“Grip”

It seemed like a good idea, just a minute or two ago, but now, hanging by his cramping hands from the balcony railing of his hotel room at three o’clock in the morning, he begins to think it may have been a bad idea, a very bad idea.

It isn’t the way he remembers it, this old prank they used to pull on spring breaks twenty years ago, Frank and his frat brothers, just to scare the girls. It was easy, the way he remembers it. You hung there for a couple of minutes, you pretended to slip once or twice, and then the girls would shriek that shrill scream that meant, OK, you stupid boys, you can have us tonight, just come back onto the balcony and stop this before somebody gets hurt.

But now the only shriek Frank hears is the wind whipping off the Gulf of Mexico and whistling between the twin towers of the resort. As the brochure promised, every room in the hotel has a Gulf view. Over his aching shoulder, the wet beach glistens in the moonlight like the filet of trout they served at the banquet earlier tonight.

“Watch it, buddy,” he had warned himself aloud as he stumbled over the metal tracks of the sliding glass door onto the balcony, scuffing his oxblood wing tips. The salt air warmed his face, and waves swashing against the sand lulled him as he stepped from the plush blue carpet onto the damp concrete of the small overhang. “I’m so damn drunk,” he had chuckled to himself.

Not that he blames himself for drinking so much—the corporation’s meeting has been a disappointment from the start. First, Colleen had insisted she couldn’t take time off work at her law firm to come with him. Then, though he had won the trip by outperforming the other managers in his region, he discovered at the awards banquet a few hours ago he was near the bottom of the national rankings. In fact, at the very beginning of the program, while waiters were still bustling among tables serving strawberry cheesecake and coffee—and long before the centennial gold watches and the sets of golf clubs and the laptops and the all-expense-paid week in Paris for two would be distributed to higher- ranking winners—Frank and three other sales managers had been herded as a group up to the podium to receive crystal paperweights with the company logo embedded in the transparent spheres. He was so embarrassed he had slipped the award into his jacket pocket even before he returned to his seat.

That’s what had started it, this stunt. Remembering the glass globe as he leaned against the metal railing sipping his Scotch, the man had reached down and stroked the bulge over his right hip. It reminded him of a baseball, and it made him want to throw something. So he pulled it out of his pocket, he put down his drink, and he hurled the little bastard as far as he could manage.

Slipping as he threw it, he wound up half hanging over the banister. That’s when he remembered the old balcony trick.

He wonders if he can still see it, the glass globe, glowing in the sand, and he turns his face the other way, out toward the water.

The moonlight on the Gulf seems to illuminate the low breakers rolling toward the beach from deep beneath the waves. He knows he has it wrong— thinking about the light this way, rising up from the bottom of the sea—but it feels as if he is on to something he has always missed before.

Beyond the white froth of the surf, the sea sloshes restlessly in the dark, like a bowl full of water in the hands of a man walking somewhere.

John Biguenet

About John Biguenet

John Biguenet has published seven books, including Oyster, a novel, and The Torturer's Apprentice: Stories, released in the U.S. by Ecco/HarperCollins and widely translated. His work has received an O. Henry Award for short fiction and a Harper's Magazine Writing Award among other distinctions, and his poems, stories, plays, and essays have been reprinted or cited in The Best American Mystery Stories, Prize Stories: The O. Henry Awards, The Best American Short Stories, Best Music Writing, Contemporary Poetry in America, Katrina on Stage, and various other anthologies. His work has appeared in such magazines as Granta, Esquire, North American Review, Oxford American, Playboy, Storie (Rome), Story, and Zoetrope. Named its first guest columnist by The New York Times, Biguenet chronicled in both columns and videos his return to New Orleans after its catastrophic flooding and the efforts to rebuild the city. Biguenet’s radio play Wundmale, which premiered on Westdeutscher Rundfunk, Germany's largest radio network, was rebroadcast by Österreichischer Rundfunk, the Austrian national radio and television network. Two of his stories have been featured in Selected Shorts at Symphony Space on Broadway, the Long Wharf Theatre, and elsewhere. The Vulgar Soul won the 2004 Southern New Plays Festival and was a featured production in 2005 at Southern Rep Theatre; he and the play were profiled in American Theatre magazine. Rising Water was the winner of the 2006 National New Play Network Commission Award, a 2006 National Showcase of New Plays selection, and a 2007 recipient of an Access to Artistic Excellence development and production grant from the National Endowment for the Arts as well as the 2007 Big Easy Theatre Award for Best Original Play; it has had numerous productions around the country. Shotgun, the second play in his Rising Water cycle, premiered in 2009 at Southern Rep Theatre, with subsequent productions at the Orlando Shakespeare Theater and Florida Studio Theatre, both in 2010; it won a 2009 National New Play Network Continued Life of New Plays Fund Award and was a 2009 recipient of an Access to Artistic Excellence development and production grant from the National Endowment for the Arts. Shotgun is published by Dramatists Play Service, Inc. His ongoing trilogy of plays about the flooding of New Orleans has been the subject of articles in American Theatre, The American Scholar, and elsewhere. He was awarded a Marquette Fellowship for the writing of Night Train, his new play, which he developed on a Studio Attachment at the National Theatre in London and which premiered at New Jersey Rep Theatre in 2011. In 2008, Biguenet was named Theatre Person of the Year at the Big Easy Theatre Awards, the region’s major professional theater awards. Having served twice as president of the American Literary Translators Association and as writer-in-residence at various universities, he is currently the Robert Hunter Distinguished University Professor at Loyola University in New Orleans.