The WIDOWER (PART 2)

Part one: https://rustorytelling.wordpress.com/2013/03/13/the-widower-part-1/

“Come in,” I say. The hallway light near the staircase is flickering again. Betty asked me to fix it, but I forgot.

“Thank you,” he says. “This is for you.”

I take the wine. It’s red. I like beer.

“Hi Richard. How are you?” says Betty appearing out of the kitchen. She’s wearing her real smile.

“I’m good. Thank you for inviting me. It smells delicious in here.” He has a nice voice and he spaces his words well. It’s slow and soothing.

“Don’t be silly. It’s our pleasure. Eric why don’t you take Richard’s jacket and talk in the living room, I just need one more minute to finish and I’ll uncork this lovely gift,” she says taking the bottle from me. “Ha, Richard how did you remember, The Santa Maria Valley Pinot Noir. It looks delightful,” she says. I didn’t know she liked Pinot Noir.

I don’t want to be left alone with him, but I take his jacket and he loosens his tie.

“Here we go,” I say showing him to the living room. I plop down in a chair and he follows suit.

Richard looks about my age, maybe thirty-five, but probably more active. His clothes fit well. I look down at my own outfit. I have a little more insulation under my button down and there is a small stain on my khakis. I wet my finger and rub, but it won’t come out. He’s tall, too.

“Would you like something to drink?” I ask with nothing really in mind. We don’t keep hard liquor.

“No, thank you, I’m okay for now,” he says.

“Just let me know.” I don’t have very much to say to him. I’m anxious for Betty to return.

“Thanks again for inviting me by the way. I tend to eat alone these days,” says Richard shifting in his seat, placing one leg over the other so that a bit of his argyle socks are just visible.

The thought depresses me and I don’t know what to say. I just rewet my finger and go back to work on the stain.

“Here you go,” says Betty entering the room. She’s holding two wine glasses filled half way and hands one to Richard. He gets up to relieve her.

“Oh…Eric here,” he says holding it out for me to take realizing there are only two glasses.

“Eric doesn’t enjoy wine,” intercedes Betty. Betty is wearing her new spring dress and her hair is done nice. Straight. Around her neck are the pearls that she surprised herself with for her birthday. She’s even wearing her black heels. She’s a fraction taller than me when she wears them. But I don’t mind. She looks beautiful. I think to tell her this.

“I’m sorry I should’ve brought something else,” says Richard.

“No. I’ll just grab a beer,” I say quickly.

“Well then dinner is served. This way, if you don’t mind,” she says leading Richard to the dining room.

The good china is out, a wedding gift from her Aunt Marge. The food’s out too and my stomach grumbles. I take my normal seat by the main window. There’s a cold Blue Moon already set. Betty sits in her normal seat and puts her wine glass down. Richard does the same. Betty invites Richard to say grace. He does. Out of respect, I bow my head. Betty thanks him and we begin.

There’s turkey and yams, stuffing too. Richard asks for the mashed potatoes and I pass them before digging in. Once I get going I don’t stop. Why would I? I don’t follow much of the conversation anyhow. I think, how many peas can I fit in my mouth at one time? I start slow with a spoonful. Then add another and another. I figure each spoonful must be like twenty peas. I switch to the serving spoon instead. It can hold probably close to fifty. Betty sips her wine and shoots me a look. They’re not even fresh. They’re the frozen kind; I saw her take them out of the freezer earlier. I swallow and stop.

Richard says something about his childhood in Long Chester or maybe about his sister’s children in Long Chester.

“I’d like a couple of my own,” says Betty. I turn towards her. Her eyes haven’t moved off him. I polish off the beer, get another. When I return they’re talking about the last book they read. Then switch to a short story that someone from the book club had forwarded.

“It was disturbingly beautiful. The passion. To feel such tremendous love for another is incredible. I mean of course she’s crazy, but it’s the love that drives her to do it,” says Betty.

Richard says slowly and with meaning, “That’s why he’s Faulkner. The way he takes us through the town, the way he invites us in on the action. I felt like I was a member of the town, rummaging through Emily’s house. And to find that gray hair on the pillow beside Homer’s body.” Richard’s voice starts to shake. I look up from my plate, turkey in my mouth, chewing. His eyes are moist. Betty’s eyes too.

“It…well, it get’s lonely sometimes, you know,” he continues. A lone tear twists down his flushed cheek. It’s uncomfortable to look at. I want to wipe it. It doesn’t faze him though and he continues. Betty puts her hand on him and leans in to console him. “Sometimes I wish I could lie with Jennifer just one more time. Roll over and tell her anything in the middle of the night.”

I guess the dead wife’s name was Jennifer then.

“I’m so sorry Richard,” Betty says, her hand warming his arm. Richard gets himself right. He pours more wine into their glasses. For a moment or two nobody says anything.
Then Betty says, “Richard?”
“Yeah?” he says with a sniffle.
“I don’t have to get the aldermen to break open your bedroom door?”
I look at her. Aldermen?
But it must be a joke, because Richard laughs and wipes his eyes clean and Betty’s smile grows with his laughter. I don’t get it and go back to eating.
I’m on my third helping. I was full after two. The conversation goes back to the club. Dinner’s over and Betty brings out cake and coffee. We all have. I like the cake. It’s coconut with vanilla glaze.
I say, “I love this cake.”
Richard asks me questions about stuff. Questions like a guy in a supermarket might ask.
“So what line of work you in, Eric?”
“I’m an entrepreneur,” I say.
“Very cool,” replies Richard.
“He’s in-between jobs right now,” says Betty.
“I wanted to work for myself,” I say.
“You know we’re actually looking for people at work. It’s an entry-level job, but it pays well enough. Plus you’ll learn a lot about advertising. You might find it interesting,” he adds not getting the vibe he wants out of me.
“That would great,” says Betty enthused.
“Thanks, but I’m not that into advertising. Not that it’s not a good field. Just wouldn’t even know where to begin,” I say.

There’s nothing like being your own boss. It takes a certain kind of person do be able to do it and I don’t think Richard would have what it takes.

We finish eating. Richard helps clear. I invite him to watch the Bulls game. He declines. I take another Blue Moon, grab a bag of pretzels and head to the den. They continue talking and I turn up the volume. I watch the first half. Cozy up under the blanket, flipping the channels during the commercial to catch part of the Hangover. I’ve seen it nearly five times, but I laugh all the same.

They’re speaking louder. Excited by something. Betty’s laughing and Richard’s talking. I lower the volume. The game’s not a good one anyway.

I hear Betty say, “I got your copy for you it’s upstairs. I think it should be a fun read. A lot lighter than the last couple. The Jane Austen Book Club?”

“I’ve heard of it,” says Richard. “My favorite book, believe it or not, is Pride and Prejudice.”

“Mine too! Come with me, I’ll get your copy,” says Betty.

I turn the volume back up. They walk by the den. Out the doorway I see them on the staircase. The hallway light is on the frits, darting here and there. They have their wine glasses and they’re talking. One hand on the rail, Betty’s twisting her body backwards on the second step. Richard, still taller than her even in her heels, is following after. They’re not in a rush. Each step is in unison, slow boxy steps. Betty’s head tilting slightly forward, smiling something to him.

I can see cracks in the foundation of her makeup. Under the flickering bulb, it all looks caked on. I don’t recognize her face. They continue in this fashion up the stairs. I return to not watching the game. Every now and then I hear Betty burst out in foreign laughter—the type of laugher where a hand meets an arm.

I think about the story they discussed over dinner and the anonymous person copying Betty and Eric’s addresses to the chain—their names side by side, nesting between their community members. And then I realized! that anonymous man, he’s a city planner. He’s building houses in that “To” line—homes even. And that’s where they are right now. They’ve relocated there. A city planner. Now, there’s a job that worth doing. And for a moment I wanted to hit reply-all!

But then again I wouldn’t know what to write. I didn’t even read that Faulkner fellow’s love tale. Betty laughs again.

I look down at the coffee table. My Blue Moon’s made a ring. I pick it up and pull over a coaster. Bulls are down twenty and I turn the television off. I fold the blanket and put it back neatly. I fold the top of the pretzel bag, too, so they won’t get stale.

I leave the room and look back. It’s tidy. I get my coat from the hall closest and grab a scarf. They’re at the top of the stairs when I reach the door. Betty’s holding her book and smiling that smile.
“Where you going?” she asks.
“I’m gonna stretch my legs. Dinner was delicious, thank you,” I say, and head out.

I stand on the stoop, looking up at the heavens. It’s chilly outside. I can see my breath, like the thin mist of clouds gently masking tonight’s moon. She’s ducked her face behind a grapefruit bin, I think to myself, and switch over to the stars instead. They’re bright and shine through.

I fix in on the brightest one—way off in the distance.

It must be lonely.

The Widower (Part 1)

imgres-1 The widower next door is coming over tonight. My wife invited him for dinner and I didn’t object. His wife died last spring and we went to the funeral out of proximity more so than anything else. I can’t even be certain of the dead wife’s name. Though honestly that isn’t saying very much. I am awful with names, it’s just one of those things I can never seem to remember. Faces, I don’t forget.

The other day I was in the supermarket by the produce section and out of the corner of my eye I see a face I haven’t seen since high school. I know exactly who he is. He sat two seats in front of me in freshman biology. Bright guy, always scored high. I was a terrible student. Never really applied myself to the books. Probably on account of the dyslexia, but whatever the case, I don’t read well. My wife is part of a book club, which is how she got to talking with the widower in the first place. He joined a couple months after his wife died. I imagine it must be very lonely to sit at home alone. She used to ask me to join the book club, but she’s stopped bothering with that.
I don’t say anything to the guy, the guy from high school that is, because I don’t like those types of conversations:

“Is that you, (insert name).”
“Yeesscan I help you?”
“It’s me, Eric, Eric Benjamin. From Hebrew Academy? Remember? (Insert iconic high school moment. Maybe that time someone let mice loose in Rabbi Zuckerman’s class).”
“Oh yeah! Eric how you doing?”
“I’m good, I’m good. It’s been ages since I last saw you. You look (insert lie).”
“You look…well…you look just like you did in high school …”
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A Wish for Him–Part 2 the end

Part One:https://rustorytelling.wordpress.com/2013/02/11/306/

imgres-1 My father walked out from the kitchen. His back must’ve been hurting because he was hunched to his left. Sometimes it looks like there’s an invisible weight draping him.

“There’s no need to be sorry. We had quite the time.” He pulled my head towards him and kissed it.

“Did you guys at least eat?”

“We ordered pizza.”

“Dad, I told you I made dinner.”

“I know. But now you’ll have leftovers for tomorrow. Or eat it another day. I told you I can babysit again tomorrow.”

“Dad.”

“Are you at least trying to date? Mrs. Thomson has a nephew…”

“I know. I know. And what about you? Mrs. Thomson isn’t bad herself.”

“Oh…she’s a nutter,” he said wiping it away with his hand. “I don’t even understand how Brian put up with her for so long, rest his soul. Then again, he thought the same of….” he stopped and simply smiled.

I love my father. We are close now, more than we ever were. But there are some topics we choose to let be. Mom is or was one of them. It’s something we learned to do. We know there are only so many ways we cannot agree.

Instead he said, “No. I’m too old to date. You’re young and beautiful and smart. Very smart.”

“Thank you,” I said, then seeing the look on his face I added, “I’m looking.”

He peered at me from over the bridge of his glasses, but accepted the lie.

It isn’t easy. The apartment is small. It’s really all I can afford. My father wanted us to move. He said he would help. We both knew I wouldn’t take it, though. Every once in a while he’ll offer again and I’ll say I’ll think about it.

In truth, I think I pity my father. At times, I get the sense that despite the years and space in between he can’t allow himself to heel. He thinks he’s ruined love for me, and that no matter how many milkshakes he offers, he can never sweeten it again. And then—then there are those other days in which I’m certain he thinks I’m alone to spite him. That, in the end, no matter what he does, he’ll go to the grave in regret.

I really don’t know how to feel about any of it. It wasn’t he that walked out on Jake. But it sure felt the same. They both had a way of hiding things, my father and Jake’s. They’d tuck it deep inside, then one day it would peak out over dinner, a glimpse at that carnal appetite. One day I’ll have to tell Jake the truth about my father and his. I’ll have to. But not yet. I wanted Jake to be my Jake for a few more years.

“Mommy!” Jake ran in as he always does—grabbing both my legs and sticking his head through. “Look Ada, I’m in the stocks.” He let his wrists turn to dead fish.

“I take it you guys watched another western.” I slapped his butt and he pulled out. “And made quite the mess I see.”

There was mud from Jake’s shoes on the carpet. The sofa cushions were missing. Later I’d find that they became the walls of an Indian fort. Some of it wasn’t Jake’s doing, though. The columns of mail on the coffee table are my fault. Bills mostly. There’s just never any time. For bills or for dating.

“So what did you get me?”

“Not so fast. First we need to cut the cake.”

Jake sat on my father’s lap, galloping on his knees as I spread candles on his ice cream cake. There were only six candles in the box. I quickly washed a dirty knife from the sink and brought it all over to the table.

“Quick, close your eyes.” I lit the candles, hoping he wouldn’t notice I was shy one, and turned off the light, which was already on the fritz.

“Open.”

My father and I did a duet while Jake played the composer.

“And many, many more,” I said when we finished.

“Go ahead. Make a wish, a big one,” said my father.

Again Jake closed his eyes. For a long time we sat, waiting. His face screwed up in concentration as the candles dripped wax onto the cake—but he kept his eyes closed, hard and tight. Finally he opened his eyes, smiled, and, in one breath, blew out all six.

I lingered in the dark. Closed my eyes for good measure. I was hesitant but I did it anyway. And there, I was. Again. I stepped right into the black. I took a deep breath, letting the birthday smoke waft Jake’s wish into my nostrils. I held it in me and felt it glide down the back of my throat. I could feel it flutter through my heart—the beat spiraling down my ribcage. I felt my cheeks lift.

It was nothing like my father or Jake’s father. It was sweet and innocent and warm. It was honest. And there were those hints of aged wine.

I exhaled and flipped the lights back on.

“So what’d you wish for?”

My father plucked a candle and sucked the bottom like a cigarette. I could see his crows’ feet forming. “Nonsense. He can’t answer that. Then it won’t come true,” he laughed, clapping both his hands on Jake’s small shoulder. It was an old laugh. I could feel the weight of those hands. And something stirred inside me like fingernails pulling my cheeks down.

“Presents?” said Jake with a puppy tilt of the head.

I looked at him. He looked up with his father’s eyes. It was as though that invisible weight that drapes my father had suddenly cast itself on to me and I could not shake it. That old woman began to speak to me: It’s in the genes. I passed Jake the box. I watched as he clawed at it with hungry hands, my father helping him along.

“Hey, Jake,” I said. “Jake? What do you say I come home early tomorrow? I’ll come home early and we’ll go to the park. Or anywhere. How about that? How does that sound? Just me and you.”

But they didn’t hear me. Jake gnawed at the plastic. A couple Lego pieces spilled out. My father bounced him around and clapped his back and laughed that old laugh.

I closed my eyes. Pee—KOO Lee, Pee—KOO Lee.

An architect would be nice, I thought. Jake deserves to build his own home. Then again that man—I could see that man.

I wish Jake could see that man, too.

A Wish For Him –Part 1

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(photo by Leah Runyon)
He had leathery skin and dirty fingernails. Not the kind that were unattractive, but the kind that said he was a hard worker. At that moment, though, they were on break—quietly strumming the base of a guitar as he made his way up and down the subway car. There were only a handful of people on the F and he had space to move about and sing softly to himself. Every once in a while he’d stop in front of me, reach up, and pluck a pen hidden between an ear and an old timer’s hat. Then, bending over his guitar, he’d wet the tip with his tongue and jot down a note or two in his flip-pad.

He wore a serious look when he wrote. His eyes narrowed and his lower lip came up and massaged his mustache. He was young. No older than thirty-five. He wore a heavy knapsack with a sleeping bag rolled up on the top. When he’d write, the whole thing would ride up his neck. It didn’t seem to bother him much, but watching him I couldn’t help but readjust my own belongings. I had used a similar bag when I first got married and went backpacking, laughing my way through Eastern Europe. That was when I first got married—before that bag got heavy.
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Vacation

When you’re on vacation you don’t need to wear a watch. You can go by the tide or the shadows on sidewalks or the pangs of hunger in your belly. And when you’re on vacation you don’t have to worry about people knowing you. You can do as you please. Come and go as you wish. You can be who ever you’d like to be –like Michael or Sal or Roger. It all makes no difference. So tonight I’m Randolph and I work in Wisconsin, and I’m in South Beach for the weekend. I’m also very successful, but I don’t like to talk about that because I’m humble.

I think that’s what she probably notices first: my humility. She walks over to me and leans on the bar. She gives me the look like I can buy her a drink. I do-–a cosmopolitan. We speak. Her name’s Carmela. She has soft brown eyes and a quiet sense of humor.

“That guy over there,” she says after our second drink, “he’s looking for men.”
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