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the carquinez strait org photo
the carquinez strait (

s i x t y   p e r - c e n t

:  r o d g e r   j a c o b s

"No matter where we go, all you want to do is find a bar and drink," Viv complained. It was three o’clock in the afternoon on a rainy Saturday. They were perched on stools at the downstairs bar of the old Union Hotel in Benicia. It was supposed to be a short weekend getaway, a diversion from the stress that dominated their lives.

It began raining the moment they arrived and hadn’t let up since. They took a rain-soaked stroll along the waterfront – wood pilings from old ship yards still visible a few yards out in the murky bay – and laughed when a man in a yellow rain slicker passed them and remarked, "Nice weather for ducks." It was a funny comment because he meant it literally: a row of ducks were waddling along in a nearby marsh.

"Let’s go to the bar," Stan suggested. And then he added: "To get in out of the rain."That would keep her tirade about their drinking at arm’s length for the time being.

They drank a local brew, highly recommended by the bartender who divided his time all evening between serving the small room full of patrons -- mostly local color and a few guests of the century-old hotel, like Stan and Viv -- and speaking pleasantly into a cell phone as he booked club engagements for his country and western band. He was an older man, with an escaping hair line and gold-rimmed eye-glasses and he went about his business of slating appearances for his band with a passion that Stan found curious.

By ten o’clock both Stan and Viv were smashed. They wouldn’t know it until the next morning, but the pints of beer they were knocking back were sixty per-cent alcohol in content. They drank their beers while listening to a very large black woman sing a medley of smokey old blues tunes, accompanied by a key board player on one of those portable electronic pianos. This is what passed for an evening’s entertainment at the Union Hotel and it had an odd old-time bordello feeling about it. Odd because the Union was a bordello once, sometime around World War Two when the local shipyards were buzzing with activity and sailors regularly passed through Benicia on their way to shipping out from the Port of Oakland or San Francisco.

The hotel room was decorated with a Victorian flourish. A bay window overlooked the Carquinez Strait, where clouds laden with rain still hovered. Stan and Viv undressed quietly, Viv pouring the wine while Stan filled the hot tub in the old white-tiled bathroom.

They were already well into the second bottle of wine – procured from the local Safeway after a quick midnight stroll – when they settled into the soothing water of the hot tub. Stan had been eager for this little romantic interlude all day but his head was spinning and he could see Viv’s eyes starting to waver so he reached out, tweaked a nipple of her large left breast with his thumb
and she responded with a smile.

Maybe he tried too hard. Maybe he started to force himself upon her. Sometimes Viv liked that. But the fact of the matter is his intimate caresses were abruptly met with a smack from her hand across his left cheek. He didn’t know what to think. They had indulged in mild S&M games in the past. Was this an extension of that bed play?

Stan hit her back, the first time he had ever struck a woman in his life.

"Do you like that?" he said, striking a creepy balance between menace and sexual allure.

Viv came alive then, throwing her face into her hands and sobbing uncontrollably. There won’t be any sex tonight, Stan thought.

In the morning they agreed that it wasn’t like Viv to hit a man, let alone Stan. When Viv suggested – as Stan knew she inevitably would – that they drink too much, Stan offered that the reasons for Viv’s unusual behavior might be of a more supernatural order.

"Think of all the emotions stored in these old rooms from all of the prostitutes who once worked here," Stan said. "That’s what got into you last night."
On the drive back home, Viv’s hand quaking on the steering wheel, she agreed that the malevolent spirit of some long-dead soiled dove might have driven her emotions the night before.

"But, you know," Viv said firmly, "that spirits are attracted to people who drink too much."


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