(*Some names and places changed to protect me and placate others.)
Now is the perfect season to have a significant other.
We wear less clothing, a condition which excites and lowers our inhibitions. Summer heat unshackles us from interior living. If you’re buff enough, stronger sunlight further rewards physical culture by lending a glow to faces. Limbs are also burnished.
Aren’t those the sort of allures that entice receptive humans?
Given longer days we live more outside. Don’t the conditions conjure lengthier strolls, spontaneous hand holding, aimless caresses, shared smiles that lean into kisses for no purposes other than simple exaltation in the moment, and the utterance of phrases which would sound strained and strange during cooler, darker seasons?
We actually notice sunsets and regard fireflies as favorable apparitions.
Well, one does if there’s someone else with whom to create and enjoy these instances. Unfortunately for me such sweet hours have vanished. (SOB!) I believe I squandered them decades ago. What remains is keen vision of others’ fleeting happiness. Then even clearer sight when atmospheric attraction sours into all-weather acrimony.
Watching satisfied couples in the thrall of togetherness, seemingly to the exclusion of the rest us, should appeal to our optimism. Seeing those same couples, or people very much resembling them, spasm into feral creatures whose raging private revelations induce cringing in bystanders only reaffirms my absolute belief there may be an unsustainable price for misperceived bliss.
Like getting bitched out in public. Or hearing the litany of one’s faults reverberate off granite. You know, hearing quirks which had been endearing until some oh-so-human foible rips scales from eyes and tears the bond.
What better sign of affection than some woman stopping space and time by going operatic on a public sidewalk against her poor whipping post boyfriend? Is there no greater proof of commitment than seeing placid features redden and sharpen into Maori challenge? Nothing pledges “forever yours” more explicitly than raised decibels and octaves joined in singular condemnation, now does it?
That’s the down side of what I’ve left behind. Please, have my share.
Since matters are approaching an end phase at *Mugwump, my employer, I’ve found more time on my hands during the workday. Until recently I never would’ve thought that, much less admit it. But between the idiocy and lunacy coming down from *Blowhard our boss and his halfwit daughters, *Loca and *Fea, shoulder to the wheel, nose to the grindstone habits have lost appeal.
Hard work is dismissed. Our true profits are misappropriated. Deserved reward is sluiced into undeserving pockets. What’s incentive again?
More and more my heels get propped on my desk. Urgency is losing the race against half-stepping. Given better weather, I’ve started forsaking the office and stretching lunch into afternoon-long events. While many note the deviance, who has the authority to call or curtail it? Nobody.
Well-behaved disorderliness should have its rewards.
Thanks to Loca, I’ve discovered a perfect place to coop. A childhood friend of hers, one not crippled by cocaine fondness, operates a hotel bar. The hostelry sits on the town’s main drag. Although not swank, it has an easy location and amenities which please corporate guests.
The layout lends to discretion. Off the street the courtyard curves behind the main building. While both office and bar have boulevard vistas, each has entries shielded from casual eyes. From there it’s chutes and ladders into parking and annexes.
The bar permittee went retro without going kitschy. Her place pays homage to cocktail lounges circa 1960, but isn’t a museum diorama. When the mood is right, when the light is stellar, one almost expects seeing Angie Dickinson or Peter Lawford. Or if the cool vibe perfect, Monica Vitti and Marcello Mastroianni. However, editions of Life and Look magazines remain on microfiche in the town library.
On weekend evenings a piano player croons cocktail lounge music. Otherwise Jerry Vale on compact discs further mask sotto conversations.
Loca dragged me in there one afternoon. The space had just been renovated and newly reopened. She pretended to see and support the permittee. Loca intended imposing on that friendship and mooching drinks. She needed an accompanying adult to legitimize her avarice.
A nice enough saloon but out of my way. I doubted any future tippling there. But I hadn’t anticipated Gold Coast vanity.
Like many areas where gaudy wealth has shouldered aside staid money, panting, grasping, grunting aspirants along Gold Coast Connecticut now have their own shiny sheet in which to envy another’s possessions, jealously follow neighbors’ achievements, and evaluate random dermabrasions and dental implants. A colleague left a copy on her desk. I leafed through it from curiosity. Or as you might call it, boredom.
Just past varicose vein solutions I recognized an immodest grin on a glossy page. The cutline identified “Gwendolyn.” I knew her as Wendy. I liked that at 52 she understood while “Wendy” indicated a lesser woman, Gwendolyn recognized and demanded higher standards.
Nonetheless I knew her when.
It was something that Loca and her surviving siblings would never comprehend. Also my contemporaries, they’ve continued to clutch their childhood names and the misbehavior appropriate to them.
The lens captured Wendy favorably. In the frame, she formed part of a quartet who provided what sufficed for yeoman service to some decent and obscure local charity. A different surname vouched for at least a second husband. The rocks encrusting her fingers suggested everybody’s favorite amount of money backed her. A lot.
Neither listed phonebook nor accessible online, I resorted to an old journalism tactic. I contacted the organization she stood for and lied convincingly. Whoever answered was ecstatic about the possibility of more press. The fount gave me Wendy’s address, phone number, and, if I’d insisted, whether a garter held up her stockings. From this point I repaired to less audibility behind my closed office door.
Basic querying I could’ve fobbed off as business related. Catching up with the lady of the manse, though, that would require personality and feeling. Just the tone of voice which would attract the Mugwump girls. They have no concept of circumspection. Theirs or others.
Usually those sisters walk like elephants thrashing through savannah. But let either sense herself the subject of conversation, or better, discussions involving somebody else, and they acquire ninja stealth skills.
Both are creepy enough without creeping around. If they were to eavesdrop I wanted to make the chore as frustrating as possible.
I got Wendy on my first cold-call. Some prompting was necessary before her memory revived. Between me and mentioning Sal, our overlap, her sharp intake of sudden recognition bridged decades.
From her voice, the odd beats between comments, I understood we shared the same predicament. Ears which shouldn’t hear lurked. Recalling my hideaway visit with Loca, I suggested we meet there and catch up.
Throaty laughter pouring out of the earpiece surprised me. I thought she’d rudely shot me down. Merriment subsiding, Wendy agreed to meet, informing me she’d explain her eruption. We set a date, with few, if any, the wiser.
Wendy was unfashionably on time. As I stood to greet her, we each made little effort to disguise our mutual reappraisals. Her dark complexion hid lines that would’ve flared on paler skin. That face would’ve broken by now. We’d both gained weight but good posture distributed it evenly. She still had inky hair, the kind blue and violet highlights zipped along. She decided we should kiss. My lips upon her cheek were awkward.
Women my age don’t arouse me. (Sorry Becky.) That’s facile and honest. Had I ever married perhaps my minds eye could’ve treasured initial visions of my spouse. Despite the indignities of aging, she’d always be that magically fresh woman who captivated me. But since I’m single, and will never be a young, if ever, groom, then I may as well regard all that as clever fiction propagated by women who understand men enjoy and exploit nearly lifelong viability. That’s biology and unfair.
However, there are female contemporaries bearing engaging intellects and whose intrigues are good and twisty. A few make me wish we’d converged at some early points during our lives. Mightn’t it have been fun to proceed with a woman who found me suitable and share our lives’ fortunes?
The Wendy who sat across from me could’ve been one of those women. Outwardly she was put-together. Every hair in place. Complementary, not excessive, jewelry. Clothes stylish and flattering. Best of all she created a presence. It was in how she presented herself. Not flamboyant, nor overwhelming, though confident. Simply confident.
I put Wendy against Loca and Fea and saw no comparison at all. They were silly girls in sodden women’s bodies. Wendy was womanly, a distinction beyond the other two. She had worked towards and gained stature. Loca and Fea lacked the patience and brains to fulfill such courses.
Naturally before Wendy got to us she asked about *Sal. Under simpler circumstances Wendy might’ve married Sal. He is one of my rare high school running buddies with whom I keep contact. He’s also her former college classmate/lover. Back then they’d had plenty in common. Much of it pressing and heaving against mattresses.
While I attended a university west of the Pecos, Sal filled a local college’s seats. Wendy migrated over from North Shore Long Island hoping mention of prior escapades under the Commack Motor Inn’s mirrored ceilings never crossed the Sound. In the middle of their four years of higher learning Sal met Wendy. Lust took over from there.
My first sight of Wendy confirmed everything I later fantasized about her. Swaddled in black leather tight enough to squeeze imagination, a then spike-haired Wendy swigged from a tequila bottle. She did so amid a partying moil in the campus pub. Different regions yet the same abandon celebrated end of semester exams.
She was unfriendly on first impression. That was unnecessary and she knew it.
Sal introduced us. Then he introduced me to her boyfriend, Alan. He’d followed Wendy from Long Island. They’d been high school sweethearts. Alan dedicated himself to hounding her. But in a good way.
That poor sap. Aware and accepting her easy relations with other men must’ve been his demonstration of abject fealty towards Wendy. His willingness to serve as doormat must’ve been her test for him. He passed.
Over the first of several mid-afternoon Martinis, I informed Wendy that Sal had become fat and baldness threatened. At first prosperous, he overextended himself, and now worked twice as hard to get even again.
Wendy almost felt sorry for Sal. Almost fell way short. Residual bitterness simmered against Sal. He’d failed her by allowing Alan claim her. At least at first. And years later when opportunity gave them another open door, Sal closed it. Husbandly conscience kept him true to his wife.
Rejecting Wendy still tormented him long years afterwards.
That was false. I said it to make her happy. She didn’t care whether it was true or not. Hearing it pleased her.
I asked about those cackles upon mention of where we sat and sipped. Her raised eyebrow meant I’d missed something obvious. Recent reopening aside, this establishment’s prior incarnation had served as one of her favored stepping out spots. Here she’d met the man who eventually introduced her to Husband No. 3.
It sounded … involved. Wendy shrugged. The same insouciance probably came through after finally declaring herself tired of Alan. Fortunately, their union produced no children because without Wendy he believed himself nothing. Poor fellow emphasized that by splattering his brains against a wall.
Well. That showed everybody.
With Husband No. 2 Wendy was sufficiently complaisant to bear three daughters. Such domestic bliss also tamped down her wayward urges. Sal could’ve shown up on her doorstep and he wouldn’t have gotten out of the batters box, much less to first base. She couldn’t have imagined herself more satisfied, more fulfilled, more in need of a forensic accountant until beloved No. 2 skipped to the Caymans with a pneumatic blonde.
I wondered aloud whether that was karma. She reminded me I’m a bastard and a half. Glad I hadn’t changed appreciably, Wendy then asked about my own marital missteps.
It displeased Wendy I had none to report. My cowardice disappointed. Tough. My adherence to “safety first” living failed mollifying her.
Husband No. 3 qualified as an Old Yankee. New England streets bore his family name. Several of his forbearers even rated plaques upon historical sites. Naturally his people made a pile during America’s legal stealing era. Their successors have been piling it on since then.
Wendy didn’t fit his type of woman. Susceptible to voluptuous, strawberry blonde, All-American girls next door, he presented rings and gave generous settlements to four of them. Initially he and eventual Wife No. 5 saw another as diversions. But he was an old-school gentleman. Unaccustomed to such grace, he charmed her. In his eyes, on the other hand, Wendy was an exotic.
Maybe if he’d had a genealogical chart done they would’ve traced her ancestry into Baku or Tashkent.
Instead he gleaned in her steadiness and stability. Hearing that my turn came to raise a skeptical eyebrow. After all, I did know her when.
Husband No. 3 realized he wanted a companion. Previous wives had started out as arm candy and became distant expenses. A realist, Wendy understood what he offered far in excess of her perishing commodity.
True love it wasn’t. Sometimes necessity must suffice.
She raised the hour. The abrupt subject switch lost me. Must she leave?
The hour broached referred to our long-ago Afternoon Delights. A woman would remember that and unearth it.
After graduation and beginning careers, and considering themselves fully compatible and thoroughly committed during three-years of shacking up, Alan and Wendy agreed to marry. It seemed the right thing to do. In this period, Wendy sampled rather than took lovers. As if she believed marriage disinclined infidelity. Given a firm cutoff date, she intended exhausting the variety of men.
In her particular chocolate box I was caramel-drenched hard nut.
Journalism kept us in touch. She admired the profession, those who pursued it. She professed having ideas though saw herself incapable of aligning them, solidifying them, then presenting them cogently.
The above malady gave me night sweats for hours. Days even! Cashing the newspaper’s checks cured me. Plenty of my colleagues shared the same early impediment. But we had a saying that saved us: “Fooled ’em again.”
Alan never had a leash on Wendy. She did as she damned pleased. He could’ve done the same. I’m sure he let his chances pass. Poor sap.
Maybe half a dozen times Wendy dropped by my apartment. We enjoyed a late-spring, early-summer thing. Nothing serious. Just sex. Post-coital beers. Airy conversation. That apartment, my first, was set up for the basics. Sleeping. Showering. Shaving. Stereo. Shitting. Screwing. Today I reside within walls which don’t scream “Stalag!” Back then what wasn’t immaterial? I was single-minded.
Good thing that Wendy’s sensibilities weren’t easily offended. Yeah. Like it would’ve mattered.
Despite my drab confinement, I kept a clean house. No cruddy dishes in the sink. No crumbs on the couch or on the sheets. I vacuumed frequently and wiped furniture, though never dusted. I used bathroom cleansing products which prevented it from being mistaken as an outhouse. What my address lacked was a woman’s civilizing touch. There was no need to ever speed-dial any haz-mat crew.
I lived on a high enough floor to leave the blinds open or shades up, depending in which room, on what surface, we joined. I’d be lying if I remembered what levels of sublimity we breached. Sublime congress waited until my mid 30s before finally tapping me on the shoulder and suggesting improvements regarding satisfying myself and my partner.
Anyway, recalling our Afternoon Delights light, matching it against our Afternoon Cocktails lumens, indeed Wendy was correct. The similarity was so great I considered clearing off our table and flattening her back on it.
Her deep laugh jolted our hideaway’s ambiance. The room’s knots of conspirators reared from their schemes and identified the disturbance. Women among those pairs, peeved at Wendy’s impertinence, quickly settled back into hissing deception. The men with whom they wished to practice deceit slowly resumed their parts in future sweet evasions. Being a guy, I know to a man each sidetracked into asking himself how might he elicit such a bold foretaste of gratification.
Would it have been possible to restart the loose beat with Wendy that afternoon? We’d become two new people who had distances to cover before returning to where we’d briefly been. Besides our time expired.
Gwendolyn had appointments elsewhere. With people who frowned upon lateness. We know those people well. They talk too much.
After settling the tab, tipping generously because servers can either helpfully remember or conveniently forget, I escorted Wendy from the cool cave. Women in the room were probably glad there was one less distraction; the men likely wondered if I’d somehow expense the room.
I opened and closed the door to the high-earners yearly salary she drove. Nowhere near a car nut, even a Detroit-booster like myself weakened at her purring four-wheeled foreign make. I think she drives the Exquisite model.
No pithy goodbyes. A moment faded. What existed between us was small. What need to inflate it?
Once more, my awkward lips upon her cheek. Her voice full of noncommittal roundabout, Wendy floated that perhaps I should phone again. A declaration or supposition? The sentence didn’t even really qualify as a possibility.
Before focusing on the road ahead, shrewd black eyes set in her still sharp face leave me to presume.