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Unlike the foreign dignitary, the overweight woman with the peed-on espadrille laughed. Babs, always resourceful in a tight social spot, laughed too, and touched the woman on the elbow. If you can find the humor. But I knew Babs didn’t find the humor, not remotely did she find it.

The wind has died, the water a smooth pudding except where the current dimples the surface in the near distance. I think: The most expedient way to solve an unsolvable problem is to force a resolution. In my retirement, I have not forgotten my sleights of moral faultlessness.

“Fetch,” I command, and throw the dowel into the cove. He swims like he runs; head akimbo, tongue awag, a creature undone by normal motion. Each time I throw the dowel a little closer to the current. The trick, I think, chalkboarding the challenge as a way to sever all ethical ties to it, is to land the dowel near, but not in, the current. Finally the dowel splashes alongside the current’s shirred fringe. He snatches the dowel just as the current snatches him.

He does not struggle because he does not know to struggle. For him this is the best kind of fun, the fun in which you inadvertently kill or are, yourself, killed. The last I see of him, he is dutifully swimming toward me, unaware that he is being pulled out to sea.

I sit on the beach and throw broken shells into the water, sinkable objects, nothing worth retrieving. I allow myself to resent Babs her callous request, while also understanding that she was merely, as is her lot, obeying my unspoken order. She is my hired capable someone. It is not a lesser manner of being loved.

Julavits’s novel The Uses of Enchantment was published in 2006. She is co-editor of The Believer.


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