Saturday, February 15, 2014

Chapter 25 / Gifts


“What are you doing!” Andrew had heard himself shout, as Annie steered left across oncoming traffic. 
“Strawberries!” she said. “Mrs. Shortcake is open!”
And in fact, half of the oncoming cars were turning right, parking scattershot around two big tables set up just off the side of the road. Behind the tables was a battered painted sign, Shortcake Farms.
“Quick,” said Annie, “before they’re gone. We’ll buy two. Choose one.”
The berries all looked the same to him, which was to say perfect, small—no California Chernobyl berries here—and uniformly ripe with their little green hats. Annie was talking to a plump, bespectacled woman who put cash into a cigar box. Andrew observed the rhubarb, wondering if they should buy some of that too, but then you had to cook it, and he put a strawberry in his mouth, and stopped. He chewed it slowly, turning the berry, and its generous juice, over in his mouth. Summer, the berry said. This is going to be the best summer of your life. 
He ate another one, then woke up again to the strawberry table. “Did we buy this?” he said to Annie. 
“Yes,” she said. “One to eat, one to freeze.” 
“What are you going to eat?” he said. Annie twinkled and the woman laughed outright. 
“Mrs. Kaminski, this is my friend Andrew,” said Annie, and Mrs. Shortcake reached out and shook his hand. My friend Andrew. She would have known Ed, only months ago, and now here was Annie, already with a boyfriend.
“They’re quarts, Andy.”
“We pick every morning now, for at least a couple of weeks,” said Mrs. Kaminsky. 
“—We’ll take one more,” said Andy. He gave Mrs. Kaminsky a ten and she gave him back a one and a five. He stared. Two quarts of strawberries cradled in his left arm, and six dollars in his right hand. “I’ve gone to heaven,” he told her, and this time she just smiled. 
“Some summer days,” she said, “it does seem like heaven here.”   
“And Annie’s house rental comes with some possible trouble?” Back in Warren’s office on an overcast Monday in New York, Warren has opened the container and paused over the sweet smell of summer that wafts from it. He has chosen a strawberry and offered them to Andrew, who hesitated, then took one. “I’ll bring you more next week,” he says. They savor their strawberries companionably, and then Warren puts the stem back into the container and offers it to Andrew, who shakes his head. “I eat the top too,” he said. “It tastes so . . . green.” 
“There’s something I should tell you,” Annie had said. 
Andrew put aside his newspaper. “That’s my line.” 
“Seriously,” she said. 
He folded his hands, waited. They had put chair cushions on the outdoor deck so they could sit in the sun, side by side, with their backs against the wall of the screened-in porch and their legs stretched out in front of them. Next to Annie, Chloe lay on her side, for maximum sun exposure. 
Annie told him about the Truro house reservation that had come in the mail last fall, paid for by Ed, without his telling her. 
“He didn’t do things like that, surprise you?” 
“Not on that scale,” she said. “Not ever.” 
“Was he seeing a shrink?”
“No, why?”
“Oh, a shrink might have told him to do that.” 
“No. It might have been a good idea for him to see a shrink, but he wasn’t. But also . . .”  
And she had told him about the photo she had found, the color printout of the naked boy, at the bottom of Ed’s pile of papers. He noticed that she looked him in the eye, with her beautiful green eyes, most of the time while she described this, which made him love her even more, which he doesn’t say to Warren, figuring that Warren knows it anyway. 
And Andrew didn’t know quite what to make of it, but mostly he thought that Ed, being dead, should be left alone. The two pieces of news grieved him, for Ed, and for Annie, but there were ways of looking at them . . . 
“You know men are dorks,” he said. 
“Yes,” she said. 
“And the Internet offers you this whole world of stuff to look at.” 
“—I guess.” 
“I’ll show you some time. You should learn how to do it anyway, for work.” 
“Do you look at porn?”
“—No, but that doesn’t make me a good person, just a medicated person. Who’s never been into kid porn. Who we’re not talking about right now, for a change, we’re talking about you.” 
“He printed it out. He left it where I would find it, once he was gone.” 
Still angry. A good step, but he didn’t want her to stay there. 
“Come closer,” he said, and then he helped her, he gathered her up and held her on his lap. Chloe moved to sit in back of Annie, between his legs. He was covered with them then, these two females, and he could not have been happier, except that she could be happier, and all he could say was, “I don’t know. I wish I could give you a nice, confident reason, but I can’t. 
“You could be like me, and spend the rest of your life trying to figure out why people who purport to love you also slay you, mentally. Or, you could move on. Or, this is severe enough that you might want to talk to someone about it, someone who knows something, not your friend Andrew, who knows nothing except that Ed did love you.” 
She stiffened in his arms. “You don’t know that.” 
“I do. You can be furious with him for a lot of reasons, but not for not loving you.” 
In New York, Andrew and Warren have two minutes left of their time. 
“What do you think?” asks Warren, about Annie’s house in Truro. 
“I think it’s a gift. He meant it for the two of them, then left it to her.” Andrew looks away, to his right, past Warren’s desk, toward the wall of books beyond it. “I think he knew he was going. Just from things she’s said. So he left her, what would have been, for him, a gift. I don’t expect any trouble.” 
Copyright © Debby Mayer

Monday, February 10, 2014

Chapter 24 / The Taj Mahal


“I’ll miss one week, Warren,” says Andrew. “Two appointments.”
“You know the contract,” says Warren. They sit as usual in Warren’s office, facing each other in slightly but not completely comfortable chairs. 
“I haven’t missed one single appointment. I called you from fucking Waco.” 
“Were you going to call me from Truro?”
Andrew pretends to think for a moment, then says what he had already decided, which Warren knew that he had already decided. 
“No. Truro for one fucking week in July is my vacation. Truro for four fucking weeks in August is your vacation.”   
“Right. Five consecutive weeks. Ten appointments.” 
“Were you going to call me from Truro?”
They sit in silence then for a moment, almost companionably, knowing that Warren will not dignify that with an answer. 
“OK,” says Andrew, “let’s back up. A woman that I’m—I—care for deeply, that I’ve been dating for six months without sleeping with, that I’ve talked to almost every day, asks me if I’d like to go to this—seaside resort—with her. She doesn’t ask me to dig latrines with her in Cuscatl├ín or watch people die with her in Waco, she asks me to go with her to a nice house, in a part of the world that’s at least superficially civilized. She has one week, Saturday to Saturday, to get out of her own difficult life and she asks me to join her in that endeavor.
“And that’s not all. While this week at the sea shines in the distance for both of us like . . . the Taj Mahal, she is also . . . worried about it, uncomfortable with it. She doesn’t quite know what might happen there. And so she, thinking of me as a friend, has described her fears to me and has asked me to help her, if it becomes necessary.” 
Warren allows his face to show curiosity with this turn in the conversation. He is aware that Andy remains seated during this argument, his eyes on Warren’s. He hasn’t stood up and walked around as he usually does when working out something difficult. And Warren has a flash of thought that he will miss Andy when he, Andy, is gone, not for five summer weeks—while Andy has done well this year, other patients have not, and Warren, exhausted, wishes that August 1 were tomorrow—he will miss Andy when he finishes therapy, which, with any luck for Andy, will be in a couple of years. Before the advent of this argument, he had been thinking that in July he would tell Andy that after August, he should think about going to once a week.
“I can tell you about that if you want,” Andy has continued, “but let me finish my thought. So, since she really wants me to accompany her, she asks me in advance—even though she knows I will then think of it obsessively—she doesn’t say ‘hey, I’m going to Cape Cod tomorrow, do you want to come along,’ she asks me in advance so I can act responsibly toward my job and my shrink.” He bites off the last five words.  
“The point of the story is, I said yes immediately, as if I were an adult and could make my own decisions. And I’m not backing out. I don’t want to call you. If you fire me, I’ll get the meds somewhere else.” 
Warren’s face is impassive again, as he records mentally the change in Andy’s eyes, from direct to angry. But hearing I don’t want to, instead of I won’t, Warren asks if the radio station is OK with this. 
“Yeah. They told me I could take a week off after Waco and I didn’t, because the Mississippi was flooding. They’re sorry the Clintons won’t be in Martha’s Vineyard yet, but I’m saved, they won’t be. To tell you the truth, Warren . . .” Andy looks aside for a moment, then back to Warren. “I could use a vacation. Time to clear my brain.” 
“That’s the idea with August. You have four weeks off.” 
“And I’ll probably work the whole time. And the house rental is the last week in July and it can’t be changed. You know that. 
“Warren, for Christ’s sake, be happy for me, will you? This is the best thing to happen to me since . . . since she asked me if I liked to dance. 
“Here. I brought you something.” 
Andy is opening his briefcase. Warren is thinking that Andy will be in therapy two days a week for the rest of his life. From the briefcase Andy takes a small Tupperware container. Inside are six strawberries. 
“Don’t give me the No Gifts thing,” says Andrew. “I go to work, I feel slimy. I visit Annie and it’s strawberry season.” 
Copyright © Debby Mayer