Friday, December 26, 2014

Chapter 32 / Curious

Maybe because the whole house was meant to suggest sitting outdoors, there was no patio—no deck, no place to keep an ashtray.

So on Sunday Andrew found a straight chair and a tiny round table in the downstairs bedrooms and moved them outdoors. He stared at them for a few seconds, thinking about how you got used to being alone, a single social unit. Then he moved a second chair to the table, in case Annie ever wanted to sit out here too, with him.

He lit a cigarette and sat facing the trees, the car in back of him, on the short path in from the road. He had brought the business section of the Sunday Times with him, having bought all the papers this morning, but just as in Upstate New York you got the early edition here—yesterday’s, or even last week’s news—and it didn’t really matter, because it was the same story every day, violence and greed, greed and violence, and he wasn’t even feeling bitter about it today, amazing how sex with a woman you cared about could change your perspective, or did it just turn you into one of the sheep?

No, look at Rosendo and Caroline, the economist and the dancer, but Rosendo was driven and drove Caroline to be driven and here was he, Andy, trying to copy them again, wasn’t he, without their brilliance. But he had written a good book, it had won the damned prize, and Annie had written a good book too, he had read her first novel in one sitting, to learn about her, yes, but also impressed with the story, and the sex scenes.

Andrew tapped his ash into the small saucer he had brought outdoors, pleased with his effort not to set the woods on fire, and he thought about Annie, about her curves and valleys, like some kind of desert painting, and the marvel of her teenaged hormones, and his relief that he too, after all his attacks on his body, still had hormones. He thought of the peace of the time that still stretched before them, noticing that he didn’t worry about whether it was too much time, or too little, it was just time, granted to them by someone he didn’t know.

And he wondered if anyone around here sold barbecue instead of fish, and whether he should call Warren tomorrow afternoon and the radio station in the morning. He wished he and Annie could walk to dinner but there was no diner / dinner here in the woods, and his mind again touched on Ed, who apparently liked to go from the middle of nowhere in one state to the middle of nowhere in another state, and he wondered if he could talk to Annie about possibly, back home, someday, not living in the middle of nowhere. He was contemplating this when he sensed motion in back of him.

He turned to see a young man walking up the path. About 6 feet tall, slim, boyish, probably older than he looked, dark hair, clean-shaven, chinos, dark sweater draped over his shoulders.

The man halted as if Andrew’s stare had stopped him. “Hi,” he said, smiling. “I’m looking for some friends. They were going to be staying around here, but I’ve forgotten which house.”

“Hey,” said Andrew, deciding to lay on the drawl. “We’re here for this week. My wife and I. You’re doing this search on foot? Have a seat, maybe I can help.”

“My car’s down the road. Thanks, I won’t bother you. Have a good evening.”

He turned and left. Good posture . . . once he was out of sight, Andrew stood and moved for a different view, but couldn’t see him. He listened in the silence, then heard a car engine. A couple of quick steps took him halfway down the path in time to see a blond woman drive by in a gray Volvo wagon, with a yellow Lab sticking his head out the rear window.

“Were you talking to someone?”

Annie, showered and dressed, came out the door.

“Guy. Had the wrong house.”

Annie stopped mid-step. “What did he look like?”

“—Like a guy who was in the wrong place.”

“Seriously! Was he blond? Red-headed?”


“Dark curly hair?”

“—His hair may have had some body to it.”

“OK, I’ll stop. What was the main thing you noticed about him?”

“. . . A sense of confidence . . . combined with beads of sweat on his upper lip. He declined my offer of a chair, but why don’t you sit down, I’ve made us a patio.”

So they sat outdoors for a while, shoulder to shoulder, arms intertwined, their backs to the road, both of them thinking that Ed had been gone for ten months and during that time no one had heard from him. Or, as far as they knew, tried to reach him at home.

Finally, Andrew, who always had the whisper of Warren on his shoulder, said it out loud.

“Still,” said Annie, “it’s a coincidence.”

“Yes. A coincidence.”

“He might have been curious.”

“Might have been.”

“We never know everything, do we.”

Andrew shook his head. “Never.”

Copyright © 2014 Debby Mayer

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Chapter 31 / Sexy House

“This house is very sexy, Annie.”
They were wandering around the house, staring, together and separately, out its dozens of panes of glass large and small, vaguely astounded, fuzzy in their fatigue. 
As Annie had remembered, it was like living in the trees. You entered at ground level, with its two ordinary bedrooms, then walked upstairs into the woods—glass walls on three sides, only one other house visible in the distance. The kitchen tucked in against the one un-windowed wall and the rest of the floor consisted of places to sit—at a large wooden table, on a couch, in chairs. 
Upstairs, at the top of the trees, was the master bedroom with its glass-walled sitting room and sky-lit bathroom.
They stood now at the window in the sitting room, the king-sized bed in back of them.
“And you’ve already discovered this,” Andrew went on thoughtfully, as much to himself as to her. “Looked out all the windows. Jumped into the bed. Soaked in the tub.” 
Annie shook her head. “It was different. Trust me.” 
They observed each other, hatless now, unprotected.
“We got here, and I didn’t want to leave,” she said. “For Ed, it was just a home base, to get to the beach. And we had the dogs, remember. It was like being here with two three-year-olds.” 
“Hm.” Andrew gazed around the room, taking in the late-afternoon light, the openness, the suggested mix of freedom and comfort. “This house is wasted on three-year-olds.” 
“For all I know, it’s like the beach house you had with Polly.” 
Andrew blinked, startled. “Architecturally, no. Emotionally, no way.” 
Annie sat on the small white couch that looked out into the trees, and Andrew joined her. Together they filled it, hip to hip. 
“At our age, there’s always history,” she said, “OK, maybe this is a little intense, but at home we do things that Ed and I did.” 
“We do not have sex in your bed.” 
“We haven’t. Think of this as an intermediary step. If you want,” she added.
Andrew felt laughter welling up inside of him. He looked away, then back at her, trying not to grin. “You can do this.” 
“Yes. Can you?”
He could not take his eyes off her. “You’re probably the weirdest girlfriend I’ve ever had.” 
Annie thought for only a second. “Probably.” 
*                  *                     *                     *                * 
“There is one more thing I should tell you.” 
Andrew had showered and dressed in gym shorts and a white T-shirt, one with a V-neck that still hid his chest. Annie, sitting at the big wooden table with a sliced peach, wondered if he would always wear a T-shirt. But first, this—
“You don’t have a penis,” she said. 
“Arrgghh! This isn’t funny!” he said, realizing he was about to laugh again. “Except I guess it is.” He sat down at the table and took a piece of peach. 
She nodded. “I’m just being hysterical. It’s the 1990s. No one our age should have unprotected sex with a new partner.” 
“You’ve been talking to Warren.” 
“No, I read it somewhere. Several somewheres. Think of it this way: you don’t know who I’ve had sex with.” 
“Who have you had sex with?”
“Ed. But we don’t know who Ed had sex with and who I had sex with before Ed . . . blah blah, it’s so boring.” 
“Want to just forget it?”
“. . . You’re clean?”
“As of two weeks ago. Are you?”
“—I’ve never been tested. I brought some condoms. Did you?”
“About a pound of them. Warren would kill me if I didn’t use them. Of course, I could lie . . .”
“Can we think of this as the last—the only—irony in our relationship? I can’t get pregnant but we still have to use rubbers.”   
*            *          *           *            *               *              *           *
“I want to see you,” he said, “but I don’t want you to see me.” 
“I’m going to see you this week, Andrew.” 
“Still. Do something for me, just tonight. Let’s turn off the light . . .” He flicked the switch for the lamps at the bed, and the room went black. A sliver of a moon had risen above the trees. 
“There’s something I’ve wanted to do for a long time.” 
“What?” Annie stiffened. 
“Nothing weird. Here, take this off . . .” He drew her T-shirt over her head, and they finished undressing. 
“I lie here,” he said, lying down on his back, “and you lie on top of me.”
She hesitated, wishing she could see his face.
“It’s OK,” he said gently, with only a trace of urgency. “That’s all. Nothing weird.” 
So she lay on top of him, her chest to his, her legs along his. He took her hands and stretched out their arms together. They lay cheek to cheek and he rubbed his entire face slowly, softly, against hers. 
“That’s it,” he said. “In my fantasies, you fly me. You fly me around the world.” 
So she flew him, that night and for the next seven days and nights. That first time, when they got back to the bed, his face was wet. 
“What’s wrong?” she said. 
“Nothing,” he said, “nothing’s wrong. For six years, I’ve been underground, in hell . . . and now I’m flying.”
Copyright © Debby Mayer

Friday, November 14, 2014

Chapter 30 / Tides

Andrew had decided to lock the car while he took a pee, more afraid of the monster in the parking lot than the one in the car . . . 
Annie woke up in any case, as he downshifted for the off ramp. 
“You were supposed to stay asleep until I could show you the sea.”
“You’re so romantic, dear.” She took his arm as they walked in from the parking lot and he squeezed against her, his hand over hers. The air had cooled a bit, and already life was quieter. The black of the sky echoed the dark of the car; their fellow travelers were a handful of truck drivers and salesmen. 
Back at the car, Andrew smoked a cigarette and Annie did stretches. “Are you OK?” she asked.
“Fine, he said. “Maybe thinking too much. But being angry with myself works to keep me awake.”
“Talk to me then. I can sleep later.” He had one more thing to tell her, she was sure. She didn’t know exactly what bad news it was, but if forced to guess, she could have. 
“No,” he said, “rest now. We have all week to talk. Imagine that,” he said, looking at her. “All week. What are we going to talk about?”
“Well, you’ll buy the newspapers every morning and get depressed. We can talk about that.”
“And you, what will be your topics?”
She thought for only a moment. “Life. Liberty. The pursuit of happiness.” 
“Let’s go!” He tossed the cigarette and opened the door for her.
“Turn on the radio if you want. There’s a good jazz station in Worcester.”  
*  *  *  *  *  *
And they did it, almost as imagined. They bailed out before Truro, in Wellfleet, because the National Seashore beach there had restrooms and, at 6:30 in the morning, free parking from which you could walk straight—almost straight—from the car, across the beach, and into the water. 
“OK,” said Andrew, “we hold hands, like this, and we walk in. No stopping. We can scream, but we can’t stop walking—"
The morning was deliciously cool and the water downright frigid and they did it anyway, into the water and jumping up and down, screaming. 
They weren’t alone, but they hadn’t expected to be alone. People walked their dogs along the water; people took their morning run; people examined pebbles. 
“Ah, Saturday,” said a man in a floppy khaki sunhat, walking a white standard poodle. “Drive far?” 
“Six hours,” said Annie, offering her fist for the dog to sniff. Andrew was floating in the water, his feet sticking up, his nose visible. “Is the tide going in or out?”  
“It’s coming in,” said the man. “Be careful where you nap.” 
So Annie noted the water line and made them a camp just beyond it. They ate hard-boiled eggs and drank water and observed the sweep of the beach and the curve of the land. They set out to walk the curve of the land and realized after half an hour that it went on forever, which was wondrous but exhausting, so they walked back and lay side by side. 
*  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *
3 p.m. Andrew’s watch beeped, twice. He took his baseball cap off his face and sat up. He found his pills and a bottle of water in Annie’s little cooler, took a pill and looked around him. They’d changed beaches to this one in Truro, walking here from free parking, a beach even more dramatic than the National Seashore. He was getting antsy about calling into the radio station, but he would do that from the house. Maybe. From underneath his hat he breathed slowly and deeply and made himself focus on the sound of the waves. 
Annie must have gone for a walk—no, wait, the madras bedspread, in faded stripes, about a yard away from him wasn’t just a pile of fabric. She was wrapped inside it, covered from her feet to her head, her Panama hat over her face. Andrew sat cross-legged, facing her, watching for movement, absorbing the chill of the wrapped body by the side of the road . . . he shivered once, to wake, and waited. When he couldn’t bear the stillness of her anymore, he touched the cloth over her arm. 
“Hey,” said Annie, muffled. “Was that three o’clock?”
“Why are you wrapped up like this?”
Her long fingers appeared, a bit of slender arm with fine blond hairs, as she took the hat off her face. “I’m not supposed to get in the sun.” 
She said this matter-of-factly, but in his fatigue it struck him. He put his head into his hands. “What are we doing here.” 
Annie sat up. “We’re having an adventure. Some discomfort must be expected.” 
“This is civilization. We could have spent a week in a hotel in New York.” 
“I wear sun block,” she said, putting on her hat. “The house is beautiful. The beach is beautiful.”
“Your house is fine. I would have driven you to the pond every afternoon.”
 “It’s true, I prefer fresh water, after three o’clock.” 
“But you went to the beach every summer.” 
“—Ed loved the ocean. He just loved it.” 
“You made a drive you hated and risked melanoma.” 
“One week out of the year. It seemed like something I could give him.” 
They were looking at each other from under the shade of their hats, his eyes pale blue, hers green. And you, thought Andrew, what gift did you receive from him? 
He didn’t ask. She would say that wasn’t the point. Or, she would have no answer, and still insist it wasn't the point.  
Copyright © 2014 Debby Mayer

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Chapter 29 / Departure

They all did it, Andrew had noticed over the years: they all left their home in the same way, as if they would never return. For Elena, it had made some sense to cover the bed, close the shutters, but for Annie, who was now watering her houseplants— 
“We’ll be back in a week,” he said. 
“I know,” she said. “But it’s a relatively harmless eccentricity, right?” 
Outside in the dark, the car sat packed in the driveway. In the passenger seat, Andrew had made a nest for Annie, with beach towels and a pillow. 
“Don’t bring food,” he had said as she divided supplies between a carton and a cooler. “We’ll eat out.” 
“There is no coffee shop downstairs from this house,” she said. “I’m bringing breakfast.”
“The house will have a coffee pot. “
“I like this coffee pot. Would you like to take a nap? Lie down on the bed for a while.”
So he had stretched out on top of her bed by himself, fully clothed except for his shoes. He observed that he hadn’t been in her house in the dark since their first date, during the blizzard, and that this week, seven months later, they had both been working like maniacs just to take a few days off together. Like normal people.  
Next thing he knew she was offering him coffee from the pot she wasn’t taking to Truro. Then she cleaned that up. 
Now she refilled the watering can so it would be ready when she returned. “Do you remember that scene in Jules and Jim?” she said.
“. . . The three of them are setting out, and she burns some papers . . . letters?” 
“You remember it! What did you think? I was horrified.” 
“I was probably stoned. In an effort not to experience it as intensely as you did. You were horrified . . . that she would destroy something. Someone.” 
“A part of her life, I guess. I was in college, what did I know. No life yet to destroy.” 
He sat down on a kitchen chair. “What would you burn here?” She had stopped what she was doing, but it didn’t matter, they had time before midnight.
“—Some notebooks,” she said, sitting down on the piano bench. “I threw Ed’s away, but mine are still here.” 
“Did you read Ed’s first, before you threw them away?”
“No,” she said, looking away from him. “Too much of a coward.” 
Andrew shook his head. “It was brave to let him go.” 
“It wasn’t like he was writing a book,” she said, straightening up again, “and I could finish it and get it published for him. They were personal journals . . . maybe I could have learned something.” 
“No reason to look to be hurt.” 
“That, and his handwriting was impossible.” 
Annie checked her list. The girl was crazy, but she kept lists. She crossed things off her lists. Now she did that and said, “OK, all I have to do is change my clothes.” 
“Into your pajamas.” 
“Remember, we can’t get in the house until four o’clock tomorrow.” 
“I’m ready.” 
“OK. I’ll be out in the length of one cigarette.”
Crazy. Sensible. Non-judgmental. Everything he could love. He leaned against the car, having his last cigarette for a while in a darkness complete except for the stars sprayed over the trees and a sliver of light from her bedroom. At the end of this cigarette they would pull out of the driveway at midnight on this hot, still night, and when the sun rose again, the sea would be spread out before them. 
“I’m reconsidering this whole trip,” Annie had said a couple of weeks ago. 
It made sense, of course, not to go to this house where she had spent a week two years ago with her lover, now dead, who had bequeathed her this next week without telling her, who may have had some sort of mystery plan. 
But all she said was, “I hate driving there so much. It’s six hours and no matter what you do, the traffic is terrible.” 
“I’ll drive,” he said. On the surface, at least, her problems were so simple.
Annie observed him, in this way she had, as if she were visualizing whatever he had said. He had passed his driver’s test a week before, on the first try.
“It’s really ugly,” she said. 
“What if we leave at night? If we leave your place at midnight, we’ve got an easy six hours before the rest of the world starts driving.” 
“Don’t bet on it,” she said. But she was intrigued, he could tell. 
“We can sleep on the beach,” he said, “get something to eat.”
“You’re OK driving at night?”
“I’m fine driving at night. In Cuscutlan we always drove at night. And no one had a license. Or knew how to drive.”
“You won’t hit any deer?”
“Have you ever seen me hit a deer?”
She thwacked him gently with the Observer.
“Let me wrap my head around this,” she said, and presumably she had run it by Jaime and Kathleen, who had given their approval, whole-hearted or otherwise. 
“Except for the deer, it’s probably safer at night,” Jaime had said.
“And the drunks,” said Kathleen. “Call me when you get there, OK?”  
Driving alone, Andrew would have scanned the dial for different radio stations and sung along, but he wanted Annie to sleep. Staying up all night was foreign to her, and they would need her to drive during the day. So he breathed in the air, waiting for it to cool. He watched the road, and he thought. He had made a mental list of things to think about, so he thought about them and he listened to the car, and tried out phrases for something he wanted to write. He sipped his Coke—
“No stimulants, right?” Warren had said, and Andrew had said, “Right, just Coke and coffee.” 
“And safe sex,” Warren had said mildly, almost but not quite casually, as if he didn’t really need to say this, did he, they had talked about it many times—
This time Andrew made a face. “I’ve been clean for months.” 
Warren looked directly at him. “You know that doesn’t mean shit.” 
In the car, Andrew shifted in his seat. In Warren’s office, he had stood up and walked around, looked out the window to the sidewalk six stories below. HIV can take years to manifest itself, Warren had told him. That he hadn’t done guys didn’t matter, he had done needles, he had done girls who did needles, who did guys . . . in his idiocy he had stuck himself with this needle.

Copyright © 2014 Debby Mayer

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Chapter 28 / Respect

There’s a story there, Caroline.
So it’s not Annie. 
Yes, it’s Annie. There’s a life.
A life. It hung between them at the coffee shop table like a row of Mexican Christmas flags.
Caroline thought about saying again that Andrew had a life here in New York, but she didn’t. Life, she and Rosendo had learned, was where you made it. They had seen themselves in any number of places, but after the last assassination attempt, with the three of them together, just inches from each other, they had tucked themselves into this corner of New York, Caroline at home, Rosendo in exile. 

Which reminded her, with a glance at her watch, “I have to go. You want to be home, you know, when the chico gets in from school.” 
Mis respetos à Rosendo,” murmured Juan as they left. 
Gracias,” said Caroline, meeting his eyes. He said it, and she thanked him, every time she left the coffee shop. Throughout the neighborhood, the borough, the city, men and women, waiters, nannies, gardeners, their faces with the almond eyes, flat planes and straight noses from a thousand jungle stelae, whispered their respects. Respetos, nos respetos, mis respetos, and always they were thanked. A sus ordenes, Rosendo might add, an old-fashioned phrase that meant, in essence, I serve you
Andrew walked Caroline the two blocks home, on her left, relaxed but alert, noting who was around them, though Caroline was the one with the small pistol in a shoulder holster under her jacket. He was aware also of what it felt like to walk with a beautiful woman on a fine early summer day in New York, one beautiful woman he had never, would never hit on— 
(“Why not?” Warren had asked. 
“Rosendo would kill me. That’s not hyperbole.” 
“That’s not stopped you with others,” said Warren.
“ . . . the time I snuck her through LaGuardia, around a bunch of news piranhas . . . it was so satisfying, I couldn’t wreck it . . . they trusted me . . .” 
“Lots of people betray trust.” 
“Backing me into a corner, Warren? OK . . . I love them . . . and their story is mine.”)
—someone that he wanted, not herself but the experience of herself that he had been looking for with the dancers and models and call girls, seeking the beauty with at least a modicum of brains, the shrewd assessments of Caroline—
Andrew stopped.
“Are you OK?” asked Caroline.
“Yes.” Andrew looked around, reorienting himself. “Can I sit on your stoop for a minute and think?”
“—Sure. You can come inside, too, and stare at the wall. That happens in our house.”
“No, thanks, I’ll just sit by myself.” 
Patterns, Warren said. Not always bad . . . recognize them and you can work your way out of them, or, let them lead you . . . 
“Hey, Andy! What’re you doing?” It was Luis, scootering home from school, accompanied by Maria-Tzeja. They slapped hands. 
“Having an epiphany.”
Luis thought for a moment. “After Christmas. But it’s June.”
“Gifts can come at any time.”  
Luis thought again, brightened. “Did someone give you an apartment!?”
“No. I didn’t get an apartment. And you, how was your day at the office?”
They were all sitting now, on the broad brownstone stoop, on a quiet, leafy street a block from Seventh Avenue, Luis next to Andrew, on his right, and Maria-Tzeja on his left, one step below them, facing the one-way traffic, and Andrew thought that if he could not have this, he would die a slow death, but no, he did have it, he was here, right now, as Luis opened his backpack, saying that the poet had made his last visit for the school year and he, Luis, had written two poems, here they were. 
Andrew read the poems. “You have a good eye, Luis, and you say things . . . con mucho claridad.”
“Thank you. But I think I’d rather be a reporter than a poet.” 
“Me too.” 
And he was a reporter again, Andrew reminded himself, not just a pundit. He had a pretty girlfriend he could talk to, they went dancing on Saturday nights, and there were stories all over the place.
Copyright © 2014 Debby Mayer

Friday, June 27, 2014

Chapter 27 / Kids

“Hi Andrew, are we on for this afternoon?” 
Andrew frowned. It was Caroline, who, along with Rosendo, her husband, he considered his best friend, and he couldn’t remember—
“—Shit, it’s Wednesday?” Andrew looked at his watch. It was Wednesday. 
“Yes dear. We’re to meet Charlene at one. She has three places for you to look at, all rentals, and not to guilt-trip you, but she doesn’t usually do rentals, she’s doing this for us. For you.” 
“But if I’m no longer interested, then I’m wasting her time.” 
“—Did you break up with Annie?”
“No, but she blasted my fantasy out of the water.” 
“—Do you want to talk?”
“Good. We’ll have coffee, after you look at the apartments. Charlene is very low-key. You’ll be giving her feedback on what you like. This’ll be good for you Andrew, even if it’s just an exercise. Exercise is good.”
Y ser cortes,” be polite. 
In fact, one of the apartments had been rented, so they saw only two, and Charlene was low-key. 
“OK, that was bearable, right?” Andrew and Caroline sat across from each other in the Village Den, the coffee shop where they knew all the waiters. Caroline sat with her back to the door and kept her fuchsia baseball cap on. In exchange for a $10, Juan put the coffee pot on the table. 
“Charlene was fine, but who set the rents while I wasn’t looking?”
“The market.” Caroline poured coffee for them. “So, what happened?” 
Andrew told her about Annie and her tubal ligation, some fifteen years earlier. 
“Well,” said Caroline. 
“What else,” said Andrew. 
“Extreme, maybe. Extremely sensible. Proactive. Two girls in the company had their tubes tied, you know. If we were shocked, we were also envious. 
“Abortions can be traumatic. Not to mention expensive.” 
“I paid for Elena’s. It wasn’t expensive but extremely traumatic. For me. Less so for her.”
They sat still for a moment, alone within the languid afternoon activity around them. 
“I’m sorry she hurt you,” said Caroline. 
“I’m sorry I keep making you say that.” 
Caroline shrugged. “I’ll keep saying it. But you have Warren for that. Let’s you and I move on. Or, do you want to back up? Start with the easy words of the language? When you met Annie on the plane, what did you like about her?” 
 Andrew brightened. “. . . Her hair. It’s still sort of blond and it’s curly, or is it wavy, anyway, it floats around her head. I hadn’t slept in Miami and then I dozed off on the plane. I woke up when this ‘sister golden-hair surprise’ asked if she could sit next to me.  
“Then she put her cute little nose into her book and I pretended to read the Miami Herald, imagining how it would feel to have that hair brush against my cheek.
“ . . . She spoke to me first, while we were eating. She made me laugh. She was perfectly normal, not needy or crazy, except that she had read my book, which is not what the ordinary American does, and we had a connection, through Cucscútlan. 
“And there was a sadness in her eyes, you know, about her non-husband dying in a car crash, and some other stuff about him, but let’s talk about her, this is fun . . . 
“So we parted, because I was home and she had to catch a train, and I watched her go . . . striding through the crowd, perfectly OK without me . . . tall, not as tall as you but close . . . I had given her my card and told her to call me and I thought well, that was stupid, so I caught up with her and she looked like she wanted to disappear from this stalker but I asked her to have lunch, on her turf, and she said OK. 
“In the cab I realized I could have just given her a ride to Penn Station, but we were both so used to being alone that I wasn’t thinking like a gentleman and she . . . it would have been like getting a gazelle into a cab, I would have spent the whole ride wanting to pat her, trying to get her to relax. This way I could just fantasize about her.” 
“This is impressive, Andrew. Your memory is working fine.” 
“I’m a reporter. I’m supposed to remember things. And I thought—think—about this a lot. Obsessively.”
“Speaking of which, what does Warren say?”
“Warren leaves it to me. I’m leaving it to you.”
“Does this have to be decided right away?”
Andrew winced hugely. “Why does everyone I know answer my questions with questions?” 
“Because you do have to figure this out yourself. Here’s another question: Do you still want to go to Cape Cod with Annie?”
“I fought Warren for the extra week off. I have to go.” 
“No, you don’t! If you’re not interested in Annie anymore, don’t go. There. I’ve made a decision for you.” 
“Yes, I want to go. When I told Warren about this, I called her ‘the woman I love.’ We didn’t even talk about that. We just accepted it as a base line .  . . 
“But I do love kids.” Andrew looked away, then made himself look directly at Caroline, seeking her chocolate-brown eyes, shadowed by the brim of the cap.
“You’re a good tío to Luis,” she said. “And you know . . . they do mean years of full-time servitude.” Recalling this morning’s sneaker argument, Caroline thought of offering to loan Luis, but she didn’t. Luis wasn’t available, and this wasn’t a joke.  
“In theory" she said, "Rosendo wanted four kids. In reality, one was enough. And, not incidentally, we were married. You’re just starting your relationship with Annie. Have you skipped the marriage part?” 
“I was thinking about moving up there.” 
“To the country?” Caroline, who never raised her voice, had elevated her voice. 
“It’s not always the country. They have this sort of Needle Park at one end of Schuyler.”
“Wonderful. Just what you need.”
Andrew waved the thought away. “I enjoy its surreal nature. So does Annie. Totally Lake Wobegone on the surface, with this thoroughly dark underbelly. 
“But to my point: Annie has a whole life there. Friends, her job, her church. Her friend is running for state Assembly.” 
“You have friends here, and a job, and Warren is your church.” 
“I thought of that. I’d keep the studio. But there’s a story there, Caroline.” 
“So it’s not Annie.” 
“Yes, it’s Annie. There’s a life.” 

Copyright (c) 2014 Debby Mayer

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Summer 1994

Just out: the summer issue of Persimmon Tree.

The link takes you to "Short Takes: Summer," where you'll find my tiny essay, "Summer 1994," the second one in the section.

Persimmon Tree

Friday, May 30, 2014

Chapter 26 / Neanderthal

Being self-reliant does not mean being empowered. Kathleen said that. Some days, thought Annie, Kathleen is brilliant. Every day, I wish we could get her elected. 
June, and Kathleen was campaigning to get 1,000 signatures on the required designating petitions in the Assembly District, which snaked through parts of three counties. 
“Are you working tomorrow?” It was Jaime, calling on Saturday. Annie and Andrew had just come in from Andrew’s driving practice, and he was washing strawberries. You start them off with easy things, Kathleen had said: will you just rinse these strawberries; the colander is in that cabinet. If necessary, you tell him what a colander is. 
“We’re having a meeting of Kathleen’s Kitchen Cabinet to hear about her Listening Tour,” said Jaime. “Four o’clock.” 
“I’m working in the morning, then Andrew’s practice driving. He’s going to take the road test soon, to get his license.” 
“Well! Another step up in the relationship. Have him drive you to Kathleen’s.”
Andrew was surprisingly familiar with cars—an early interest, he said, that he had pursued, of necessity, in Cuscútlan—and he also knew what a colander was, though he approached the kitchen more carefully than a car engine; here, he seemed to think, something might explode in his hands. 
“Who did you tell I was on the road?” he asked. He paused. “Whom.”
“Jaime. Maybe we could end our driving tour at Kathleen’s tomorrow, at four ‘o’clock. She’s reporting on her meeting in Troy.” 
“Sure. How’s the Neanderthal doing?”
“Beautifully. He’s chiding her for starting the ‘silly season’ early.” 
“You have such a fiendish grin, Annie, when you talk about that guy. Is his stupidity translating into money for Kathleen?”
“Ask her tomorrow.”
“Small contributions,” Kathleen said Sunday, a sunny day on which the four-member Kitchen Cabinet had become the Deck Cabinet. “No one wants to get rid of him except people who care about people, and they don’t have any money.” 
When Kathleen started to clear dishes Andrew helped her, and then stood with her at the sink.
“Any skeletons in the Neanderthal closet?” he asked quietly.
Kathleen turned on the water. “—I think he drinks. But they all drink.” 
“That’s a start,” said Andrew. “I don’t know anybody in his home town. But maybe I can find someone who knows someone, and—”
“Andrew, I want to keep this clean.” Kathleen, who always listened, had interrupted him. 
“You will,” he said promptly. He looked at her directly with his pale blue eyes, and Kathleen practiced looking straight back at him as she knew she had to, with everyone, even when she found them unnerving, at once guileless and cunning. 
“This is your Kitchen Cabinet speaking,” he said. “Not your Campaign Committee. And he won’t keep it clean, right? Once he feels you nipping at his heels, he will turn around and bite you. Are you ready?”
“Yes.” Kathleen turned off the water, hating to waste it. “If he brings it up, I am prepared to talk about flying to Puerto Rico in 1969 for a legal abortion, and about my parking ticket last year in Schuyler.” 
“Good. And are you willing to do this for cash—no debt—and name recognition?”
“You mean lose, and run again in two years.” Kathleen did not sound happy about this. 
Andrew nodded. “Run to win. But keep your day job.” 
At the train station in Schuyler that evening, Andrew and Annie sat on a bench outdoors. They would not let Chloe sit between them, so she curled on Annie’s lap with her chin on Andrew’s thigh. He found that he didn’t mind, that he could sit quietly, an arm around Annie, a hand alongside her dog’s head, admiring the sunset and confident that he could sneak a smoke between cars once the conductor had gone through. 
But he found also that he had to ask: “Did you ever fly to PR for an abortion?”
“No,” said Annie. “Abortion became legal in New York State in 1970. Kathleen just missed it . . . I didn’t.”  
“Damn . . . you’d have a kid? 
“A grown kid, Andrew, not Zach, not someone you could throw a softball to in Kathleen’s yard. I was 20. It was a mistake. And later, when I had a scare, I thought, this is ridiculous. And I had a tubal ligation. At twenty-five.”
She liked his pale blue eyes, and she watched them now, to see if they were retreating. 
“You were that sure,” he said, at once mystified and impressed. 
“Yes. I’ve never regretted it.”
“Ed didn’t want kids either.” 
“No, he didn’t. Well, looking back, he treated the dogs like kids.” 
“You could have adopted.” 
“I never changed my mind, Andrew. You can’t go to an adoption agency and say ‘one of us wants a kid and the other doesn’t, so we’d like to adopt.’ 
“But that’s not the point. Should I have told you sooner? I didn’t realize . . . I’m too old to have a child, Andrew.” 
“No you’re not, forty-year-old women have children all the   time—” Andrew stopped, having surprised himself. “Sorry,” he said. “None of my business.” 
“—Does it make a difference?”
“—You’ve exploded my fantasy. Fantasies can be dangerous. They can also be important.” 
He had taken to calling her when he arrived in New York; he would walk ten of the sixty blocks between the two stations, Penn and the radio, as they talked. Tonight he didn’t; for the first time since he had covered the Branch Davidian standoff in Waco, when he couldn’t always call, Andrew didn’t call Annie that evening, and she was acutely aware of it, every minute. She was also acutely aware that if they broke up over this, it was her doing; he had not left her. 
Some weeks, they wrote to each other; if you mailed a note on Monday, it usually arrived on Wednesday. Jaime had started printing her fruit postcards again this year, and on the back of a postcard that showed one single strawberry, Annie wrote, “I am in charge of nothing. Except this.” She put the card in an envelope but didn’t do anything more with it.
Andrew called at six o’clock Monday morning, knowing Annie would be up, drinking coffee on the deck. “I’m sorry,” he said. “I was punishing you. I’m a Neanderthal.” 
“I wrote out an explanation for you. Eight words. I’ll mail it on my way to work.” 
*  *  *
“I’m in love with a woman who had her tubes tied,” Andrew told Warren later that day, as soon as he sat down for his appointment. 
Warren blinked his surprise, nodded. “And,” he said.
“And I’m sad. You know I hate to have paths cut off. Yes, I am an unlikely father, the progenitor of chemical imbalance and capable of forgetting my kid at the gas station.” 
“But . . .”
“The train came in, and I wouldn’t have given up my side then anyway. In Penn Station I learned that Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman had been murdered, probably by OJ, so I went to the radio station and hung out there for a while. And then I walked around. Wandered around. Pitying myself because the women I love always have control of me. People think I’m this cad, but Polly did it her way, refusing everything but the needle. Elena left me, who adored her and her kid, and went back to the husband who beat her. Annie . . . 
“OK, you’re thinking, Annie is forty, she lived with a man for fifteen years and she doesn’t have children. There’s a pattern there that I should have been able to observe.” 
“That you might have observed,” Warren said gently.
“Instead of assuming she was just waiting for me. I called her this morning. She said she had written out an explanation. Eight words. She’s mailed it.” 
Warren considered this. “Her newspaper training, I guess.”
“Annie always seems to think she has a lifetime word limit.” 

Copyright © 2014 Debby Mayer

Monday, April 28, 2014

Chapter 23 / Lipstick / rewrite

In which I revise Chapter 23 to make it more pertinent to the novel, and move the story along. But I keep the same title . . . 

“Nice wheels,” said Jaime, circling Annie’s new car. “What is it again?”

“A Lexus. Hop in, I’ll take you for a spin.” 

“Let’s go to Random Salad! I’ll get my wallet.”  

Jaime went back into her house, and Annie adjusted her sunroof. She loved adjusting the sunroof, and she loved this perfect May day with air so sweet you could grab handfuls of it and everything in bloom, from skunk cabbage in the swamps to apple blossoms in the orchards. Chloe jumped into the front seat and Annie returned her to the back, carefully covered by Orvis, and gave her a dog biscuit to stay there. With the luxury of a weekday off, she and Chloe had been looking for a friend to take along for the ride.

“It smells new,” said Jaime, inside the car. “I thought somebody died in this car.” 

“That was the Toyota pick-up. Father Paul has blessed Lipstick in case she had bad vibes. And she is practically new. It took three auctions, but she’s worth it.” 

“I never thought I’d see you in a four-door sedan.” 

“I could trade it in for something else, but it has a standard shift and it’s red. I never thought I’d own a red car in my life. Plus the low mileage. A little old lady drug dealer must have owned it.” 

Pues. Did they have any Subaru Legacys?”

“That might be a stretch. But if you need a pick-up, they have lots of trucks.”

Annie focused on turning onto the road for Random Salad and then said, “So, what’s the dirt?” Jaime was always good for some gossip.

Jaime shrugged. “You have a boyfriend who bought you a car.” 

“—You’re kidding! People talk about this?” Annie felt herself start to flush.

“And your car is nicer than your bosses’. 

“They can afford new ones!” 

Annie heard herself, defensive. Last week, when she had driven Lipstick to work for the first time, everyone had come out into the parking log to look at her car. They just stood up and walked out—production first, then the ad guys, and finally editorial. They admired the gleam of the finish, the sunroof, the four cup holders. It had been another fine May day, and no one had gone inside until the phone rang. Tina had looked like a thundercloud.   

“Seriously,” said Jaime, “what’s the deal? How do you feel? Are you OK with this?”

“The deal is, there is no deal. He puts his money where his mouth is. I desperately needed a car. Andrew said, leasing a car is a bad idea. I will buy you a good car, at an auction. It happened. 

“If anything feels odd, it’s that: I have a problem. He solves it. Did I tell you the latest? Andy and Carlos drove the car up. I was still at work, so they took a walk to look at the view. 

“Remember Tom, the guy with the obnoxious Labradors that always spoiled our walks? Well, the next day, Tom started installing one of those underground electric fences. I said to Andy, ‘What did you say to him?’ He was vague. He said, ‘We said “hello.”’”

“Is it like dating the Godfather?”

“I’m trying to think of what to sic him on next.” 

Jaime thought for one beat. “The town board.”

“Excellent. But to answer your question . . . no one’s ever solved my problems before, and I never expected it, and I don’t expect it now, but if someone offers . . . do I have to say no?”

“Well, if you put it that way . . . no. And if you break up, the car is still yours?”

“Everything’s in my name. Including the damned cell phone. He just pays for them. Or somebody pays for them. A law firm in New York handles his money. An accountant writes his checks, so he won’t forget. I wish someone would write my checks.” 

“And this law firm was OK with his buying a car for some woman upstate.” 

“Apparently. I think if he had wanted to buy me a red Lamborghini there would have been a meeting. And perhaps a return to residential treatment. But five thousand bucks was well within the budget.”

“Well,” said Jaime. “Pues.” 

Pues indeed. Is he buying me? He doesn’t ask anything in return. Not anything I wouldn’t give him anyway, even if I were leasing a car.” 

“You’re still not sleeping together?”


“Amazing,” said Jaime. “And smart,” she added quickly.

On a quiet weekday at Random Salad, Katrina, the owner, was at the cash register and Tessa, her right-hand person, was stocking shelves. They stopped what they were doing and came out to look at Annie’s car. 

“Your boyfriend bought you this?” said Tessa. “Cool!”

“Second hand,” said Annie. “At a car auction.”

“Doubly cool!”

After shopping, Annie and Jaime sat at a table on the porch with coffee and scones and Chloe. 

“He likes Chloe?” said Jaime, who was a cat person and tolerated Chloe because the dog was catlike. 

“He’s dated before, Jaime. Married once. Had a compañera in Cuscútlan. He has some understanding of women. He sees that Chloe is part of the package.”

“So,” said Jaime, relishing the subject, “the question is, what is he getting out of this? No sex. We live in a godforsaken Republican backwater where everything closes before dark. He doesn’t garden, or even drive. I mean, you’re cute, Annie, but . . .”

“He likes to go dancing at the No-Name. Last weekend Vikki and the band let him solo on ‘I Can See Clearly Now.’

Jaime frowned slightly, perplexed. 

“Johnnie Nash. 1970s. We love that stuff. Andy set it down an octave. He has a great voice, and he looked . . .” Annie gazed past the parking lot to the field where Katrina grew some of the produce she sold . . . “happy.

“But I have two theories,” she said, looking back at Jaime. “The project theory . . . in the ’80s, Cuscutlan was his project. In the ’90s, it’s Annie. I asked him, and he said no, that wasn’t the case. But what is he going to say, ‘Yes dear, you’re my Liza Doolittle.’” 

“Maybe he’s ready to be truly altruistic. I mean, you’re not going to win him a Pulitzer. Are you?”

Annie shrugged, making her eyes big. 

“What’s the other theory?”

“The story theory . . . for Andrew, everything—almost everything—is story. He meets me, and a new story begins. So he follows it, to see what will happen. How the story will unfold.” 

“—Until he finds a new story. Annie, that’s sad.” 

“Right now, it’s interesting. And he wouldn’t do it if he didn’t like me, Jaime, it’s not all theoretical.” 

“You guys are nuts.” 


Copyright (c) 2014 Debby Mayer