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.