A Marriage

“Why do you always run off to the shower after we make love?” This could be the man or the woman asking. On this particular night, it is the woman.

The man, her husband, slides back into bed beside his wife’s naked body, reaches over, kisses her lightly on the lips. She resists his kiss.

He withdraws to a few inches from her face. “You know you can join me in the shower. It’s not like there’s not enough room.” The best defense is a good offense.

He’s not ready to give up on that kiss. He tries again for her lips.

She is having none of his attempts at getting on her good side. “All I want is to be close,” she says, moving her lips away from his.

“I’m trying to be close now.” He catches her cheek with his kiss.

She pushes him away. “It isn’t the same. After we have sex, all you do is run away.” Slipping over to her edge of the bed, she gives him her back, then pulls the sheet tight around her, making it into a cocoon.

He drops off to his side of the bed. “But … Lenore,” he protests.

“Why do you choose to call me that?” she tosses over her shoulder at him. “You know I don’t like it, Sam.”

“What do you mean? Call you what?” he speaks to her back.

“Lenore,” she says the name as if it is a curse.

“That’s your name, isn’t it?” Of course it’s her name.

“It’s what my mother calls me. But I’m Nora and you most definitely know that.” Of course he knows it. He has called her Nora a thousand times and more. Her back is now a wall and she’s not allowing any climbing over it. Not for this night anyway.

”I like Lenore. It has such a romance to it. Just like you.”

Silence. Not a sound coming from behind that wall.

After several minutes of waiting for a truce and a goodnight kiss, he reaches over and switches off the bedside light, sighs and slides deeper into the bed. He lies on his back and studies the shadows spreading out across the room as the night grows deeper.

A sob escapes through a crack in that impenetrable wall lying next to him. His wife is crying, pouring herself into her pillow. He reaches over to offer her a tender, comforting touch.

She moves away from his hand and rolls over and faces him. “My name is Nora. And just why do you always feel the need to wash me off after we have sex? Guess you can’t stand the smell of me, the taste of me, the touch of me on your skin. Bet you can’t even stand the sound of me.”

He starts to protest but holds it in.

“Next thing I know you won’t even be able to stand the sight of me.” Shoving the covers off, she jumps out of bed, grabs her robe, heads for the door. Takes one last look at the man in her bed. “Ever since Candace went away to college,” she says, changing the subject but not really. She throws the robe on and heads off down the hall.

He calls after her. “Candace doesn’t like Candace for a name, you know.” Their daughter likes to be called Dash.

“That’s her name, Sam-u-el,” she cries out into the night. She’s Candace’s mother and she can call her daughter any damned name she wants. Why doesn’t he understand that?

“And Lenore is yours,” he wants to yell back but doesn’t. She is the woman he loves, has always loved, and he knows that this is not a good time to call out “Lenore”.

He moves over onto his side and faces the wall, pulls the sheet closer around his body. He hates these dark, restless nights when nothing seems to go right. When everything he tries is wrong.

He waits in the dark and hopes. What is he hoping for? That she’ll come back to bed? That he can somehow show her that he didn’t mean for the night to turn out the way it has? Maybe that, after twenty years of marriage, things can change? That he can change? He keeps hoping but he knows. This will not be the night.

It’s one thirty and he has to get up in the morning for work. But he’s not going to get any sleep. Not till Lenore comes back to bed, and they make up.

Why does he keep calling her Lenore? he wonders in his sleeplessness. He knows how much she hates it. It’s only at times like these when he drops his guard that she she is no longer an average, everyday Nora. She is the Lenore of his best dreams and he is recalling their honeymoon in that long-ago before twenty years wore down their marriage.

He glances over at the clock on his nightstand once again. It’s two and she’s not coming back. He slips out of bed, pulls on this pajama bottoms and a robe.

Downstairs and out on the patio, she hears him slide the glass door open behind her. “I’m not mad,” she says to nobody in particular. “It’s just that, well I’m not mad.” This time she’s speaking to her husband.

There she goes. Making peace. Why does she always do that? he wonders. “I was a jerk,” he says, looking at the back of her neck. The moon throws its light across the room, and he can’t ever remember seeing anything so beautiful.

“No, you were just being you.” Her voice is soft and lonely. Then she thinks, “There I go again, making peace. Why do I always do that?”

He doesn’t know what else to say or do so he waits.

She looks over her shoulder and up into his face. His eyes gaze at her the way he did that first night oh-so-many-years-before on the the beach where they first fell in love. Her hand reaches out for his, takes it, draws him to her side on the bench. “I love this house,” she says.

“It has been a good house.” He sits down next to her.

“I wasn’t sure it was the one for us.” She leans her head on his shoulder.

“I didn’t know that.” He squeezes her hand with all the affection that comes from years of loving and arguing and making up and arguing and making up some more. “I wasn’t that positive myself.”

She squeezes back. Her head feels the strength of the shoulder she has always known that she can lean on no matter what. No matter what. She then takes her head off his shoulder and looks up at the sky. “That sure is a pretty moon.”

“We didn’t think we’d we be here that long.”

“And, my god, the mortgage.” She laughs.

“We’d never owed that much money to anybody. But Dash loved it.”

“We thought we were buying the moon. Five years old and Candace knew it was for us.”

“Why do you keep on calling her Candace?” he whispers. “You know how much she hates it.”

“Why do you insist on calling me Lenore?” she whispers back. “It spoils everything.”

“Oh, I don’t know,” he says, unsure how to tell her all that her name means to him.

“I can see we got what we paid for.” She is back thinking about the house.

“It was a good price.”

She points toward the sky. “We got that moon too, and it is much better than the one we thought we were buying.” She looks at it for several minutes. “You think that Brett and Dash will last as long as we have?”

“I hope so. He seems to love her but not as much as I loved you then, Nora.” He kisses Lenore, not a soft easy kiss, not a deep passionate kiss, but a kiss that makes up for everything. And she kisses him. Then he whispers, “And still love you.”

She stands, reaches for his hand, and they go inside.

On the way up the stairs, he says, ”If you let me call you Lenore every-once-in-a-while, I promise not to run off to the shower after we make love.”

“Only when we’re alone,” she says from the stair above him.

He nods yes, and they are back in bed and soon asleep.

Forgiveness fills the house as it has so many times before and they continue their married life together. At least for one more day.

Happy Valentine’s Day everyone.

Strawberries

Denise almost left home that sunny Saturday morning without any perfume on. On her way through the front door, she changed mind, deciding that it was a perfume kind of day. A few dabs behind the ears and on the neck, and she was off to shop. On her way to her favorite shopping destination, she hummed along to the song on the oldies station, “Strawberries Mean Love”, thinking, “Wouldn’t that be nice.”

At the mall, she hit three, then four stores, finding nothing in particular to satisfy her hunger for a bargain. She hated to go home empty-handed. One final store and she would give up her treasure hunt for the goodies that would make her day.

Then it came to her. Since she was out-and-about anyway, why not check out a men’s department? Her younger brother had a birthday coming up in a month. Maybe she would find a pair of engraved cuff links. Or, yes, some monogrammed handkerchiefs. She entered a department store and strolled up one aisle and down another and toward the men’s wear, stopping here and there to size up a dress or feel the lingerie. While scanning several rings in the jewelry display, she fantasized about what-might-have-been-and-never-was. Several leisurely stops and she was on to the handkerchiefs.

A few aisles over, a familiar figure appeared like some ghost floating out of the fog of a daydream. “Phil, is that you?” she called over to the figure inspecting the ties, reassuring herself that the man was real and not a passing fancy.

Phil glanced up at the blonde with the close-cropped hair, approaching him. “Yes, it’s me,” he said and went back to the ties. “But I’d rather not think so,” he mumbled.

She was at his side, leaning up to kiss him. He kissed her. It was not a lover’s kiss, just a quick smooch between once-upon-a-time friends. Her perfume smelled like strawberries. He liked the taste of strawberries.

“It’s been two years,” she said.

“Longer.” His eyes rejected a tie that would go well with a dark blue suit and moved on to a light green one.

“I’ve missed you.”

He ran his hand over a black tie with small white dots. Black as their last night together and the snow pouring out of the sky hard and fast. His face did not show any sadness, only his eyes. She knew that face well enough to know how sad he must be feeling, and she was sad. The sadness only lasted a few seconds, then it passed and he was back to the ties.

“What you been up to?” she asked, her voice going soft.

“Buying a suit.” There was frustration in his voice. “First I have to find a tie. Then a suit to match.”

“Maybe I can help.”

He took another whiff of her perfume and said, “Maybe. I sure can’t seem to find anything and I’ve been at it for weeks now.” He always liked her perfume, her smell. It could bring out the warm and fuzzy in him, or drive him right up alongside the moon.

“Aren’t you doing things backwards?” She reached over and fingered the ties. “Don’t you choose the suit first? At least, I think that’s how it’s done.”

“I like to know the way things are going to turn out. You know, at the end.” He tugged at a tie and pulled it off the rack. It was red. Strawberry red. He shook his head, trying to shake himself free of the strawberries.

“Won’t that destroy the suspense?” She took the tie and held it up against Phil’s chest. “Nah, that one’s too bright for you.”

He put the tie back with its neighbors.

Denise looked at the ties, then at Phil, then back at the ties. “What about something white?”

“Too obscure.” His eyes followed her eyes. Maybe she could find the right tie.

“What?” There was a small question mark on her face.

“It’s like Smilla’s Sense of Snow. Way too much mystery. I want people to know what I’m about. At least, a little anyway.”

“What’s life without a little mystery?” The question mark had grown larger. “Keep them guessing, I always say.”

“You say that, do you?” He smiled, remembering how she had once kept him guessing, his face becoming the man she had cared about back in her younger, sexy days.

“I do.” She smiled too. “What’s wrong with a bit of snow?”

“It’s not the bit of snow that bothers me. It’s when I find myself knee-deep in it, and I have to sludge myself through all that slush. I want things to be hard, but not that hard. I just don’t have the boots for it.”

“Why not give people a little challenge?”

“They might end up lost,” he said, “and they will not want to finish the book.”

“You mean that novel you’re writing? Whatever happened to that thing? It was all you used to talk about.”

“I need a suit first.” His eyes settled on a tie she was handling. Her hand looked like it had grown attached to it and couldn’t let loose.

“What’s a suit got to do with writing?” She lifted the thing off the rack and passed it to him.

“It’s what the muse seems to be demanding these days.” He studied the tie. A midnight blue with small red dots scattershot across it. Strawberries. More strawberries. Damn those strawberries. He frowned and gave it back to Denise, wondering if that was the best she could do.

The tie went back on the hanger and she encouraged, “You don’t need a suit to write. You just write. You don’t need a special uniform. Just a bathrobe and a cup of coffee.”

“I’m telling you the muse will not let me get on with that novel without a suit. No suit, no novel.” He was determined to follow orders. Find the right tie, then the right suit, and wallah, a novel. But perhaps another Saturday, another store. In the meantime, he might just get some fresh strawberries at the farmer’s market. It was probably too late in the season. “Besides it’s a suit kind of novel.” Maybe he would write a novel about strawberries. Once he found that suit. And Denise had been no help at all.

“Try this one.” Denise held up another tie. She settled it against his chest. It was a dark green with broad white stripes. Her eyes twinkled when she liked a thing, and her eyes were twinkling, looking at the tie and the shirt she laid it against. “Remember when we used to play Anais and Henry?”

Taking the tie, his hand weighed the heft of it. It felt solid and it didn’t have that silky touch to it like some. Good. He threw the thing around his neck, knotted it and drew it tight. Scrutinizing the tie in a mirror nearby, he saw a white sky. He saw green fields where strawberries might grow. “Yes, that’s about right,” he said to the reflection of a man who was ready for a novel. He did like the tie.

“What I remember is that I wanted to play D. H. Lawrence and Frieda,” he said. “But no, you kept insisting it had to be Henry and Anais. Personally I think you read way too much of her diaries. As I recall, that’s why we broke up. She brought out the worst in you. And I don’t mean that in a good way either.”

“It’s Anais and Henry, or did you forget? Oh, that’s right. You kept changing the names then too. That was why we broke up.”

He went to say something. However her smell of strawberries pulled him off that road. His face went gentle. He reached for her hand and squeezed it ever so lightly. Her hand was still as soft as he remembered it to be.

She hesitated, then relented her regret. It had been a long time. She squeezed back.

Both had enjoyed their little disagreements. It made for some heavy duty making-up. But the time had come when there was less and less of that and more and more of the squabbling. Their relationship was just no fun anymore. Then it was over. Nada. No more. Who knew such little things like the order of names could cost them so much. They held hands before the ties for a moment, then they went back to their two separate worlds.

On their way to the suits, they took a detour at the shirts. Denise picked one out which they both thought would go just right with the one good tie they found.

“Think I’ll look good in brown?” he double-checked to make sure they had made the right choice.

“You’d look good in anything.”

“You lie well.” He leaned over and kissed her lightly on the lips. She kissed him back and moved closer to him. His fingers ran over a dark suit coat. The wool felt good to his touch. He liked the natural feel of it. It gave him the feeling that there was a novel in him and he would complete it. And soon. All that needed doing was the writing, and that was no big deal. No big deal at all. In that suit staring back at him, the muse would be pleased.

“Of course,” she said, her slender fingers joining his. “But you will look good in that suit. Good enough to make that novel shine.” Their hands waltzed over the lapel of the jacket. The coat slipped off the rack and he tried it on. After buttoning it up, she adjusted the tie. “Is this novel to be about us?” Her eyes sparkled with hope.

“Not sure. Maybe. Well, yes. It could be. I can see that now. After all, it is an adventure story. And we did have some adventures, Dennie. Back in the olden days.”

“There’s nothing to say that we can’t have some more.” Her fingers massaged his palm. “If you’re inclined?” She let go of his hand, reached over and pulled the suit pants off their hanger, then measured them against Phil.

Suddenly he felt the absence of her hand. “What are you trying to say?” She heard road block in his voice. “That I’ve had a bad case of writer’s blues without you?”

“All I am saying is that it looks like you’ve found yourself a suit.” Her voice was gentle with reassurance. “That is all I’m saying. It’s a good earthy brown too. The kind that will allow you to dig your heels into the language and write, don’t you think? Why don’t you try it on?”

The two headed over to the changing room.

“So how soon do you intend to finish this masterpiece now that you have the suit?”

“Soon as I can figure out how it will end,” He took the pants from her. “I plan to write it backwards. Kind of like the Hebrew alphabet telling the story. I’m in no hurry. I could take a hundred years, and then some, to put the final touches on it.”

“You’re not going to do a James Joyce? You’re much too tall.”

“No, I know where the commas go. And the periods too.”

“What makes you think you have all the time in the world?”

“Doesn’t everybody?” he said and left her to wait for him to return from changing into suit and shirt and tie.

Her eyes twinkled when she saw the Phil come out of the changing room.

“When do you plan getting the ending together?” she asked as she helped him adjust into the suit, running her fingers over the jacket to make sure it fit just right, then she brushed the pants ever so slightly. “Soon I hope. I’d like to read it.” She stepped back to admire their work.

He looked at himself in the full-body mirror. They both liked what they saw.

“I think that it will end the way they all end.” He tugged a bit on the jacket, straightening it into a perfect fit. “’And they lived happily ever after.’”

“For a season anyway.”

“I can handle that.” He was pleased that he almost had his ending. And that she would be in it. The words for that ending were on the tips of his fingers. All he had to do was let them pour onto the page. “In fact, I can handle just about anything in this suit. Even that muse of mine.”

“Let’s get a cup of coffee to celebrate,” Denise offered, happy that the day had indeed turned into a perfume kind of day . “And then, well then we can get started on that novel. If you’re in a writing mood.”

“Think I’m in the mood for strawberries. Just as soon as I change.”

“Better hurry then, before they go out of season.”

Fruit Salad

You have blueberry eyes
And a raspberry smile
Yes, I am a banana
All dressed in salady style

We may not know apples
From oranges or tangerines
But it doesn’t matter
We’re peaches and whipped cream

Since those days of wonder
And nights of kiwi delight
When we were all marshmallowy
You were the morning, I the knight

Our love is a fruit salad
A mix and match thing
A feast beyond compare
A French gourmet’s drean.

Be careful what you ask for

The light from the windows of her hundred-year-old house streamed out onto the lawn late that night in February. The light reflected the shadow of her silhouette behind the curtains of her second story bedroom. She was watching me, I knew, as I stood next to the fence across the street and waited. I had been here every night for one hundred days, in rain, in fog that came up off the nearby sea, and on clear nights. It was the key to the door of her heart.

I wondered if she would ever recognize my love for her. At first, I had sent her notes, then candy, then flowers, first one, then a half dozen, then a dozen. But she ignored them. When we had last spoke at our high school, she had urged, “Please don’t.”

But I loved her too much to give up and I knew she would come to love me. It was fated to be and only a matter of time.

Each night I watched her father arrive from some late night appointment and go into the house. He was always going and coming at night. But why? Why did he do this? After all, he was a successful lawyer who had an office downtown, open for appointments all day long. Why did he need to be out this late every night?

One night her father walked out of the house and headed for his car. I looked at my watch. Eleven o’clock. I decided to follow. I hurried around the corner and jumped into my old beat-up green Buick. I started it, then sat there. Her father backed out of the driveway and headed east.

I pulled in behind him, about twenty car lengths, and tailed him. We drove for thirty minutes or so until we came to an old rundown warehouse. He parked in its parking lot, next to the three or four other cars there. I pulled to a stop a block or so away and watched him enter a side door into the building.

I got out of the car and walked over to the partially lit parking lot. I went around to the side and listened in through a half-broken window. All I could hear was the sound of barking dogs in the distance. I pushed my ear closer to the window. Then I felt it. The cold metal in my back. It was a gun.

“Come with me,” the man behind me demanded and grabbed me by the neck and shoved me forward. Before I could turn around to see who it was, I was forced through the side door and into the warehouse. Before me stood several men.

“I caught this outside,” the voice behind me said.

“Welcome, Mr. Benedaro,” her father greeted me with a smile.

I was pushed toward the group of men and forced to drop onto my knees. I was in the center of a circle of these men.

From behind me, I heard her voice. “Now, Father?” she said.

“Yes, Daughter,” her father said.

I turned to see a large wolf, charging me with its teeth bared.

“What the he…,” I screamed as she bit into my neck.

Darn that Rachmaninov. Especially on Thursdays

Noel Coward’s “Brief Encounters”, directed by David Lean.

How a brief encounter can change a life, especially if it’s Thursday and Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto # 2 is playing on the soundtrack. It’s in a train station where Alec and Laura meet. She has something in her eye and he gets it out. Of course that is what a doctor would do, and since he is a doctor, he does just that. He is a general practitioner come to Milford for a day of work at the hospital and she is a housewife come to town for some shopping and a movie. It is a Thursday and she’s happily married until he tells her, “You can never be dull.”

For several Thursdays they meet in passing. Then suddenly one Thursday the doctor and the housewife, happily married, are having way too much fun as they set off for the movies. On the way back to the train station, he slips his hand around her arm. Then it is tea as they wait for their respective trains. He talks about his desire to make the world a better place. Then there’s that damned Rachmaninov and you know there’s unhappiness in store for her. And possibly him.

“May I see you again? Next Thursday?” he pleads. She resists, then relents. She watches his train leave, realizing how dangerous things may be getting as she speaks his name to herself. “Alec.”

Laura, it would have to be a Laura, takes her train home and her boy has had an accident. She feels guilty. But the accident is not serious. She confesses to her husband that she met a strange man and offers to invite him to dinner to show her husband it was harmless. Her husband seems not to care, saying that it would be an inconvenience. Why don’t she invite him to lunch?

Alec doesn’t show the next Thursday afternoon as she waits for him, half-hoping that he will not show. She goes off to the movies, then it’s back to the train station and tea. She leaves the station to catch her train. As she takes one last look around her, she sees the good doctor running toward her. “I’m so sorry,” he says. Of course, he is. They always are in these kinds of movies. He explains why he is late and she is relieved. Now her walls drop like the walls of Jericho.

The next Thursday they are at the movies and then a lake. They take a boat and are on the water. And there’s Rachmaninov. And they are having a bloody good time.

Tea again in a boat house and they are quiet. Then he says the words. You know, the words that always doom happily marrieds to a life of unhappiness. “I’ve fallen in love with you,” Alec the doctor says to Laura the housewife, and now they are desperately doomed people. You know it, and they know it. And the fun they’ve had is over.  Just misery and betrayal.

Why must these kinds of movies be so sad, so tragic? Why couldn’t it be two unmarried, readily available people, falling desperately in love, who have the encounter that becomes a lifetime of happiness? Oh, we’ve seen that movie before too and it is “Love Story”. The woman dies at the end, and it too is sad.

That they are unmarried and happily in love doing all the things that happily-in-love people do, that is what Laura dreams about as she catches her train for home. But the reality is that now her life is a lie. And it is a Thursday lie, this lie she tells her husband. She calls a friend to cover for her. “And I’ll do it for you,” she promises at the end of the telephone conversation.

Another Thursday and the two lovers are together again, having dinner in a hotel dining room. No sex as far as we know, but they might as well have had sex for all the guilt she is feeling. The two go off into the country for a drive. He talks of his love for her and they are on a bridge. This kind of thing always seems to happen on bridges, and a bridge in the country on a lovely afternoon is the best place for it to happen. The next thing you know it is night and they are saying their good nights, longingly. It is such a desperate kind of good night.

There’s that Rachmaninov and it is hard to resist Rachmaninov. Especially if it’s night and it is raining and you are in need of refuge from a marriage that has become, of all things, boring. She misses her train and follows him back to a nearby flat where he is staying with a friend. She runs up the stairs and knocks on his door. He opens the door and invites her in.

She is about to fall into Alec’s arms when suddenly his friend returns and comes in the back way. She leaves without being seen. But the doctor’s friend picks up her coat and hands it to Alec and says, “You have hidden depths.” He says other things, showing his disapproval. Alec follows Laura, leaving his friend’s disappointment behind him.

The next scene we see is Laura running down the street. It is night and there’s Rachmaninov. She’s missed her train and telephones her husband to tell him she will be late getting home. She lies. She is with a librarian friend whose mother is ill, She hangs up and wanders the streets for three hours and then she is back at the train station. The doctor shows up and they argue.

“Could you really say goodbye? I love you, Laura, and I shall love you to the end of my life. This is the beginning of the end of it all.” It is a desperate speech. He tells her that he will be leaving England and soon unless she tells him to do otherwise. She doesn’t. They both know that it is the only way out. But let’s have another Thursday. She takes the train home, and again there is Rachmaninov playing that damned Concerto # 2.

The following Thursday there is again a drive in the country and more Rachmaninov. Then they are having tea in the train station, struggling to get up the courage to say goodbye. And having tea, there is all this sadness filling the movie. You just know that this can’t end well. You’ve seen enough of these movies and they never end well. “I do love you with all my heart and soul,” Alec says to Laura one last time. “I want to die,” Laura says to her doctor.

A woman acquaintance of Laura’s intrudes and forces herself on them. She joins them for tea, interrupting their sadness with her talk. She can’t seem to stop talking. Alec gets up to catch his train. As he leaves, he squeezes Laura’s shoulder for one last goodbye. Then he walks out of the station. It’s over, but how can it be over? Laura’s heart is dying, and when the woman goes to the counter to retrieve her tea, Laura leaves the station. She starts to jump under a train, possibly his train, that is passing but she doesn’t. She returns to the station and almost faints.

Then she is in the living room of her home with her husband and Rachmaninov is playing and her husband comes over to her in her chair where she has been dreaming. He says, “You’ve been a long way away. Thank you for coming back to me.” He doesn’t say, “Back to us.” He says “Back to me.”

David Lean’s first movie that he directed totally alone is over. It is the beginning of David Lean’s ascendancy and Noel Coward’s decline. Already we see the potential of what is to come.