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Spadina Literary Review  —  edition 16 page 12


The Hostage

by Jacob M. Appel

We’re on our fifth date — if you can still call them dates after you’ve been sleeping together for two weeks — and I’ve driven Maddie out to Flamingo Beach for a heart-to-heart. Flamingo Beach isn’t actually a beach at all, but a rocky patch of public shoreline on the northern coast of Long Island Sound. There are no flamingos — only an outcropping of pink granite. Hermit crabs scamper between the tidal pools. Across the water, New York’s distant skyscrapers shimmer like bejeweled sea creatures under the bright August sun. It seems like a safe place to share the secret that has, for all practical purposes, ended my last two relationships.

“So what’s the catch?” asks Maddie — at thirty-six, also a relationship skeptic. “Everything is going so well, I feel there must be a catch.”

We’ve spread out a blanket in the shade of a long-abandoned boathouse and Maddie’s head is resting on my lap.

“You honestly want to know? My sister steals babies.”

Maddie’s grin melts quickly, as she senses that I’m not joking. She sits up, her long auburn hair dappled with twigs. “For real?”

“Not anymore. Now she gets a shot of Haldol every month and attends a program for schizophrenics,” I explain. “But before that, she was arrested three times for baby-snatching. Between following the law or the voices in her head, the voices win out every time.”

Maddie squeezes my forearm. She’s a massage therapist and has a gift for expressing herself with her touch. “That’s not exactly a catch,” she says. “What I mean is, your sister’s illness isn’t going to ruin our relationship.”

“She’s not the only one. I have an aunt like that. And three cousins. We’ve got something wrong with our genes,” I continue. “They don’t steal babies. But they’ve all spent time in the state hospital.” I draw a deep breath and focus my eyes upon a far-off water-skier, unwilling to meet Maddie’s gaze. The water-skier is holding the line with only one hand, rising and dipping with the current. “So that’s the catch. I’m not willing to risk having children — not biologically.” I’m still trailing the water-skier across the open channel; suddenly, he loses his grip and wipes out.

“This is going to be a deal-breaker, isn’t it?”