Lisa hadn’t spoken to Allen in ten years. Sure, she’s been married to David for 12. The math isn’t great. But still, she’s come a long way. Allen was her college boyfriend. They had a lust-filled relationship with hints of love. But she didn’t know what love was back then.
She found herself thinking of Allen less. Her husband, David, is a family man. A model father to their four kids. Allen has ex-girlfriends littered across Boston. And a recent ex-wife.
That’s why Lisa was thinking of Allen. He emailed her to let her know he was getting divorced. He didn’t say anything other than that. It’s not like he asked her to meet. Or to fuck. But he still reached out. And when Allen reaches out, things always seem to go wrong for Lisa.
She got this email the same day she was let go from her job at one of Boston’s top advertising agencies. She helped build out that office. But they were letting her go. And of course, all this happened the same day she had to go to San Francisco with her husband and her four kids.
She watched David usher their children off the trolley. Each one of them was wearing a navy blue San Francisco windbreaker. Each kid, one by one, decided they needed a $60 San Francisco jacket. Never take children to a gift shop, David thought to himself as he handed over his credit card.
He hauled his family across the country for spring break—from Boston to San Francisco. The kids were excited. Lisa wasn’t. She wanted to be on a beach. Weeks before the trip, they argued over the location of their vacation.
“Why not Mexico? Or even Florida? They’re both closer and warmer.”
She didn’t understand why they made their entire trip about their children. It’s not easy to travel with kids. And now they’re calling the shots too?
“All four of them are obsessed with Alcatraz, Lisa. You know that.”
“They’d like the beach too,” she whispered to herself as they packed their bags a few nights before leaving. Before she knew about her job and Allen’s divorce.
The family’s Alcatraz obsession could be traced back to a series of children’s books that were popular in the O’Donald house. A young detective, named Louis Clue, investigates unsolved mysteries at major US landmarks. Louis Clue has visited the Grand Canyon, the Statue of Liberty and Alcatraz Island. For some reason, that particular book, Louis Clue Goes to Prison, had a hold on the O’Donald children.
David indulged them with old photos he found online, a screening of the movie Escape from Alcatraz and even a legitimate history book for his oldest daughter. Eventually, it was clear: He needed to take them to Alcatraz. Now, here he was. With an annoyed wife and $240 worth of size-small San Francisco windbreakers shuffling in front of him.
San Francisco felt more like Seattle to David. It had been raining since they got in on Friday afternoon. Lisa held their youngest child, Michael, by the hand as the family crossed the street.
They made their way through Fisherman’s Wharf. It reminded David of the South Boston Waterfront. Tons of tourists and trinkets for sale. Seafood restaurants that looked like they served frozen shrimp. Like a boardwalk without the charm of weathered wood.
“It’s amazing that we’re only a few miles away from some of the best restaurants in the world—but we’ll probably be eating deep-fried fish for lunch.” Lisa whispered into David’s ear as they ushered their kids towards the Alcatraz Ferry.
He ignored her. He could never tell if she was actually mad at him or not. Lisa picking on him is her way of flirting. That’s how they started dating. They played on a softball team together in Boston. Lisa joked and poked at David after every fly ball he dropped in the outfield. Which was a lot. David’s tall and strong but just not very athletic.
Towards game five or six, he was so frustrated, that he threw his baseball mitt at Lisa. She bought him a beer after the game—solely because of how bad she felt.
“No gift shops today! You’re all wearing those jackets to your wedding,” David bellowed as he pushed his kids past boardwalk shops filled with t-shirts and mugs and keychains.
“Wait, say cheese! Wedding photos!” he snapped a picture of his children with the digital camera that hung around his neck.
“David!” Lisa scolded him as she held back a laugh. He looked at his camera and smirked at the still frame of all four O’Donald’s blank faces in their oversized windbreakers, his wife waving in the background.
The family found their way to Pier 33 and got in line for the Alcatraz ferry. David had never been to San Francisco. He knew Lisa had, but he’d never asked her about it. Until the night before as they packed their suitcases.
“I went with Allen.” She was curt.
“Almost 20 years ago.”
David knew all about Allen. Lisa was honest about their whirlwind romance. A few years ago, he noticed she followed Allen on Instagram. And he knew she had emailed him before. Nothing flirtatious. Just “well wishes” was all she said.
He was jealous. Absolutely. But he, too, had a passionate relationship when he was younger. His wife used to have a deep connection with this guy. So what? That was almost 15 years ago. He understood. But he thought Allen was a loser.
“You know Native Americans have occupied Alcatraz twice,” David’s oldest daughter, Jessie, declared. She was ten and actually knew quite a bit about the prison.
“What does occupied mean?” Evan and Emma, his two middle children sang almost in unison. They weren’t twins. That was something David and Lisa had to remind themselves of. The two were 13 months apart.
He was stuffing a sandwich bag full of trail mix into his backpack and trying to keep all of his children safely in line when a woman stepped onto the pier, right behind the O’Donalds. David was hypnotized.
She had bright blue eyes and a blank expression. Like she’d be disinterested in anything David could possibly say to her. Her long, pale legs stretched out of an oversized jacket seemingly forever. Curly red hair casually framed her angular face. She looked exactly like the porn David has been watching almost all of his adult life.
She wore a San Francisco windbreaker too. The same one his kids had on, but in gray. The jacket was too big for her. He was sure she was wearing shorts, but her jacket hung halfway down her thighs. So it looked like she wasn’t wearing anything other than the jacket.
He wished he could spend just one night with her. That he could keep his children and his wife and just fuck her once. He caught himself staring. So he made a deal. He shouldn’t make this woman uncomfortable. And he was with his kids. But every task he completed—every snotty tissue and snack wrapper he pocketed made him feel like he could steal another glance. Like his fatherly duties earned him that bit of subtle perversion.
“Occupied means they took it over, as a protest.” He finally answered Evan and Emma as he pulled a bottle of hand sanitizer from his bag. He could tell by their faces that they didn’t understand. Louis Clue didn’t do the best job of navigating the United State’s relationship with Indigenous Americans. Or the nuances of symbolic protest.
She looked about 22. She’d have no interest in him. He had a beer belly that he couldn’t get rid of. Of course, the belly wasn’t even from beer. It was from eating potato chips and not exercising and eating food off his kid’s plates and drinking Coca-Cola at work. Maybe, when David was younger, she would have given him a chance.
The woman was with a boyfriend. A boy; David emphasized the word in his head. The boy was probably about the same age as her. He definitely wasn’t a man.
“Daaad.” he heard Michael whimper, but he didn’t take his eyes off of her.
“DAAD.” Michael pleaded again, almost crying.
But David couldn’t look away. She had taken off one of her sandals and was using her big toe to scratch her leg.
“What’s up buddy?” He kept the woman in the corner of his eye while he pretended to watch the most recent group of tourists de-board the ship. She was balanced on one foot—like the yoga poses his wife practices on Saturday mornings in their guest bedroom.
“DAAAAAADD.” Michael was really crying now.
The way her big toe pressed into her thigh created a tension of muscle and leg.
“DAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAD” Michael sounded like he’d been shot. The intense distress of his own kid was the only thing that could stop him from staring at her toes.
He looked down and saw Michael, covered in vomit. He had thrown up all over his rain jacket. Definitely the order of nachos his kids split last night. Why did he let a 3-year-old eat jalapenos and sour cream?
He picked Michael up, holding him like a priest would show a congregation the Eucharist. His puke-covered son in all his glory. He wasn’t trying to embarrass Michael, just trying his best to keep the vomit away from his own body.
Just as David located the pier’s public bathroom, the line for the ferry started to move. They were boarding. Michael was silent.
“David.” Lisa yelled at him.
“David! Bring him on the boat and clean him up there.”
He felt every eye in line on him. Including the woman with her curly red hair. He looked to see if she noticed his vomit-covered child. She had. And she was smiling.
People started to part ways and let him through to the front of the line. Probably because they could smell the commotion.
“Coming through, sick kid,” he warned the crowd. But all he could think about was his fantasy woman seeing him act like an absolute loser.
The crew quickly lifted the blue rope meant to keep passengers out. David carried Michael into the ship’s bathroom and sat his son on the sink. His legs dangled, showing two mismatched socks underneath his cuffed jeans.
“I’m sorry Daddy.” David realized he hadn’t said a word to Michael.
“Aww it’s ok buddy. Here, lift your arms up.” Michael slid the jacket over his son’s head and revealed a completely clean outfit. His oversized windbreaker had blocked all the vomit.
Lisa took the opportunity of no David and no Michael to check her phone. She had a message on Instagram from Allen. And an email from work.
She hadn’t even answered Allen’s most recent email. But she just had this feeling he’d be reaching out to her while she was on this vacation. She had an Allen-radar. She could always feel when he was ready to try to jump back into her life. But the two hadn’t communicated outside of an email in a long time. The sterility of her Gmail inbox; filled with Costco membership renewals and Amazon returns, felt hidden enough for him to slip in a message. She wasn’t worried about David seeing that. But a direct message on Instagram? That felt so much more public.
Allen replied to her post at the hotel with “how’s SF?” She’d taken a selfie in the hotel gym. Even though she has kids, she never lost herself. She still wore all her gold jewelry. She still kept up with the same running routine she’d had since she ran college track.
She typed a reply to Allen: “My son just threw up on himself.” That was the truth. A completely sexless, guilt-free response. But she still responded.
Then she read the email from work. It was her severance package. She’d been pushed out of the agency that she’d help build. She knew it was coming. Ageism and politics and shiny new employees the C-suite wanted to hire. She got a massive payout. But she hadn’t told David yet. She knew he’d be shocked. She really hadn’t thought about anything other than telling David about getting fired and the email from Allen since they’d landed in San Francisco. She felt like her head was going to explode.
She was the head of new business and a senior vice president. Her job was basically to find fast food chains and department stores and airlines that needed funny commercials. But when she couldn’t land the Burger King account, she fell out of favor with the CEO.
“Evan and Emma. Please get away from the edge of the boat. I don’t want you to fall in.” She spoke calmly to her two middle children. She loves her chaotic and big family. She grew up an only child. Lonely. The thought of not having four children crawling up her legs now makes her anxious.
“Hey. you’re clean.” David said to his son. Michael sat still, deciding whether or not he was ok. After Michael made the decision that he was in fact clean, he hopped off the sink. David turned on the water and watched the regurgitated jalapenos and tortillas chips fall off the wet jacket and swirl down the sink. He pumped out some soap and rubbed the chest of the jacket with the sleeves to remove the stench.
“Daddy are we on the boat to Alcatraz?? Michael was now twirling slowly on one foot, seemingly deep in thought. Blissfully unaware he had just unloaded his stomach.
“Yes buddy, now come wash your hands and your mouth.”
He picked Michael up and held him over the sink as he slowly rubbed his tiny hands together.
“Does your tummy hurt?” David couldn’t make out Michael’s response.
He exited the bathroom with a wet raincoat and a clean kid. Victorious. He walked Michael up the stairs, to the upper deck of the boat. He knew Lisa and the rest of the kids would opt for the scenic view.
He spotted them. They were sitting right next to the woman with curly red hair. Her pale skin was bright like an iceberg. She was almost shining against the gloomy San Francisco sky and the dark-blue water. He took a deep swallow and led Michael towards the rest of his family.
“He’s clean!” Lisa pulled Michael onto her lap.
“Daddy, this is likely the route that the only three escapees from Alcatraz took. Through these exact waters.” Jessie pointed to an arbitrary spot in the ocean.
“Oh, you think?” David pretended to look at the island as he stared at the woman with red hair. He couldn’t believe she was wearing the same jacket as his children.
He eavesdropped. Her boyfriend was talking her ear off. David got the understanding that they had been dating for a long time. This boy had just started a new job.
“Dad, my eyes hurt!” Michael came running to him from the edge of the ship. Lisa followed closely behind.
“He stared directly into the sun.” His wife looked at him as if to say what the fuck.
David tried his hardest to suppress his laughter. Which in turn made Lisa crack up.
“Daddy my eyyyes!” Michael pleaded.
“Michael, don’t laugh at him.” Lisa smacked her husband’s arm as she covered her mouth to hold back her own laughter.
“Buddy you cannot stare directly into the sun.” David placed his oversized Oakleys on his son’s tiny face. Michael looked like he was wearing a cheap disguise. He ran towards the rest of his siblings, his tiny hands holding the arms of the sunglasses tight to his face. Lisa took a seat down next to David.
“He stared into the sun. You can’t make this stuff up.” she leaned her head onto David’s chest.
“The sun did really come out of nowhere.” David pulled her into his arms.
She squeezed him. Lisa was telling David she was sorry for her beach protest. That’s when she showed him affection. When she felt like she had wronged him.
The sun finally broke through the clouds that hung over San Francisco since they’d gotten off the plane. David wouldn’t be upset about her job. He cared about what mattered. That’s always been why she loved him.
“This is better than the beach.” She smiled warmly at him. “I mean look at them,” she pointed to the O’Donald kids. “They’re literally chanting Alcatraz.”
Lisa was right, their children were on the edge of the boat, chanting the name of the island as they sailed closer.
“I’ll go round them up. It looks like we’re almost there.”
Lisa strolled towards the front of the boat. She thought about how she could never have this type of day with Allen. Yes, he was exciting and sexy and nothing like David. But he certainly wasn’t reliable. Her husband just carried her baby, covered in puke, through a crowd of people.
She thought about what it would be like if Allen was her husband. She thought about what it would be like if she told him she lost her job. He’d be dramatic. They’d get drunk. They’d act like their life was a movie. She thought about how Allen always smoked cigarettes in bed after a night out.
Then she thought about how perfect David was. How, despite his beer belly and his overgrown NPR-nerd beard and his faded Boston Red Sox hat and his actually problematic ice-cream addiction—she loved him.
David lifted his hand to shield the sudden sun. He watched his wife’s hips swivel from side to side as she walked to gather their children. It was something he’d done since they started dating in college. He’d tok his head back and forth with each inadvertent wiggle of her hips. She had no idea that he did this.
“When did that sun pop out?” the woman with the curly red hair asked her boyfriend. David’s attention pivoted from Lisa to her San Francisco windbreaker.
She started to peel off her jacket. But, somehow, in the pulling and tugging, her t-shirt got stuck to her San Francisco windbreaker—revealing a thin bra barely covering her milky, freckled chest and stomach. David could see her cleavage, moist with sweat.
The woman didn’t notice her chest was out for the whole boat to see. She had her San Francisco windbreaker stuck over her head; her arms trapped in the air. It was like all of David’s porn dreams come true.
He took the camera around his neck and snapped a picture. Without thinking. He just pressed the button.
The girl’s boyfriend saw David take the picture. He looked at his girlfriend, then back at David.
“Did you just take a fucking picture?” the man roared.
The entire top floor of the ferry turned their attention from the approaching island to David. Lisa turned her head from the other side of the boat, not expecting her husband to be in the middle of the commotion. She stood, frozen, while some stranger stormed towards him.
“Give me your camera you fucking perv.”
David wasn’t sure what came over him, he just snapped the picture. He wasn’t thinking.
“Let me see your camera,” he demanded. The woman met David’s eyes with absolute disgust on her face.
“CREEP” she mouthed. He couldn’t hold eye contact.
David had written this guy off as a “boy” but, now that he was towering over him, things were much different.
He turned the screen of his camera towards the man, showing him a picture of his girlfriend’s chest. David’s arms were shaking like lightning. He felt an intense rush of shame trickle through his body. He tapped the camera’s garbage-can button and deleted the picture.
“There. It’s gone.”
“Fucking pervert,” the man walked back to his girlfriend, who had put her jacket back on. David released his breath.
All four O’Donald kids rushed over to David—followed by his Lisa. His face was white and his jaw was slack.
“Daddy, what happened?”
The ferry’s intercom roared with a fuzz:
WELCOME TO ALCATRAZ:
THE COUNTRY’S MOST FAMOUS PRISON.
PLEASE EXIT TO THE LEFT OF THE SHIP
WATCH YOUR STEP!
The children ran towards the boat’s exit. Lisa grabbed David’s arm.
“What just happened? Why did you take a picture of that woman?” She yanked him towards the stairs as she talked, pointing forward, to signal to him that they still needed to keep track of their children. David felt like he was floating. Like he was a balloon, and his wife was dragging him through the air.
Each kid grabbed small plastic radios that played a guided audio tour of the prison. David and Lisa silently walked behind them. His eyes darted, looking for the woman with the curly red hair, praying she wouldn’t cross his path. He still hadn’t answered Lisa’s question.
“Why did you take a picture of that woman?” she whispered into his ear.
He didn’t say anything. Instead he silently contemplated his imminent divorce for being the world’s creepiest man. He couldn’t keep this stuff in check? On a family vacation?
His children had no idea. They were in Louis Clue’s stomping ground. They were on Alcatraz Island. The O’Donald family mecca. And he had sinned.
He did his best to follow Michael, who kept crawling inside of the old prison cells, which were locked. Michael would slide his little body between the bars and make himself a part of the small-scale exhibit. Some of the cells even had stuffed mannequins meant to look like prisoners, dressed in 1930s prison jumpsuits. His son’s interest in being confined concerned him. But David was focused on surveying the crowd to avoid that woman and her boyfriend.
Lisa did her best to keep Evan and Emma close to the group. They had been hell-bent on walking “ahead” of the family since this morning. Some sort of claim on independence. She found herself running after the two of them every time she turned her head.
She was furious with David. She’d caught him looking at women before. Plenty of times actually. Typically younger women too. But she couldn’t talk to him now. They couldn’t fight and take care of their children. But that was the problem. Anytime she needed to talk to David, he was busy with the kids.
Every San Francisco windbreaker freaked him out. He thought every single one was going to be the woman with red hair. He felt like half the island had on some version of that gift shop jacket.
After Michael crawled out of another cell, he grabbed Lisa’s leg with his tiny hand. David could now focus his attention on avoiding a sucker punch to the face from that man.
Jessie, the oldest O’Donald, didn’t have an assigned parent on the island. She took to the elderly tour guide, asking him all sorts of questions.
“Is it true that Frank Morris and the Anglin Brothers escaped Alcatraz in 1962?”
“Well, that’s a complicated question, Miss.” The ancient-looking man was delighted to have such a curious guest.
“There’s no proof they survived their escape from the island. But several reports claim Frank Morris sent his mother flowers every year for her birthday, under an anonymous name, well into the 1980s.”
As the family headed out into the prison yard, David stood atop the crumbling concrete stairs, looking past the edge of the island and out into the ocean. He understood why so many men had tried to swim off of the island. It looks so doable. So swimmable. But he knew it was impossible.
Lisa, Emma and Evan sprinted down the prison-yard steps.
“Dad, dad!” the two non-twins screeched.
“David he’s stuck!” Michael’s stuck in the cell!” Lisa eeked.
David booked it up the prison yard stairs towards his family. His cargo shorts, weighed down with supplies for his children, were falling down his waist. Lisa, Emma and Evan led him towards the cell Micael was stuck in. Michael was standing, crying, next to a stuffed dummy of Al Capone playing the harmonica.
“Michael sweetie. Come out the same way you came in.” Lisa spoke softly to her crying toddler.
“Michael, it’s going to be ok.” David matched Lisa’s tone. He wasn’t sure it was going to be ok though. His son was in prison and he was a pervert.
Jessie O’Donald saw her family’s commotion from down the prison hall.
“I think my brother’s stuck in one of the cells.” she told the tour guide.
He coolly pulled a set of keys and walked towards the now-gathering crowd without skipping a beat. He had taken a liking to his preteen accomplice.
“You know, children actually lived and went to school on this island. From 1889 to 1963, hundreds of children called this place home.”
He effortlessly unlocked the cell. Michael ran into his parents arms. David hoisted Micael onto his shoulders. Lisa had tied his semi-clean windbreaker around his tiny neck. David could smell the little-boy vomit. Not as strong or vile as an adult’s. Still disgusting. But he didn’t care.
He led his family to the gift shop—happily dropping another $200 on prison costumes and mugs. He didn’t understand why children wanted mugs. But he felt like this was his penance. Like he was punishing himself for what he did.
Lisa again whispered into his ear, “we’ll talk when we get back.”
After a silent boat ride, with no sign of the woman David took a picture of, the couple dropped the children in their hotel room and headed back to their own. Both knew they had maybe 45 minutes at best to talk about his perverted episode before kid-chaos ensued.
She untied her running shoes as she sat on the bed, not looking at David.
“It was disgusting what I did.”
“Yes.” Lisa turned and stared at him with a blank expression.
“I don’t know why I did it.”
“What did you even do exactly? Just take a picture of her?”
Michael stayed silent. He thought about bringing up Allen. Or the fact that Lisa hadn’t wanted to have sex in months. But he didn’t.
“Her shirt got stuck when she took her jacket off. She was just in a bra.”
“Michael.” Lisa stopped untying her shoes. She had just her left one on.
“You have children.”
“But what about a wife?” he opened his arms wide showing his frustration. He finally said what he’d been wanting to say for months.
“You have a wife.”
“I saw the email from Allen. I didn’t read it. But I saw that he emailed you. You left your computer open on the kitchen table the night before we left.”
Lisa stared harder at David, pretending to be stunned. She finally yanked both sneakers off.
“And that gives you the right to take a photo of some random woman? David, she was young.”
“I have no excuse for that!” He started to raise his voice, “but we’ve never been off like this!” he threw his hands into the air.
“Allen is getting a divorce.” Lisa tugged at the elastic around the ankle of her sock and slid it off.
“Is that what you want?” David teared up. He was ready for her to say yes.
“No.” she walked over and sat next to him on the bed. She was only wearing one sock.
“Look at our children. Look at how beautiful they are. How happy and curious and silly they are.”
“Ok—but things between us still aren’t right.” David tried to put his arm around his wife’s waist but she pushed it off.
David kissed Lisa on her neck.
“No. No please not now David.”
“Is it Allen? Would you rather be fucking Allen?” he asked his wife.
Lisa went white. David realized he stepped too far. She’d never done anything wrong. He was just jealous.
“I lost my job David.”
“I lost my job. They let me go on Thursday.”
“But why didn’t you say anything?”
“And ruin our vacation?”
He put his arm around his wife. She took off her watch and placed it on the bed next to them.
“I still love you. A lot.” she explained to David.
“And I’m disgusted with what you did today. I’m like really grossed out David.” She pushed him off of her.
“Especially because, before all that happened, all I could think about was how great of a father you are. And how happy I am to be with you. You’re a freak. And life is really weird. But I need you.” She poked David in the belly. He kissed her on the forehead and squeezed her into his wide frame.
“We’re going to get through this. You’re going to find another job. You’re Lisa fucking O’Donald. My gorgeous wife.”
“We are going to get through this. But I’m not going to just drop the fact that you took a picture of a co-ed on a boat to Alcatraz with your children.” She kissed him on the top of his head.
“Call the kids and tell them to come in here.” she told him.
David sat on the bed, picked up the hotel’s phone and dialed his children’s room.
“Jessie, bring your siblings into our room. We’re ordering room service.”
He hung up the phone.
“David, we are going to talk about this when we get home.”
The kids were banging at the door in no less than a minute. Michael waddled in, his puke-soaked jacket still tied around his little shoulders. He looked like an old Massachusetts man. A curmudgeon three-year-old.
“Dad, can I have nachos?”
“Let’s try something other than nachos tonight.” he untied the jacket from Michael’s neck.
The next morning, David woke up early and told Lisa to keep sleeping. He wanted to walk to one of the overpriced gift shops near the ferry that took his family to Alcatraz.
Once he closed the door, Lisa rolled over and unplugged her phone. She opened her messages from Allen. She wanted to type up a joke. She wanted to talk about when they got drunk in San Francisco’s Chinatown 20 years ago. But she just deleted the messages. And she blocked Allen’s account.
David walked straight to the back of the gift shop. Right where his four kids had begged him to spend $240 on poor quality jackets 24 hours ago. He grabbed two windbreakers off of the clothing rack. One for him and one for Lisa.
Ryan Casey is a writer, photographer and creative director based in Brooklyn.