Scott enjoys writing words that occasionally form sentences that accumulate into paragraphs that form an outline of a story if you read between the lines. When he's bored he does pushups for fun and snacks on Bernie Bott's every flavor beans. His latest poem, By The Lake, was published in the latest issue of the Whistling Shade. You can check him out on twitter at @ScottHotaling
Soldier by Scott Hotaling
I wish I told my dad how much I loved him.
I crawled behind a small tree with a thick trunk and auburn leaves. The smooth bark felt cool against my back. Figured that was as nice of a spot to die in as anywhere else. My leg felt much better too, even though I knew I’d never walk again. Pretty obvious when your leg is dangling from what looks like a large rubber band. My sister could have told you what kind of tree this was but she was never going to see this place. She would have liked it though. Great place to read a book. I never read that much. I think I’d like to now. Maybe something by J.D Salinger or George Orwell. But now isn’t the time. I’ve got to hide. Not like this is a great spot for it. But it might just give me a few more minutes before I have to kill again.
I’m not too worried about it though. I’ve never been one of those people that worry about the future. Looking back is as far forward as I’ve ever looked. My parents will be able to bury me in a proper casket. I’m one of the lucky ones. Now I can join my brothers in heaven, if there is such a place. We can play catch and tease girls like we did when we were young. Not that being 20 is old. But I don’t expect God to forgive the things I’ve done here. In my defense, I didn’t have a choice. Well, maybe I did. My father always told me, two wrongs don’t make a right. In this case, they just help you survive.
My dad was a plumber. Hardest working man I ever met. We argued all the time, about things I can’t remember. I suppose that’s normal, kids fighting with their parents. I didn’t fight with my mom. She left before I learned how to walk. I never asked my sister why. It wasn’t that I didn’t care; it just wasn’t the kind of thing we talked about. I never blamed myself. I always blamed my dad. And he knew it.
He wanted me to become a doctor. But I was never that smart. Straight C student in school. I didn’t much care about learning how to calculate the area of a trapezoid or what the atomic number of Helium was. I was pretty confident I’d never need to know it, especially since my dad didn’t know that stuff either. He knew what he needed to learn and what he didn’t when he was in school. No one could tell him different either. He was smart. I think he admired how I liked to help people. Always stood up for people that didn’t stick up for themselves. I could never have been a doctor anyway. I was always a bit squeamish at the thought of that much blood on my hands. I think my dad knew this is where I’d end up. Like I said, he was a smart man.
Maybe I should have been more interested in school. Then I could have gone to college. That’s where the smart ones go. My sister was always the bright one. She was full of useless information, atomic numbers included. She would come home and tell us stories about all the adventures she was having there; meeting new people, learning new things, and going on trips with friends to places she never imagined. It bore me. I never thought much about it. I already had friends. We played sports every day. It was great. I didn’t want anything to change. But change was inevitable. I knew that much. Maybe I was smart after all.
She would have graduated medical school by now. I wish I could have been there to see it. I was proud of her. The blood never bothered her. It was a means to an end. I guess I should have looked at it that way. She was helping people by saving them. I was helping people by killing them. Wrap your head around that one. I stopped trying a long time ago. I’m not afraid of blood anymore. My hands will never be clean again. Hers will always be followed with a smile.
They’re here. On top of the hill. I count ten of them. It looks like I was right about a few minutes. These guys just don’t give up hunting you until your dead. At least I was able to share a few things about myself to you. Better to be remembered by someone than to be forgotten by everyone. They don’t see me yet. Not that it matters. I can’t kill ten people by myself. That only happens in movies. Not on strange fields stained with blood. I love my dad. I hope he knows that. I was never good at telling him how I felt. I wish he were here. I wish he could protect me. He’d kill them all. Just like in the movies. Because he’s my dad. He’s the strongest man I know.
I wonder if my life will flash before my eyes just before I die. I hope I have enough memories so that it might. I suppose I could have done a lot of things differently, but back then I didn’t know killing fields like this one existed. Sure, I’d heard stories about them on television, but they never seemed real to me. Being naïve does have its perks. It’s sure better than lying here bleeding in the mud. Though I think I’m beginning to enjoy the pain. Some days it’s the only way I know for sure that I’m still alive. Survival never felt better. Even if this is an adult’s twisted version of some video game where the blood is real and the score doesn’t count. I used to love playing those shoot ‘em up games with friends. I was always the sniper. This isn’t that much different I suppose. Only here if you die that’s the last time you’ll play. I think my friends pity me now. The ones that are still alive at least. They think we’re all just boys playing an intricate game of hide and seek where the winner is the first one to die. I wonder if that’s how my brothers felt before they died. I wonder if that’s how my enemies felt before I killed them.
I suppose it doesn’t matter. They’re dead now. Someone’s mother will stand next to an empty coffin and tell herself he fought the good fight. That he was a brave man and he’ll protect her even in death. I hope that’s true. But I’ve seen things. Immoral things. Winning, it seems, does not have jurisdiction here. School doesn’t teach you that.
Three of the men are running toward me. They should be here within a couple minutes. I like those odds. I was never going to lay down for them anyway. I was always going to fight. It just so happens that this was going to be my last one. But was it? I still had my gun. My knife. My heart. I felt a little disrespected. Who did they think I was? Some broken down cripple? If they thought it would only take three of them to kill me, well, they were mistaken.
Our family went camping every summer. I’d swim with my sister and we’d race across the lake. Once in a while she’d let me win, but most times I didn’t stand a chance. My dad loved to fish. I caught my first one the day before my seventh birthday. You should have seen how proud he was. My sister wasn’t too impressed. Dad told us a story by the fire and I ate marshmallows until I felt sick. I never told him how much I enjoyed fishing with him. He told me I’d fall in love and have kids of my own someday. I would have taught them how to fish, just like my dad. I don’t know if he told anyone about my first catch. To tell you the truth, I hope he didn’t. I think some things are better left between a father and a son.
I shot the first soldier when he was 200 yards out. He dropped like a shirt falling off a clothesline. Hit the second at about 150. I just wounded him. He howled like someone just shot his leg off. Hurts doesn’t it? Tell me about it. The last one shot me in the shoulder before I sunk my blade into his liver. I felt like I might pass out from the pain. It felt good to be alive.
I never had a girlfriend. That’s not to say I didn’t have a few crushes. They just never panned out. I wasn’t the kind of guy that could just go up to a girl and talk to her. I was always the quiet one. I did go out on a date once, with a girl from my English class. Wrote her a poem. It wasn’t good. She was beautiful. Always wore a blue necklace. She was my first kiss. It would have been nice to see her again.
The remaining men on the hill fired at me from a hundred yards out. I pinned myself against the tree and killed two more like I was that sniper again in the video game. Then a third and fourth. The rest of them charged at me. I killed the tallest one with a bullet right between the eyes. A few seconds later, the pain in my shoulder vanished. I never saw the other two men. They must have run away.
My father picked me up and carried me to the top of the hill. His hair was dark brown and the lines on his face had softened. There was a small lake below that I hadn’t noticed before. My sister was waiting for us next to a faded old tent. We built a fire together and dad told us a story while I ate marshmallows until I felt sick. Tomorrow I’ll ask my dad to go fishing and race my sister across the lake. Most of my brothers didn’t get a chance to go back home and see their family. I’m one of the lucky ones. I have my whole life in front of me. I think I’m going to spend it with my dad.
Alex Csedrik received his MFA in Creative Writing Fiction in 2013 from Fairleigh Dickinson University. He was granted his MA in English from Montclair State University in 2010 and his BA in English from DeSales University in 2008, where he won the college's Fiction Award. His stories have been published in the following places: Dream Quest One, Big Pond, Weal, and Metamorphose (for P.C.C., can you also include "where P.C.C. was first published?"). He is also a stand-up comedian and hosts and produces WOW Comedy in Hoboken and Jersey City, New Jersey. He's also been in several comedy festivals.
The Interview by Alex Csedrik
He is woken up at 3 in the morning by his cell phone ring.
“Hello?”he answers groggily.
“Is this Mr. Gordon Hawthorne, senior editor at Penguin?” He can’t recognize the baritone voice.
“Yes. Is this an emergency? It’s the middle of the night.”
“I apologize about the lateness, but we would like to interview you for a very lucrative position, and it’s quite time-sensitive. Are you free today at 9AM?”
He sits slouched over in his bed. He turns on the lamp on his night stand as he’s trying to wake himself up in order to be as professional as possible, but he’s confused with a mixture of confusion and sleep.
“Whose we? Which company?”
“Unfortunately, I am not at liberty to divulge that information over the phone. It’s classified. This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I can have someone pick you up at your apartment, 152 Apartment 3E Ludlow Street, at 8:15AM. Does that work for you?”
Who the fuck is this? he thinks, and how the hell does he know where I live?
“Mr. Hawthorne, I understand this is a very confusing phone call, and you must have a lot of questions. All I can tell you is that this is a government-related position. All other details about the project cannot be discussed over the phone. The rest will be revealed during the interview.”
He rubs his hand over his face in a vain attempt to wake himself up fully. “Do I even have a choice?”
The voice on the phone lets out a deep belly laugh. “Of course, but you’ll want to choose to come. Be ready at 8:15AM. Also, don’t bring anything—no cell phone, watch, nothing.” Click.
He stares at the phone as if it’s a Magic 8-Ball, waiting to reveal the answer to the mysterious question, “What the hell just happened?” As he sits in consternation, a cold hand touches his back. He turns and sees the woman he picked up last night from The Blind Tiger craft beer bar. Truthfully, after all the drinks they had, he forgot exactly what she looks like, but he’s pleased now—chestnut hair shoulder-length, green saucer eyes, and even a bit of baby fat on her cheeks, almost cherub-like. The rest of her is hiding under the covers, and under normal circumstances it would be a mystery he’d solve.
“Sorry about that. Listen, something’s come up, so I’m afraid you’re going to have to go home. I’ll call you a cab.”
“Is everything all right, Greg?”
“It’s Gordon…and I really have to take care of something.” She doesn’t remember my name? he thinks. I’m never talking to this woman again. Then again, I did forget what she looked like, so I guess we’re even. He calls for a cab as he walks to his desk to grab one of his business cards to give to her.
He’s a good interviewer, always has been. Internship at Penguin, job offer, youngest senior editor in the company’s history, and working with literary talents like Nick Hornby, David Benioff, J.M. Coetzee, and others, before he turned 30, all because he’s that good at selling himself. It doesn’t hurt that I’m no slouch at my job either, he reminds himself, and a smile emerges.
But none of that prepares him for this. How the hell do you prepare for an interview when you don’t know the job or company? Under normal circumstances, he would research the company in order to tailor which skills and experiences in his jobs relate best to the job description, and to prepare questions to ask to demonstrate his knowledge of the market. He’d practice his possible STAR Method (Situation; Task; Action; Result) responses.
* * * *
He’s wearing his khaki suit, one designed to make him look profession but still stand out from the typical black business suit. He has his driver’s license, a credit card, and cash in his shoe, just in case. A black Ford Escalade with tinted windows and government license plates pulls up right in front of him. Out of the car steps a bulldog of a man, dressed in a no frills black-suit/white-shirt-and-black-tie combo. “Get in,” the driver says, opening the door with such haste that it looks like he’s trying to rip it off. Gordon doesn’t even have time to buckle his seatbelt before the car starts moving.
The car stops in front of a dilapidated warehouse near Pier 39 in New York. Windows covered in filth, graffiti with epithets, and even a crumbling façade all adorn the building. The inside tells another tale. As soon as he enters the building, he’s blinded by pristine white—chairs, receptionist desk, coffee table, marble floor. He laughs at the juxtaposition.
Typical government clandestine building. Might as well put a sign up front that says, “Definitely Not a Shitty Rundown Building Being Used as a Government Office.” This is another one of his tactics, staying calm by using humor to ease his tension. The people that don’t perform well under pressure are the ones that think that there is pressure. It helps a little, but he can still feel his hand shaking.
“Mr. Gordon Hawthorne?” the receptionist, an attractive woman in her early thirties, asks. Her navy blue business suit, in stark contrast with everything else, readjusts his eyes.
“Make yourself comfortable while you wait.”
She extends her right arm toward the coffee table and chair. She gives a breezy smile, so he figures she’s probably new. Her makeup is a bit too perfect, so she’s single. Her gestures are deliberate and her posture is impeccable, which could mean a Southern girl, someone who’s had etiquette ingrained into her. She has a very small beauty mark on her right cheek. It’s the closest thing to a blemish that the room has.
Reluctantly, he walks over to the chair and sits. How can I escape if shit hits the fan? he wonders. The driver is standing by the entrance, so no mad dash out there, and the only other door in the room is behind the receptionist. Who knows who’s inside there?
Why the hell did I agree to this? a question running incessantly through his mind the minute the phone call ended. A once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, but curiosity killed the…
A door opens. Out walks a woman, a little on the heavy side. The first thing he sees is a wedding ring. He bets that she has a child, maybe even two. Despite the makeup, her face is worn. She has bags under her eyes. Yeah, at least two kids.
She stares at him with a look of repugnance the whole time she walks by. Why? What the hell did I ever do to you, lady? His head tilts slightly to the left and his eyes squint as he recalls whether or not he ever met her. He can’t think of any occasion. So why the scowl?
“We’re ready for you, Mr. Hawthorne. Please go inside.”
Her left arm out to usher him into the other room, the receptionist remains silent. It’s the hardest his heart has ever beaten. He needs to do something to calm his nerves…
“As long as you’re coming in with me,” he says and flashes a smile. He hopes that she can’t see his lips quiver slightly. She smiles back briefly, a bit as if she’s broken character, then returns to her blank face. He’s nervous, yet his body acts with all the confidence in the world as his legs move him through the door.
The white room doesn’t faze him. The rough voice that says, “Come in,” does. It’s the voice from the phone call. Gordon takes several steps before he can get a better look at who spoke. A bald, gaunt, man sits behind a black desk.
“Did you find the place OK?” The man smiles again, evidently pleased with the joke.
“I had my driver take me here. Piece of cake,” he sits down in the chair in front of the desk. He knows that his chair is lower to the ground than the one behind the desk—an old psychology trick in order to subconsciously tip the power balance in favor of the person behind the desk—yet sitting he’s a bit taller than the man.
“Good,” the man replies, and his smile appears as wide as his face. “Sorry about disturbing you in the middle of the night. It’s a rather urgent matter.”
“Which is what, exactly?”
“In due time, Mr. Hawthorne. ‘Patience is a key virtue.’”
“So is trust.”
“Well put.” The man gives an approbating nod then writes in a legal pad. “So shall we begin the interview?”
“Do I have a choice?”
“Trust me, this is a tremendous opportunity. You want to do well.”
Gordon lets out a small sigh, one that’s inaudible in order not to be viewed as confusion on his part by the man, the interviewer. He has his tricks, but this man is in complete control.
“Good.” A perfunctory smile slithers across the man’s face, this time without any trace of humanity. “I’m Mr. Washington. I’ve been charged by the government to assemble, how shall I put it, a team, and you are one of the possible candidates.”
“You know, you could have even mentioned a salary as a way to make this not so needlessly vague.”
“Trust me, salary won’t be an issue for the people we choose.”
Mr. Washington picks up Gordon’s printed resume. “Is this up to date? Two years as a senior editor at Penguin; graduate magna cum laude from Rutgers University for your Bachelor’s, Master’s at NYU. Currently you’re working on an anthology of short stories about aging in men.” Mr. Washington lets out grunting laugh.
“Yes, this is all correct, Mr. Washington.”
“Don’t care to ask how we got it?”
“You’re the government. I’d be more curious on if you couldn’t get my most recent resume.”
“Not naïve—that’s a good sign.” There goes the scribbling. Behind Mr. Washington is an inspirational poster, the only source of multiple colors in an object in the office. Gordon laughs slightly at the poster.
“What’s so funny, Mr. Hawthorne?”
“The poster behind you: ‘Success is all about the journey, not the destination.’ It feels out of place in this room.”
“What do you think of the message?”
“I believe that there are plenty of opportunities for everyone, so there’s no need for quotes like that. If you want something and work for it, it shouldn’t be a journey. I’m sure that’s why you’re behind your desk, Mr. Washington.”
“Thank you. As flattered as I am, time is sensitive, Mr. Hawthorne, so let’s avoid the pleasantries.”
“If that’s the case, why don’t we right down to it?” Another technique he frequently uses—role reversal.
“You drive a hard bargain,” Mr. Washington says, unctuousness dripping from every syllable. “Fine. The world is ending.”
He offers no reaction. At first. “You’re serious?”
Mr. Washington repays the favor and remains stoic. Only the low hum of the air conditioner in the room is heard.
“Does it matter? When all is said and done, literally, will it mean anything that it was war, famine, whatever caused it? Will that comfort you?”
“Like I said, time is sensitive!” Mr. Washington chortles. Gordon cannot understand how Mr. Washington’s behavior belies the gravity of the situation.
“Why am I here though? Surely it can’t be just to find out that…”
“Oh, right. Sorry. Yes. Have you heard of Kepler-186f?”
“The exoplanet that is 490 light years away? I read a story about it. Earth’s Twin, correct?” Mr. Washington writes, again. “I know there was some debate on whether or not life could exist on it, because of the density…”
Gordon waits for more information, but Mr. Washington taps the pen calmly against the desk. Mr. Washington is expecting him to say something, but what exactly? Great? Then it hits him. “You’ve been chosen to go.”
“Bingo.” Mr. Washington puts the pen to use again, and the sound of furious scribbling rings in Gordon’s ears. “You are quite perceptive, Mr. Hawthorne. That is definitely a quality that is admired.”
“But wait, if…the job?”
“Keep going, Mr. Hawthorne. Believe me, it is helping your application immensely!” Mr. Washington appears as if he’s dancing in is chair with enthusiasm, yet it causes his voice to go even lower, and it resonates throughout the room.
“You’re interviewing candidates…to join you?”
“Yes! Isn’t that great? You deduced all of that on your own. That’s impressive. Great cognitive skills. No wonder you’ve had so much success academically.”
What does that matter now? All of the years of making sure that he did his best, even better than his best, all added up to what? This. But what is this? “I don’t understand though.”
He can’t keep the glissades of the art of interviewing going—he’s on unfamiliar terrain because he doesn’t know what to do next.
“Now we both know you’re being modest, Mr. Hawthorne.”
Gordon has a quizzical expression, which causes Mr. Washington to change demeanor, almost downtrodden.
“We are choosing the best candidate in every field to join us to continue our way of life. One accountant, one professor, and so on. Do you understand now?”
Gordon’s brow is no longer furrowed. His stomach becomes very tight. His face blanches. The reality of what is happening is starting to fully hit him, and the room starts to become even brighter.
“Do you need a glass of water, Mr. Hawthorne? I know this is a lot to take in.”
And then he remembers: at least two kids. His mouth becomes dry. He has the urge to stand, but his legs won’t cooperate—they feel soggy. Mr. Washington walks across the room, and a few seconds later returns with a glass of water. It’s placed in front of him, but his arms are like his legs. He just looks at Mr. Washington.
“What about the woman…she was in here before me…does she have a family?”
“A husband and three children, the third just born a few months ago.”
He’s going to be sick. He can almost taste the bile.
“No longer sewing her wild oats like you, huh, Mr. Hawthorne?”
Though Mr. Washington’s tone is jovial, to him it sounds like a sneer, as if rubbing salt in the wound of his single-dom. “I’m sorry, but I don’t think I can continue.” His legs still won’t listen to him tell them to work.
“I understand that this is a lot to digest. We can take a break if you’d like.”
“No. I don’t think I can proceed period, not when I know that—“
“Ah. I see. Morals.” Mr. Washington has a bemused look. “Does it comfort you to know that she didn’t hesitate, not even for a second, about the position? It didn’t bother her, not one bit, when she found out that there were other candidates. We have one man from Ukraine, an orphan, who laced up his bootstraps and worked his way up. That didn’t affect her in the slightest. In fact, between you and me, I think it actually lit a spark in her. After she learned this, she was more aggressive, determined in her interview. Hell, to be perfectly honest, she didn’t look like she gave a damn about whether or not her family came with her—she just wanted to live…”
He reaches across the desk for the glass of water. The glass is heavy for his arm to lift.
The liquid refreshes his parched lips. All of the other interviews, the stakes were nothing compared to this. Forget being scared. It didn’t bother that woman. Let’s show him why you’re the best.
“Do you feel better now, Mr. Hawthorne?”
“Yes. I’d like to continue, if that’s OK.”
“I knew you had that fighter’s spirit—it’s why I chose you.” Mr. Washington nods proudly. “Would you like me to go over some of the details of what life will be like?”
He finds it odd to hear the perks of working for a company in this manner. 401k, medical, all meaningless. The only benefit that matters for this job is the ability to continue to wake up every day.
“There will be close to two million people that will live in our new society. Again, those selected will be hand-chosen by myself, as well as other individuals like me, all over the world. For the first time in human history, we will truly have a borderless society. Ironic, isn’t it? People always claimed that imaginary boundaries would lead people to destroy each other, and here we are, about to have the first society that blends seamlessly all cultures! Truly incredible what humans can achieve when we’re determined."
Mr. Washington rises from his desk and begins to pace back and forth, like a general galvanizing his troops. His shoes hitting the floor have a cadence, which syncs up with his speech.
“We will begin transporting the ones selected next week. It will take quite some time for us to actually reach the destination, but you will be in a sleep state, so it will feel like a simple dream. When you wake up, you’re alive and on your new home planet!”
At this moment, Mr. Washington stops exactly next to the inspirational poster. In Gordon’s eyes, the colors all merge together, indistinguishable from one another.
“The truth of the matter is, NASA discovered this planet about two decades ago. In secret, we’ve been building the infrastructure ever since, just in case. It’s always good to have a back-up plan, right? There will be about a year or two transition where we will continue to solidify our way of life while we continue to finalize everything—roads, houses, and so on. But rest assured, it will be quick. Us humans, we’re adaptable. We’ll acclimate to the new climate. We’ll figure out how to farm on our new world. In a sense, we’ll be like the Pilgrims.
“Now I know you’re not married. And that’s OK. There’ll be single people too. In a weird way, it’ll really make your selection process a lot easier. You won’t have all these needless qualms about a potential mate since your options won’t seem unlimited.
“You know, perception is the most important aspect. If you look at it in one sense, this whole event can be seen as a good thing. I know that sounds crude, but consider epidemics that are facing society today: famine from overpopulation, disease, poverty, crime. All of them are wiped out in one fell swoop!”
Mr. Washington’s hand sweeps across his body, though the gesture doesn’t seem natural to Gordon.
“Anyway, my point is, if you were married, your family would obviously join our society,” Mr. Washington sits back down in his chair, which squeaks.
His body doesn’t feel soggy anymore. He stands up. He no longer feels queasy, but something else. “Do you not see the problem with this?”
“With saving humanity? No, I don’t see any issue there!” Mr. Washington leans back in the chair. Gordon stands up..
“By choosing who lives, you also are picking who dies. Don’t you see that? Can’t you see how it’s unfair to arbitrarily and subjectively say that one person is more deserving than another to live? Who gave you that right in the first place?”
“Where is this coming from? I thought you believed that if you want something, you should work for it. Don’t you feel that I have worked for the right to live? What about you? Haven’t you spent your life trying to be the best? Doesn’t that make you ideal to continue the human race’s existence?”
“I also believe that there are plenty of opportunities for everybody. But this? You’re killing people by not choosing them!”
“Mr. Hawthorne,” Mr. Washington leans forward in his chair and puts his hands on his desk, and begins, “it is unfortunate to hear you speak this way. I’m offering humanity a chance to survive, and you accuse me of murder.” Mr. Washington rises from the chair, and Gordon sees how small this man truly is. “Don’t you see that for the sake of the masses, some have to suffer? If you truly believe in an egalitarian society, which it sounds like you do considering what you’re preaching, this is the way to achieve it! We’ll begin anew and everyone will be equal. It can and will be perfect.”
“You’re talking about more than six billion people dying. How is that perfect?”
“Mr. Hawthorne, some people are not worth saving!” The sound of Mr. Washington’s fist reverberates in the room even louder than his voice did. “I find it interesting to see you feigning to wrestle with this moral quandary, one that you’re creating inexplicably. It’s OK to acknowledge that some people are better than others.”
After all, isn’t that what my accomplishments prove? My acts of modesty in the face of my achievements have always been my way of downplaying it--I deserve every success because I’m better than everyone else.
“Mr. Washington,” he says, and clears his throat, which has suddenly dried up again, “whether or not your sentiment is true doesn’t matter. In good conscience, I cannot continue this process. Thank you for your time.”
Mr. Washington climbs back in the chair. What the hell is this guy going to do now? This is the government! They can make me disappear so…wait. So what? The world is ending.
As he walks away, the image of being taken out is a blistering reminder of the future no longer available to him, to six billion people.
“Prudence. That’s the woman’s name.”
As he closes the door, he whispers her name. Truthfully, he’s unsure of the reason behind his decision. Is it really wrong to choose one person over another? Or am I afraid that I might not nail the most important interview of my life? Either way, he accepts his fate: He ends the interview.
Chris Dean is a native of Cicero, Illinois. Traveling throughout the American west, this writer has worked as a gold miner, truck driver, musician, and concert promoter. Currently Chris farms near Des Moines; when the snow flies it’s off to Nevada for tournament poker.
THE MOMENT by Chris Dean
She wakens in the morning slow. There is no telling who she is, not for a few seconds. Alicia.
Smells and clatter from the kitchen remind her that she does not live alone. She breathes in the redolent scent of eggs and her tongue longs for orange juice. Never once did she drink fresh squeezed before Rob. How she rated a man who cooked, cleaned, and enjoyed yard work was a large mystery. He had his own leather raking hat, for god sakes. And she? Alicia preferred a lazy lifestyle. Take-out food.
But they mesh. Like now, with her lounging and kicking the counterpane around, waiting for his sweet voice to call. Was this meshing? He seemed happy and she most certainly was.
The problem with a beautiful man like Robert Lawrence Haines was quite obvious. He had better not ever think about leaving. It terrified her, it truly did. This was her private nightmare. The lonlies and the dust bunnies and her cold sores would all come creeping back.
Squelching all those ugly thoughts, she hugs herself, squashing breasts and digging sharp fingernails into her flappy biceps. He isn’t going anywhere. Not ever! Rob wasn’t like that. It would ruin her for life and he knew it.
She yawns like a sailor, nearly breaking her jaw in two. What time is it? Early, Rob gets up early. She quickly runs through a mental breakdown of what Saturday will bring. Breakfast and hugs first. A huge hair tousle and a face-kissing contest. Oh God, he had the most wonderful sparkling blue eyes she had ever seen. How did she rate such eyes?
After they were done with breakfast he was going to do something with sticks. He had stacks of sticks that needed bundling with string. She would offer to help, with a shallow pink smile and happy eyes (and he had better not make her go out there).
Instead of getting dirty, and splinters, Alicia might sort magazines. In the den there were at least as many Newsweek and Time magazines as there were sticks in the garage. Yes, television and magazine sorting sounded nice on a sunny morning. What was it about the weather that put everyone in such a good mood on days like this? Was she humming to herself? She was, something old and sweet. This was definitely a sign of good moodiness.
Later that day they were going to cram recyclables into the Volvo and drive up to that windy place on 53rd. Then shopping. The library, a movie, or paint ball after that. They had never actually paint balled together yet, but they had the suits and equipment. They would barrage one another like foolish children and laugh, eventually. She’d promised.
Sniff Sniff. Crispy bacon smell. Time to get up. She begins unfolding her long body out of bed. Creaky tendons and muscles burn as they stretch. Her transition from sleepyhead to awake Alicia is perfectly timed; a hearty, “Honey!” resounds from the kitchen. “Who’s hungry?”
She’s hungry. To fill her tummy and to fill her eyes with his buff masculine form. Rob’s a shapely man with tender rose lips and those scintillating eyes. To see him domestic at the stove with an old fashioned checkered apron round his waist is such a turn on. She dashes to the bathroom to splash water and brush teeth.
The bathroom mirror is not a pretty picture. She is wearing a blond mop and her cheeks are sleep-splotchy. Luckily Rob does not care about such things. He likes white teeth and minty kisses though so she brushes like crazy.
Her insides are bubbling with joy as she dances down the hall to the kitchen. There he is, dishing out steaming eggs onto their plates. “Morning sleepyhead,” he calls with a grin.
Rushing after him, she gives his cute buns a squeeze and corrals him at the stove. “Kiss me.”
It is a very involved interlude which leaves her breathless. When he releases her trembling body, she has burnt lips and goose bumps. Sagging onto a chair, she asks, “Was that a free sample? Because if I have to pay for that kiss I want you to know I don’t have a million dollars.”
“Are you saying that kiss was worth a million dollars?” He’s sitting across from her, pepper shaker poised over his eggs. “Because if that’s true I’d say I need to get those kisses on the open market.” Ignoring her scrunchy frown, he bobs that yellow shaker and continues gleefully, “I can quit my job at the hospital and you’ll never have to overhaul another engine.”
As manager at Anderson Motors she never worked on the cars, as he knew very well. Her voice hops teasingly. “I like being a grease monkey.” A dainty bite of buttered toast. “I’ve got grease in my blood.”
“That sounds bad. You’d better come into the lab for a checkup.”
“Will there be kisses involved?”
“At my work? No, I couldn’t do that.”
“Then cancel my appointment. And you had better not be selling those kisses on the street either.”
“I was thinking maybe an infomercial.”
She arches an eyebrow. “Don’t think so.”
He drones, “Okay, dear.” Then a happy smile.
“You like being my bitch, don’t deny it.”
His look is priceless. Head jogged back, chin tucked almost onto his brown sweater. Eyes nearly turquoise with humor. Priceless. “Is that what I am.”
“Until I’m through with you.”
He has the white pitcher up and she tips her glass. The dark saffron liquid sloshes in. While she sips the cool, tangy juice, he queries affably, “And when will you be through with me? I’ll have to make arrangements.”
“Oh? Don’t be making those arrangements quite yet, Sir Galahad.”
“Lancelot. He was the satyr.”
“They all were back then. And I’ll let you know when I’m throwing you out of the castle.” They lock eyes. Several moments pass. She swears she can hear his heart beating. Hers is thudding like mad. Her face is flushed and she hides it behind a nibble of toast. “Maybe after a few more months,” she tells him blithely.
A forkful of egg raises and stops. “You may find it harder—” He gulps the egg down. “To get rid of me than you think.”
Oh-God-does-she-love-hearing-that. She’s blushing now, she’s sure of it. Rob’s suddenly embarrassed the way that men get and he attacks his breakfast with zeal. She watches, wondering if she loves him yet. An impulse to probe further into his mind sweeps over her and she asks, “And what if I don’t ever want you to leave?”
A child’s smile, full of purity and joy, captures his face. He cannot speak. Then, “We’ll just have to make the best of things. “ He begins eating again, slowly.
It is at this moment that Alicia knows she’s in love. It is the quietude in the kitchen around them and the palpable bond between them. The warm sparks inside her and the way he’s sitting there, as if he has nothing better to do than to stir the food around on his plate. She knows. She knows that he is listening to her breathing and his blood is rushing too. Alicia loves this wonderful man of hers. She truly does.
William Quincy Belle is just a guy. Nobody famous; nobody rich; just some guy who likes to periodically add his two cents worth with the hope, accounting for inflation, that $0.02 is not over-evaluating his contribution. He claims that at the heart of the writing process is some sort of (psychotic) urge to put it down on paper and likes to recite the following which so far he hasn't been able to attribute to anyone: "A writer is an egomaniac with low self-esteem." You will find Mr. Belle's unbridled stream of consciousness here (http://wqebelle.blogspot.ca) or @here (https://twitter.com/wqbelle). (Credit photo: (Wikipedia article, the picture itself))
A Better Man by William Quincy Belle
Harvey stopped and let go of Molly’s hand. She turned and stared at him. He reached up with both hands to hold her head and leaned in to touch his lips to hers. “I feel positively giddy.” His voice was almost a whisper as he grinned at her.
“You’re so sweet.”
He stepped back and took her free hand again. As they dragged their suitcases, he swung their arms between them in an exaggerated manner. “I feel like a sixteen year old with his first crush.”
He feigned shock. “What? Isn’t that a good description?”
She squeezed his hand. “It has been a wonderful weekend.”
“Wonderful? I think I’d forgotten how good life could be.” He stopped walking. “With the right person.” He moved toward her, held her right hand up and slipped his arm around her waist. As he led her into a dance step, he hummed a nondescript tune. People walked around and a few gave them an amused look.
“Oh Harvey. You really are giddy. Are you on a happy high?”
“Yes, I’m intoxicated with you.”
“Now don’t you make a girl feel special.”
He stopped dancing and took a step back. “But you are special, Ms. MacPherson.” He gestured toward her.
“Why thank you, kind sir.” She curtsied.
He gently but firmly wrapped his arms around her and kissed her deeply. The two of them remained locked in an embrace for a long time. When they finally broke, they stared in one another’s eyes. He spoke softly. “I’m quite taken with you. I feel elated. It’s been so long since I felt this way; I thought I was no longer capable.”
“You’re a good man, Harvey Baxter. Any woman would be pleased to have you.”
“A man doesn’t have such a connection with any woman. I think it’s a rare event.”
“Maybe. But we have to keep trying until we find that connection.”
“I know,” he said, “but...” His voice trailed off as he looked at her expectantly.
She reached up and cupped his cheek. “Harvey, I will always cherish our time together. It has been wonderful. It’s been extraordinary. And you’ve convinced me not to give up, to try one more time to regain what I’ve lost. My husband is a good man and we too once had what you and I have had this weekend. We both deserve another chance to rediscover that connection.”
“I must let you go.” He sighed. “I hate to let you go, but I must.”
“Yes.” She fumbled with her purse. “Would you watch my bag? I want to step inside and check my ticket.”
“Sure. I’ll be sitting right over there on that bench.” He took the handles of both suitcases and wheeled them together. When he got to the bench, he arranged both suitcases to one side and sat down on the end. Idly looking around, he mulled over everything that had happened in the last forty-eight hours.
He looked up from the menu at the woman.
“Is this table thirty-five?”
“Yes it is.” He stood up and gestured to a card in the center of table showing the number. “We must be early. I’m assuming there will be others.” He held out his hand. “Harvey Baxter.”
“Molly MacPherson.” She firmly shook his hand.
“Would you care to join me?” He stepped around the table and held out the chair opposite him.
She nodded. “Most kind of you.” She sat down and he helped push the chair in.
As he returned to his seat, he said, “Will your husband be joining you?”
“I’m here alone.”
“Ah. It seems to be a good spot for a weekend rejuvenation. An acquaintance insisted a change of scenery was a good way to clear out the cobwebs and get a fresh perspective on things, so I thought to come down and try getting away from it all.”
He picked up his menu. “At first blush, it would seem the culinary offerings are top notch. I trust you’ve brought both an appetite and a sense of experimentation.”
“I made note of the French on the menu. Somehow, the mundane appears exotic when rendered in French and that can be a good thing. Unfortunately, my knowledge of the language is limited so I’m not sure if I’ll end up with what I thought I ordered or with je ne sais quoi.”
“I trust our waiter will illuminate us. I like my trip but I don’t like my tripe.”
“Intestines, brains, other miscellaneous body parts; I think I’ll stick with beef, thank you very much.”
She picked up her menu. They both studied the offerings.
They looked up at the man.
“My name is Carlos. I’ll be your waiter this evening.”
“Hello,” Harvey said. “This is Molly and I’m Harvey.”
Carlos nodded. “If you have questions when looking over the menu, please call upon me. Tonight’s specials are as follows. Filet mignon with Béarnaise sauce, fresh Asparagus, and Twice Baked Stuffed Potato. And our seafood dish is Caribbean spiced Tsar-cut salmon with mixed vegetables and rice. You have a choice of salad with either dish: Caesar or Cranberry Spinach.” Carlos took out a pen and notepad. “Could I interest you folks in an aperitif?”
Harvey looked at Molly. “Anything strike your fancy?”
“I wouldn’t mind wine.”
“White? Chardonnay, perhaps?”
“That would be lovely.”
“Carlos, two glasses of Chardonnay.”
He made a note on his pad. “Coming right up.”
Harvey looked at the menu. “Either one of the specials sounds appetizing. I suspect we can’t go wrong.”
“The restaurant received a good rating by the tourist agency and I noted on their website the chef has something of a name for himself. Although, for the life of me, I couldn’t give you the name of one world-renowned chef. My knowledge about cooking is limited if not non-existent.”
“But you know your tripe.”
She nodded. “That I do.”
He closed his menu and set it to one side. “I’ll do the filet. No point in delving further.”
“A man of action.”
“Not as dramatic as that. More of a man of habit. I like to experiment once in a while, but I also appreciate the tried and true.” He surveyed the room. “I’ve never been here before. In fact, I’ve never gone on a weekend getaway. Is it a good way to recharge one’s batteries, so to speak?”
“A change is not an unwelcomed thing,” she said.
Carlos returned to the table carrying a tray with two glasses. “Two Chardonnays.” He set the glasses down, tucked the tray under an arm, and got out his pad. “May I take your order?”
Harvey gestured to Molly.
“I’ll have the salmon and the spinach salad.”
“I’ll do the filet and Caesar.”
Carlos made notes. “How do you like it?”
“Very good, sir.” Carlos put his pad away and picked up the menus holding them with the tray. “Enjoy.” He walked away.
Harvey took hold of his glass and raised it. “To a weekend change.”
She picked up her glass. He extended his over the table. She clinked with him.
“I’ve never been here either,” she said. “But it looks like a good place to get away from it all.”
“I hesitated doing this, but maybe it was time for a change. On the flight down here, I was mulling over starting fresh. If I could drop everything, my entire life, and go somewhere and start all over again, what would I do?”
“It sounds like an intriguing idea.”
“There’s so much of the world I haven’t seen. There’s so much I haven’t experienced.” He sipped his wine. “I think of that old joke about somebody having written on their tombstone, ‘I wish I had worked more.’”
“Yes. Life is uncertain. Eat dessert first.”
“How true, how true. So, what, pray tell, is on your bucket list?”
“For this weekend?”
“I don’t know. I hadn’t come down here with a specific plan.” She held up her glass. “But wine and food seemed like a good place to start.”
“To hedonism.” He held up his glass. “And to adventure.”
She tipped her glass toward him. “Are you married, Harvey?”
“No, divorced. Yourself?”
“And yet, you are here by yourself.”
She glanced around. “Yes.”
“I apologize. I’m overstepping the bounds.”
She hesitated. “No, it’s all right.”
“Before I came, I studied all the various offerings at the resort. There are several things I have never tried before, and I’m thinking of taking advantage of this opportunity to cross a few things off my list.”
“They have a spa. I’d like to try a massage. One of those hot stone things.”
She chuckled. “Really?”
“Why not? I’ve had therapy due to a sports injury, which involved partial massages, but I’ve never had a massage for the sake of having a massage. I know that some people swear by them and some insist on having one regularly. It supposedly aligns your chakras or something. I don’t understand any of that, but I have been told if it feels good, do it. So, why not? Don’t we all deserve a little sensuality?”
She stared off.
“I’m sorry. I’m babbling.”
“No. You made me think of something.”
“A penny for your thoughts.”
“Sensuality. We all deserve a little sensuality.”
“What? Am I spouting Zen aphorisms and don’t know it?”
She sighed. “It’s been a long time.”
He took a sip of wine and studied her. “You’re giving me clues.”
“A wistful sigh over missed sensuality. Married, yet here alone.” He paused. “You have a lot on your mind.”
She looked down at her glass. She carefully spun the stem in one hand and looked up. “I’m sorry. I’m not being good company.” She smiled. “What else is on your list for this weekend?”
He leaned back in his chair. “A little sun on the beach, a dip in the ocean, and more food and drink. I’m determined to ignore all calorie counts. Since this is all-inclusive, I want to do my best to ensure the resort regrets throwing everything in free.”
Carlos arrived with another tray. He set a plate in front of Molly and said, “Cranberry Spinach,” then did the same for Harvey adding, “Caesar.”
He raised his glass. “Bon appétit.”
“Vous aussi,” she said.
“Oh, very good.”
“Not really. I’m afraid I exhaust my knowledge of the language pretty quickly.”
“What’s the definition of an expert?” He gave her a questioning look.
She said nothing.
“Somebody who knows one thing more than the next guy.” He picked up a fork. “I know nothing about French, so you’re now the de facto French expert at this table.”
She started on her salad. “May I ask you a personal question, Harvey?”
“By all means. With an introduction like that, I’m intrigued.”
“How long have you been divorced?”
He tilted his head. “Can total strangers be honest because they have nothing to lose?”
“I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have-“
“Not at all. It’s not like you’re going to go back to your room and post any of this on Facebook. Are you?”
He put his wine glass down and pursed his lips. “I had a personal crisis. I was nearly fired from my career job. I lost my direction in life and I lost my mojo as a man. On top of it, I suddenly realized I was old or at least older and the future no longer seemed promising. And...” He shrugged. “I began having problems in the bedroom. My wife took all of this personally.”
She sipped her wine.
“Admittedly, I was pretty quiet, too quiet, and never took the time to explain any of this. I couldn’t. I was frustrated, embarrassed, actually more humiliated, and probably depressed. I didn’t want to deal with any of it and made the mistake of withdrawing from the one person who had a vested interest in me. I regret that.”
He picked up his glass and took a sip. He stared at Molly over the rim and set the glass down. “That’s more than I intended to say, but what the hey? We’ll never see one another again.” He chuckled. “I guess we can say anything we want. There’s no risk of criticism.”
There was a moment of silence. They stared at one another.
“I came down here this weekend, Harvey, to make up my mind about leaving my husband. The status quo can’t continue. Anybody on the outside would observe that the status quo seems okay, but I’ve arrived at a point where I can no longer continue with it. I want a change. I need a change. I demand a change.”
Carlos arrived with a tray and set it down on a side table. He removed the salad plates and replaced them with their dinner orders. “Will there be anything else?”
“No,” Harvey said. “Thank you.”
Carlos picked up the tray and disappeared.
“Once again, bon appétit.” He looked at his filet then leaned forward to look at the salmon. “Ooo, that looks good.”
“Yes,” she said, “I’m hungry.”
The two of them ate.
“As total strangers, we have ended up with all our cards on the table.” He cut off a small piece of his filet.
“Will you be posting that on Facebook?”
“I’m a gentleman. I don’t tell secrets.”
“Did you love your wife?”
“At the end, my feelings were conflicted. Like you, I needed a change. The status quo was no longer sufficient. I had lost my will to live, my will to take charge and live my life. I wanted to run away and hide and for that, I lost my wife.”
“It’s odd. I felt I couldn’t talk with my wife. But I recognized the need to. I proposed several times we go to couples counseling, but for some inexplicable reason, she always refused. I guess she thought there was nothing preventing us from talking, so who needs a counselor? She interpreted my silence as an unwillingness on my part to talk to her. She never understood I was too humiliated, too depressed to talk without outside help.”
Molly cut into her salmon and took a bite. She looked off to one side. “You’re making me think, Harvey.”
“Why has my husband stopped talking to me? Why does he seem distant? Is he bored with me? Has he taken a lover? Or is there something personal going on that he doesn’t want to discuss?”
He shrugged. “A lot of who we guys are is tied up in ego, I’d say. You may dismiss it as arrogance or self-interest, but from a very early age, we’ve had in pounded into our heads that men must always be strong and never fail. It’s a hard standard to live up to. I’m not allowed to cry.”
She looked up from her plate. “What?”
“Hey, I didn’t make the rules; I only try to follow them.”
“What are you saying?”
“Oh I don’t know.” He stared at the ceiling for a moment. “Maybe guys are not all that communicative because... well, because we’re supposed to do, not talk. We’re supposed to be men of action and do stuff that leads to success. What’s to talk about?”
“Do you cry, Harvey?”
“I have. I do. Sometimes. Life can be overwhelming once in a while. I don’t always know what to do. I don’t always have the answers. I’m a flawed individual, but I still have to live up to that standard of the perfect man. He has the answers; he earns a living, and he’s the Rock of Gibraltar for all those around him.”
“Are you human or a god?”
“I’m just a guy. I’m nobody special. Just your average man, sometimes attempting the exceptional. But I can tell you this from personal experience. Because of my problems at work, I didn’t have a sense of accomplishment. Because I didn’t have a sense of accomplishment, I didn’t have a sense of self-worth. And without that sense of self-worth, I no longer had any confidence.”
She took a sip of wine and tipped her glass up.
“Would you like another?” He looked toward the bar.
“That would be good.”
He waved at Carlos and held up two fingers. “Got it. Refills are on the way.” He picked up his glass and examined it. He drank the remaining wine.
“I can’t remember the last time my husband cried. I can’t remember the last time we truly talked about anything personal. You’re making me wonder about what else is going on in his life that may have nothing to do with me.”
“What?” She raised an eyebrow.
“I was reliving a moment from my divorce.”
“The entire situation started because I had an issue. However, my wife, my ex-wife, hijacked the agenda by turning it into her issue. My issue was swept off the table and all that was left was hers. I had to deal with my own issue all by myself. My ex-wife never realized my issue had nothing to do with her.”
“That doesn’t seem very astute.”
“I realized after the fact that this situation pushed one of her buttons. She had been married before and that ended, from what I understand, in an acrimonious divorce. I don’t know if everything that happened had more to do with her ex-husband and reliving that nightmare than with me personally. I’ll wonder for the rest of my life what would have happened if we had gone to couples counseling and talked.”
He picked up his utensils and cut into his steak. “On the other hand, I’ve also wondered if the divorce was the correct solution for the impasse. Maybe if we had talked, we would have never arrived at an understanding. Maybe going our separate ways was the best thing for both of us. I’ve heard it said the right person at one time in your life may be the wrong person at another time in your life.” He glanced up to find her staring at him. “What?”
She shook her head and turned back to her plate. “Oh nothing. You’re just making me think about a lot of things.”
“Good things? Bad things?”
Carlos arrived with another tray. He set a new glass of wine by Molly’s plate and removed the empty glass. He did the same for Harvey and said, “Anything else?”
“That’s fine, Carlos,” he said.
“Enjoy.” Carlos walked back to the bar.
“You mentioned feeling old,” she said.
“I’m feeling that way. I feel as though life is passing me by.”
“That is an admission I find contradictory.”
She frowned. “Contradictory?”
“I look at you and I see an attractive woman. You carry yourself well and you have an air of education and intelligence. My first impression is that you’re living a good life.”
“I said that the status quo looks okay, but let’s not forget that looks can be deceiving. I’m ignored. My partner is disconnected from me. I might just as well be alone. It’s an unsatisfactory situation and it’s not rewarding. There has to be more to life than this.” Molly sipped her wine. “Is there more to life, Harvey?”
He chewed and gestured with his fork. “I’ve had some wonderful moments in my life. So, I know it’s possible. Maybe it isn’t continuous - there’s some mundane thrown in there for contrast – but yes, wonderful is out there if we take the time to seek it out. But...” He picked up his glass. “I’d say it’s rare that wonderful walks up to your door and knocks. Not impossible, but rare. We have to go out and search for it.”
“You remind me of Yoda.”
“Yoda?” He feigned shock. “And here I was trying to get you over to the Dark Side.”
“Mr. Baxter, are you trying to seduce me?”
He opened his mouth to say something and stopped. His eyes darted around.
She chuckled. “Oh Harvey, I’m just teasing. I’m allowed to tease, right?”
“Very good, Molly. You caught me off guard. Perhaps my social skills are a little rusty. My rapier wit isn’t so good at thrust and parry.”
She raised an eyebrow. “Thrust and parry? Is that a sexual innuendo?”
He felt a flush cross his face.
She grinned. “I’m sorry, I couldn’t resist.” She reached out and touched his hand. “Forgive me.”
This startled him and his hand jerked. For a prolonged moment he looked at her and she looked back at him. Finally, he removed his hand and glanced away. “How’s your salmon?”
She picked up her napkin and wiped the corner of her mouth. “Fine.”
Carlos came up to the table. “How were your dinners?”
“Excellent,” Harvey said.
“If I could make a suggestion?”
“The twilight on the terrace is nice. There are still traces of sun in the sky and the view of the beach and the ocean is picturesque. If you would like, you could take your dessert and coffee out there. Some tables have opened up.”
“That seems like a good idea.” He looked at her. “What do you think?”
He stood up and came around to hold her chair.
“Thank you.” She stood up holding her purse.
“Just head through the archway on the far side of the bar.” Carlos pointed.
He was about to step in that direction when she took his arm. He looked at her.
“I hope you don’t mind,” she said.
“Not at all.”
As two of them made their way toward the arch, the sound of music grew louder. They exited the dining room to find themselves on the terrace. Off to one side, there was a dance area and two couples were stepping through a rhumba.
“It’s been a long time,” he said.
“Oh? You dance?”
“I did some ballroom years ago.”
She looked at him with a raised eyebrow. “Well...?”
“That seems to crop up frequently. I think you need a good oiling.”
“I... ah...” He cleared his throat and led her to the dance floor.
“My instructor was a woman. As well as teaching me dance, she also expounded on her philosophy about men and women. I hadn’t considered ballroom as a metaphor for relationships, but it would seem there are many similarities between that and the eternal dance of potential partners.”
He took her right hand in his left then placed her left on his shoulder. He slid his left arm around her waist and counted off. “A man starts with his left and the woman starts with the opposite. That is to say, women are always right.”
“Your instructor was a wise woman.”
“That she was.”
They went through several steps and attempted a turn. They failed and apologized to each other chuckling. He explained what he remembered and they tried again. This time they were successful and got to the end of the song.
Carlos caught Harvey’s attention. They walked over to a table and sat down. Carlos held Molly’s chair.
“I’ve brought over your wine glasses and left you with two menus so you can peruse our desserts. I would recommend the tiramisu. Can I get you coffee or tea?”
“Do you have herbal teas?” Molly said.
“Yes. Anything specific?”
“One of the favorites. For you sir?”
“I’ll do the same and I’ll follow your suggestion.”
“Two chamomiles and two tiramisus.” Carlos picked up the menus and disappeared.
She sipped on her wine. “Will you remarry, Harvey?”
He shrugged. “It seems theoretical. I would have to meet the right person to consider such a thing.”
“Never say never. But...”
“It seemed as if you were trying to give a diplomatic response. I interpreted it as meaning you wouldn’t entertain marriage again.”
“Oh, I would entertain it: a dinner, a dance, or an evening. I’m just not too sure I want it sleeping over.”
She giggled. “What do you mean?”
“Getting married was wonderful. Being married was fun. Going through a divorce sucks. And I mean royally. The emotional, financial, and legal trials and tribulations of disentangling two lives are not for the faint-hearted. It’s not something you want to go through twice.”
“Something like that.”
“And what makes you think the next time will end up in failure?”
“After my divorce, I spent time studying the issue. Maybe if I had done such study before my divorce, I would have learned what was necessary to avoid it in the first place. Lesson learned.
“The statistics are not on my side. A greater percentage of second marriages fail than first ones. But that’s not the real issue.”
“No. As I said, this whole mess started when I had my own crisis. It’s taken time to recover from the crisis. It’s taken time to heal from the divorce. And now that I have reached my year of retirement, I must finish working out what the rest of my life will be. I need to concentrate on me. And in deference to any potential partner, my focus on me would not be good for a we. It wouldn’t be fair to the next person.
“At some point, I can see sharing something of my life, but I can’t see making a full-time commitment. Of course, I could fall head over heels tomorrow, but I hope I’ll be circumspect. I would like to think that the other person, with as much to lose as me, would also be wary of any commitment. An evening, maybe a weekend or a vacation, but as two independent people together by choice when they want.”
“It doesn’t seem all that romantic.”
He half-smiled. “Do we get a little more practical about life with age? When you think about finances and health, two of the biggest ticket items of life, you tend to be cautious about losing your nest egg.”
Carlos arrived with a tray. “Dessert and tea. And you have a beautiful evening to go along with it.”
He raised his glass to her. “To a crisis free future.”
The two of them took up their forks and tried a piece of their dessert.
“Oh that’s delicious,” he said.
“And light.” She took another mouthful.
The two them concentrated on their plates.
“Good golly Miss Molly.” He leaned in his chair over the railing at the edge of the terrace.
She looked up. “You’re quoting Little Richard?” She noticed him and turned in her seat. “What?”
He stood up. “Come here and look.” He stepped off the terrace onto a walkway going to the beach. “Down the beach somebody is setting off fireworks.”
She joined him. “Oh that looks pretty.”
They leaned on the railing of walkway watching the exploding points of light. Other people from the terrace stepped out to get a better look. There were audible ooo’s and ah’s.
She brushed against him. He froze staring down the beach. “What a nice part of the evening,” she said. She laid her hand on top of his. Startled, he pulled his hand away.
“I’m sorry,” she said.
“No. I’m... It’s me.” He cleared his throat. “I’m nervous.”
“I haven’t been with a woman in seven years.” He stared into her eyes.
“You’ve been with a man?”
He furrowed his brow for a moment and burst out laughing. “Okay, you got me. That wasn’t exactly what I meant.” He patted her hand.
“Kiss me, Harvey.” She stepped closer. “Kiss me now.”
He stopped laughing. He hesitated then wrapped his arms around her, tilted his head and gently pressed his lips to hers. It took a moment before he realized she had opened her mouth. He shut his eyes and kissed her. They embraced sensually until their kiss slowed and their mouths parted. He opened his eyes and found her gazing at him.
“It’s been so long,” he said, “I didn’t know how I would react.”
She reached up and cupped his cheek. “Let’s not think about yesterday. Let’s think about right now, right here. I want to share a moment, Harvey. I want to share a moment with you.”
“I didn’t come prepared for...”
“Well, I did.” She took his hand and led him back onto the terrace. They passed their table. They went by the dance area and strode into the resort. There was a flash of light followed by the boom of a roman candle.
Harvey lay propped up on one elbow. He stared at her form in the semi-darkness. He reached out his hand then pulled it back. She took it and placed it on her breast.
“I thought you might be asleep.”
“Not yet. I’m still relishing this nice afterglow.” She let out a sigh of contentment. “For a man who claims to have been out of the game for seven years, you haven’t forgotten your way around town.”
“Ah, it’s like riding a bicycle?”
“Oh, when you pedaled into the home stretch and shifted into fifth gear... Ooo la la.” She pulled him to her. “Cuddle with me.”
He wrapped himself around her body, half beside her, half on her. He laid his head on her shoulder.
“I enjoyed that,” she said. “I enjoyed you.”
“I was a little apprehensive... at first... maybe scared.”
“You’re not the first man who’s been... well, worried. We all have to relax and have a good time. This isn’t a contest. This is about enjoying one another.”
“You seem to be wise beyond your years, Molly. I’m afraid my wife left me pretty much on my own. She wasn’t what I would call participatory when it came to lovemaking. I had to come to the table ready, willing, and able. And if I wasn’t ready, she didn’t voluntarily do anything to assist me. I wonder if she really liked having sex with me.”
“Oh Harvey, half the fun is turning on your partner. Pleasure is pleasure, but pleasure is also giving not receiving.”
“Not every women approaches their relationships as you do.” He reached up, cupped her cheek, and turned her head towards his. He brushed his lips over hers. His voice was a whisper. “That was remarkable. You’re remarkable.”
“You’re going to make me blush.” She smiled. “However I’m greedily using you for my own libidinous ends. I want what I want and I want my partner to lose control of himself in a fit of unbridled passion.”
“I like to inspire. I like to be the muse. And in turn, I want you to inspire me, push me, and lead me to where I want to go. And who knows? Maybe to a few places I’ve never been before.”
“I like it when you talk dirty.”
She laughed. “This is it. This is what it’s all about: having fun. Yes, having fun together.” She reached down between his legs. “I like to have fun.”
He kissed her as he ran one hand down her side and caressed a thigh.
As per his instructions, the knock at the door was quiet. He wrapped a towel around his mid-section then walked across the sunlit sitting room and opened the door. “Just set it on the coffee table.”
The waiter walked in and set the tray down. He turned around, accepted the bill from Harvey, and walked out shutting the door.
A voice came from the bedroom. “Harvey?”
He picked up the tray and walked into the bedroom.
“Where did you go?” She rolled over. “Now, aren’t you the sweetheart.”
He stood beside the bed and smiled down at her. “I thought to get us a little something.”
“What’s for breakfast?” She reached up and undid the towel. It fell to the floor.
He chuckled. “My God, woman, I haven’t felt this alive in a long time.”
“Put the tray down and kiss me.”
He put the tray on the side table then leaned over the bed. They held their kiss for a long time.
She blinked. “You have coffee?”
“Oh good.” She sat up and arranged the pillows. “Put the tray here between us.”
They sat up in bed. She leaned against him. He poured out two cups of coffee. They clinked cups then sipped. He turned and kissed her cheek. She turned and they kissed.
“This is nice,” she said.
“Yes it is. A touch of paradise.” He lifted a covering tray and revealed buttered toast.
“Ooo, I’ll have a slice of that.”
“Is this how’s it done? I’ve forgotten.”
“It’s been a while for me, but yes, this is how it’s done and it should be done regularly. Without fail.”
“Of course, this is still our honeymoon. What happens when we wake up, look at each other and say, ‘What? You again?’”
“It doesn’t have to be like that. There can be a process of renewal, of commitment. The day to day stuff can get boring, but it’s up to us to stir the pot once in a while.”
“Hmmm, do I understand that?”
“I guess it’s easy to become complacent. And complacency doesn’t sound like a recipe for long-term success.” She finished her coffee. “What are your plans for today?”
“Well...” He scratched his head. “There was that visit to the spa for that rock massage.”
“I should take an obligatory swim in the ocean. Just to say I’ve done it.”
“I suppose I should read over the resort’s schedule of daily events.”
She rolled her eyes.
“Listen, if you think I’m going to let you out of this bed without having sex one more time, you’re dreaming in Technicolor.”
“God, I don’t know if I can...”
“I’ve been known to wake the dead.” She got up and set the tray aside. “I’ll introduce you to the fluttering butterfly with sliding twist and one handed dice juggle.”
“My imagination is running wild with that description.”
She grabbed both his ankles and spun him around leaving his legs dangling off the edge of the bed. She leaned over, placed a hand on each of his thighs and gave him a sly smile. “Watch and learn, grasshopper.”
Harvey stood at the window of the terminal and watched Molly cross the tarmac to the boarding steps. She showed her ticket to a security agent then walked up the stairs. She stopped at the top and turned back. Holding one hand over her eyes, she scanned the building until she saw him waving at her. She waved back, blew him a kiss and disappeared into the plane.
He stood at the window and watched the boarding steps taken away and the hatch closed. He remained as the engines started and the pushback tractor moved the plane away from the gate. It taxied out to the runway, waited for clearance, and then soared off into the sky for its flight home.
He studied the list of departures and saw that his flight boarded in five minutes. He turned back to the window and stared into the sky. Would he ever see Molly again? Then again, was that what was important about this weekend? He had never planned anything after his divorce. It just didn’t seem to be worth it. Too much pain, too much emotional upheaval, too much of too much.
But this? This woman? This weekend? Could life be that passionate, that intimate, and that much fun? He was caught off guard. This had been an incredible experience. Nothing in life is forever, but thank goodness for those things which are unforgettable.
Harvey rubbed his chin thoughtfully. Would he work things out? Would he get his mojo back? Would he get out there and get back to living his life? He realized that Molly had left him with something. She made him want to be a better man.