“Time to decorate the tree!” I grumbled. I slid the red plastic disc across the green surface of the shuffleboard court, hoping it would become an “ornament” when it stopped inside the triangle-atop-a-trapezoid pattern that looked like a Christmas tree.

On the balcony above, the woman in the straw sunhat lowered the book that obscured her features and arched an eyebrow above the frames of her sunglasses.

In an effort to win her full attention from whatever literary fireworks flashed across the pages, I began showboating. I kicked my right leg into the air like a pitcher with a wild windup. Then I snaked the shaft of the cue underneath it to line up a between-the-legs shot. For my next trick, I went with behind-the-back, adding a flamboyant half-twist on the follow through. That put me in the perfect position to fire index-finger six guns indiscriminately into a crowd that, except for one member, was imaginary.

In that instant, I had a vision of myself swaggering into the St. Petersburg Shuffleboard Club as the “bad boy” of the pro tour – all trash talk and cutting catchphrases, personifying the youth movement the sport so desperately needed to attract widespread media attention.

Back at the Hyatt Newporter, I came crashing onto the deck as the sole of my sandal stuck in the sap of the lavender jacaranda blossoms carpeting the courtyard. When the woman in the sunhat tittered and turned her attention back to her book, I realized that I was, indeed, adrift.

I wouldn’t have even noticed the shuffleboard court if not for the weight of Bob Dylan’s genius, which had stretched the handles of the plastic shopping bag from the Barnes & Noble on Fashion Island to the breaking point just as I had drawn even with it. The 788-page songbook had been thumping against my leg as I had hustled across the courtyard separating the valet stand from the hotel room my wife’s company was putting us up in while she attended a conference there in Newport Beach. But the real jolt came when it registered that I had left my guitar at home. So much for my plan to show off by learning to play “Just Like A Woman” before Heidi returned from her afternoon session.

So I was drifting, like the koi lazing through the channels cut into in the courtyard at Fashion Island, enlivening only for crumbs of attention. There in Newport, I was – like the mall koi – a decorative object, one meant to complement my wife’s ensemble at corporate mixers. Perhaps the woman in the sunhat was in the same boat.

I scraped myself off the shuffleboard court, pried a wilted jacaranda blossom off my forearm, and began another game.

Maybe she would notice.

“Adrift” was originally published by Fewer Than 500 in 2016.

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