I started writing this short story a while ago now but never finished it. And, frankly, I think considering how rough the start was that that’s probably not entirely a bad thing… So, I’m starting “over again.” Sort of. It’s basically the same story but with a lot of corrections.
I sit here in a chair by the window, staring out at the passing cars and wonder where they are going. One car in particular passes and catches my attention. It’s a red sedan with a little rust around the bottom of the doors near the tires. It goes through the water on the street and makes a splash. The driver looks very intent on getting somewhere. I can tell. I can see it even though I can’t see his face.
He has intention. It’s something about the way he drives. He knows exactly what he’s doing. And perhaps this attitude of purpose could extend beyond into the meanderings of his everyday life.
I’m an old man, and when you get to be my age, especially if you’ve always been a sensitive sort, you know things about people just by watching them for a while… It’s a nice consolation to aging.
“How has your evening been Mr. Rooney?” A tall nurse with dark, pretty features approaches me, grabs my chair and wheels me off toward my room in the back section of the Mt. Pleasant Nursing Home.
I hate leaving my spot by the window. It’s the best place to just sit and think. Nobody bothers you there. Nobody assumes you’re just a lonely old man with no one to talk to. They see you staring out the window and mind their own business. They think you’re trying to be alone…
“It’s been a nice evening, Melanie. Thank you dear.”
“Well, just to remind you, Mr. Rooney, tomorrow is our picnic in the park. Volunteers will be here from 9 am to 4 pm with food and games. I know you like to sit in your spot in the morning but it might not work so well tomorrow. I’m going to have to bring you your breakfast earlier too. Just to warn you.”
Despite the fact that I cannot use my legs now and my hands often shake a bit, I’m not without a mind that still works quite well. Sometimes when some of the nurses here speak to me I wonder if someone will use the same tone of voice with them someday when they are old and if they’ll recognize it as being reminiscent of their own patronizing timbre. But, to be fair, I know that they partially just use this voice as way to sound “professional” and not to become attached to any of us. We don’t even “stick around” as long as a common household pet I suppose.
After Melanie pushes me back to my suite I find myself struck by a feeling of sadness. It hits when I sit down on my bed with the lights off and look around my empty room.
I ask myself, “Why are you so sad?” I even ask this out loud. Why not?
Then the answer comes. It comes in the form of a memory. Today is Georgette’s birthday. Or, it was… She would have been eighty-four years old. Or is…
Nobody but me knows about Georgette now. I’m the only one. Well, to be clear, about us. Georgette and me…
I remember her hair. It was soft about her shoulders, begging to be touched. I touched it that day in December, by the Christmas display on Lake Street, when she was just 17 years old. We walked around and sang carols for hours. And I touched her hair for the first time that day. I kissed her for the first time then too…
I touch my face and realize that I’m smiling. Then I recognize ironically just how much this smile hurts.
She told me she washed her hair in beer and I laughed in response. “Beer is for drinking,” I said emphatically. Then I poked her in the ribs and she giggled. She giggled that enchanting little giggle she had.
“I don’t even like beer, but it makes my hair so soft. Does my hair smell like beer?” She sounded worried. I leaned over, and put my nose in her red locks of shiny tresses. Beautiful.
I was so much stronger and more sound back then. My body felt light as a feather compared to now. I could lift myself up by my hands and stand upside down and move backwards and forwards. I remember.
“No! It doesn’t smell like beer at all…” Her hair smelled like her and she was perfect. Nobody is supposed to be perfect but she was. Boy was she…
I know I never told her. I stupidly couldn’t bring myself to say such a thing. Being vulnerable was never my strength. I suppose that means that really, after all is said, I was lacking. Weakened. Although nobody would ever have called me weak. They still wouldn’t. But I lived with the knowledge that I was in that real, deep and truly meaningful sort of way. Often if I said too much at the wrong moment I would break into tears, especially when I was a little boy. My mother always half scolded and coddled me saying, “Chin up. No tears.”
I can still hear Ray, my friend of twenty years saying to me, “Melvin, you’ve got some.” And he’d say it with a sort of chuckle. His cigarette and old leather jacket would shake with his laugh.
Ray and I went through a lot together. There was the death of his first wife, Martha and my own subsequent years as a widower that never abated.
He still had my copy of On the Water Front when he died of liver cancer twelve years ago. Cheryl, his second wife and then widow, gave it back to me eventually. She said she didn’t think he’d ever watched it. “He always meant to,” she said fervently. I believe it too.
I kissed Georgette many times after and before this, of course. But on one night, after a picnic in June, I remember thinking that nothing had ever been that exhilarating or almost supernatural before. I remember being drunk and kissing her in a way that scared me. That night I was more honest with her than I had ever been or would ever be again with anyone. It probably proved to be too much for me.
Marguerite, my wife, once asked me about her. “Who was she, Melvin?” She found me laying on a bed alone, just like I am now, holding her photo. And, I didn’t try to hide the truth about her. It would have seemed disrespectful and wrong for many reasons.
With a furrowed brow I said, “She was the first woman I ever truly loved.”
“You know I had a first love too.” My wife snapped her chewing gum and laid her small frame next to mine. “His name was Robert. He played on the football team with my brother and I met him when they came to dinner after practice once.”
“Should I be jealous of this Robert?” I turned towards her and she laughed and smiled pleasantly.
“No. He was very clever but I could never have married him.”
I was silent.
I pull myself up from the bed now and it’s not easy, I find. I usually have help these days for this. I’ve forgotten how heavy I feel. Or maybe I just forgot for a moment…
Finally pulling myself over to the drawer by the bathroom I find one of my favorite pictures of Georgette. I hold it to my lips and kiss it like a teenager kissing a poster of some heartthrob on their wall and it hits me that I don’t care if I was caught doing this anymore. Years ago I would have been embarrassed by such a display on my part. In those days I sent her kisses alone in parked cars, dark rooms, and anywhere where nobody would see me being so sweet. So sentimental.
“I love you, now, always, always have, and always will. I love you.” Then I try to fall asleep, thinking of her.
I spent my childhood in northern Minnesota. My mother was a seamstress and occasionally took in people’s wash and my father was a miner.
Nobody in my family ever forgot my birthday my entire childhood. Birthdays were special. Mama would bake an angel food cake with swirls of blue and green food coloring and make ice cream and we’d eat it outside on the front porch.
In the spring the ground would thaw and the smell of wet earth would permeate the air. After walking home from school I would take my shoes off at the door, so as to not get the hardwood floor dirty.
I remember having a blue tin lunchbox. And, I always left my lunchbox by my shoes at the door. Sometimes I’d forget to take out my leftover lunch until late at night. I was in trouble for that often.
Those are the memories that come to mind the most when I think back to those days. I’m not sure why. Those aren’t necessarily the most important moments of my childhood. But that’s what I remember most.
Georgette wasn’t from my neck of the woods. I met her by chance one very lucky night in October. It was during the harvest of 1948 when I had a ride into the city with one of my friends, Tommy Burnside.
Our plan was to go into Minneapolis for the night and see the new Western and stay at the the YMCA. Then the next day we would attend the harvest dance.
It was too late to see a movie when we got there, but the dance was something else. Back then they made things special.
Anyway why, that night I felt a little important, if only by association. Tommy’s dad, Frank, was an important man in our town. He had the largest farm in the county, you see. I thought I was carousing around with something close to royalty.
I heard this faint but wholly unique giggle right behind me and I thought, “Who is that laughing?” And I turned around and saw her. Just the prettiest. It was Georgette.
But those days are gone now.
Anyway, because I felt so extraordinary and superior I had an extra amount of confidence to add to the minuscule amount I naturally possessed. I looked Georgette right in her stunning eyes and introduced myself calmly, but with an unusual graciousness, for me that is. I even reached out, shook her hand and then with charming insouciance proceeded to guide her to the wall on the side of the dance floor by the small of her back. Normally, I would have said hello, but been too shy to say much else…
“Oh. Are you a farmer?” She asked simply when she heard where I was from.
I looked into her eyes and saw a look I was acquainted with from my days working as a stock boy at Leivens’ Drug on main street. It was a look that some well off customers in town would give me when I bagged their goods for them.
It was half pity, and half respect. Perhaps the pity was because I was beneath them somehow in their mind and the respect was because I was still young and they hoped I’d do better for myself somehow. Or maybe it was because my father and mother were such decent people and everyone knew each other’s business where I lived. Either way, I knew if I wanted to keep her attention I couldn’t be a farmer. That would not do at all.
“No. I’m not a farmer. My parents are missionaries, or they were actually. They’ve retired now.” I couldn’t believe the lies coming from my lips, but now that they were out I thought I could either keep going forward with it all or call the whole thing off. I continued terrified but exhilarated. “I spent my first seven years living in a jungle.”
“Oh!?” Her eyes widened. I had her full attention now and it felt tremendous.
“Why, sure.” I half convinced myself in that moment that any lies I told in this specific conversation would either work out to be true somehow, or if that was impossible then they wouldn’t count.
“Which one?” She was genuinely interested.
I didn’t know too many jungles, but I needed to pick one I knew something about… Sadly, all those hours I had spent reading National Geographic at the doctor’s office over the years were pointless because it seemed I hadn’t retained a single piece of useful information. I fumbled with my tie and then lifted my chin high and with as much authority as I could muster, “We don’t like to talk about it.” I followed that by bowing my head low and trying to appear as solemn as possible without seeming melodramatic.
“Goodness. Why ever not?!” She looked alarmed.
“Well, my mother’s sister died of malaria. For one thing.”
“Oh sakes alive… My aunt died young too. In childbirth. I’m so sorry.” She looked grieved and sympathetic and I felt a peculiar combination of empathy, guilt and amazement in return. I even considered reaching out and offering my hand in a gentle touch to her arm but that seemed a little sinister given my deceit.
The music stopped and everyone clapped. Then the lights all went black and one single spotlight hit the center of the dance floor. A couple who were clearly professional dancers flew about the floor as we all paused to watch them. They were very talented.
“I’m sorry if I shouldn’t have asked about your years in the jungle.” She humbly whispered in my left ear at the end of the song, pulling slightly on my sleeve to reach it. “I can see it’s upset you. I guess I’m just curious is all. You seem to have the air of a man who has read a lot, and traveled and seen so many fascinating things…” Her face looked off into the crowd and then she tilted it slightly and sighed rather loudly. I swallowed hard and shoved my hands my in pockets.
“You don’t need to apologize. I was so young. I barely remember much of it, I suppose.”
“Where did you move after living the jungle?”
“My father became an itinerant preacher. Here in America.”
“Oh, and where do you live now?”
“I live with my family up in northern Minnesota.” I pointed my finger northward for emphasis.
“And your father is in the clergy there? ”
“Yes. He has a modest but respectable congregation.”
“Oh how fascinating. I was raised a Lutheran. Our pastor and his wife never had any children though. I can only imagine what that life must be like.”
I can’t remember how I pulled it off. But I did. Every other weekend for the next year I would take the train or hitchhike my way down to Minneapolis, stay at the Y and then put on my best suit, shine my shoes and meet Georgette at the front entrance of the Dayton’s store downtown. We wrote letters too. Often. And once and a while I called her on the phone at the drugstore. But she never even once came to visit me in all that time and thank goodness because that was the best year of my life, I think.
Of course, when I was home I worked at the mine. But I had other plans too. I had graduated from high school that June. June of 1949. And I hoped to go to college within the next few years once I saved enough.
One winter night though, as it was most certainly fated to do, it all fell to pieces. I was taking Georgette home from a concert in the winter she grabbed my cold fingers and brought them to her face. Then she kissed my them with her crimson lips. Crystals from our breath mixed and after she rubbed the redness away, she began staring at my nails under the street light.
“Why are your nails so dirty sometimes? I’ve noticed before but I’ve never asked why.” Her lovely, large and trusting eyes met mine. My breath quickened producing a denser mistiness around us by the moment. Then I remembered not cleaning and filing them the way I usually did before making my trek down the day before.
“Oh well, it’s just some work I’ve been doing lately for my mother.”
“What sort of work?”
“I’m helping her stain the pews at the church.”
Now, Georgette was by no means raised in a family that believed in the sort class snobbery you read about in books or see in the movies belonging to people who own mansions. Her house was a pleasant but simple one. But, her father had been educated at Cornell just like her grandfather and her great grandfather. They were scholars. Two of her four brothers were also scholars and one of them, the eldest, was a professor at the local university where her father also taught in the chemistry department. To me they were infinitely intimidating. Of course, it didn’t make me feel any more secure that she was also intelligent.
I looked into her face. Her eyes were fire filled and brimming. But, I couldn’t place why. We had had a wonderful evening. We always did. Always…
“You’re lying to me.”
My face froze in a suspended state of hopefulness. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to tell her the truth. I wanted to. I almost had. Often.
In June, when we almost made love, I was actually shocked I didn’t confess… But I just couldn’t bring myself to it. I wanted to. I really did. But I was too weak.
In moments when I fully recognized it, it left me feeling literally sickened. Yet, to my credit, I was honest about just about everything else. Still, I just couldn’t…. I just couldn’t.
“You’re just poor aren’t you. You work in the mines up north. I know you do. And so does your father.” Her face fell and she began to cry gently.
“Yes.” Then, I grabbed her hands in mine and caught the tears with my finger tips. “Look, I have been lying to you about that. Sure. That’s terrible for certain. I know. I’m sorry. But it was just because I didn’t think you would look at me twice if you knew.” I did my best to sound cheerful. I didn’t know what else to do and I figured that if it didn’t seem like a serious problem to me it wouldn’t be to her either. “Someday I’m going to be just as respectable and accomplished and…” Her distant silence emboldened me to believe that she was being swayed, and I started to convince myself that it would all be fine soon. We had had arguments before.
“But you lied to me.” She refused to look at me but just kept staring down at the pavement under our feet.
My arms dropped as I felt her body inch away from me. I was getting scared now.
Bending over and holding my knees I laughed out loud at the awkwardness of the situation. But that was a horrible response. When she finally looked up at me it was with an expression of horror and pain.
“You have so many other suitors just waiting to take my place. And they’re all from such nice local families. You’re beautiful. So very beautiful. What was I supposed to do? Hmm? Should I have told the truth and risked never seeing you again? Please be fair!” I recovered myself long enough to spout out these words.
“You think I’m shallow?” She looked even more hurt.
“You want to know the truth? I think you’re human.”
Her mouth opened and she looked aghast. “That’s a terrible thing to say. But I suppose I am just human and so are you.” A coldness crept over her features and I felt a distance expanding between us even though our bodies remained in place.
“I sincerely hope you aren’t about to blame me for wanting to see you so badly that I would literally do almost anything.”
“Oh sure. And what about the other lies I’ll bet you’ve told me too? For instance, is there another girl?”
“No. Of course not.”
“But how can I trust you? You lied to me about something serious.”
“Right. But, there is no one else. The only thing I’ve ever been dishonest about is now in the light of day. There isn’t anything you don’t know now.”
“Maybe that’s true. But it can’t stay that way forever. Can it? There will always be something you’ll be afraid of and then there will be more lies. If you’re willing to lie about this then what else will you be willing to deceive me about next?”
I was stunned. I was losing her. Second by miserable second.
“No. I’m not for you.” She backed away and crossed her arms over her chest.
“But you have to be. I love you. I love you more than… the truth itself. I guess.”
“That’s a misplaced priority if I ever heard one.” She shook her head back and forth now like she was trying to rid her mind of something painful and annoying. “You’re in love with some idea in your head. None of this has been real because you haven’t been honest. You lied to me. It’s that simple.”
She turned to walk away now towards her house two blocks away. The smoke from her chimney was visible over the frozen tree limbs. I had been inside there, where that warmth was. I had seen it and now worried I never would again. I felt cold, ugly and strange.
“You’re making a mistake!” I yelled as loud as I could. I had to say something.
Then much to my surprise, she stopped and turned around. Her face was wet and wretched. “You’re a liar!” she yelled back before turning again and breaking into a leaping run.
Her speeding frame disappeared around the corner and past a yellow stucco house and a wooden fence by a maple tree, but I stopped and listened to hear the last traces of her footsteps. I could and should have gone after her, but I didn’t think there was anything more to say and I didn’t want to face her family. I was weak.
I also knew I had lied because I honestly believed that she would reject me otherwise. I wasn’t sure what to think in that moment. How had she even discovered the truth?
Was she lying? Would she have accepted me like she claimed? I tried to close my eyes and picture that moment at the dance again. It came back to me and I saw her face. She really did look almost… condescending. I wasn’t imagining anything…
I wrote her everyday for three months until she told me that I needed to leave her alone. I saved that letter anyway. I still have it somewhere. She told me that she had loved me once but that we should both find new people to love now.
A year later I visited her house and left a bouquet on her birthday at her doorstep. I never heard anything in response.
Ten years later I did learn that she was married to someone else. He was from Kentucky, I think. And, he took her half way across the country to that state because all of his family lived there. That was the last I knew of her. All I was left with were photos and letters from that year we spent together.
“Listen!” Mary Winsett, a nurse orderly whispered loudly to another nurse, David. The night shift was generally the most boring of all the shifts at the home. Most of the current residents slept well through the night and hours could go by without almost anything happening anywhere.
Typically, Mary ate two small bags of Cheetos and drank two bottles of Diet Coke a night. Sometimes there were scary emergencies but mostly it was a matter of staying awake. However, in this moment heavy thuds could be heard coming from down the hall. “What the hell is that!?”
“I’ll go see what it is.” David volunteered.
He wandered down the hall, and heard two more thuds before locating the exact room where the noise originated. It sounded like someone was being thrown repeatedly against a wall.
“How’s it going, Mr. Rooney?” David opened the door and peeked inside carefully. “Mr. Rooney?” David was confused because Melvin Rooney was nowhere to be found in the entire room.
Racing down the hallway David reached the front desk, breathless. “We may have a runaway. I’ll check around but I’d definitely call security just to be careful. This is too weird.”
It took about a half an hour before it was discovered that Melvin Rooney had somehow managed to leave his room during the middle of the night through a broken screen on his window. Everyone concluded that noise must have been him pushing the screen out as it was found in grass by the wall outside his room.
And there wasn’t anything mysterious about how he got away, really. The entire nursing home was on the first floor.
The real conundrum was why. Why had the gentle Mr. Rooney, known for his clever jokes, and the way he could recite literature like he was reading it directly from the page running away from the home? He had friends here, or so everyone thought. He loved mashed potato Wednesdays and the garlic toast on the weekends. It didn’t add up.
On Thursday, a day after the escape there was news from Melvin’s daughter Louise. He had made it to her home in a taxi and told her that he never wanted to go back. She said she would have to figure something out. Perhaps she could talk her father into going back but it seemed unlikely. And if he couldn’t be persuaded she would send for his things soon.
“That’s so sad. I’m going to miss him. He was such a sweet man.” Said at least two nurses.
On Friday Mrs. Rose of Waterview, Kentucky visited the home with her daughter Elizabeth, often called Bethie. Mrs. Rose was a stately woman. She was a tall beauty and still lovely with traces of red in her neatly coiffed chignon.
“Emily. No, I mean Elizabeth… Bethie, darling, let’s just walk down this hall a bit further and look in these rooms before I make my decision.” Georgette Rose stopped for a second to take in the name written on the door of a room that was being cleared out. It was a familiar name: Melvin Rooney and the man in the accompanying photo bore a striking resemblance. “No way!” Georgette said to no one in particular.
“Mother?!” Bethie walked quickly down the hallway towards her mother.
“I think I knew this man!” Georgette’s face contorted. Raising her hands towards a nurse down the hall she slowly made her way forward. “Excuse me sir, but could you tell me something about the man who used to have that room?”
“Oh Melvin?” A man holding a mop stood for a moment while he seemed to be contemplating whether or not he should say anything or not. “Why do you ask?”
“Well, he was an old boyfriend of mine way back in the 40’s.” Georgette’s face dropped, she swallowed, bracing herself for what followed. “Did he just die?”
“Yes, ma’am. He died today. He was at his daughter’s house and had a heart attack last night. He actually – totally weird – he escaped from the home just a few days ago through a broken window and today his daughter called us and said he died last night in his sleep. It’s pretty upsetting to be honest. He was nice man, although he kept to himself.”
Georgette inhaled deeply and then began to shake as she let out a slow, labored breath. Walking ever so slowly towards the empty room, Georgette started to cry. “Mother!” Elizabeth rushed to her side.
“Oh it’s just my Parkinson’s. It’s nothing.”
“Mom! That is not true at all. You look like you’ve just seen a ghost.”
Rendered speechless, Georgette glanced inside the nearly empty room. It was empty except for a few pieces of old luggage sitting by the door and an elderly woman standing on top of Melvin Rooney’s old bed.
There she stood. She was a rather petite woman with a cane. And it was quite clear she was not meant to be here, but no one had noticed and she seemed harmless enough.
“Hello!” She greeted the two women standing at the door. “I’m trying to crack through the surface.”
“What surface is that love?” Asked Georgette.
“The one between us and God. The one that divides the living and the dead.”
Then, in the dim lighting of that dreary room with it’s chemical lemon scented ugliness, all three women in a moment of curiosity that overwhelmed them looked up at that taupe tiled ceiling in silence.
“It’s up there! I can hear them at night. The dead ones. Crawling around on the roof. I just want them to be quiet.” She peered down and stared Georgette straight in the eyes with inspiration. “But you want them to be loud. Don’t you? You like the noise.”
Georgette’s tears fell profusely. “You think God lives beyond this ceiling?”
“Not in one sense, but in another? Yes. There’s a hole here. I can feel it.” She sits down on the bed now and looks almost saddened. “I just want a little peace and quiet. Is that too much to ask?”
“No. Of course not.” Then after considering, and quickly regaining her composure Georgette continues. “You know, they never say a word to me. I don’t let them, I bet. Why don’t I ask them to be quiet for you?”
“That’d be splendid. Would you please?”
Teetering over to the bed Georgette glanced up at the ceiling and said in a rather stern voice, “Could you please be quiet?” Then all women exchanged glances.
“You shut them up! I know it.” The woman, then sitting peacefully, seemed convinced.
“I’m sure I did.”
“I’m sorry your life is too quiet.”
“Thank you. That’s very kind.” Georgette then tried to sit down on the bed too but her hip hurt too much and so she decided to keep standing instead.
“I love you. There’s no time to waste becoming friends.” The woman suddenly announced.
“You heard me.”
“You’re only human you know?”
Then the two older, long life hued women met each other’s view as if they had traversed time and space and back again, holding some secret understanding between them. Some common grief perhaps. Or, some other unknown commonalty.
“I was in love with him once.” Georgette blurted out into the silence.
“I know. You still are. I can tell.” Then nodding her head, “Relax. Will you?”
“I can’t relax I guess.”
“I know. And that’s why I love you. I couldn’t either.”
“Well, I’m sure I love you too.”
Chills ran up Georgette’s spine and before she turned to leave she glanced back at the woman on the bed. “Thank you, again! It was nice meeting you. What was your name?”
“Sylvia.” She said sweetly. Then with an earnest sadness, “He loved you. But you killed him inside a little his whole life. And now, nobody will shut up.” She glanced up at the ceiling again and pointed. “But at least we can smile about it. We both know you meant well.”
Georgette looked ahead. “I’m sorry?”
“You’re in trouble aren’t you? Oh, you’re in big trouble. Poor thing.”
A chill filled the air and an uneasy feeling made Georgette almost dizzy, throwing her slightly off balance. She grabbed the door frame to steady herself.
“I should go. It was lovely talking with you.”
“You’re only wise to a point. Just a point. Remember that. Don’t assume so damn much.” Then the woman closed her eyes, laid back and seemed to be going to sleep on the bed.
On the way to the parking lot Georgette and Elizabeth, decided that living in the home would be something they’d have to think about a lot more before coming to a final conclusion on the matter. But in the mean time Georgette was in shock enough to be moving so slowly as to see one of the nurses smoking a cigarette outside the door of the home.
“Bethie, I’m going to stop and chat with this man for just a moment. Go ahead. I’ll meet you in the car.”
“Ok mom. I’ll be waiting.”
Approaching the nurse she read the name tag he was wearing to be David. He seemed intrigued by her too now as she approached him slowly. He studied her face carefully.
“Hello. You work here?”
“Yes, actually. And you look familiar. I’m not sure why.” He laid down his newspaper and cup of gas station coffee on the bench by the wheel chair ramp.
“Hmm.” Georgette shook her head in curiosity.
“Do you mind if I smoke?” He asked.
“No. Not at all. I used to smoke myself but I quit years and years ago.”
“You know, you really do look familiar. Wait! My god. It’s you. My god!” David’s mouth hung open slightly in a frozen state. His eyes narrowed together and his brow creased. A look of ironic recognition spread across his face.
“I’m sorry. I’m confused.” Georgette rubbed both of her arms, appearing to be a bit chilled.
“You’re Georgette. You must be. Why are you here?”
“I am Georgette. But, I’m afraid I’m still confused. I’m here because I was considering living in this home actually.”
“No way! You’re kidding. Right!?”
“I’m not kidding. I came to tour the facility today with my daughter. She’s waiting in the car for me right now.”
“Ok?” He looked like he was fighting back a combination of laughter and some sort of existential exasperation. “Sure. Why not?” He said mostly to himself, then more calmly and professionally he continued, “So what can I do for you?”
“Have I upset you?”
“Do you even know who you are!?”
“You’re Melvin Rooney’s long lost love! I know because I’ve seen photos of you from when you were young. You look amazingly similar. It’s uncanny. But yeah.” David stopped and scratched his head for a second before taking a drag from his cigarette. “So, I’m sorry to have to tell you this, but you just missed him. And I mean that in an incredibly, cosmically weird and tragic way. He basically, like literally, just died. But, yeah, he lived here. Did you know that?!” Then before she could respond, “I mean, I really hope you didn’t come here looking for him because he’s… umm… He’s not coming back?”
“You know it’s funny. I actually didn’t know anything about it at all, but then another one of your employees shared it with me. It is an odd coincidence. Isn’t it? It almost makes you wonder about a lot of things. At least, that’s how I’m feeling about it right now.”
“I don’t blame you.”
“What do you suppose it the point of all of this?”
“What do you mean?”
“You know. What’s the point of all of it?”
“Well, I suppose that depends on who you ask.” He took another long drag.
Georgette grabbed her pearl necklace and played with it for a moment. “Fine. Fine! But what do you think?”
David threw back his head and laughed slightly. Then after holding his chin and contemplating it for at least a good minute or two, he responded. “Love.” He turned his head to face her and smiled. “I think life is mostly about love actually.”
“Have you ever been deeply in love?”
In a sort of amused nod he shifted about. “Yeah. Ok. I’ll answer that.” He smiled again before answering, “Yes. Once.”
“And you were happy?”
“Yes. Very happy. We loved each other very much.” Then he looked quickly away.
“That’s really marvelous.”
“What about you!?”
“What about me?”
“Have you ever been in love?”
“Yes, but it never amounted to anything.”
“No. He was just beneath me. That’s all.” A look of self disgust filled her face.
“Georgette, you’re terrible snob.”
“Maybe. But more like just terrible I think.” The sky was turning dark and the barking of a dog and the sound of a motorcycle interrupted the quiet for a moment.
“Do you have regrets Georgette?”
“My whole life is mostly comprised of regrets, I’m afraid.”
“I’ll die soon enough. Don’t worry.”
“That’s an awful thing to say. You can always make every moment count, even until the end.” Then, just to prove that he wasn’t being flippant he glanced with a melancholy expression long enough to gain her attention.
“No, that’s only partially true though. Sometimes death-”
Holding up his hand in protest, David interrupted, “You’re a lovely woman. For as long as Melvin was here he couldn’t do anything but talk you to me and at least a few others. I am fairly sure I can say without too much doubt that you really are a truly lovely person.”
“No, the sad truth is that what I am, is an absolute fool. I never loved anyone the way I loved Melvin Rooney. My ex husband and I divorced years ago. I’ve been a bachelorette all these years. But, I just kept telling myself back then that I was making the right decision by ignoring him, even though I knew somewhere inside myself that I wasn’t. I knew I wasn’t.”
“But God loves fools. I’m certain. Because, we all are fools in one form or another.” Nodding his head slowly, solemnly he reached over and patted Georgette on the back.
“I just missed him… By less than a week.”
“It could have much worse. You could have never known anything. Think of that. You’re fortunate. Very, very fortunate actually.” And David finally finished his cigarette with that.
“Here.” He reached in his front pocket and pulled out an aged photo. “Melvin kept this and others in his front pocket all the time, but the night he “escaped” he left in his pajamas and bathrobe and didn’t take them all. I think he knew he was going to die soon and was desperate not to let it happen here, which is sensible I guess. This is the one photo he left behind that we found.”
It was a photo of Georgette, surely. And as she sat there holding it, slight creases on the edges, she realized what she had lost her whole damn life.
“I shouldn’t keep this.”
“You have to. It’s the only right thing to do.” Then pushing her hand away he looked intently and pleadingly into her eyes. “You have to.”
“Oh and I know it.”
“You should come to the funeral too.”
“Next Thursday at 4:00 pm at Trinity Lutheran Church.”
“I’ll be there. I promise.”
The drive home was a quiet one. It was a quiet day now and with the rain, it oddly felt even more quiet.