Midway through the Fall term, Carrie started going on about a public health forum at CDC that she wanted to go to. She wanted me to go with her. I told her that I didn’t have to go everywhere she went, but she insisted. It turned out that there was a man on the panel she was absolutely wild about. She had glimpsed him from afar at another meeting and he was not only good-looking, but marvelously smart. She didn’t know his name, but she wanted to meet him. The problem with that was—Carrie had never had a straight relationship in her life. I considered other possibilities.
“Are you,” I said, “trying to fix me up with a man?
“Why would I do that?” Carrie replied, with a hint of contempt in her voice.
“Because you know that I’ve been married to men, and you want to see if I have any lingering attraction to them.”
“I don’t care if you do.”
So I asked her again why I needed to go with her, and she said to protect her against making a fool of herself with this gorgeous man. That’s what I loved about Carrie—she was forty-four years old—ten years my junior—but she thought like a teenager, on top of being a little wacky. I had adjusted to living in her house as a kept woman. It was no problem for me to go to the meeting as her chaperone.
In those days, you could just walk right into CDC and ask the guard for directions. Auditorium B, where the forum was being held, was down the right corridor to the cafeteria and then around past Auditorium A. When we got there, the meeting hadn’t started yet—people were wandering in and and out. We stood at the back and looked around the room. Almost immediately, Carrie nudged me and said:
“There he is!”
She indicated a table on the stage, to the right of the podium, where several people were sitting. Only one of them was a man.
“Isn’t he gorgeous!” Carrie whispered to me.
I didn’t respond. I was still looking at the man. Even from the back of the auditorium, I recognized him. I checked the program notes and there was his name: Allen Kravass.
I said, “I know that man.”
Carrie looked at me, momentarily speechless.
I went on, absently: “Well—knew him. Years ago. For a little while.”
Carrie wanted me to tell her, right then, everything I knew about this man and what he was to me and what I was to him, but it was time to find our seats. Carrie wanted to sit on the front row and I wanted to go home. We ended up sitting in the middle of a row about halfway back from the stage. I figured Allen wouldn’t recognize me from that distance. After we were seated, Carrie whispered to me: “Don’t you want to talk to him?” I said, “No,” as firmly as I could.
During the presentation, Carrie listened intently to everything that was said. I didn’t hear a single word. In my head, old memories, darting back and forth, were soon crowded out by a growing delusion that a conspiracy was afoot—somehow, Carrie and Allen were plotting between themselves to fix me up with a man—him. The insanity of that was the idea that Carrie, whom I’ve known for a year, could be plotting anything with Allen, whom I hadn’t seen in twenty years. Ruling that out, I was still left with the equally unlikely possibility that, just by coincidence, Carrie had become monstrously attracted to this man I used to know. I decided, at that point, it didn’t really matter.
I started wondering if Allen would recognize me, up close. After all these years, I looked older, and he just looked better. My hair was much shorter and grayer. I’d given up wearing makeup—looking good for men was no longer on my agenda. At that point, I wasn’t exactly thinking clearly—if I thought he wouldn’t recognize me, why would I refuse to sit down front? I didn’t know.
Then I started wondering why I didn’t want to see him again. There wasn’t anything totally embarrassing between us. Why wouldn’t it be fun to reminisce about the old days—when I was somebody else and he was a young man, fresh out of boyhood? Why wouldn’t I want to catch up on everything he’s done since then, and catch him up on me? I decided maybe I was afraid that his story would be better than mine—or, at least, easier to explain.
And then the age thing kept barging in—Carrie and Allen were both about the same age and I was ten years older—where did I get this attraction to young people? What did they ever see in me?
By the end of the program, I was a mess. I just sat there when Carrie jumped up, saying, “I’m going down to meet him!” When I saw her heading for the stage, I panicked and walked quickly to the back of the auditorium. Of course, I couldn’t just leave her there. I waited at the door while she and Allen talked, down front.
My mind must have wandered a bit because, the next thing I knew, the two of them were heading up the aisle straight toward me. There was no time to do anything but put on a blank face. I could say I left my contacts at home. Carrie moved smoothly to introduce me to Allen as her best friend, calling me by her pet name for me—Sammie. Good, I thought. She’s being cool, not giving anything away. I could remain incognito, if I wanted to—provided Allen didn’t recognize me.
While Carrie was talking, Allen kept looking at me. He seemed puzzled, or at least thoughtful. He looked like he knew I was somebody from his past, but couldn’t make the connection. His puzzled expression softened his granite jaw and impeccable appearance. Little, contrary things about him came back to my memory. I felt a little foolish, pretending that I didn’t know him.
Then Carrie told us to laugh and talk while she went to the Ladies’ Room. I didn’t know if she was up to something, or really had to pee, but I suddenly found myself alone with this man I was pretending not to know.
Without changing his expression, he said, “Hello, Emily.”
I said, “Hello, Allen.”
He said, “It’s been a long time,” and I agreed. We followed with what seemed like small talk, but, before Carrie came back, we’d managed to convey the highlights of what we’d been doing for the past twenty years—he said he’d had assignments in several states before coming to CDC headquarters in late 1982, about three years ago; I said I got a job in the Florida State Health Department and parlayed that into a teaching position at Emory’s School of Nursing, just down the street, also about three years ago.
Neither of us said anything about anything we’d done together in the past. I noticed that he was not wearing a ring. He said something about the seventies being a good time for being single, and he alluded to having had several relationships with women.
I said, “Any wives?”
He laughed, and I realized how stupid that must have sounded.
He said that he had never married, and left it at that. He didn’t say that he’d never found a woman who meant as much to him as I did. Of course, I didn’t want him to say that.
I told him that all I’d gotten out of the seventies was two more ex-husbands. And then, without thinking, I told him that I had pretty much sworn off men. He didn’t say anything in response, just nodded. I went on to explain that Carrie and I were living together, that we were a couple. He didn’t act surprised, the way most men would have. He didn’t seem disappointed, either. He just said he found it hard to believe. For a second, it occurred to me that Allen might have turned gay too, but it was a fleeting thought—I knew otherwise. Of course, he might have thought the same thing about me—the whole thing was getting complicated. At least, I was spared the unpleasantness of having to deal with any latent feelings he might have harbored for me after all these years.
When Carrie came back, we said our goodbyes and he went his way and we went ours. It was too late to go back to work, so we headed home. In the car, Carrie and I were both quiet. I drove, pretty much on auto-pilot. Carrie looked out her window. After a few minutes, she asked me if I was going to tell her what Allen and I had talked about while she was in the bathroom. I didn’t see any issue there, so I just said, “Not much to tell.”
That night, in bed, I took Carrie the way men have taken me—not roughly, but aggressively, without much regard for her feelings. That was unusual for me. Our lovemaking—at least since our very early days together—had moved on a bed of tenderness, more affectionate than physical, marked by an absence of what might be called the male principle. This time I was direct and she responded to it; but I was vaguely unsatisfied.
The next morning, I found Carrie curled up on the living room sofa. At breakfast, she didn’t say anything about why she’d gone there in the night. In fact, she clammed up and was still in a pout when I dropped her off at the Whitehead Building where she worked. Her Allen mania of the day before had vanished. Maybe she was pouting because I’d popped her bubble.
If it wasn’t that, then it must have been something I’d done during the night that she didn’t like. When she was still quiet that evening, I looked for an opening and then said, “Should I be sorry about something from last night?”
She said, “No, I like being treated like a slut.”
“That’s not it.”
I was supposed to guess. I decided that it had to be something about Allen, but I couldn’t imagine what. Finally, I said:
“Just tell me what it is.”
She said, “You didn’t have to tell me that you knew him—that was cruel.”
“You mean I popped your little bubble?”
She didn’t respond.
I said, “You didn’t have to bring him back there to meet me.”
She said, “He asked me to.”
I said, “Well, I went along with it when you called me ‘Sammie’—right?”
She said, “I don’t know what you talked about when I left the two of you alone—you won’t tell me, which means there’s something you don’t want me to know.”
“You didn’t have to go to the bathroom.”
“Yes, I did.”
“Well, we just exchanged past histories, that’s all. I swear.”
“What did you tell him about me?”
“I told him you’re the love of my life.”
“Well, in so many words.”
“What did he think about that?”
“He was cool. When I knew him, years ago, he was a syphilis investigator for CDC—nothing fazes him.”
It didn’t occur to me that Carrie was jealous. Carrie wasn’t the jealous type. I was the jealous type. I was jealous of my husbands’ girlfriends and then I was jealous of Carrie’s girlfriends. But Carrie wanted to share me with everybody. She said I needed to experience the life. But now she was acting jealous of me about a man. It was a new facet of her personality.
I said, “Look—Allen is ten years younger than I am. I had a little thing with him twenty years ago when he was a little boy, but now I’m not interested in men and he’s not interested in me.”
“Did you give him our phone number?”
“No. Did you?”
“Of course not.”
“Okay, then—we’ll never hear from him again.”
After I said that, it occurred to me that Allen could easily find me if he wanted to. But I knew he wouldn’t try, even if he wanted to, because he thought I didn’t want him to. And I didn’t.
Carrie came out of her mood, but on the following Friday night she partied with her girl friends and came home drunk in the wee hours of Sunday morning. It had been a long time since she’d pulled that stunt. I refused to provide aid and comfort. She pouted a bit and then slept it off. The next day, it all blew over and things went back to normal. Carrie forgot all about Allen and, to tell the truth, so did I.
Then one day, a couple of months later, when I was writing up a lesson plan in my office, I became aware of someone standing in my door—it was Allen, leaning against the door jamb with his arms folded. By reflex, I smiled and said:
“Did you come to see me?”
He said, “I did.”
I heard myself saying, “How nice—I’m glad.”
Still standing in the doorway, he said, “Can I come in, or should I just be on my way?”
I laughed and waved him in, saying offhandedly, “How did you find me?”
He smiled and said, “It wasn’t hard.”
I said, “Well, it took you a while.”
He smiled again and immediately I regretted everything that was coming out of my mouth. I felt awkward with him. At least, we weren’t talking about the weather.
He said, “Actually, I’d decided not to seek you out again, because I thought you didn’t want me to, but I looked out the window this morning and thought—it’s a short walk and a beautiful day, why not?”
On impulse, I said, “It’s supposed to rain this afternoon.”
He smiled again and said, “Seize the morning—”
I smiled back, but couldn’t think of anything else to say.
He said: “Look—if you don’t want to, just say so, but how about having lunch with me today?” I started to say something, but he went on: “Just because you’re living with a woman now and we were friends long ago, doesn’t mean we can’t have lunch like civilized people.”
His logic was charming—I couldn’t resist. I didn’t want him to think that I had no lunch plans, so I suggested a day in the following week. He then jumped up, apologized for keeping me from work, and was abruptly gone. I sat for a while, thinking—I was tickled, but the thing that tickled me also left me with a sense of foreboding. I’d been through this kind of thing before. He was a man—eventually, I was going to have to deal with the male principle.
I didn’t tell Carrie about my gentleman caller—it shouldn’t have mattered, but I just didn’t want to deal with it. When the day came, I didn’t change my routine. I wore my regular work clothes and, of course, no makeup. Midmorning, Allen called and offered to pick me up at my office, but I told him that it would be better if I met him at the restaurant. He suggested The Sandpiper on Piedmont Road. It was one my favorite places—I wondered if he somehow knew that. My tenterhooks were out. At least, he hadn’t suggested that we meet for drinks—lunch was neutral ground.
When I arrived at The Sandpiper, Allen was waiting for me, just inside the door. As we followed the waiter to a table, I noticed that he walked a step behind me, but didn’t place his hand on my back the way many men would have done. He didn’t touch me at all. I decided that this man, whom I really didn’t know anymore, if I ever did, was either a true gentleman or he was really slick. I tried to relax and enjoy the occasion.
I knew what I wanted to order, but I looked over the menu anyway. Allen glanced over his quickly, and then asked me if I would mind if he ordered a Manhattan. I shrugged, saying it was fine with me. He said it would be fine with him if I just wanted iced tea. Thinking fast, I said that I might have a white wine. The rest was easy—the waiter wrote everything down and left us to ourselves again.
I started off by saying that I was curious about something—Allen said he was all ears. I said, “That day in Auditorium B—what were you thinking, before you realized it was me?”
He said, “I realized it was you immediately. I recognized you when you first came into the auditorium. I was wondering why you didn’t recognize me.”
I told him I’d left my contacts at home.
When the drinks came, I mentioned that I had a one-round limit at lunchtime. He smiled and nodded. We started talking about different things and we kept on talking when the food came. Then, about the time we should have been calling for the check, I heard myself saying, “Ready for another round?”
Allen signaled the waiter.
Sometime during that second round, Allen said he was curious about my relationship with Carrie. I told him that all my marriages had ended in disgust, and I decided that I wanted to stop doing that, but I wasn’t thinking about women at all. Then one night I met Carrie in a lounge, and she got me drunk, took me to her Decatur townhouse and seduced me. I had a little epiphany and moved in with her two months later.
Allen wanted to know what it felt like, not physically, but in my head. I said that I liked the gentleness, the absence of a man. I also said that it changed the way I looked at myself, but I didn’t know how to explain it. He nodded, as though he knew exactly what I meant.
Right about then, swishing my glass, I said: “Tell me about all these women you’ve had.”
I was immediately unsure of what I was getting into. His face took on a more purposeful, serious expression, but he was forthcoming. He told me that, after me, he’d been attracted mainly to older women and eventually met a few who seduced him. Later on, it seemed like most of the women he got to know were younger than he was. But they still did the seducing. What attracted him were the women themselves—not what they looked like or how they were built. If he liked a woman, then he liked the way she looked. Basically, he said, he liked womanly women who liked sex.
I was rapt. No man had ever talked to me that way before.
During the third round, he started giving me little descriptions of each of the major women in his life, by name, with the highlights of each relationship, from beginning to end. These relationships often overlapped and several of the women knew each other, and they all knew about the rest. I suspected that I was not the first woman to hear this story. He seemed to expect that I would enjoy hearing about his women, and would accept him and them, without jealousy or envy, and somehow I did. That’s the screwy part—I was fascinated.
After the fourth round, we both became more reflective. Allen said that, as he’d gotten older, his ideas about sex and relationships had matured. His life, he admitted, had been rich in relationships with different women, but they all began with a bang and then ended with jealousy and hurt feelings, a year or two later. The only relationships that seemed to endure over time were platonic ones, and most of them were gone, too. He said that, lately, he’d been fantasizing about having a life-long relationship with a woman without any sex at all.
I said, “None?”
He said, “Well, there would be allowances for physical affection, but always with clothes on.”
I said, “I’m not sure that many women would go for that.”
“Of course,” he said, “she could have sex with other people, just not with me.”
“And the same would go for you?”
“Possibly, but maybe not—I might not feel like having sex with anybody.”
I was hanging on every word.
“Think about it,” he continued. “The most intimate thing that two people can do together is to hold hands in public. But only if they’ve never had sex.”
“What’s sex got to do with it?”
He kept explaining his theories until we were the only ones in the restaurant and the afternoon sun was coming in the windows. We stayed so long, I was almost late, picking up Carrie after work. She was waiting for me on the sidewalk. When she got in the car, I looked over at her, nondescriptly.
She said, “You’ve been drinking.”
I said, “I had lunch with Allen.”
She said, “I knew it.”
This time, Carrie didn’t get pouty. Instead, she invited all her girlfriends over to perform an intervention on me. I had to tell them everything Allen said, and then they told me horror stories about men they’d known who started out talking exactly the same way. When I told them what Allen said about holding hands, they all fell out, laughing. I insisted that Allen was a very nice guy, but I had to admit they had a point.
In my defense, I reaffirmed that I was through with all men—even nice ones like Allen who, incidentally, hadn’t laid a hand on me. When it was over, Carrie said she was satisfied with the intervention, but I noted a change in her attitude after that. I could see it in the way she didn’t look straight at me anymore, in the way she talked or didn’t talk, and in the way she went back to her bed after sex instead of staying around for the good part.
During that time, I started thinking over my situation with Carrie. The truth is, there was never any love between us—it was all sex, and, after the first time, that thrill was pretty much gone. At least, with my husbands, I’d started out in love and that made everything worthwhile until disgust settled in.
If Carrie was going to pout all the time, then I couldn’t see much reason to stick around. The only thing that held me back from leaving was the idea of having to go somewhere else. I’d have to go back to living by myself in an apartment. I hated the thought, but over time Carrie’s attitude stiffened till I felt that I had no choice. She started inviting girls she’d just met to spend the night, and she always asked me if they could use my room. What could I say?
I needed advice from a neutral party. I thought of Allen, because he was partly to blame for the problem, but it wasn’t time yet for him to show up in my door again. After stewing about it for several days, I decided to visit him. I’d never been to his office before, but it wasn’t hard to find. The guard in the entrance to CDC told me where to go, saying his name was on a plaque outside his door. I found him, sitting alone at a small desk in a small room, writing on a long yellow pad. He seemed deep in thought. I almost decided to walk on by, but he suddenly looked up and saw me and smiled.
I told him I wouldn’t have come, but I needed to talk to somebody about something. He nodded, as though that were an everyday occurrence for him, and he suggested that we go somewhere that wasn’t on government property. I thought about that for half a second, and decided it was a good idea. I followed him in my car to Bennigan’s at Northlake. It was the middle of the afternoon and the place was empty. The afternoon sun, coming in the high windows, was blinding to anyone sitting on that side, so we found a booth in the back. When the waiter came over, before I could say anything, Allen ordered two iced teas.
I started right in talking about Carrie. After twenty minutes, I’d gone through, not just my Carrie problem, but also the sorry details of all three of my ex-husbands, including the one I divorced while I was still in nursing school. I also told him about all the apartments I’d lived in and hated. He listened to everything I said, with interest and concern.
When I got through, he didn’t wait to be asked for his opinion about my screwed-up life. He nodded thoughtfully and said:
“It seems to me that you’ve fallen from one ex-husband’s house into another ex-husband’s house, several times, mixed in with a succession of apartments, and now you’ve fallen into Carrie’s house. And you want me to help you decide if you should fall out of Carrie’s house back into an apartment.”
“That’s it, in a nutshell,” I said. “What should I do?”
He rubbed his chin for a moment, and then said:
“I think you need a place of your own.”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean a place that’s yours and not somebody else’s.”
“Like buy a house?”
“Something like that, yes.”
I shuddered and said: “That would be worse than an apartment—in a big house by myself, I’d just rattle around.”
We talked about other possibilities. I said I might like a little house way out in the country like the one I grew up in, but something like that would be too far away from work. We kept coming back to the idea of a house, inside the perimeter, but I was adamant that a big house in suburbia was not for me.
Allen said, “But it would be your house—a place you could always come back to.”
“A place where I’d grow old and die.”
“That’s the wrong way to look at it.”
I tried to look at it the right way, but I couldn’t. I appreciated Allen’s advice, but I couldn’t see how buying a house would improve my situation. At least, I thought, he wasn’t suggesting that I move in with him.
I said, “It takes a lot of time to buy a house—I need to do something right away.”
He said, “Oh, I agree that you need to move out of Carrie’s house, right now.”
“And do what—sleep out on the street?”
“Of course not,” he said. “You can stay with me until you find the right place.”
I told him that was probably not a good idea.
We stayed in Bennigan’s for another hour. Allen told me that I didn’t have to stay with him. I could stay with Carrie until I found another place. Or, if I couldn’t stand being with Carrie another night, then I could live in a motel until I found another place. He talked on at length, with no pressure in his voice, just the words coming out of his mouth. In the end, I couldn’t find any way around his logic—on the one hand, I couldn’t stand another night of Carrie’s moping, and, on the other hand, I didn’t want to go to a motel. I decided to stay with Allen until I found another place.
We made a plan. I would pick up Carrie at work, as usual, then go home and pack a small bag for the next couple of days. We’d get the rest of my stuff later. Around seven, I would meet Allen, back at Bennigan’s. We’d get something to eat and then I’d follow him home. I was nervous about having to confront Carrie, but luckily, when we got home, she went straight to her room, so I was able to get in and out without a fuss. I left her a note. Then I met Allen, as planned, and we got a bite to eat. I was giddy with conspiracy. When we arrived at his house, he took my bag and ushered me inside.
I said, “Your house is so big!”
He smiled and said, “It’s where I rattle around, when I’m not working.”
I gave him a little look.
Standing inside the door, I could see the living room, dining room and part of the kitchen. Stairs led up to the second floor. The furnishings were a little sparse, but the carpeting made everything seem homey. Allen showed me to one of the upstairs bedrooms where I could stay, explaining that his bedroom was on the first floor. It would almost be like we were in separate apartments. He left me to put my things away.
When I went back downstairs, Allen was sitting at one end of a long leather sofa in the living room. Soft music was coming from somewhere, but the lights were all on. I noticed these little things, because I kept seeing everything through Carrie’s suspicious eyes.
I took the other end of the sofa and Allen immediately jumped up and asked me if I wanted anything to drink. I said I would have whatever he was having. In a flash, he was back with two glasses of white wine. I had to give him high marks for that.
So we sipped and talked, and gradually got back into the conversations that we’d started at the Sandpiper. First off, I said that I had a technical question—if two people decided to be a couple without having sex, why wouldn’t it be okay for them to forgo sex with everybody? Allen said it would be perfectly okay—in fact, that was the purest form of the idea. I said it would make everything less complicated. He said it would make everything more intimate. I confessed that I was still trying to understand his concept of intimacy.
When it got late, we retired to our neutral corners with neither of us having laid a glove on the other. The next morning, we had bagels and coffee in his breakfast nook, and then went our separate ways to work, without hug or handshake. I had to admit, when I compared living under Allen’s roof to other roofs I’ve lived under, there was something very nice about Allen’s way of doing things. But it didn’t feel intimate at all.
That morning, Allen called me at work from his office and we talked for a few minutes, mainly about logistics—we quickly agreed that neither of us wanted to cook, so we made a plan to meet after work each day to have dinner somewhere.
That evening, we took up our positions on the sofa again. Allen said that he was in the mood for sipping bourbon. I said that I would sip a little with him. So we sat back with a bottle of Jim Beam on the coffee table and resumed our conversation. I learned that Allen, unlike any of my husbands, improved with liquor—he became more good-natured and open, and he talked a lot. I liked listening to him talk. Every now and then, I would ask a question.
At one point, I said, “How did you become such a big thinker? I don’t remember you being like that, back in Miami.”
He said, “In college, I majored in philosophy—you probably didn’t know that.”
“How did you get from philosophy to syphilis investigation?”
“At the time, it seemed like a natural career path.”
I smiled, but felt a little uneasy—unwittingly, I had opened up a discussion of the old days, which, I confess, had not been completely swept for mines.
Allen said, “I’ve always wondered why you didn’t tell me you were moving out of town.”
“I sent you a letter.”
“Yes—you said you had to take care of your aging parents in Georgia.”
“That wasn’t exactly true. The truth is, I was upset with you—I don’t remember why.”
Allen said, “I remember, but I’m not going to remind you.”
Actually, I remembered, too—Allen seemed to know just where to step and not step.
In a little sidestep, I said, “My parents were getting older, but I didn’t have to move in with them until several years later.”
“I’m sorry to hear that.”
“My father became senile and mama couldn’t handle him by herself. By the time daddy died, she couldn’t take care of herself either. She lived for another year. It was pretty depressing.”
We were quiet for a moment.
Then Allen said, “I’ve noticed that you’ve changed too, from the way I remember you.”
“I remember your taking charge of situations more—you took me in hand once and helped me buy a car. And you definitely ran the VD clinic. Now, you seem more passive, living in other people’s houses, and not knowing what to do.”
I thought about that for a moment.
“I guess I haven’t been looking at it that way,” I finally replied, “I thought I was on the ramparts, taking back my life from men.”
He didn’t elaborate on the thought and our conversation drifted back to theoreticals, but he seemed to have done enough propounding for one evening.
He said, “We should probably turn in early tonight—we need to find you a place to live.”
I had become so comfortable with Allen and his platonic lifestyle that I’d forgotten all about that.
I said, “We haven’t even gotten all my stuff out of Carrie’s place, yet.”
“First,” he said, “we move you in here. Then we move you out.”
It was a plan.
At Carrie’s townhouse, I had a big footlocker, containing most of my worldly belongings, and three suitcases with just the things I needed. We could have crammed all that into our two cars, but at work Allen knew a guy with a truck who was willing to perform an act of kindness. He met us at Carrie’s on Saturday, and helped with the heavy lifting. Carrie sat inside, staring at us as we went in and out.
Allen rode in the truck with the guy over to Allen’s house, and I followed in my car. As they were carrying everything from the truck up to my room, I heard Allen invite the guy to stay and have a beer. The guy said no, thanks. Allen invited him two more times, just to be sure, and each time the guy said he had to be somewhere later in the day.
As the guy drove off, Allen grinned at me and said, “I’m glad he didn’t stay—it would have cut into our afternoon.”
I’d been thinking the same thing. It was as if we couldn’t wait to be alone together. We talked until it was time to go to bed. It wasn’t until breakfast the next morning that Allen told me about the guy’s house. In the ride over from Carrie’s, Allen had mentioned to him that I was looking for a simple place not too far out in the country. The guy said he’d just moved out of a house that would perfect—a little place, sitting by a pond in some woods that was only ten minutes away from CDC.
I was skeptical.
Allen didn’t waste any time getting an appointment to see the property. I, of little faith, didn’t understand why he was in such a hurry, but Sunday afternoon we drove out Briarcliff Road toward North Lake. Right after the mall, we turned off La Vista onto a side road past a stand of trees and then onto a dirt road that curved through the trees for almost a mile. The road ended at the door of a small wooden house that I could see had been well-built. Behind the house was a large pond. Around it, the woods. The transition was startling—one minute, we were in Atlanta, with the freeway in sight, and, the next minute, we were out in the country with no city visible in any direction.
The house was locked up, so we walked around to the pond’s edge, checking out the scenery. Soon, we heard a car coming down the dirt road—it was the man from the realty company. He showed us inside the house, describing the finer points of its construction and the history of the man who had built it, and everything in it, with his own hands, eighty years ago—a man, still remembered in the area as old Bingham. I fell in love with the place—it smelled just like the house I’d grown up in. The man made me an offer to rent the place with an option to buy, and I took it.
A couple of days later, I signed the papers to rent the house with a no-commitment option to buy within a year. Allen got the guy from work to help us move all my stuff again. I couldn’t see how my footlocker and suitcases were going to fit into such a small house, but the guy assured me that there was plenty of storage space, and he was right. After everything was stashed, the guy stuck around for a while telling us about all the clever little features of the house that he had discovered while living there. I was fascinated. It was only when everybody had left that it occurred to me that I was living alone again, possibly for the rest of my life.
I took heart from the realization that nothing had changed in my budding friendship with Allen. I could visit him in his house and he could visit me in mine. The fact that there was no phone service to my house should not pose any difficulty—he could call me during the day at my office. So I waited. But, after a week with no call from Allen, I began to question my presumptions. Finally, I got mad and called him.
He said, “I was waiting to be invited.”
Even after that, it was still a couple of weeks before he was actually able to pay me a visit. I fretted about making everything presentable, but beyond getting dishes out of the sink and making up my bed, there wasn’t much to do. I tried dusting, but decided, after a while, that dust was part of old Bingham’s design.
When Allen finally came, one Saturday afternoon, I welcomed him across my threshold with a little curtsy, I don’t know why. He looked around, smiled and said, “Well, I must be going.”
I said, “You’re not going anywhere, cowboy, until I’ve shown you something.”
I took him out the back door onto a small porch that looked out on the pond. There were two lounge chairs that I had positioned beside each other, with a small table in between. On the table, there was a bottle of bourbon and two jigger-sized glasses.
Allen said, “Old Bingham thought of everything.”
“Just wait,” I said.
I made him lie back on one of the loungers, while I filled our jiggers. Soon we were sipping and looking out directly at the pond and the woods around it. The sun was still high enough in the sky to be obscured by the roof of the porch.
“Very nice,” Allen said.
For some reason, Allen was not in a talkative mood. He seemed becalmed by the view. We sat quietly together as the sun slowly moved lower in the sky. By the time that it came into our view, it appeared as a white disk that we could look at directly, through the trees. The light around the pond and the house began to fade.
“How are you feeling?” I asked.
As the sun slowly reddened and disappeared behind the trees, the sky became brilliantly pink across our whole field of view.
I looked over at him and said, “Isn’t that wonderful?”
He smiled, but didn’t say anything. We sat quietly watching the spectacle. For some reason—maybe it was just the evening settling in—I began to feel a little pitiful—a word my mother sometimes used to describe herself.
After a long pause, I said, “Will you always visit me?”
He said, “Yes.”
Eventually, it got dark—too dark to see.
He said, “Look at the stars.”
He began pointing out the brightest ones, giving their names. I liked hearing him, the sound of his voice.
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Another book finds me broken.
Flipping through page after page
searching for something,
anything that resembles an answer.
Hemingway told me to stick it out
stoically, brave and ever-ready.
Then the bastard blew the brains out of his head.
Plath mirrored my suffering
until the colors bled and the world spun.
I’ve got a foot in the grave,
she ended up with a head in the oven.
There were others, too
They all left something beautiful in their wake.
Kindly stepping away from the dwindling limelight of life
and always in bright flashes.
They touched or moved something.
It took only a moment; minutes or seconds
in some cases.
Years in others.
But they all left something
Exchanges aren’t always reciprocal.
As you find all I’m leaving is this.
Poem of the Week
who have experienced
on a large
i tell raif
i think my
might be dead
haven't seen her
& her car hasn't moved
for two weeks.
you would smell it
passing me a plate
of triangular shaped bread
slathered in jam.
Story of the Week
DARLEEN SQUEELED into the empty spot as soon as the gleaming white Mercedes pulled out. "We got lucky," she told Montana. "Even on a Monday night, this lot is killer."
Montana rolled her big blue eyes. "Whatever."
The eleven year old had better things to do, like text her friends. Incessantly, as if she had a tic. The kid hadn't wanted to shop tonight, but Darleen insisted. This was their first Christmas without Paulie and the girls needed to stick together. Darleen's ex had been nasty lately and mediation had hit a cement wall. Montana wasn't aware how dangerously close they were to losing access to Paulie's vast and unreported wealth.
Montana sighed dramatically as she yanked open the door of the Porsche Cayenne and tumbled out. She didn't pause in her texting.
Darlene checked her face in the rearview mirror. The most recent fat transfer had been wildly successful. She loved her new lips. Grabbing her Gucci bag, she hopped out of the front seat.
Her daughter trailed her into the mall, thumbs flashing on her phone keypad.