I still live on a road where the women drive faster than the men. And September has brought the annual clink of political lawn signs from the back seat of my car, as we—Kathleen, Jaime, me, and our tiny band of companeros—try to inch our backwater into the 20th century before that century ends.
And all the farm stands are again selling apples, which depresses me.
“This depresses you?” Andrew stared at the Macoun he was about to eat.
“End of summer. Everything is dying. Never mind renewal—the leaves go off the trees in November and we don’t see them again till May.”
“We could fix that, you know. Go someplace warm for the winter.”
“No, we can’t.” I have to keep reminding him. “We’re poor.”
Because other than the apples and the lawn signs and the road, everything is different.
I’m dating a guy who looks like a biker, even though he doesn’t have a bike.
“Damned things are dangerous,” he says, and he doesn’t wear leather, because he is poor, but by skipping two haircuts he has a little tail down the back of his neck. By pumping iron at the gym for a month he has a different body structure. And it’s amazing what you can do with slight changes in clothing . . . different T-shirts, a sleeveless vest . . .
The first of September he began housesitting a decent house in a lousy neighborhood in Schuyler. A friend of Catherine’s bought it at a foreclosure auction and then got a teaching Fulbright in Cyprus. This house, furnished so far with a futon, a table and two chairs, allows Andrew to live rent free, which is good, because he works at an apple-processing plant for $5 a hour, which, he points out, is a full 75 cents over minimum wage.
“Is it like dating Serpico?” asked Jaime.
“Sort of. He hasn’t shown up as a Hasidic rabbi yet, but you never know.”
Andrew kept a low profile in our backwater for August. He took the commuter train up the east side of the county. He stayed with me, and we drove east to the Berkshires, not west to Schuyler. We hung out at the pond, and went dancing, and on my one full weekend off I went to New York for two hot, quiet days, days that showed me that I missed New York, even, or especially, in August, and I missed being a person who went places, who did things.
“You can come down any time that newspaper will set you free,” said Andrew. “I’ll pay for Chloe’s camp.”
We were keeping to the schedule we had set on the Cape, and this was siesta in Andrew’s air-conditioned studio. Really, I had already told him, his place was fine. Clean—he had help—and I liked the street view.
“Do you ever think about putting something on the walls?”
He shook his head. “The blankness helps me think.”
Myself, I like to look at things that take me beyond the walls.
“Caroline asks that too,” he said, as if he knew what I was thinking.
Caroline and Rosendo were in Chiapas for a couple of weeks, relieving me of the stress of meeting famous people. I met only the waiters who served Andrew breakfast and dinner every day and who seemed genuinely to care for him, calling him “boss” (breakfast) and “Mr. Logan” (dinner).
Now I reminded him again that he was poor, he couldn’t afford to kennel my dog. “How can you do this, Andrew, if you keep forgetting your story?”
“Once I’m in it, I won’t forget it.” He smiled at me with a twinkle that mixed deviltry with utter joy.
Have you done this before?”
“—Not quite. It’s a new career challenge.”
“And you love that.”
“I do. I love you, and a new career challenge.”
He had taken to saying that since the Cape, that he loved me. And I adored him, but I could not quite say it back, because,
“Am I part of the story?”
“Always,” he said. “Am I part of your story?”
“—Maybe,” I said. “We’ll see, as the story unfolds.”
“You’re tough, Annie Sullivan.”
“Poor women have to be tough.”
“But are they. I see as many women in line for lottery tickets as men.”
“Me too. And if you start buying lottery tickets I will follow you into the store burning dollar bills.”
“Great story, darlin’, but let’s save it . . . put it in the hopper of ideas . . . ”
The hopper of ideas—questions, really—already includes will the radio station take him back after this unpaid leave, will Andrew be able to work weekends so he can sneak down to New York on Thursdays to see Warren, why Andrew sets up a good situation for himself—job, shrink—and then blows it out of the water, and how Andrew will extract himself from poverty once he has observed the drug scene in Schuyler and tested living on $5 per hour.
In the meantime, his girlfriend, me, needs their only car to get to her job.
“Are you ready to sell Ed’s bicycle?” he asked. We were back at my house and he had taken the bike out to the driveway.
“—Yes. I’ll even give it to you . . . is that weird? You might as well have it."
“I’ll buy it. At a tag sale. How much do you want for it?"
“ . . . At a tag sale . . . I’d ask twenty. It’s a good bike. I’d take ten.”
Andrew took a twenty from the stack of bills he keeps at my house. “I paid ten,” he said. “You’re cute, but I haven’t had a job in months.”
Monday my biker set off on his bicycle for the apple processing plant with the Help Wanted sign, a distance of about 15 miles. Happily, it wasn’t raining and the bike tires had held the air we put in them on Sunday. Rain was forecast for the evening, but he would go to his house in Schuyler then, only five miles from the plant.
I didn’t hear from him all day, but nothing came over the office scanner either, about a poor, crazy man being flattened on his bicycle. Back home, I had one hour before going out to cover a town board meeting, and Andrew called.
“Got the job. Started today.”
“Excellent! They were impressed by Yale.”
“The application only went to high school.”
“I said I got my GED in prison. Which I did, through an administrative oversight. Other than algebra it was OK. I sat in the back, told the guys where California was.”
“The application asked about life experience? That’s progressive.”
“He’s an ex con who hires ex cons. No fights, no drugs, no booze, do the job, he pays you. Weekly.”
“Did you know that?”
“I overheard it.”
“You haven’t been in prison for years.”
“It follows you. Trust me. Which town are you covering tonight?”
“The Town of Lugubria.”
So Andrew spent the evening sitting on the stone steps into his house, drinking coffee, sharing his cigarettes with his neighbors, admiring their children, while I sat through a meeting chaired by an elderly town supervisor famous within my newspaper for his malapropisms; tonight he said “condescend” went he meant “consent”; at least it kept me awake.
Having lost what meant most, I am at once braver and more fearful. I told my boss I had to bring my dog to work. On an airplane from Miami to New York, I talked to the man in the next seat. Now I’m the moll in an undercover operation, but I will not—cannot—give him my heart.
Copyright (c) 2015 Debby Mayer