's a friend of mine. Marilyn's cousin, actually."
           Declan sipped his beer moodlessly, in his own humorless world.
           So I'll live a lush life in some small dive
           And there I'll be, while I rot with the rest
           Of those whose lives are lonely too
           "Ray," I called out as he was about to walk off again. He looked on at me staring at Marilyn, the crimson of her lipstick buzzing like a marquee. The pianist ran some rapid arpeggio all the way up the keyboard. "Who's she singing to?"


The next morning, I smoked a Marlboro on the balcony at Ray's lake house. The late summer humidity hung around like a ghost in the gray morning light.
           "Is Marilyn coming in tonight, Ray?" 
           I could hear him chuckle at my question over the phone.
           "Cupid shot you already? I don't blame you, really."
           "No, that's not it. I could just use some more music."
           "Of course, of course. Well, she is. I'll see you down here."
           "See you."
           Perhaps it wasn't a lie when it comes down to it. I apparently was no exception to the effect she had on the men in the roombut certainly allure doesn't translate into love. I had some trouble reasoning it out with myself after watching her sing just once. Her soul sang out in her soft voice on stage, but she seemed to reveal nothing of herself to any of us at the end of it. She must have been one of those girls who knows how to get men to see whatever they want, the great sleight of hand of every beautiful woman, before getting too lost in the games and forgetting who exactly they are underneath it all.
           I sipped a Budweiser that night while she sang to us again. Ray and I hardly talked. I brought a book of Jung, thinking his notion of archetypes may help to set my mind straight. Joe laughed at me, beer spilling out onto his gray goatee, bought me a drink.
           "Professor, no, let's call you Professor Lush."
           "Has a nice ring to it."
           Marilyn went over to the bar with the mustached guitarist and saxophonist after her set, smiling and laughing at their jokes. She laid her thin hand on Declan's shoulder, chatted briefly with him. He looked up once, never smiled. Ray cracked open a can of Ocean Breeze cranberry juice for her Shirley Temple, which she sipped delicately throughout the evening small talk.
           I left some cash on the bar for Ray and slipped out, got back in my old Buick that was parked across the street. I waited for her, lit up a cigarette, flipped through some more of Jung's Aion: Researches into the Phenomenology of the Self, kept my eye on the unassuming bar door. The dirt-orange streetlamp light formed puddles of light and shadow around the quiet street. Quiet town.
           "What, then, is this projection-making factor? The East calls it the "Spinning Woman" — Maya, who creates illusion by her dancing. Man's Eros is passive like a child's; he hopes to be caught, sucked in, enveloped, and devoured."
           Jung might have been onto something as far as I could tell. The drunks and the pool boys came in and out of the Lighthouse for a while.
           "Every mother and every beloved is forced to become the carrier and embodiment of this omnipresent and ageless image, which corresponds to the deepest reality in a man. It belongs to him, this perilous image of Woman; she stands for the loyalty which in the interests of life he must sometimes forgo; she is the much needed compensation for the risks, struggles, sacrifices that all end in disappointment; she is the solace for all the bitterness of life. And, at the same time, she is the great illusionist, the seductress, who draws him into life with her Maya— and not only into life's reasonable and useful aspects, but into its frightful paradoxes and ambivalences where good and evil, success and ruin, hope and despair, counterbalance one another. Because she is his greatest danger she demands from a man his greatest, and if he has it in him she will receive it."
           After about half an hour, the timid beat of her high-heeled walk caught my ear. Mr. Middle-Aged Piano Man was walking with her, smiling politely as she went on talking. I waited for them to turn the block and started up the car, tossed Jung into the passenger seat. I drove by as she was getting into her own car, a 1984 Cadillac or another recent year, and was giving a sweet wave to her keyboardist. I drove off a little ways and turned around in the liquor store parking lot, watched her drive off before following.
           "Perhaps there's something not great about this," I told myself, lighting up another cigarette while I reflected on my personal ethics.
           She only had to go a few blocks, which gave me little time to second-guess myself. She pulled into the Sandy Hammock Inn, and I pulled off to a dark lot of a small construction company office down the road, sat under the shadows of the excavators. I squinted out to see her across the way as she got out and went to a room on the first floor, fumbled for the key in her purse. She turned on the lights to the room once she got inside.
           "She's alone," I thought.
           I waited and went back to my Jung, reasoning maybe someone would eventually stop by to see her. It seemed clear enough she didn't have a thing with Ray after all; she would be staying with him, no doubtunless, naturally, they had called things off at some point after his divorce when he wanted to get his life more in order and, in his hot-headed Italian way, swore off women. Saturday night and she was holed up in her motel. No visitors.
           "But, who's paying for her room?" I thought to myself, flicking my cigarette butt out the window.

Ray let me know Marilyn was going to do a middle of the week set to try out some new songs. I said I'd come by. The slow gray of Michigan City began wearing down on me as I hung up the phone. Marilyn's soft songs echoed faintly in my head, my beach-town-idle mind an unassuming projection screen for the figure of the mysterious local beauty.
           When I sat down at the Lighthouse, I noticed a Catholic priest sitting a few sits down, still in his cassock and collar, with a long faint smile and a half-finished mug of beer in front of him.
           "Long day at the confessional?" I asked him. Ray dropped off my own beer.
           "This is Fr. James. Even our priests know how to live the good life here. The simple good life, I mean. We ain't Paris."
           "Nice to meet you, Father."
           He nodded.
            "This isn't Marilyn's doing, is it?" I said, inviting a short laugh from Ray.
           "She plays the siren, I give you that, but she has her limits. Fr. James has been coming here for a long, long time."
           "Maybe you can tell Ray how to swear off women properly," I said.
           "He would know something about that," Ray said.
           "Women are interesting, aren't they?" Fr. James said.
           "You can say that," Ray answered.
           "You boys have to be careful."
           "That's what I've been telling him! Tell him, Jack."
           "What exactly do we need to be careful of?" I asked.
           "It's just that, every woman is heir to a kind of God-given beauty that goes beyond her. You know it, something that beckons, beckons hard, wants to be captured almost, but it can't be captured. Something to take caution with."
           "You're getting philosophical on me, Father," Ray said. "I'm a simple man."
           "You're saying don't lose your mind over a charming smile?" I asked.
           "Easier said than done," Ray said. "It's the legs that get me."
           Marilyn scurried in from the front door and came up to us, her soft face magenta-flushed and alive, her innocent brown eyes laughing with light.
           "Ray, a drink, please," she said, leaning over the bar in her heels.
           "You got it, toots."
           She kept the same silent smile. I could feel her glancing at me from the corner of her eye.
           "You know Jack Roscoe?" Ray said as he sprayed Sprite into her drink.
           "I haven't had the pleasure, no."
           "Friend of mine. From Chicago too. He's been coming down here since he was a kid."
           "To Ray's place?" she asked me.
           "No, to Michigan City," I said.
           "What part of Chicago?"
           "I'm actually from elsewhere. I've just been working on my master's there."
           "Smart man."
              Ray handed her her drink and she thanked him silently, raised her eyebrows at him.
              "I gotta go sing, but nice meeting you."
              I smiled briefly at her.
              "Nice girl, huh?" Ray asked me.
              "You don't have her mind made up about her do you?"
              Ray kept silent, dried some glasses.
              "It's complicated, I'll tell you that."
              "Did you notice she seems happy tonight?"
              "Does she have anything to be happy about in her life?"
              "Not that I'm aware of."
              He gestured to his nose and pressed on his nostril a few times. Fr. James had started sitting up and took his black felt hat into his hands.
              "Take care, gentlemen," he said. "Take care of yourselves."
              "We'll give it a try," I answered.
              It was just the guitarist and Marilyn this Wednesday night. He sat by his amp with closed eyes, hanging his head, strummed chords wet with luscious reverb as she cleared her throat and listened.
              If you go away
              On this summer day 
              Then you might as well 
              Take the sun away
              "Oh, I love this one. Sinatra, Jack."
              "Your request?"
           "No, no, it wasn't."
           All the birds that flew 
           In the summer sky
           When our love was new 
           And our hearts were high
           When the day was young 
           And the night was long
           And the moon stood still 
           For the night bird's song
           "Night bird, that's me," Marilyn interjected, gave a soft giggle. Ray heard it and smiled warmly.
           If you go away, if you go away, if you go away
           Declan the cop came in, made his way over to the bar with slow measured steps, coming in-between the tanned frat-looking boys in their gray t-shirts and cargo shorts as they chugged cans of PBRs, knocked the visor of their baseball caps while attempting to set records straight with one another, raucous laughter.
           But if you stay
           I'll make you a day
           Like no day has been
           Or will be again
           We'll sail the sun
           Then if you go
           I'll understand
           Leave me just enough love 
           To fill up my hand
           Declan put his hands on the broad backs of the guys, leaned in and spoke briefly under the dull bar light. Ray held a smile, ready to laugh, as he listened to some story from a local.
              If you go
              As I know you will
              You must tell the world 
              To stop turning
              Till you return again
              If you ever do
           For what good is love 
           Without loving you
           Can I tell you now
           As you turn to go
           I'll be dying slowly 
             Till the next hello
           The frat-guys lugged up out of the bar stools after a minute and sauntered towards the door, took their PBRs with them. Declan took a seat, set his blank eyes on the evening news playing silently on the small TV set on the back bar counter. Reagan smiled his million-dollar Hollywood smile on the screen.
           I'll sail on your smile
           I'll ride on your touch
           I'll talk to your eyes 
           That I love so much
           Marilyn trailed a finger down her blue evening dress as she drew out the words. Ray went up to Declan and smiled with his typical, formal charisma.
              If you go away
              As I know you must
              There'll be nothing left 
              In the world to trust
           Just an empty room
           Full of empty space
              Like the empty look 
              I see on your face
             "Hey Ray, who are those guys the cop sits with?"
             "They're the Ships."
             "The Ships?"
           "Yeah, just a nickname."
           I'd have been the shadow
           Of your shadow
           If I thought it might 
           Have kept me by your side
           If you go away, if you go away, if you go away
           Marilyn's voice dissipated slowly as she finished. The guitarist strummed his last minor chord anciently. I couldn't bring myself to ask anymore from Ray as the room drowned in the beer-loud applause. We listened to Marilyn sing a few more songs. I got up and shot pool balls around by myself. She went and got another Shirley Temple from Ray after she finished. Declan sat silently, drinking nothing.
           "Mind some company?" Marilyn asked me, catching me off guard.
           "If you insist."
           "How did you like it tonight?"
           "A delight as always."
           "Thank you."
           "When did you learn you could sing?"
           "Since always."
           "You're just a born song-bird."
           "You get it."
           She sat down on a stool against the wall, crossed her legs and played with her straw. I shot a few more balls.
           "You like it here?" I asked her.
           "This place has its charm."
           "That's one way to say it. You don't have anything back in Chicago to be doing?"
           "Not much. What do you study in Chicago anyways?"
           "University of Chicago?"
           "Do you have a boyfriend out here?"
           "No, I'm alone in this world."
           "Sorry to hear that."
           "I have trouble with boys."
           "Well, you certainly have your pick."
           "Don't flatter me, Jack," she said after a soft laugh.
           I smiled lightly at her, went back to my billiard game against myself.
           "I had someone about a year ago, but it wasn't much."
           I looked up at her. She dangled her leg and went on dunking her cherry into her drink.
           "Didn't work out?"
           "He didn't turn out to be good for me."
           "It's hard to know who's really good for us."
           "Summer fling would be a good way to describe it, one that dragged on a little while."
           "I understand what you mean."
           "What about you?"
           "Me?" I said and almost laughed. "I don't have anyone right now."
           "Been alone a long time?"
           "What counts as a long time?"
           "Whatever feels long to you."
           "Hard to say."
           "You know, you do remind me of someone."
           "Who's that?"
           "A boy I knew about two years back."
           "What happened to him?"
           "Nothing. He was just a smart, quiet guy like you. Intelligent eyes."
           "You have a type?" I asked and looked up.
              "I'm not sure."
           "Love is complicated, certainly."
           "You have similar eyes, though."
           "I'm not sure if that's a compliment or a simple observation."
           "It can be both."
           "Then thank you, I suppose," I said, starting to dig out the pool balls from the pockets.
           "Will you be in town awhile?"
           "I'm renting part of Ray's place. I haven't put a date on when I'm leaving yet."
           "He has a quaint place."
           "You know it?"
           She thought for a second.
           "I do. Rented it once with my friends one summer."
           "It could use a woman's touch, if you ask me. Those off-white curtains, really."
           She laughed quietly and looked back up at me.
           "Well, he hasn't had a woman around in a while," she said.
           "You mean his wife hasn't been around in a while. I don't know about women generally."
           "Fair enough, Jack."
           "I'm going to get going, Marilyn, but it was a real pleasure chatting."
           "Likewise. I'll see you," she said, getting up off the stool.
           "Yes, see you," I said, looking into her large, oriole eyes that sparkled with the flashing red and pink neon signs. I tried to understand them.


I waited in a dark spot in the parking lot of the Sandy Hammock Inn for her to show up, munched on a supersize 7-11 hot dog I had picked up on the way, tried not to spill ketchup on myself, washed down the warm convenient store late-night mystery meat with a Slurpee. In the dark, my face lost color in the rear-view mirror, the eyes tired and empty, intent but empty. I could hear the soft thresh of the waves when I listened carefully.
           Marilyn's endearing shy smile had taken up more space in my head, the soft money sound of her voice. There was something about her I wanted more than I wanted her. I could admit she wouldn't give it to me. If I managed to ask her out and take her to dinner, sneak in a hand-hold, share life stories, the reality of that casual, beautiful relationship might put out the light of the allure she held over me and called me with. This was, in truth, a matter she should know nothing about, a private dialogue with myself in the Buick, though she must already have known something about it, the jazz singer. There was a reason she holed up in her motel room, alone with the mirrors and the TV set. A woman is never alone for long.
           At the same time, it was sufficiently clear that something was indeed off about her ex-boyfriend and what she knew about what happened. Marilyn didn't hint at any kind of grieving. For certain, she didn't know I knew that about her, but I couldn't explain why she felt the need to bring it up to me at all. She might be holding some form of answer to all this, something even Ray might have been unaware of. My hot dog lasted forever; I put it aside in the passenger seat and sat back, groaned as the heavy meat and starched bun reached my unsuspecting stomach.
           "Why do I do this?" I asked myself, feeling some brain-freeze from the Slurpee in addition.
           She showed up eventually, alone again, and let herself into the dark room.
           "Just an empty room, full of empty space, like the empty look I see on your face."
              I lit up a cigarette to try to warm my head.
           "Lonely bird," I said, intrigued by her. I took out my anthology of American poetry, entertained myself for a while.
              After about forty-five minutes, I heard a car door slam shut. I sat up and looked around the lot, heard some footsteps coming down the well-lit walkway past the doors. Blue uniform, quick footsteps, the clean-shaven face.
           "Must be our cop," I thought.           
           He knocked softly on her door; she hadn't turned out the lights inside yet. She let him in and closed the door. It was a brief visit, no more than five minutes. He trotted back to his cruiser and took off. A woman is never alone for long.                I thought about leaving, but I kept waiting for the lights to go out, though, on second-thought, she might very well be up for a long time if she was getting high in there, and Declanher cousin must be aware of it. I put out a cigarette and closed my book of poems. "Annabel Lee" had been appropriate reading, I mused, sitting in this city by the sea, carefully poring over each line. I started my car when she slipped out of her room and started walking out barefoot down the walkway, still wearing her petticoat evening dress from earlier.
           "Where is this girl going?"
           I stopped the car, watched her walk gracefully, casually away from me. Something frightened me about it almost; I drove off and swung back around slowly, keeping my eye on her from a distance. She was walking towards the shore, off for a long walk on the beach.
           I parked off at the empty lot across the street, saw her go up through the dunes. I coughed on the cigarette smoke as my chest rattled with a real heartbeat.
           "Damn me," I said, getting out of the car and heading off to the beach myself. I trekked through the sand off the main path and laid out in the tall grass when I could see the shore. It was beautiful in the flickering bulb of moonlight, the black lake water roaring sleepily. She stood by herself, looking out into the water.
           Oh, the time will come up
           When the winds will stop
           And the breeze will cease to be breathin'
           Like the stillness in the wind
           Before the hurricane begins
           The hour that the ship comes in
           She was singing, the candor of her voice alone against the backdrop of tossing waves and squeaking crickets. The faint melody had a simple, major sound as far as I could hear.
           Then the sands will roll
           Out a carpet of gold
           For your weary toes to be a-touchin'
           And the ship's wise men
           Will remind you once again
           That the whole wide world is watchin'
           "Ships," I thought to myself. "Singing about ships."
              Her red-gold hair tossed around radiantly in the soft wind.
              And the words that are used
           For to get the ship confused
           Will not be understood as they're spoken
           For the chains of the sea
           Will have busted in the night
           And will be buried at the bottom of the ocean
           Her bright figure pressed up against the endless canvas of night. The thick sand slowed her easy footsteps as she started to pace around, her wild eyes looking down, drowned in her melody.


Ray and I went out to the local, coffee-stained-tiled diner for a late breakfast the next morning. The late August sun beat against the windows, seeping in through the blinds with what was likely to be the last real heat of the year, fell onto the stubble of Ray's unshaven face.
           "So, Becky, huh?" He asked me about our red-headed waitress. "All-American girl."
           "Nice girl, sure."
           "You should give it a shot."
           "I didn't come here to pick up floozies."
           "Why did you come here?"
           "Get away, clear my head."
           "Everything alright?"
           "I could ask you the same thing. This life is grand to each of us, isn't it?"
           "Not out here, no. Maybe somewhere else. I hear Spain is nice. You know, I think you're saving your game for our jazz singer."
           "No, I'm not."
           "I saw her talking to you."
           "I wanted to ask you about her, actually."
           "I'm sure you did. She's not easy, I'll tell you that much."
           "Easy in what way?"
           "Easy to understand."
           Becky brought us my egg and ham sandwich and Ray's cheeseburger. We admired her pure white movie-star smile as she refilled our coffee, her nice emerald eyes. Ray had put some Sinatra on the jukebox.
           "What do you know about her ex?"
           "Not much."
           "What do you know about their relationship, Ray?"
           "You want to know why he got shot?"
           "I plead the Fifth. I know nothing."
           "Damn it, Ray."
           "Well, I'll tell you what little I do know. I wasn't sure how they met exactly, but they were a good pair. They rented out my place last summer."
           "She's an affectionate girl. Really showed when she was with him."
           "What kind of man are we talking about here?"
           "She liked him for his money."
           "I think so. I didn't have to send the Ships in on him to get my money," he said, laughing.
           "That's what the Ships are for?"
           "They're just the local problem children, getting into fights, all that rowdy business."
           "What else about this guy?"
           "That's his name?"
           "Marilyn's ex? Yeah."
           I sipped my coffee to wash down a bulge of sandwich stuck in my wind-pipe.
           "The guy was like her father, I'm sure. That's all it was," he went on.
              "She's not on great terms with her father?"
           "No, not really, from what I know. He's a stiff-suited guy, corporate. High up at some meat packing company, I think I remember her saying. Plays golf on the weekends."
           "What about that?"
           "Well, look at her. She's a free mermaid, isn't she?"
           "An elegant one."
           "Elegant bohemian, correct."
           "Were you having an affair with her?"
           "Jack, where'd the hell you pull that idea?"
           "I heard a rumor."
           "My people can kiss my ass. Look, Jack, no. I've never touched the girl. Honest to God."
           "I see."
           "I helped her a little, that's all."
           "That's where your wife got the idea, huh?"
           "She was sharp."
           "Why didn't she believe you about it?"
           "Convenient for her not to. I'm telling you, Jack. Once it happens to you, it clicks. They're all like that."
           "Marilyn needed help?"
           "I'm not at total liberty to say."
           "You have her back."
           "There were two murders, Jack."
           "Her ex and who else?"
           "Her ex was her protection, so to speak. When the guy got shot, she was left with a problem."
           "You stepped in."
           "I did, and I'm not sure I have the purest conscience, to be honest."
           "You didn't kill anyone, Ray?"
           "No, I didn't. I paid someone to do ita white coat, you know."
           "A white coat?"
           He patted his large stomach a few times, looked me blank in the eyes.
           "Poor girl."
              "It wasn't a good time for any of us."
           "Isn't she well-off? What's she doing taking your money?"
           "No, she's a bit of a stubborn one. Stopped taking daddy's money awhile ago. Life is easier that way."
           "What do you know about a guy before Damien?"
           "Not a thing."
           Marilyn herself dropped in the diner as we went on finishing our sandwiches. The bell at the door chimed out, and her red and white polka dot shirt rustled on her arms and caught our eyes. It seemed fitting she would be fond of the draping, bohemian sleeves of the thing. Her tight black skirt accentuated her thin, hour-glass figure. The beat of her low heels gave her an air of gentle authority as she stepped in and went up to the counter.
           "Small town," Ray said to me.
           Marilyn looked on beautifully.
           "Now's your chance," Ray said and got up, touching her shoulder and asking how she was on his way over to the restroom. I pushed my plate out and threw my red cloth napkin over it. Becky was preoccupied, giggling with the leather jackets in the cigarette-thick corner. Marilyn got bored from waiting and swung over to our booth, stood over me.
           "So I went to the psychic this morning."
           "Did you?"
           "I did. You know what she told me?"
           "She said I'm going to get what I want."
           "And what is it you want?"
           "That's the thing. I don't know."
           "Did she at least tell you how to find it?"
           "No, I have to find it for myself."
           "How much did you pay her for the smoke and mirrors?"
           "Shut up," she said with some laughter. "I thought it was worth it."
           "I hope you get whatever it is you're after."
           "She laid out my tarot cards. There was this one card I thought was beautiful. It came up on top."
           "The empress?"
           "No, it was the lovers, embracing in some garden."
           "Maybe you won't be having any more trouble with boys soon."
           "I always will, believe me, but she told me that card is about my own going forward."
           "I have to reconcile with myself."
           "That's very deep."
           "You don't like life a whole lot, do you?" she asked me, smirking. I put my coffee down without taking my confused gaze from her.
           "I hope you remember life is quite beautiful," she went on.
           "I have some trouble with that, you're right."
           "Don't forget it, Mr. Roscoe."
           "Thank you for the reminder, Marilyn."
           "I was just stopping in to get a coffee. I have some errands to run. I'll see you at Ray's, I'm sure."
           "Looking forward to it."
           She smiled and went back and got her to-go coffee. Ray was flipping through the jukebox. We exchanged quick glances, and he casually sauntered back over to the booth after a minute, flopped down sideways into it, his big arm hugging the whole seat.
           "When's the marriage happening?"
           "I didn't ask her out."
           "Jack, that was your chance. It was plain as day."
           "I didn't feel it."
           "What? Well, what'd you talk about?"
           "The lovers."


I spent a few days alone with my books and Jack Daniels at the summer house. The gray lugging waves pressed upon the walls of the place. I watched the off-white blinds pirouette like ghostly sheets in the stubborn wind, tore them off after a while and brought down the curtain rod with them, threw them out over the balcony, almost dropping my cigarette from my lips. I had gotten away from Chicago, and now I couldn't make a single step to get away from this beach town. No book could invite my concentration; I tossed over the small bookshelf night stand, the white lamp with the flower patterns slipped off from it and rolled around on the hardwood floor a bit.
           Marilyn laughed with the mystery of all this life in her. I had forgotten it for so long, hadn't I? "The beauty of this life," she saidit was her nature never to forget that. I read over the page of Jung I had torn out and thumb-tacked to the wall.
           "She is the solace for all the bitterness of life. And, at the same time, she is the great illusionist, the seductress, who draws him into life with her Maya— and not only into life's reasonable and useful aspects, but into its frightful paradoxes and ambivalences where good and evil, success and ruin, hope and despair, counterbalance one another. Because she is his greatest danger she demands from a man his greatest, and if he has it in him she will receive it.
           I looked at my reflection in the humidity-smudged vanity mirror. My usual pallor evidenced the lack of strong sunlight over the past few days; my dark green eyes, shadowed by dark, sleepless circles, danced around.
           Neither she nor Ray could be straight with me about what exactly was real. Ray had his own reasons. He was paying for her room at the Sandy Hammock. I would guess he only wanted to see her be herself, a wounded nightingale he was caging for a brief moment before she could take off and never see him again. But what of her cousin, Declan? The one Ray called "Magellan" and didn't get along well with. Magellan, the captain of the ships. He was dirty. It sounded to me like they were laughing it off.
           This Damien, the all-American one Marilyn loved once and denied loving, had been mixed up in the local trafficking Declan had a hand in. I thought perhaps it was herself she looked down on for loving him. Leave it to a woman to be nothing but hard on herself. Her protection—she was exactly what she needed at the time, a young Chicago woman desperate for the easy pleasures of Michigan City lifeshe loved him for her own reasons and couldn't bring herself to admit who she was becoming. The memory of him kept that train of thought alive, but what was her hand exactly in his death?
           I drove over to the Lighthouse. Ray had mentioned he would be doing some inventory and accounting stuff all afternoon. I pounded on the unassuming door and yelled out at Ray to open up. Through the tinted window, I could see his large silhouette stagger through the tables, move chairs out of the way.
              "Jack? Everything good, buddy?" he said after opening the door, his Italian hair unbrushed, standing in his cheap unbuttoned black Polo.
              "I'm fine," I said, letting myself inside.
              "Glad you came to help."
              "I'm not going to keep you long."
              "Whatever you need, Jack."
              "You know things you don't care to admit, Ray."
              He leaned over the bar, realized what I was going on about, the standard jocular mood dropping from his eyes.
              "Small town. What can I say."
              "You're a damn wuss, Ray."
              "You're quite the riot, buddy."
              "How long has she been stuck on her habit?"
              "As long as I've known her."
              "You know all about it. You've indulged with her yourself, certainly."
              He took in a long breath.
              "Not particularly proud of it."
              "Did you get what you were after?"
              "Damn it, Jack. It wasn't like that!"
              "You wanted it to be, didn't you?"
              "Doesn't matter what I wanted. Fact is, it wasn't like that. I can't tell you what I wanted from her. I still don't know."
              "Come on, Ray. You're a man like all of us."
              "And what of it? I'm a manwhat of it? There can't be a good thing in a man, is that it?" he said, waving his glass of Jack around. "Look, hand to God, there's not much good in me. I wanted to help her. I mean it. I mean what I'm saying. I did what I couldI justI couldn't go all the way."
               "I'm having a hard time believing you, Ray. You know what's going on with the drugs. You let these people come in here. Your Magellan?"
               "He's her protection."
               "We're all her protection, in a way."
               "You believe the damsel needs saving from something?"
               "She needs something."
               "What exactly?"
               "I don't know."
               "Who are you all protecting her from? Looks to me you're saving her from the worst of yourselves."
               "What, are you going to get her off the nose candy, Romeo?"
               I thought for a second and gave Ray a small smile.
               "She's all you have, isn't she? Always the womanizer. The last woman that has any real soul."
               "Last thing I'd want to see is anything else happen to her. She has soul, yes."
               "I suppose she does."
               "Looks like she's really gotten into you," he said. He downed his glass and poured himself another round.
               "It doesn't matter."
               "She's made us all crazy, Jack. We've all gone through it here."
               "I don't have much interest in being crazy."
               "Like I said, I just couldn't go all the way."
               "Go all the way being some kind of decent man?"
               "You might need to be the one to pick up where I left off. Just let her come to you. Don't get too mixed up in all this."

Early September shuddered through the crisp lake air. I had the windows down in the Buick, back in the Sandy Hammock lot, watched my Marlboro slow-burn. I thought about quitting cigarettes. The car radio hummed quietly, stuttering Madonna or Blondie or something. I hadn't seen Marilyn come in, but the lights were on in her room. I tossed the cigarette out the window, said it might be time to take my life back.
           A tall pick-up truck with a covered bed grumbled down the parking lot, jerked to a stop, crooked in the parking spot. Both doors opened.
           "When the ships come in," I said, getting out of the car.
           I waited in the back of the lot and watched as they stumbled over the curb and pounded on her door, dressed in their usual casual brown shorts and faded polo shirts. One of them clenched his signature can of PBR in his fat fist, spilled it over the sidewalk as he leaned against the hard stucco wall.
           "Let's get you out of your cage for a while, little bird," one of them said.
           "We thought you'd do us a favor tonight."
           She cracked open the door.
           "I don't want to be bothered," she said.
           "Is that right, doll?"
           "Hey, don't touch her," I said. The two Ships rolled their bloodshot eyes over at me and stared for a while.
           "Who the hell is this John?" one of them asked the other.
           "You know this guy?" they asked Marilyn.
           "Back up a little, ship-head," I said, getting in-between them and her door.
           "What'd he call me?"
           Marilyn scurried out the half-open door and nestled into my chest. Her brown eyes shimmered with a frightened liveliness as she took long blinks against me. I didn't expect her to take to me this way; my gut hollowed as I looked down at her in such a pure, beautiful form, my arms holding her into me. She couldn't have known a thing about me, in the end. The faint spindrift in the lake air lathered onto our faces.
           "We didn't know she was seeing someone," one of them said to me.
           "You can go give the police a call," I said quietly to Marilyn.
           "I can't, Jack."
           "She's not who you think she is, buddy."
           "I like her just fine."
           "She's kind of ours."
           A car sped through the lot, its tires rattling over the gravel, caught our attention. A police cruiser with no lights.
           "Captain is here," one of them said, a signal for them to take off back towards their truck.
           Declan slammed his driver door and looked on with a curious, clean-shaven expression, took his time to walk over.
           "Marilyn, what the hell is going on here?"
           Declan and I looked over each other.
           "I don't care anymore, Declan," she said, staying huddled up against me.
           "Where'd you pick this one up?" he asked her.
           "You're not going to hurt himover my dead body."
           "Easy, drama queen. We're just talking," he said and walked up closer to us. "Let the boys do their talking."
           "Bit of a stormy sea tonight, Magellan," I said.
           "What'd you call me?"
           "You're weathering it just fine."
           He grabbed my collar and shook Marilyn off of me. She cried out, put her palms on the stucco wall.
           "Return me to the nothingness from which I came."
           "Is that something you're interested in?"
           "Damien, the sequel."
           "I heard about him. Saw his name in the paper. Tragedy."
           "Not surprised you abstain from doing the dirty work yourself, Mr. Clean."
           He threw me up against the big square window to her room. We smiled back at each other. Marilyn jumped and took his pistol from his holster, fell back against the door and aimed it at him.
           "I'm taking Marilyn with me," I told him as he let me go and turned slowly around to Marilyn.
           "Marilyn, put down the gun before you kill all of us," Declan said, a quick chuckle as he saw her trembling like a frightened gull.
           "That's how this thing would end up anyways," she said.
           "Stop playing with people's lives, for God's sake."
           I wanted to say something to her as I watched her bright, soft eyes.
           "You can't help hurting men, can you?".
           "You're a bastard, Declan," she said.
           I went up to her and tried to take her small, unsure hands into mine.
           "Jack, go."
           "Marilyn, get inside," I told her.
           "Both of you, go."
           She backed into her room, kept the gun, slammed the door. The beautiful night went quiet; her faint crying behind the wall mixed with the wind in the long hotel hallway.
           "Gonna call for backup?" I asked.
           "Why don't we call it even?" he said.
           "Sure. This didn't happen. Like ships in the night."
           "Ships in the night."
           "I'll see you at the Lighthouse."
           He nodded. I backed away from my car. He stood motionless, not taking his eyes off of me. 
           "Let Marilyn alone tonight," I said. He nodded again and smiled.
           I got back in the Buick, hit the gas, wheezing.
           "Really should quit that smoking," I said, seeing him behind me in the rear-view mirror, no lights on. I pulled into a busy gas station a little sharply a few blocks away and waited there a while, watched the locals in their cut-off plaid shirts come in and out, guffawing while unwrapping a new pack of cigarettes, before driving back to the summerhouse after a bit. Marilyn's Cadillac slept in the driveway. She waited on the weathered wooden steps of the back porch.
           "Jack, he's going to do something."
           "He doesn't know who I am."
           "He'll find out. He'll get Ray to tell him, I'm sure."
           "Let him."
           I opened the door to the loft room and let her go in first. I stepped over the yellow bed sheets I had torn off the mattress, took off my shoes, and put the bookcase-nightstand back upright. She sat down on the naked bed.
           "Bring back memories?" I asked her.
           "I'm sorry it's not elsewhere. Small town."
           "It's fine." 
           "What do you have to do with Damien's death?"
           "Nothing, I swear."
           I picked the tacky flower lamp off the floor and adjusted the bent lampshade.
           "I was trying to catch a mosquito earlier," I said, looking over to her. "Lost my patience."
           "Are you sure about everything?"
           "Yes, he hardly knows my name."
           I started re-shelving the books that were spread out on the floor.
           "I don't know who you are either."
           "I actually think you understand a lot of things about me, Marilyn."
           I looked up into her eyes. She stood up from the bed and looked closer into my own tired eyes, as if wanting to understand what they could tell her about myself.
           "Something was going to happen with him. It's not all that big of a surprise," she said after a moment.
           "Damien fought with him, too, didn't he?"
           "He did."
           "I'm sorry."
           "Not your fault."
           "It's not yours either."
           "Are you sure about that?" she asked, laughing with a quiet sarcasm.
           "If I understand things correctly, then yes."
           "Why am I the way I am, Jack?"
           "What is that exactly?"
           "Everyone wants me, but what do I have for anyone? I don't know about giving anything to anyone."           
           "I think you just have more to give than you know what to do with."
           "Declan isn't wrong about me. I have no good reason for anything, why I do the things I do."
           "That's how we all are."
           "Damien was a friend of Declan, an old friend from high school. That's how we met."
           I sat down next to her on the mattress, listened to the treading lake water outside the open windows.
           "And life was easy with him, I'm guessing," I said to her.
           "Life was easy with him."
           "I'm sure he was a pretty fine guy."
           "He was and he wasn't."
           She rested her head on my shoulder, wrapped her cold hands around my arm.
           "What do you want to do tonight?" she asked, glancing over at me with shy eyes. I saw slow-moving tears blink in the moonlight down her face. I rubbed the back of my finger quietly across her cheek.
           "Sleep, make a few phone calls. I'll make the bed for you," I said and stood up.
           She watched me for a moment with an uncertain expression, her soft-breathing brown eyes squinting at me through the dark.
           "I don't want to take your bed."
           "I like the chair. Don't worry about it."
           I got up and picked up the sheets, aired them out and started stretching them across the mattress.
           "What'd you do with Declan's gun?"
           "I left it in the room."
           "Fair enough."
           I pulled out one of my t-shirts from the drawer and offered it to her to sleep in. She laughed at the gesture, laughed with a quiet, endearing laugh I had come to love. I asked if she liked Fleetwood Mac and put on Tusk on the record player. She slipped out to the bathroom to change. I called the Lighthouse.
           "Are the Ships in?"
           "Yeah, just got here actually. Why?" Ray said.
           "Great. Get them hammered for me."
           "Should I ask what this is about?"
           "I'll tell you tomorrow. Don't let them leave for a while. I'll get you back for the liquor."
           "I'm doing it for you, Jack."
           Marilyn came in, the gray shirt only just reaching the soft curve of her thighs. I tried not to notice.
           "What's your plan?" she asked, climbing onto the bed and sitting up on her knees.
           I took up the phone again. Marilyn watched carefully. I left some information with the police that they'd find some drugs in large pickup truck parked near the Lighthouse. I pulled out the crumpled napkin from my pocket that I put their plate number on when they showed up.
           "What about Declan?"
           "Cops will pick up on the trail."
           "Are you going to leave soon?"
           "Probably so."
           I pulled out my pack of Marlboro 72s and tossed them into the little trashcan in the bathroom.
           "Hey Jack, what made you come tonight?"
            "What's that?"
           "To my room, I mean," she asked.
           "Hard to say."
           "Fate has a certain kind of charm, doesn't it?"


Something like an early Indian summer swept over Michigan City. Even Ray made a trip to the beach, went for a swim. I watched him from the balcony as he shook his hair in the waves, spat out the freshwater. No one had heard from Marilyn. The band showed up on Friday at the Lighthouse as scheduled, waited for her to show.
           "So it begins," Ray said wiping down the bar. "So it begins."
           "Not your first rodeo," I answered.
            "I am indeed an experienced professional when it comes to losing women."
           "Someone want to give her a call? Someone have her number?" Joe shouted.
           "She's gone. Don't bother," I said.
           "When she'd leave?"
           "Who knows."
           I told Ray what I knew about Damien as the other guys argued among themselves. He told me he had pieced it together essentially the same way, but never disturbed Marilyn with the question of it.
           "I don't know what you're doing hanging around here still," Ray said to me.
           "He hasn't come in?"
           "Marilyn said something and left town is my guess."
           "Good for her. Proud of her."
           I went back to the summerhouse, enjoying the moonlit drive home, the white light streaming through the tall pines. A slip of white sticking out of the back mailbox stood out in the watery darkness. The lake breeze felt cold against my neck.

           "Forgive me for just leaving you a song. I wish you the best, bright eyes.

           I try to say goodbye, my friend
           I'd like to leave you with something warm
           But never have I been a blue calm sea
           I have always been a storm

           Love, Marilyn"

           The morning light sang in its gentle tenor through the old wood of the loft room. I put on some Levis, buckled up my suitcase, took a moment to enjoy the sight of the cold, marble lake water. It stretched out into the blue September horizon, nestled into the soft wind. It laughed gently against my arms. I got into the Buick, stopped for a coffee at a 7-11, got on the road, chasing the song-birds all the drive home.