Ruth Z. Deming has had her work published in lit mags including Literary Yard, Blood and Thunder, Pure Slush, O-Dark-Thirty, and Your One Phone Call. A psychotherapist, she lives in Willow Grove, a suburb of Philadelphia. She's always proud to be published in Scarlet Leaf Review.
He was a great thinker and wrote Letters to the Editor to the Philadelphia Inquirer. They were always published and signed Stephen Weinstein, Elkins Park, PA. I met him and his wife, Arleen, at a Move.on party held at my home. About forty people showed up, including a former boyfriend I’d forgotten all about.
We were thrilled to be voting for the first black man, Barack Obama, to be president of the United States. We strategized about pounding the pavement to introduce our man to the community.
Stephen and Arleen, a svelte black-haired beauty with dangling earrings, would both go out onto the porch steps to smoke. I’d join them just to stay close to them. In time, we became friends.
Stephen’s huge black and white photo, which I copied off my blog, hangs as a talisman to the right of my computer. No reason to remove it. I peek at it every now and again. He was a handsome man with blue eyes, that looked black in the photo, a little stubby beard, and a speech impediment where he couldn’t quite pronounce his L’s. Arleen was a speech therapist.
They boosted my morale, little Ruthie, holding a political rally at my yellow house with the swinging bird houses on my front lawn and a bird bath where birds of all kinds - tiny sparrows and chickadees and loud-squawking blue jays would splash and drink.
We got together socially a dozen times after that. They loved to entertain. My boyfriend Scott and I would drive out to their condo for a Rosh Hashonah dinner or to meet some “New Age” friends they thought I would like.
They loved Sonoma, Arizona. Half of their living room furniture had been shipped from that city of artists and poets and hippie-clad folk.
They had bought a new bed and wanted to show it to us. A Craft-matic like you see in commercials. The headboard was a wrought-iron curlicue pattern, while the queen size bed had different “comfort levels” you could control yourself. We all removed our shoes and lay in the bed.
Quite honestly, I was never in love with Stephen, but it was fun to fantasize being his wife. Since I’m no one’s wife, my life style would drastically change. Arleen was a phenomenal cook, so I’d have to get a five-course meal ready for him when he came home from work. He installed “sanitizers” in grocery stores, hotels, restaurants and even private homes. Simply squeeze the clear liquid from the jar, rub it on your hands, and – presto! – they were sterile. For a few seconds anyway.
It was all the rage back then, but you rarely see people using it any more.
All this time, I would email Stephen my endless poems, some thoughts I had, but his responses became less and less. I had no idea his cancer had returned and was slowly killing this good man, with Arleen at his side.
Occasionally, in a last gasp of communicating with the world, one of his Letters to the Editor appeared in the Philadelphia Inquirer. He always sent me a copy.
One day the phone rang. Arleen was on the phone.
“Ruth,” she said, with a trembling voice, “Stephen wanted me to call you. He passed away.”
“Oh my God,” I said. “I had no idea!”
I was not in the inner circle.
She told me where the funeral would be held. Goldstein’s Funeral Home in nearby Southampton.
Scott wore a beige Armani suit a friend had given him. A bit small, he could barely sit down for fear of bursting a seam. I changed into six different outfits before I found the right dress. This was the end of August and the sweat poured from my arms and legs.
“You look very handsome,” I told Scott when he arrived at my house. We live next door to one another.
“Why, thank you,” he said. “You don’t look too bad yourself, kid,” he said.
I rattled my car keys in my hand.
“Hope you don’t mind if I drive,” I said.
What a mistake that was. I thought I knew where the funeral home was.
We set off in my gray Nissan. We had plenty of time, I thought, not realizing I had no idea where I was going.
“It’s gotta be just down the street,” I said nervously, driving faster and faster.
“Ruth,” said Scott, with his angry voice. “This is ridiculous.”
“Okay,” I said. “I’m going home and we’ll look it up on the Internet.”
The sweat was pouring off me. My hair was soaking wet. I rarely use my air-conditioning as I feel like I’m in a freezer.
Scott and I ran into my house and looked up the location.
“You drive,” I said, “handing him the keys.”
Goldstein’s is one of the few Jewish funeral homes in the suburbs. When we arrived we drove around the parking lot looking for an empty space. Then we couldn’t find the door. We ran around the building and Scott finally yelled, “It’s over here!”
What an idiot I am, I kept thinking. Was that Stephen laughing at me from on high?
The windowless wood-paneled chapel was freezing cold. We sat in the back. Shivering with cold, I looked at all the folks who had come to say their final goodbyes to this wonderful man.
The next day Scott and I went to sit shiva in his condo. I’d written “Ode to Stephen,” which I pressed into Arleen’s hand. The shiny coffee table from Sonoma was filled with candy, nuts, cut-up fruit, potato chips and pretzels with spinach dip, and Marzipan candy in the shape of tiny apples, strawberries and oranges.
I stuffed myself until I was full. Scott, who doesn’t eat between meals and has no taste for sweets, abstained.
The door of their bedroom, which was on the first floor, was closed. That’s where he died. He had given up smoking after his cancer returned. Stealthily, I searched the beige carpet to see if any of his hairs – head, eyebrows or beard – would give proof that this man once lived, loved, fathered a child, Jennifer, who was there taking care of the refreshments, had ever existed.
Can you hear me, Stephen?