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The Black Horn


Jade Dann

FROM HIS OCEANFRONT room on the tenth floor of the Hotel Casablanca, Judge Stephen Steiner saw the unicorn standing in the shallow end of the swimming pool below. It was almost four in the morning, and most of the Christmas tree lights of the gambling ships three miles out on the ocean had been turned off. The expanse of beach ahead was dark and ominous, except for a single light that burned to the left on the beach that belonged to the Fontainebleau Hotel. But the Casablanca pool was illuminated by green and red underwater lights, giving the breeze-blown surface of the water an almost luminary quality, as of melted, rippling gems.

The unicorn looked grayish in the light, although surely it was white, and large, at least eighteen hands high from poll to hoof. Its mane was dark and shaggy; and at first Steiner thought it was a horse. But how strange to see a horse running loose on the beach at such an hour. There must be laws prohibiting animals from running loose, he thought. Miami Beach is a densely populated area .. . surely there must be a law. Perhaps this horse had run away from its owner ... perhaps it was part of a road show ... a circus.

My God, Steiner mused, how long has it been since I've been to a circus ... ?

It was then that Steiner noticed that the horse had a horn protruding from its wide forehead. He hadn't noticed it before because the horn was black ... and also perhaps he didn't see it because he'd assumed he was looking at a horse, and horses didn't have horns. But now Steiner could see that horn. It looked like black marble. It was long and fluted and would make a vicious weapon. The horn reflected the green and red light as if the light were oil flowing along its conchlike spirals.

The unicorn dipped its horn into the pool, as if to neutralize some chlorine poison in the water, and then drank.

Steiner reached for his glasses, although he didn't really need them for distance. It couldn't be, he thought, yet there it was. Perhaps it was some advertising gimmick, but Steiner discounted that thought immediately. No one would let an animal run loose at this time of night, horned or otherwise.

Then the animal raised its head, as if sensing that it was being watched. It blew air through its muzzle and looked up at the building, slowly turning its head, scanning the windows on one story, then going on to another, until finally it seemed that the unicorn had found him. It seemed to be looking right at him, and Steiner felt transfixed, even through the thick, protective pane of glass. The unicorn knew he was there.

It was looking at him.

- Steiner felt drawn to it ... it was as beautiful as a childhood fantasy. Yet there was something dangerous and even sinister about it; its very being challenged Steiner's reason, and Steiner himself. Steiner felt an almost uncontrollable urge to smash through the window and jump ... as if by some sort of television magic he'd be able to leap through the glass and land on the unicorn's back.

He found himself pressing dangerously hard against the plate-glass window as he stared down at the animal below that was still as stone, watching him.

Suddenly he wanted to jump.

"No!" he cried, feeling sudden, reeling terror, for he knew in that instant that if he could have jumped, he would have. It was as if he had glimpsed his own death deep in the eyes of that beautiful horned stallion staring up at him from the pool.

He turned away from the window and closed his eyes tightly, so tightly that everything turned purple for an instant. Then, slowly, he turned back toward the window. There was nothing there, just the metal lounge chairs situated around the illuminated pool, and the dark beach and ocean stretching into flat darkness. He looked to his left, toward the dimly lit Fontainebleau beach, but there was no sign of anything there, either.

Steiner closed the curtains and sat down on his uncomfortable double bed. His hands were shaking. He reached for a bottle of kosher brandy on the nightstand beside him and took a shot right out of the tinted green bottle. The stuff tasted like hell; it was coarse, not made as well as in the past—or perhaps he just remembered the past as being better in all respects.

He suddenly thought of his wife, Grace, who had died six months ago, God rest her sweet soul. Although he had been separated from her for over ten years, she had waited ... waited for him to come back home. But he just couldn't have gone back. Grace would have been a constant reminder of everything Steiner feared. He needed younger women to feed his ego ... to be in awe of him. They all probably thought he had money, but they were his only barricade against the fustiness of old age ... against death itself. They kept him feeling young.

He felt the old guilt weighing down upon him. Grace, I'm sorry.. .

The air-conditioner was on; it suddenly felt cold in the room. The graft on Steiner's back, where he had had a melanoma removed, hurt him tonight.

He'd inquire tomorrow at the desk whether there were any reports of a horse running loose. It was a horse, Steiner told himself, as he lay his head against the lumpy, overlarge pillow.

But he couldn't fall back to sleep.

After morning prayers in the makeshift synagogue on the fourth floor of the hotel, Steiner met his three sisters for breakfast. He escorted them to their table on the eastern side of the grand old dining room, which overlooked the beach and the perfectly blue ocean beyond. The table was prepared, and their waitress was waiting to attend them. Behind each setting was a glass of borsch mixed with sour cream. An unopened box of egg matzoth stood in the center of the table, as prominent as a bouquet of freshly cut flowers.

Steiner sat each of his sisters and then himself.

It was Passover, and Cele and Kate and Mollie had decided it would be better for Steiner if they all spent the holiday together at a hotel. Steiner could not disappoint them ... somehow he would get through it. Although Cele was quite well off, she lived with her two sisters in Flatbush. Those two counted their pennies as if they were all being chased by the specter of relief. But Cele would spend her money for a good cause, especially if it involved family and religion ... so this was a real vacation for them. And who knew how long Steiner might have them, anyway? Cele was the youngest, and she was seventy-seven.

Steiner was five years her junior... .

"It's another beautiful day," Cele said brightly, placing her green linen napkin on her lap. She wore a crisp red flowerpot hat that matched her square-shouldered jacket with patch pockets. It was as if she had never left the 1940s. Her dyed blonde hair was combed down smoothly, and tightly rolled up at the ends, and she was growing a bit thin on top. She had a long, oval face with great blue eyes, the same lively eyes that used to tease Steiner sixty years ago. Cele was going to make the best of her vacation in the sun. "Don't you think so, Stephen? Isn't it a beautiful day? Of course, you live here in Florida, so sunshine is probably old hat to you."

Steiner managed a smile, but he was in a disagreeable mood. Two hours of sitting and standing and praying with a congregation of evil-smelling, doddering old men had sapped him of all joie de vivre ... had soured his morning. Although Steiner had always prided himself on being a religious man—he donned his prayer shawl and phylacteries every morning to pray toward the east, and it was to just that habit that he attributed what wealth and fame and good fortune he had acquired over the years—he couldn't stand being around old people. It was as simple as that. Steiner glanced uncomfortably around the room. Just sitting in the dining room made his flesh crawl—this entire hotel seemed to be filled with the most Orthodox and the oldest of Jews. Association could kill you... would kill you. Make your flesh shrivel right up. That was another reason why Steiner had never gone back home; even before his beloved Grace had died, she smelled of the grave. Her skin had turned wrinkled and dry, and she exhuded an odor that could not be concealed by even the most expensive perfume.

He turned to Mariana, his waitress, who was ready to take their orders. Her very presence lightened his mood. She was Brazilian, dark, strong-featured, with full lips and tilted green eyes; her wiry black hair, though disguised in a bun, was long. She couldn't be more than twenty-one, the epitome of youth itself. Steiner flashed her a smile and ordered breakfast for his sisters and himself. He felt as if he were swelling up, regaining everything he had lost upstairs in the synagogue; and he heard a pompous affectation come into his voice, which was rather loud and bombastic, but he couldn't help himself ... and anyway, a fine, articulated sentence had always impressed the young ladies.

When Mariana left and the busboy was out of earshot, Steiner's sister Kate said, "You know, Stephen, you make a fool out of yourself talking like that to the waitress." Kate was two years older than Cele, and she seemed to bear a grudge against any woman under sixty ... or so Steiner thought. Kate had once been beautiful, high-breasted and thin-waisted, but now she had become puffy. She dyed her hair orange-red. Steiner nicknamed her "the Flying Nun" because she wrapped paper around her hair every night so it wouldn't muss.

"I'll thank you to mind your own business, ma'am," Steiner said stiffly, still using the artificial inflection he used with people he wished to impress. Cele gave Kate a nasty look and shook her head. Mollie, who was the oldest, didn't seem to be listening; instead she began talking about her children, who were supposed to visit her the week after Passover.

"Well, he does make a fool out of himself," Kate said to Cele.

"Stephen's right," Cele said, speaking sharply but in a low voice. "Mind your business."

"We can't even talk to each other around here," Kate said petulantly, as she smoothed out the napkin on her lap. Kate was overdressed in a silk gauze summer dress trimmed with black; she also wore a small pillbox hat with a veil.

"Why are you wearing a veil this morning?" Steiner asked. "You look like you're still in mourning."

"Well, I am ... and you should be, too!" Then she caught herself. "I'm sorry, Stephen. I'm just not myself this morning—"

"On the contrary, you're very much yourself this morning," Mollie interrupted. Mollie wore a tan suit and blouse. Her hair was gray and frizzy, and she had a crinkly, Irish-looking face.

"Mollie, shut up," Kate said, and then continued talking to Steiner. "I didn't sleep well last night at all. I have a canker sore or something in my mouth, and my whole jaw's killing me. I don't even think I'll be able to eat."

"Oh, she'll eat," Mollie said sarcastically.

"And for your information"—Kate was still talking to Steiner—"I'm wearing a hat because this is a religious hotel, and religious women are supposed to wear hats. I can't help it if the hat has a veil."

"She's right, Stephen," Cele said. "Look around, all the women are wearing hats." She self-consciously adjusted her own hat.

"Of course I'm right," Kate said softly, indicating by her tone of voice that she was willing to drop the argument.

Mariana brought the food, purposely serving Stephen first, which stimulated a tssing from Kate. Steiner teased the waitress by telling her how beautiful she looked, and she blushed and backed away.

Cele changed the subject by saying, "I think we should all sit by the pool when we're finished with breakfast. That would be nice, wouldn't it?"

"I'm going upstairs," Kate said. "I'm not feeling at all well."

"Kitty, you can take me upstairs with you," Mollie said. She was slightly infirm, and had trouble navigating stairs by herself.

"I think we should all spend at least a few minutes together in the sun," Cele said firmly—although she was the youngest, except for Steiner, she made all the decisions for her sisters.

"He shouldn't be out in the sun with his cancer," Kate said petulantly.

"You see, there she goes again," Mollie said to Cele. "Always starting something."

Cele flashed Kate a nasty look, and Mollie seemed pleased with herself. Then Cele said in a calm, quiet voice, "The morning sun is not dangerous, I'm told ... it's the afternoon sun that has the dangerous rays."

Steiner nodded without paying much attention, but he always sided with Cele. She had enough of a cross to bear, living with and supporting her two sisters. He looked up and smiled generously at Mariana as she cleared the table. He could see the tiny dark hairs bristling on her arms, and could smell her slightly pungent, musk-like odor. She returned his smile, her cheeks dimpling, and for an instant their eyes met. Steiner felt his heart pump faster ... felt his glands open up. He imagined making love to her .. . imagined her naked and holding him like a baby in a dimly lit bedroom. She would be beautiful naked, he thought, daydreaming about how she would look with her hair undone and hanging loose down her bare back. She would look like a wild animal... .

She's a perfect madonna, he thought ... but then he had thought that about every waitress and shop clerk and hatcheck and typist he had ever dated. Perhaps later, when his sisters went upstairs for their afternoon nap, he'd work up the courage to go into the hotel kitchen and ask her out. He could buy her a tall, lemony drink by the pool, talk to her in whispers, caress her, and then take her back to her apartment... .

That thought alone gave him the strength to take his sisters outside to the pool, where they could gab and complain and gossip in Yiddish with their newfound octogenarian friends and neighbors.

Steiner did not go upstairs with his sisters, but made the excuse that he wished to take some more sun and maybe a walk before going inside. Cele seemed a bit agitated that he would get sick from too much sun, but he promised to sit in the shade near the cabanas. Steiner felt nothing but claustrophobic in the presence of his sisters.

"I wouldn't mind taking a walk myself," Cele said, standing over him and looking forlornly out to sea.

"Come, we'll take a walk now down Collins Avenue, and then you can sit in the sun if you really want to."

"Well, I have to go upstairs," Mollie said. "My feet are killing me."

Kate, who had wanted to go upstairs earlier, now said, "I wouldn't mind taking a walk and doing some window-shopping. It might be good for me, make me forget how much my jaw is aching me."

"Well, I can take Mollie upstairs and—" Cele said, but she gave up in mid-sentence, accepting her responsibility to her sisters. Steiner could see the trapped frustration in her face. "All right," she said resignedly, "I suppose we should just go upstairs...."

"I'll take a walk with you, Stephen," Kate said.

"Either we'll all take a walk or we'll all go upstairs together," Cele said, her hands gently shaking, whether from age or anger, Steiner didn't know. But he felt guilty, for he had sacrificed Cele to them just so he could be alone ... Cele deserved better than that. The poor old girl....

But Steiner was on his feet as soon as his sisters disappeared into the side entrance of the hotel. It's too hot out here anyway, he told himself, sweating under his polyester powder-blue shirt and matching slacks. He wore a white jacket and white loafers. As he passed, the gossips and wrinkled sunbathers nodded to him and said, "Good morning, Judge."

Steiner hadn't been a judge for thirty years, and even then had served only one term. But Steiner liked the title—it opened "doors" for him. Everyone called him "Judge" at the very exclusive Boca Club, where he was a member. In fact, he had had the heraldic blue and white and gold emblem sewed on all his sports jackets. Of course, he didn't attend very many functions there, as they were very expensive. But he had been known to take his dates to the club for swanky luncheons. Perhaps Mariana would visit him at his home in Fort Lauderdale, and he could take her, too... .

He was immersed in that daydream as he stepped through the coffee shop beside the pool area and into the large kitchen behind. There were busboys and waiters and waitresses bustling around, carrying large aluminum trays in and out of the two wide swinging doors that led into the dining area. Cooks and helpers were working at sinks and long wooden tables. Squashed prunes and apples and matzo brie and puddles of soup and juice and coffee discolored the white tile floor.

Mariana stepped backward into the kitchen, pushing the door open. She was holding a tray filled with glasses and dishes and silverware.

"Mariana!" Steiner said, overly loud. She turned to him, looking surprised, but no one else seemed to notice his presence ... or care.

She put the heavy tray down on one of the tables and said, "Yes, Judge? Is something wrong?" She tilted her head in a most attractive manner, Steiner thought.

"Yes ... I just thought—" and suddenly the words left him. He felt awkward and foolish ... and suddenly paranoid that she would think he was a "dirty old man." But that was plain stupid! he told himself. She doesn't even know why I'm here yet. "Do you have any plans for this evening?" he blurted out. But even as he spoke, he realized that he had lost the advantage entirely ... that now she was in the position of power.

"I'm not sure what you mean, Judge," she said, looking uncomfortable. "I'll be taking care of your table tonight, is that—"

"No ... I mean, would you care to have a drink with me after dinner, after you've finished working. Perhaps we could meet at the Fontainebleau ... by the bar. It's very nice there."

"Well ... I don't know." She was actually blushing. That's a good sign.

"I'll be waiting for you at poolside at ten o'clock," Steiner said with authority, feeling much better about the venture now.

"I'm really not supposed to be going out with the guests," she said coyly, her eyes averted from his. "I could get fired, and—"

"Well ... I'll be waiting for you at"—Steiner looked at his thin gold watch for effect—"ten o'clock sharp."

"I've really got to get back to work, please...."

"Ten o'clock," Steiner said smartly, using his best judicial tone. Mariana nodded once, shyly, her eyes still averted from his.

Steiner turned heel back to the pool area.

Once outside, back in the sun, he felt relieved and full of nervous energy. He felt like a schoolboy dreaming about the girl he was going to take to the senior prom. He couldn't stand the thought of going back to his room or sitting in the hotel lobby, which smelled of old age and was filled with urns of fake flowers and plants. He couldn't bear to look at another old man or woman. He couldn't sleep, and he had just eaten.

He just wanted to be alone and daydream... .

He found himself walking along the sand toward the ocean. Perhaps he'd walk along the beach to the Fontainebleau, have a drink, and then return down Collins Avenue, thus making a circle. But once he reached the Fontainebleau and saw the pool and bar to his left, he just didn't feel like stopping. He was too filled with energy to stop and sit, so he continued walking, enjoying the brisk breeze coming off the ocean, the healthy smell of the salt air, and the pounding of the surf just inches away from his sand-encrusted white loafers. He dreamed about Mariana ... and imagined himself as a young man courting her, a young man with thick black hair and a strong, handsome face. A strong man eyed by every bikini-clad woman he passed. .

But Steiner was beginning to swelter in the afternoon heat. The sun was unbearable, and Steiner had misjudged how much of it he could take. The ocean breeze, which was at first cool and refreshing, now felt hot and muggy. He turned around and started back to his hotel.

Thank goodness he didn't have far to go.

Steiner wouldn't have seen the unicorn if it hadn't made a snorting noise as he passed. It stood behind a dozen one-man red and white sailboats leaning against an old pier that was in disrepair. It stood in the shadows, as if to cool off.

The unicorn carefully stepped out from the boats and gazed at Steiner with its ocean-blue eyes. It pawed the sand with its heel, sending ribbons of sand into the air to be carried away on the wind.

Steiner stopped, transfixed again by the unicorn. He broke out in a sweat, but it was cold sweat, and from fear rather than heat. "What do you want?" he asked, feeling foolish talking to an animal like this, but he had to break the spell with something ... a word, the sound of his voice. Suddenly Steiner was aware of a myriad of tiny details: the soft pinkness of the unicorn's muzzle; the white whiskers growing out of its chin and nostrils; its coarse, shaggy white mane and fetlocks; its cloven hooves worn from the sand; and the strange, ridged black horn that looked as if it had somehow erupted from the animal's forehead. In fact, it looked glassy, as if it might have indeed been formed from lava. In the bright sunlight it took on a reddish sheen, which seemed to deepen at the tip. Steiner was acutely aware of the splashing and gurgling of the surf, but he couldn't make out any human sounds, except for his own quickened breathing. This was an empty stretch of beach. Steiner was shaking, and he felt weak. The animal was so large. It looked like a huge Morgan, with its muscular back, strong neck, and large head. It stood square, its legs right under its shoulders. The unicorn was overpowering ... yet it seemed to be gentle. It didn't move, but seemed to be made of porcelain and coal. It just stared at Steiner; and it was as if the unicorn's eyes were blue magnets pulling him closer .. . and Steiner imagined how it would be to ride this great beast, to feel its bulk beneath him and the wind whistling in his ears and the salt spray biting his chest and face. He could ride it along the beach ... along the ocean.

The unicorn took a cautious step toward Steiner.

Suddenly Steiner remembered last night and broke the reverie. He stepped back in terror, almost falling over his own feet. The unicorn took on an entirely different guise as Steiner remembered how he had wanted to jump from his window at the mere sight of the beast. The unicorn—as if reading Steiner's thoughts—whinnied and pawed the sand. Then, ready to charge, it lowered its head.

The sharp black horn was pointed directly at Steiner.

And Steiner saw the unicorn for what it was: death. Death in its simplest, most beautiful guise. "No," he whispered to the beast. "No!" he screamed, hating it. He turned from the unicorn and ran, his narrow-toed Italian white loafers heeling into the soft sand. His eyes burned and seemed to go out of focus as he ran. His heart felt as if it were pounding in his throat. He could hear the unicorn behind him. He could feel the unicorn's horn at his back, ready to slash him wide open.

But Steiner wasn't ready for death. He wanted to live. He had to live. If death was going to take him, it would have to take him on the run. Steiner wasn't going to make it easy. He wasn't going to slip into any eternal slumber with a toothless good-bye. Not Steiner.

He ran as hard as he could, the blood pulsing in his chest and head, making him dizzy, until he tripped over a tangled, polished piece of driftwood and fell headlong into the sand. He turned backward, resolved to face death with his eyes open.

But the unicorn was gone ... disappeared. There were no tracks, except for his own, no outline of equine heel or bar or furrow in the soft white sand. Steiner tried to catch his breath. He felt at once relieved and anxious. He had been chased by something. His breathing began to return to normal, but he had a flash of searing pain in his abdomen, and his arms and shoulders felt heavy and began to ache. He broke out into a cold sweat. He felt clammy and chilled and nauseated. It was the fall, he told himself ... and the exercise. He hadn't run like that in forty years.

But one thing was certain: he had seen a horse with a horn. It might have been some sort of publicity trick, but it was no hallucination. Steiner wasn't the type to hallucinate. He might have had some crazy thoughts when the beast was chasing him, but then, who wouldn't? He felt foolish, running as he had. The damned thing obviously hadn't been chasing him, or he would have seen it when he had turned around. Actually, if it had really been chasing him it would have run him through with that horn in no time flat.

Still ... it had to be some sort of publicity stunt, Steiner thought.

Steiner told his sisters he wasn't feeling very well and stayed in his room. He forced himself to take a swallow of brandy and tried to sleep, but he felt feverish. Frenzied, unconnected thoughts flashed through his mind. He tucked himself under the covers. The pain seemed to lift.

I'm not crazy, he thought, raising himself up on his right elbow to gaze below. The ocean was turquoise green in the shallows and deep cyan blue farther out. The sun was bright and warm and reassuring. Although no one was swimming in the pool, there were over thirty people sitting in deck chairs and chatting while others walked about. Everything was perfectly all right, exactly as it should be, as ordinary as bread.

Then Steiner saw the unicorn lift its head out of the ocean.

At first, he thought he was seeing a wave, a distant whitecap, but there was no mistaking that black fluted horn. There were those blue eyes and thick white mane and muscular neck. The unicorn rose out of the water, revealing itself little by little as it moved into the shallows, until the water was only up to its knees and it walked forward, kicking, lifting its long legs out of the water, onto the beach. The unicorn was dripping wet and as big as life. It stood on the edge of the empty beach and looked up at Steiner, as foamy water purled past its hooves. It knew Steiner was there. It had come for him again.

"Go away!" he shouted, as he shakily got up from his bed. As the pain began to radiate into his shoulders and arms and chest, he pulled the curtains closed.

But he knew the unicorn was still out there, waiting... .

Steiner felt much better by dinnertime. He had rested, and the aching in his arms and chest was gone, as were the sweats and fever. Steiner was prone to night sweats, anyway. He was apprehensive about opening the heavy curtains, so he left well enough alone ... he had had enough excitement for one day.

He dressed informally in tan shirt and slacks and went downstairs to pick up a newspaper in the lobby. He leafed through it outside the shabby hotel shop that sold magazines, newspapers, aspirin, suntan lotions, cheap trinkets, and sunglasses. He was disappointed—there wasn't even a mention of a circus, or a carnival, or a runaway horse .. . or a unicorn. Well, someone must have seen the damn thing, too, he thought. Surely, it will be in tomorrow's papers.

He put the newspaper back on the rack and met his sisters for dinner in the dining room. He felt a bit hesitant about seeing Mariana before their forthcoming tryst at the Fontainebleau, but it couldn't be avoided. If he didn't show up for dinner, she might think he was ill or not interested, and she might not meet him later. Still, he felt uncomfortable. But when she took his order, and Steiner smiled at her, she returned it. She even blushed. That made Steiner feel very good indeed.

Everything else went along as it had for the past five days. Cele and Kate and Mollie discussed the menu and chose each dish with care, but when the food actually came, each one complained bitterly that she should have ordered a different entrée. Kate complained about her sore mouth. Mollie talked about her children and "the grandkids" and told Cele that the veal was the wrong color.

After dinner and a wink at Mariana, Steiner accompanied his sisters to the obligatory 7:30 show in the ballroom, where the hotel rabbi—a slick stand-up comedian, who had made records and played the Catskills every year—was performing. Steiner didn't listen to the stale jokes. He kept glancing at his watch. After the show, he kissed his sisters good night and went to his room to change into fresh, more formal clothes for his date with Mariana. He felt a bit weak and dizzy, but he was determined to go out tonight, as if he had to prove something to himself.

As he entered the room, he examined himself in the full-length mirror on the bathroom door. He had a shock of white hair, which was yellowed a bit in the back; deep brown eyes; a thin nose; and a full, sensual mouth—it was a strong, angular face that had loosened with age. Although the face-lift two years ago had helped, lines still mapped his face. But he certainly didn't look his age.

He began to feel anxious here in the room, but he made a point of not going near the closed curtains. He could hear the faint murmur of the surf; it was like gentle white noise. He wondered if the unicorn was still out there as he changed into a smart-looking chocolate brown suit with a matching tie and a white-on-white shirt. His brogues were a bit scuffed; he reminded himself to buy polish. He concentrated on small details.

But he couldn't leave the room this time without finding out if the unicorn was still out there. He pulled open the drapes and looked out the salt-stained window ... he looked by the pool and on the beaches ... he looked at the white-crested black waves of the ocean.

The pool area and the beach were empty.

There was not a unicorn to be seen.

Steiner took a small table in front of the enclosed driftwood bar poolside at the Fontainebleau. The pool was huge and kidney-shaped, and Steiner enjoyed a tall whiskey and soda while he watched floodlit water cascading down a stonework waterfall into the pool. Palms were spaced around the pool area, and green and blue lights gave the place a festive, romantic atmosphere. To his left were the glass doors that led into the Fontainebleau shopping center; to his right, across an expanse of lawn, was the new ten-story addition to the hotel. Cozy paths wound their way between palmettos and hibiscuses, and the ocean was a dull, dark pounding behind him. Guests in evening clothes, in jeans and tubetops, in bathing suits and clogs, in gaudy slacks and Hawaiian shirts promenaded past him. Two callow-looking, teenaged lovers walked by, hand in hand, followed by a small group of executives and their wives. The whole world seemed to be carved into twos. But Steiner felt strong with excitement and anticipation; he felt dashing, good-looking, if just a trifle tired.

As he sat, waiting, two women who looked to be in their late thirties sat down at the wooden table beside him. One was dumpy-looking and plump; she wore clogs, white Bermuda shorts that were too tight for her, and a very revealing pink halter top. Her hair was blonde and coarse, obviously bleached. Her companion, in contrast, looked quite demure. She was tall and skinny, with short-cropped brown hair and a long, hollow-cheeked face. She wore a blue outfit—a blue blazer and a pleated white and blue skirt which was actually quite stylish. But she had the worst teeth that Steiner had ever seen. Her two front teeth were long and crooked and widely spaced, and one protruded beyond the other. Obviously, they should have been pulled long ago. She must be a country girl, Steiner thought. Country people don't take care of their teeth .. . they hate dentists.

Steiner ignored the women and waited for Mariana. He gazed at the path that led from the shopping center: the direction that Mariana should be coming from. He sipped his drink and eavesdropped on the conversation of the men at the bar. From what he could overhear, they were microprocessor executives from Atlanta here on a convention. They talked mostly about getting laid.

The blonde woman kept smiling at the men at the bar. To Steiner's surprise, the ploy worked, because when the waitress came to take her order, one of the men insisted on buying the blonde woman a drink. He was rather good-looking in an athletic sort of way ... what the hell would he want with someone like that? Steiner mused. Steiner couldn't help but stare. The man sat down, winked at his friends at the bar, and put his arm around the back of the blonde woman's chair. She was cooing and shifting about, smiling and nuzzling closer to the man as introductions were made. The other woman craned her long neck slightly to join in the conversation, but she looked uncomfortable, although she was the type who always looks uncomfortable. Steiner watched the executive lean forward to get a better look at the blonde's breasts; but Steiner was caught staring by the tall woman, who was looking directly at him. She smiled at him without revealing her teeth. Steiner nodded curtly and turned away.

That's all I need, he told himself. But he was getting anxious. Where was Mariana, anyway? It's ten o'clock already. I was a fool not to have gotten her home phone number. Dammit! Perhaps I can call the hotel ... she just might be working late. Steiner called from the bar, where the rest of the men were taking bets on whether their friend would get laid or not. Steiner watched the burly executive making his pass at the blonde. Then Mr. Lareina, the maître d', came to the phone and told Steiner that Mariana had left shortly after nine. "All right, thanks," Steiner said and hung up. He wasn't going to abase himself by asking for her home phone—Lareina wouldn't give it out, anyway.

Steiner sat back down at his table. He felt dazed. He brooded and stared out at the pastel-lit path leading to the Fontainebleau. Perhaps Mariana went home first to change.

Then he saw her. He straightened up in his chair, and waved excitedly to the dark-haired woman approaching the pool area. She was walking quickly on high heels, as if late for an appointment. Steiner felt a warm rush of anticipation. He started to get up as she approached .. . and only then realized that she wasn't Mariana. Up close, she didn't look like Mariana at all. She looked quizzically at Steiner, who was half out of his chair.

Steiner was mortified. He sat down reflexively. How could I have made such a mistake? he asked himself. He thought about going home, slinking away, crawling into his cool, uncomfortable bed, but he just couldn't leave. Mariana had to show. He wouldn't be stood up! Pain began to radiate once again throughout his arms and shoulders, then down into his chest.

"Girl troubles?" asked the skinny woman sitting at the table beside Steiner. She had a thin, reedy voice.

Steiner turned toward her. "I beg your pardon," he said, annoyed.

The woman tried to smile without revealing her teeth. "Your friend ... she might just be late, that's all," she said nervously. But she was persistent. "Why don't you have a drink with us? We'll cheer you up, we're good company ... and here I am a third wheel. Help us out."

"Thank you kindly, but I don't think so," Steiner said. The skinny woman pouted, an exaggerated moue.

"Oh, c'mon, buddy I'll buy you a drink," the executive said as he self-consciously ran his hand through his short-cropped hair. But Steiner knew his type, all right. He had probably been a bully when he was a kid, and a ROTC lieutenant in the army, and now he's some sort of zipperhead IBM-type manager who makes life hell for everyone under him. He was obviously looking for a way to cut the blonde away from her friend, and he was trying to use Steiner as a foil. "C'mon, what the hell," the man said, flashing a boyish smile, and he jumped his chair toward Steiner and then pulled his table over until it was touching Steiner's. The blonde woman laughed when the drinks spilled, and then she and her friend moved their chairs closer, too. Steiner was too embarrassed to do anything but accept the situation. He felt even more uncomfortable with the skinny woman pressing close to his elbow.

The executive waved down the waitress, and Steiner ordered another drink, which he didn't need ... he was achy and dizzy as it was, and his right arm felt numb. "So, friend, where do you hail from?" the man asked Steiner as he massaged the blonde's arm, purposely letting his fingers brush against her breast. The skinny woman leaned closer to Steiner, as if expecting him to answer in a whisper.

"I'm from upstate New York," Steiner said. "Binghamton." He felt his skin crawl. The woman was too close to him. She smelled of cheap perfume, and she had chicken skin. God ... he could imagine what she really smelled like.

"Is that so," the skinny woman said. "I've been through there. I used to live in Milford, Pennsylvania. Small world, isn't it?"

Steiner didn't have anything to say to that; he just leaned away from her and nodded glumly.

"I'm from Detroit," the executive said. "I'm in systems management ... mostly consultation work for engineering firms. What's your line?"

"I'm a judge ... was a judge, I'm retired now," Steiner replied.

"A judge!" the skinny woman said, brightening. "Jeeze, we don't have any manners here at this table. I'm Joline, and my friend here is Sandy, and he's ... oops"—she said, turning to the man from Detroit—"I've forgotten your name."

"Frank," the man said, paying the waitress for the new round of drinks.

"I'll take care of that," Steiner said stiffly, automatically, but Frank wouldn't hear of it.

"You haven't told us your name," Joline said.

God, she has a chalkboard voice, Steiner thought. "Stephen," he mumbled.

"That's a very nice name," Joline said, warming to her role as Steiner's new companion. "It fits you, somehow."

Stephen felt trapped at his own table. He began to perspire. Joline primly sipped her drink—something white and frothy in a tall, frosted glass—through two short narrow cocktail straws. Steiner was of the opinion that sipping a drink through those straws, which were made for decoration, was like drinking coffee out of a cup without removing the spoon. Joline wriggled toward him. Every one of her movements seemed exaggerated. "I think you take life very seriously," she said, looking at him intently, as if she were working her way into something profound.

I've got to get out of here! Steiner thought. He looked at his watch, making it very apparent that he had other things to do. Frank and Sandy certainly didn't take any notice; they were kissing each other right there at the table like two high school kids on a bench at a roller-skating rink. I can't be seen with these people, Steiner told himself. Jesus Christ.... He glanced at Joline, who smiled and blushed a little and then firmly pressed her leg against his. She looked somehow limp, as if waiting to be embraced. Oh, Jesus ... Steiner thought.

Frank whispered something to Sandy and then said to Steiner: "Steve, if you've no objections, we're going to take a little walk ... we'll be right back. Give you two a chance to talk. Nice meeting you."

"See you soon, honey," Sandy said to Joline, smiling warmly as she stood up.

"We'll hold down the fort," Joline said shyly, her knee still wedged woodenly against Steiner's.

"Would you care for another drink?" Steiner asked Joline after the others had left. He had to say something to her. Her silence was oppressive, and he was uncomfortable enough as it was.

"Yes ... thank you." Joline didn't seem to be able to look at Steiner now that her friend had left, but she leaned against him until he said, "Excuse me," and tried to disengage himself.

"You aren't going to leave me here alone, are you?" Joline asked. There was a pleading in her voice, and suddenly Steiner felt sorry for her ... she was lonely and ugly and past her prime. He felt both loathing and pity. "No ... I'll be right back," he said as he stood up.

"Promise?" Joline asked coyly, trying to smile again without revealing her crooked teeth.

"I promise," Steiner said. Jesus, Mary ... he thoughtas he walked away. Is that the way Mariana saw me ... the way I see that poor old girl at the table? Could I be that repulsive to her? He knew the answer ... he was an old man wearing old man's pastel clothes. He was an old man carrying a Jewish bankroll. No! he insisted. His skin might be like old clothes, but he wasn't old. Suddenly he understood why his wife, Grace, may she rest in peace, had become obsessed with butterflies. She had filled her house with butterfly-shaped bric-a-brac before she died.

He walked to the far end of the bar, as if he were going to the men's room, then ducked under the rope that separated deck from beach. Joline would be sitting back there alone, waiting. But I can't go back, he thought. He shivered at the thought of kissing that mouth ... feeling that long, protruding tooth with the tip of his tongue .. . smelling her odor.

He walked along surf's edge, shoes squishing in the wet sand, and he became lost to the sound of waves pummeling the shell-strewn beach ... lost to the waiting darkness ahead ... lost below the clear sky filled with clusters of silent stars.

He passed a small hotel, which had one beachlamp on overhead, and standing upon the shadow line was the unicorn. It had been waiting for Steiner. It stood tall and gazed at him, only its great horned head clearly visible. The unicorn's blue eyes seemed to glow, the same melting, beautiful color of the water in the Blue Grotto in Capri. Steiner stopped, and suddenly remembered being in Europe as a young man, suddenly felt the selfsame awe of the world he had once felt. He also felt lost and empty. He grieved for himself and for the poor woman waiting for him at the Fontainebleau. What would she tell her friends when they returned? Would she, indeed, even wait for them?

Steiner gazed back at the unicorn, trying to make certain it was real and not just the play of shadows, or his imagination. It was not his imagination, he told himself. Staring into the unicorn's eyes seemed to stimulate memories he had forgotten for years:

He remembered swimming in the Mediterranean. He remembered a two-week vacation in Atlantic City with Grace and his two sons. He remembered riding bicycles on the boardwalk with his family. He remembered cooking eggs at four o'clock in the morning after a party and permitting the kids to come down and eat, too. He remembered his first trial ... as a lawyer and as a judge. He remembered uneventful days with Grace .. . beautiful, precious, never-to-be-recovered days. He remembered coming home to problems with the boys and sharing dinnertime conversation across the table with Grace.

And he suddenly, desperately missed it all. He wanted the days back!

He also remembered the nameless women, and how Grace had begged him to come back. She had waited, but couldn't wait long enough. He wanted to go home ... to Grace. He looked into the unicorn's sad eyes and saw himself, as if in a mirror. He was an empty old man who had lost his life to foolishness. He had wasted all of Grace's love ... and now it was too late to make reparation.

Tears trembled and worked their way down his face, and the unicorn stepped toward him. It walked slowly, as if not to frighten him. Steiner stepped to the side, but did not try to run. The beast lay down beside him and rested its head in the sand, a gesture of submission. Steiner nervously extended his hand toward the unicorn's muzzle. The unicorn didn't flinch or move, and Steiner stroked its forehead. He touched its fluted black horn and saw that its tip looked red, as if dipped in blood.

He felt a contentment radiate through him as he stroked the unicorn. He also felt the throbbing return of the pain in his chest and arms, yet as the pain became greater, so did his sense of being removed from it. As he rested against the unicorn, he felt it quiver, then begin to move. It raised its head, all the while watching Steiner, but before it stood up, Steiner pulled himself upon its back. I can ride the beast, Steiner thought as he held onto its coarse mane as the unicorn brought itself to full height.

"Come on, boy," Steiner whispered, feeling an almost forgotten heart-pounding joy. The unicorn sensed it, too, because it broke into a playful canter. It shook its head, as if miming laughter, and kicked its hind legs into the air. Steiner held the horse tightly with his legs. He felt his youthful strength returning. He felt at one with the unicorn. The unicorn jumped, galloped, and stopped short, only to sprint forward again. It ran full-out, edging closer to the sea, until it was splashing in the water. Steiner was shouting and laughing, unmindful of anything but the perfect joy of the moment. Steiner felt wonderful. For the first time in his life, everything was right. He felt he could do anything. He was at one with the world .. . and he rode and balanced on the back of the unicorn as if he had spent the past forty years of his life riding the wind.

Suddenly the unicorn turned and headed straight out into the ocean. Waves broke against its knees and chest. Steiner's legs were immersed in water. "What are you doing?" Steiner shouted joyfully, unafraid but holding on tightly to its neck. The unicorn walked deeper into the sea, past the breakers, until it was swimming smoothly and quickly through the warm, salty water. The sea was like a sheet of black glass, made of the same stuff as the unicorn's horn. It seemed to go on forever.

As the dark water rose over Steiner, he finally accepted the wreck of his life.

The unicorn lifted its great head as it descended into the sea. Steiner took hold of its red-tipped horn, and the unicorn carried him gently down into the ocean's cool, waiting depths.

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