Mac and Chess

So Mac and Chess got on the subway at noon. Chess was always coming up with great ideas. She had come up with this one at the snap of Mac’s fingers. He agreed they’d ride the subway it for twenty-four hours. Mac suggested they meet a new person once an hour.and that is what they did I.

They approached a stranger and said, “Hey, I’m Mac, and this is Chess.” Or they said, “I’m Chess, and this is Mac.” The first person they met was Sabian. He was from South Africa. He was here on a visa. He was on his way to meet his new girlfriend, Cassandra. He talked a lot about Cassandra. How beautiful she was. How smart.

Mac said, “I know what you mean. Chess is so beautiful and so smart. I’m a lucky man that she even likes me. And she likes me a lot.”

Chess said, “I do not. You’re just making that up.” She laughed that laugh of hers that Mac loved. Then she hugged him. “No, I love you, you goose.”

Each person they met they found something they had in common. Sara talked about her granddaughter. Chess talked about her sister. They were both blind.

“She’s never seen a day in her life. I can’t imagine. But she sure can play music.” Sara was proud of her granddaughter.

Late in the night around midnight, the car was empty. Chess started this game. “Mac,” she said. “Tell me something about yourself you have never told anyone.”

“Something I’ve never told anyone.” Mac thought, a little bit scared, afraid Chess wouldn’t love him anymore. Then he decided to take a chance, walk out on the tightrope and not worry about the net that wasn’t below him.

“I lost my friend, Charlie, to drugs. I was there when he od’ed.” Tears formed in Mac’s eyes. “I called emergency, then took off. I didn’t stay to keep him company until someone arrived. I was scared.”

Chess squeezed his hand. She didn’t ask all the questions you might expect. She was pretty sure that Mac didn’t use drugs. But curiosity could have driven her to ask anyway.

Mac swiped away his tears. “Now it’s your turn.”

“I stole five dollars from my mother’s purse once. My brother got blamed for it. I wanted this lipstick and I didn’t have the money for it. I’ve never stolen anything before or since. I don’t know what made me do it. I bought the lipstick, but I was so guilty I couldn’t use it.”

Mac saw the guilt in her face, and the pain. He didn’t say anything. He just listened to Chess tell her tale. Only it wasn’t a tale. It was the truth.

Knights used to test their courage in a joust. They did it to see if they had the stuff it took to be a knight. Mac and Chess tested their courage by trusting each other with their deepest, darkest secrets. It started out as a game, then it became deadly serious. And that twenty-four hours they spent on the train, meeting new friends and telling each other their secrets, was the beginning of their long romance.

They were married fifty years. Last year Mac died from cancer. Chess waited for the Man to come and take her as well. She spent much of her time alone in her apartment with the things she and Mac loved. The paintings they collected. The works of famous artists decorated their walls. They were not famous when Mac and Chess bought them.

Their grandkids came to see Chess and urged her to come and live with one of them. But she couldn’t bear to leave their home. Every afternoon she sat by the window. From her second floor vantage, she looked out hoping Mac would walk up the sidewalk the way he used to when he was alive.

Soon Chess would walk down that sidewalk and meet him in the park nearby. Then they would catch the subway and ride, meeting new friends and telling each other their secrets.

7:58

For Jack, 7:58 on a Tuesday evening is not 7:58 on a Monday or a Wednesday evening. At 7:58 on a Tuesday evening, Barbara walks out on her husband, Jack, leaving Jack and Barbara behind forever.

“Why are you doing this?” Jack yells out at the cab as it pulls out into the street.

She sticks her head out of the taxi window and yells back, “Because I can.”

Jack goes to the kitchen cupboard and pulls out a bottle of whiskey, fills a large glass, takes it into the living room and turns on Jeaopardy. By the time he finishes his glass, it’s Final Jeopardy. “Oh, I know the answer to that one,” he screams at the tv.

At 8:58, he pulls himself out of the chair and into the kitchen and makes a sandwich the way he liks it and the way Barbara never made it, ham and cheese whiz and mustard. “That’ll kill you,” she always said.

Kill him or no, he’s partial to it. Since he had no vote in the decision for the marriage hasta la vista, he decides the occasion requires a second cheese whiz sandwich and the rest of the bottle. Sitting in his chair, he flips through the channels until he comes to Divorce American Style. On the screen, Dick Van Dyke and Debbie Reynolds are as American as any American s can be.

It strikes Jack funny that here is Princess Leia’s mom with Mary Tyler Moore’s husband. Jack slurs out, “If they can’t make a marriage work, who can?”

He picks up his guitar and remembers the line from a song, “I got the blues, and it’s one blues too many.” He’s not singing the words. He is crying them.

At 7:58 Wednesday morning, Jack wakes up, stretched out on the carpet, one side of his head suffering a headache, the other one hell of a hangover. He turns off the remote and does what he always does at 7:58 on Wednesday morning. He runs the shower, the cold water washing him clean of the previous night. By 8:58, he’s ready for the start of a new day, headache and hangover and all.

Wednesday evening at 7:58 is not 7:58 Tuesday evening. So Jack sits in his chair with a photo album of memories. Jack and Barbara, high school sweethearts; Jack and Barbara at the prom; Jack and Barbara, on summer vacation at camp in the Pocconos; Jack and Barbara, at the altar, saying their I-doeses; Jack and Barbara in Paris on their honeymoon; Jack and Barbara with little Annie and her cute baby smile; Jack and Barbara with five-year-old Annie off to kindergarten; Jack and Barbara and Annie next to Annie’s first bikes; Jack and Barbara and Annie at the Yellowstone geyser; Annie in her prom dress, standing next to her handsome date; Jack and Barbara and Annie at her high school graduation; Jack and Barbara Jack saying goodbye to Annie as she went off to college; Annie graduating summa cum laude; Jack and Barbara at Annie’s wedding; Jack and Barbara saying goodbye to Annie and Tom moving to Europe.

“I got the blues; and it’s one blues too many,” he sings, accompanying himself on the guitar, realizing this song is nobody’s songs but his own.

On Saturday evening at 7:58 a month or so later, he grabs his guitar, jumps in his silver Nissan and drives down to the neighborhood pub. He’s there just in time to sign up for the 9:58 open-mic slot. At the mic, he twangs, “I got the blues, and it’s one blues too many.”

After his set, a man in a suit and tie takes Jack aside. “How would you like to go into show business?”

Next thing it’s 7:58 on a Tuesday evening in a recording studio. The producer says, “This’ll be the last take.” Jack sings into to the mic, “I got the blues, and it’s one blues too many.”

A month later on a Tuesday evening at 7:58, his manager, the guy in the suit and tie at the pub, calls him, “You’ve got a number ten with a bullet.”

“Is that good?” Jack asks.

“It’ll be numero uno before you know it.”

Six months later on a Tuesday evening at 7:58 at a large venue, Jack starts, “I’ve got the blues, and it’s one blues too many.” He looks down from the stage. In a front row seat, there’s Barbara cheering him on.

That Tuesday evening at 9:58, Jack walks off the stage. His roadie says, “There’s a woman wants to see you. Says she’s your wife.”

For a moment or two until 10:00, Jack feels the anger running through him, then he lets go of it. He’s in too good of a mood. “Show her into my dressing room. I only have a few before it’s time for the second show.”

In the dressing room, Barbara asks, “So, how’s the good life.”

“You’re the last person I expected to see. I know you ain’t here to beg for anything. So, why did you come?”

“To tell you how proud I am of you.”

“Proud?”

“Yes, you’ve finally lived up to the potential I always thought you had. All you had to do  was get up off your rump, chunk those cheese whiz sandwiches, and apply yourself.”

“You must not have had much faith in me. You left me. Forever.”

“You had dug yourself into a hole and needed to dig out. So I threw you a shovel. You forgive me?”

He leans over and kisses his wife. “I guess I can. Yes, I do.”

Barbara and Jack  embrace like they have never embraced before.

There’s a knock on the door. “Five minutes,” the roadie says.

At 10:02, Jack walks on stage and starts the pick a-going on the guitar, singing, “I got the blues, and the blues came down my chimney. I got the blues, and it’s one blues too many. I got the blues and my blues just got friendly. I got the blues, I’ve got cheese whiz aplenty. Just pass the mustard please.”

Central Park

“Let’s see. That’s one pastrami on rye and one steak on white. Two fries and two cokes.”

“That’s right,” Marilyn says.

Harvey finishes writing up our order. “Be right out.”

Marilyn does a thanks, then turns to me.

“So where do you want to go for the honeymoon?” She’s the planner. I am just happy to tag along. This marriage is going to be great. I can’t wait.

“I don’t know where,” I answer. I don’t.

“You always say that,” she says. “But c’mon, where do you want to go.”

“Well, I’ve always wanted to see the Rockies.”

“Me too. So there’s where we’ll go. Yellowstone?” she asks, suggesting a place. With that smile of hers, I’d go anywhere with her. How lucky can a guy be to have a smile like that for every day of the rest of our lives. Man, that is heaven.

Harvey brings our food and sets it before us like we are royalty. I don’t care who you are Harvey makes the customer feel like royalty. Even a homeless guy. Harvey is the best, I’m telling you.

I look up at Harvey and ask my question, “What do you think of Yellowstone?”

“Never been there. Never want to leave the City. Ain’t this City grand? Just grand.”

“We love the City too,” Marilyn says. “But it’s our honeymoon.”

“In that case, I’d spend my honeymoon one night in one of those fancy Fifth Avenue hotels overlooking Central Park. Take a picnic to the Park. That’s what me and Louise did forty years ago. Louise is the wife. That was some honeymoon. That lady is the best. I am a lucky man.” Then Harvey leaves Marilyn and me to our food and our plans. He has a customer to greet.

Marilyn says to me, “I like that.” Her eyes are shining and her face is all lit up. You know how it is when you’re happy. “I really like that.”

“That’s what I was thinking too,” I say. The City is our home and we’re not going anywhere. Why would we want to?

We eat our food, discussing thises and thats between bites the way couples do. We’re two peas in a pod. Can there be a better life than this one?

We finish our meal, get up, pay the tab, drop a nice tip on the table for Harvey. Then we’re out the door of Harvey’s Deli. We kiss like the lovers we are, then Marilyn turns left. I go right. I head in toward Lehman’s where I work. I meet people coming out of the building. Lots and lots of people. They are crying.

There’s Frank. “Hey, Frank,” I stop him. “What’s going on?”

There are tears in Frank’s eyes. “I been here thirty years. It’s the end of the world. We’ve all been let go. I can’t believe it. Just like that.”

“Just like that?” I ask.

“Just like that. The company’s bankrupt.”

I run into the building and up to my office and my desk. There’s the pink slip. I knew things were bad but I never thought that they were this bad. I sit down at my desk, tears in my eyes.

My cell phone rings. It’s Marilyn. “I heard,” she says. There is concern in her voice. “Are you alright?”

Am I alright? At this moment, I am not alright. It’s like I am drowning, trying to catch my breath. I finally get the words out. The honest words that I couldn’t tell anyone but Marilyn. “No. I don’t think so. I can’t believe it. And I had to take the morning off.”

“It’s okay,” Marilyn says. “We’re going to be okay. I’m leaving work now and I will be over in a few.”

“I’ll meet you downstairs. In front of the building.”

“One moment you’re on top of the world, the next you’re under the rubble.” That’s what Uncle Gabe used to tell me. “You don’t get those top-of-the-worlds if a lot of rubble don’t fall on you.” Then he gave me the kicker. “As long as you’ve got family and friends, there ain’t no amount of rubble that can bury you.”

I pick up my pink slip, look at it, get up from my desk. I slowly head for the elevator. It hits me. I never really wanted to be a banker in the first place. Maybe Harvey will give me a job.

I walk out onto the street and into the big, wide world before me. Marilyn runs toward me. I grab her and she gives me the biggest hug in the world. “I love you,” she says.

“I love her,” I say, kissing my girl.

“I took the rest of the day off,” Marilyn says.

I laugh. You know it’s one of those laughs you have when the weight of the world is taken off your shoulders. Marilyn laughs with me. “Then let’s get married,” I say to this woman who is the love of my life.

“In Central Park?” she asks.

“In Central Park.”

The Great Blue Lonesome

My heart’s sailing out on a high tide
Into the waters of the great blue lonesome
The mountains and the valleys of the waves
Have taken down ships much stronger than mine

There’s way too much sea out here to cross
Continents of water and nary an island
Seems like I”m sailing my heart, getting nowhere
Hoping for a beach and a little patch of sand

My heart’s off into dangerous waters
An iceberg out to take the Titanic
Terrors of the deep and Moby Dick
Sharks circling and my heart’s in a panic

Then one moment of magic and sun
Just when it looks like it’s going to storm
A clash of the sea and I’m overboard
The waters part, my heart’s on shore again

And it’s goodbye to the great blue lonesome
Since Cupid tapped me on the shoulder
No more diddly-squatting for me
I’ve found true love and friendly waters

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.