Aaron Servi pulled the bicycles from the top rack of the car.
This was the last parking lot in Robert Moses State Park. Beyond the low line of dunes were the slender, sandy paths which lead to the National Seashore. A few wispy, high clouds, like elongated commas skipped across the clear blue sky. Servi turned to look at the bathrooms. She was still in there, so Servi leaned against the car and removed the book from his back pocket and opened it at random: “Adapt yourself to things among which your lot has been cast and love sincerely the fellow creatures with whom destiny has ordained that you shall lived.” Servi laughed aloud: resignation and love, in equal portions. Weren’t they the same things?
Marcus Aurelius was speaking to him over the wavering medium of two millennium. And this was proper: since Servi felt perpetually disappointed, he thought he would become, like the great old Emperor of Rome Marcus Aurelius, a card carrying Stoic. This seemed like a wise course of action. External life, with its dizzying highs and pit deep lows, had proven itself unstable, like relying on a friend with a drinking problem: good days and bad days, and always uncertainty which was coming next. Things changed too much; life was in constant flux; failure rooted in every burrow and perched on every hilltop. Better to anchor life on something firm, Servi reasoned: the World-Soul, Reason, the Mind Fire, a Life Lived According to Nature. Stoic technical terms, all worthy of ponderous capitalization.
Servi was about to pull another quote out of the book from random, but then she emerged from the bathroom. She was in the process of pinning her long, brown hair atop her head, a disappointment to Servi. He had hoped she would wear it loose, and then he could ride behind her, and watch it fall all around her brown shoulders, caressing the skin as a substitute for Servi’s fingers. He wished to pluck some masochistic joy out of this act, almost like watching her make love to another man. But she was a practical girl, and hair was pinned up when it could get in the way of a practical pursuit, like riding a bike.
She walked up to Servi and stared at him, expectantly, without a trace of guile. This was what he was to her, a young man she could be truthful to, since they were not sleeping together, and in return, he got the truth reflected back at him, clear and unwavering. She loved him, he thought, but in a lesser way than his best friend Jack. Somehow, in the chemistry that created him and his friend, a compound was missing in Servi and present in Jack. There was no explanation or excuse. It was nothing Servi had done or not done: it was just the order of things. It was simply what “destiny had ordained.”
“Servi, where are we biking today” she asked with genuine expectation. Servi smiled and sized her up, as if for the first time. Her neck was long and brown; her eyes, almond shaped, quizzical, slightly sleepy; her body compact, even thick, but marked by a pleasing series of rash curves and unexpected dips. The trajectory of her lines flared and pinched along her body at appointed places, providing the correct ratios, the most pleasing vistas. Attractive, soft, heavy, Servi imagined resting in the warm crook her sloping waist, between her jutting hip and the lower edge of her ribs: Jordan Mandel, his best friend’s girlfriend.
“I thought Kismet,” Servi answered, slipping Aurelius into his pocket, and taking few steps to the bikes. They stood and looked at the snaking, yellow path beyond them. Kismet was the town after Seaview, beyond a field of broken dunes. Servi could see Jordan weighing the choice in the scales of her mind with a more attainable goal, even glancing down at her legs unconsciously to judge if they were adequate to the task.
“It’s a bit far, isn’t it?”
“I suppose,” Servi answered, squinting in the distance. “We could give it a try, anyway. Bikes can turn around, you know.” Jordan smiled at him; there was a pleasing, suggestive space between her two front teeth.
Servi watched as she threw her leg over the over the seat, pushed off, and began to peddle. Her back leaned forward; her haunches pulled tight. Servi, caught up his revelry, found himself significantly behind . He pushed furiously to catch up, and when he did, he could see how hard she was working. The path had sandy patches, and she worked hard to keep from skidding. Servi smiled at her effort. She was trying to please him. Reaching Kismet had been some sort of impromptu goal, and she wanted to try and help him fulfill it. It was a straw man for sex, Servi imagined, sex he would never have with her.
They passed a booth with a red boom gate and were in the National Seashore. They rode along the wooden broad walk surrounding the lighthouse with ease. A few people were standing in the beach grass, feeding some deer from their sandwiches.
“They shouldn’t do that,” Jordan told Servi softy, so the people wouldn’t hear.
“Why,” he asked. “Because they’ll get Lyme Disease?” “No,” she answered, turning to face Servi, stray wisps of brown hair loose from her bun. She looked to Servi look a Jewish matron, but her face was preternaturally young. “They are wild animals. They shouldn’t grow reliant on people. It’s no good for them.”
They rode on. Seaview, a small collection of bungalows and beach houses tucked between some dunes; paths to the ocean and the bay; then an older couple, out for a stroll, spied both Servi and Jordan and they heard the woman say “What a lovely couple,” and Servi unconsciously looked at Jordan, who blushed to the roots of her hair. Servi quickly looked away, at once elated and heart-sunk.
Seaview ended as soon as it began. The broad, rolling sand dunes and canopy of sky stretched out beyond them. The bikes skidded in the loose sand. Jordan quickly fell, and Servi hopped off his bike to her. He quickly lifted her up by her right elbow.
“We can turn back,” Servi offered, but Jordan, as she stood up on shaky legs, shook her head. Her bun was now undone, and she capitulated, letting her long brown hair shake down, framing her round, red face in a curtain of curls. In the distance, Servi could hear the pounding of the surf. There was a storm off the coast.
“No,” she answered, pulling her bike up. “You always wanted to go to Kismet. How far is it?”
“A mile,” Servi answered, and then, to make the trip more unappealing to her: “maybe a mile and a half.” Servi expected her to take the bait, but instead, she was back on the bike, riding ahead, pedaling east. Servi could see the sweat stain rising from the hem of her tank top. She rode without great care and was soon down again just beyond the bend in the trail. She let out a little cry and Servi, imagining she was hurt, rushed to her.
She was seated Indian style in the middle of the trail, her bike on the up swing of a ditch, having mounted the dune which bordered the beach without her, as if to prove that it was capable of far greater feats alone than under her direction. But Jordan hadn’t cried out because she was hurt, only stunned by what she saw. A miniature Fire Island deer had tangled its bonsai antlers on a coil of discarded wire twisted to a post. It kicked and struggled furiously to get free.
Servi stood over Jordan and offer her his hand. She took it and pulled herself up, and once beside him, Servi was surprised that she did not let go. He felt a serge of love for this girl. Each of her gestures made him rear with delight or pitch into grief. He was starting off on the wrong foot on his career of philosophical detachment. So far, the life of resigned acceptance and love of Jordan’s form and Jordan’s form alone was a failure. Watching all her postures and contortions on the bike and on the ground and getting up had aroused him.
He imagined Jordan in a bed, in a calliope of positions. He shifted his body in his shorts, hoping Jordan would not notice. He felt the heat of her warm hand in his and it magically stirred his penis. This was all bad. The deer had quieted down for a bit, but now began a new round of twisting, stomping, pulling and snorting.
“Are you OK?” Servi asked.
“Yes,” she answered, all the while gripping Servi’s hand. “What should we do?”
Reluctantly, Servi released her hand and stepped closer to the deer. From a distance it appeared sleek and smooth, but up close Servi saw nearly a dozen blemishes and cuts on its hide, a multitude of ticks and fleas swarming on its surface, especially its twitching, filthy anus.
The beast had stopped moving for a moment, and then began to kick its hind legs, as if to compensate the loss of control of his front quarters. Servi began to roughly guide the antlers through the twisted ball of wire, a move at a time, until, after no more than a few seconds, the deer was free.
It simply stood between Servi and Jordan, like a plastic lawn ornament, its large wet eyes void of any discernable emotion, even fear, perhaps wondering why it was so close to these curious bipeds if they were not offering it a sandwich. Then the spell was broken, and it bolted away, up and over a dune, its hindquarters twitching and swaying from the accumulated exertion of implacable captivity and sudden flight.
Servi watched the beast run. A sense of satisfaction pervaded him. He felt a new emotion, a spark of approval deep in his bowels, as if a new sense of something unnamed, was dancing within him; something unusually fashioned by promise and hope. But then it was suddenly smothered. Jordan was in front of him, her lips over his, her tongue probing his mouth, her arms wrapped around his shoulders. He returned the kiss as best he could, but he could not match the shape of its raw intensity.
Then suddenly it was over. She pulled away, her hand over her mouth, as if by physically blocking the offending aperture, she could erase the rash act. Her hair was in wild disarray. She looked as if she would be sick. Servi tried to say something, but she suddenly turned around, picked up her bike, and started west, toward the Robert Moses parking lot; in the near distance, roofs of the houses of Kismet poked above the dunes. Neither one dared to speak the entire way to the city.