imageJeannie Galeazzi
Amateur Hour

In a fracas of wind on a gray afternoon out at San Francisco's Ocean Beach, McKinley Otis leaned his paunch against the concrete barrier overlooking the sand and watched "Bonnie"—his name for her—emerge goddesslike from the waves in her wetsuit with her creamsicle-orange surfboard gleaming under her arm. Every afternoon on Mack's lunch hour, on this same stretch of beach across from the Dutch Windmill at the northwest tip of Golden Gate Park near the supermarket where Mack had a stock-clerk job he'd worked thirty years ago and now, as an ex-con, was stuck working again, he found her here. His apron with the nametag, he'd left in the car.

Each day at this moment, Mack imagined cupping his hands to his mouth and calling "Bonnie!" into the wind, getting a gulp of sand and salt. Bonnie, unaware of her name and too far off anyway, would make no sign of having heard. "Bon-NIE!" he'd call again like a squawk from one of the seagulls hovering overhead, sizing him up for snacks.

Mack balled up his lunch bag, pulverizing his untouched Cheetos. No frickin snacks. After that warehouse strike three weeks ago—on that morning when he'd had to scramble to get the barren aisles restocked before there could be any thought of lunch (which he'd finally taken, by chance, right here at this spot and gotten his first-ever glimpse of Bonnie)—after that, he'd volunteered to take a late lunch every day. For which the store manager had awarded him a free daily bag of Cheetos.

Bonnie, having trudged across the beach and dipped out of sight behind the walls flanking the steps, was now padding unseen up the concrete staircase toward the paved walk where Mack was only just starting to back away. Skiff-skiff-skiff came her sandy footsteps, her feet snug in their surf booties. Before the top of her head could peek above the barrier, Mack punched his lunch bag into the garbage can and fled through the long narrow parking lot and leapt into his car (bought triple-used from the teenage son of a guy in the Meat Department) parked with a clear view of the rear bumper of the rusty old Jeep that was Bonnie's.

Mack scooched way down in his seat and watched through his steering wheel as Bonnie, her wetsuit a porpoise-y layer of insulation over a chassis in the bloom of middle age, came shivering through the lot. Even on a weekday, the lot was one big dressing room lousy with men, mostly young and muscled, mostly frickin nude to the waist and toweling flamboyantly off. Mack longed to cold-cock anyone who ogled Bonnie—and anyone who didn't. Once she'd leaned her surfboard against the Jeep, Bonnie ripped the elastic off her bunned-up ponytail to release a tumble of seaweedy bronze snarls. She shucked her gloves and clamped them under her arm, whapped her hands together and caged her nose and mouth with her fingers and puffed at them as she scanned the lot with wary eyes. Each day when she did this, Mack imagined she might spot him, but of course she didn't: he was exactly what she was looking for.

Mack could predict her next moves, could practically direct them. Like how she'd swoop down, all furtive, on the Jeep's rear fender and pluck out the keys she'd hidden up underneath. How she'd unlock the rear compartment and haul out a plastic tub and plunk it onto the pavement, then strip off one surf bootie and set that bare foot in the tub, do the same with the other bootie and foot. How, standing there, she'd unfurl a beach towel and bite down on a corner and drape the towel over her body, leaning into it tits-first, and unzip her wetsuit and peel it down her shoulders and chest to her hips as the icy salt water streamed out of the suit and into the tub to pool around her feet. How, still veiled in the towel, she'd zip herself quick into a hooded sweatshirt. Take the towel out of her teeth and demurely spit, then tie the towel sarong-style around her waist and, under it, scrunch the wetsuit down her thighs and calves. Step out of the wetsuit. Step into a pair of sweatpants and pull the sweatpants up. Untie the towel-sarong and give it a brisk flap before blotting at her hair.

Mack stretched his neck, peering over the steering wheel, to watch Bonnie lift one dripping foot out of the tub, buff the foot with the towel, and dock her toes in a flip-flop on dry land, then do the same with the other foot, the other flip-flop. Chuck the towel into the Jeep and dump the water out of the tub, plop her wetsuit into the tub and lob the whole lot into the Jeep. Hoist her surfboard onto the roof and clamp the board into the rack, the overhang fluttering with a red hazard flag.

Bonnie sauntered around to the driver's side and yanked open the door and slung her rump up onto the seat, one leg in, one leg lingering out, the flip-flop dangling from her toes. Now, right now, Mack imagined she might glance back over her shoulder at him and say, in a voice husky with surf, "Coming, lover-boy?" Lucky for her, Mack was no frickin sicko.