He and She

Chapter 1 We Saw It Coming
Even though the place was open in the morning, we only cared about the people who were there when we were. After a long day at the office some of us looked forward to getting on the treadmill and burning off lunch. Others looked forward to sitting in the sauna with closed eyes. Most of the women looked forward to the moments in the locker room as Robin told the girls about last night and Phyllis stood at the wall mirror admiring her belly, “Am I really that fat?” Nobody thought she was fat, but just for the fun of it Carol said she thought she could still lose some weight. What she meant was, “Who didn’t want to lose a few pounds?” Phyllis always took things the wrong way but most of the girls were used to that. The guys didn’t talk much in the locker room. Quick hellos, snap and grip of the hand. Don always had something to say. He worked at an office supply store and was a few years out of college. He wore his cock on his face and everyone hated him for it. But most of us were a little scared of him. When he laughed, he expected us to laugh until he stopped. He relied on the guys he worked out with at the gym, they would go out for drinks after, sometimes dinner, but always, always drinks. There were others, but not many of us talked to them. Only Don talked to everyone. Don always walked over to the side of the pool where Irwin was swimming and stopped to chat with him. Irwin was the oldest of all of us, yet he wished he was young again. Nobody knew him that well, but he was a nice person. He never stared at any women; at least none of us noticed him. When we talked to him it would be while we were doing something. On the treadmill Phyllis learned that he was born in Brooklyn and now lived on 68th Drive.
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One day after the gym, we were all leaving and Phyllis, like always, was waiting outside for something. This time she was waiting for a date, but she didn’t know who would pick her up. We knew she never ate at home because she bragged about all the men she slept with and how she hadn’t cooked herself a meal in years. This night wouldn’t be any different, except that she would be going out with the man everyone respected in a way. He came out of the front doors and glanced over at Phyllis with a quick smile. She made it over to him before he got to the garage. “Hey, so where you heading?” “Home, I’ll see you tomorrow.” “My ride isn’t coming, can I just get a quick lift home?” “Sure.” And that was how Phyllis described the conversation to the girls the next day. The rest of us heard about it through small talk and little chatting we all did during cardio classes. The women would stretch in the back row and watch as the men bent down with their balls hanging out of their loose exercise shorts. Phyllis leaned forward towards her feet and whispered to us that she had the worst night ever. Most of us thought she was talking about her sleep and cramps or something she could only tell the women. We were surprised of what she did tell us. “Last night, I was forced to make dinner.” She continued and told us all about Irwin and how she got him to buy her dinner. But on the car ride back to his place, he stopped for gas. Phyllis had gotten out of the car to buy some cigarettes and as she said it “the old coot” drove off without her. We all snickered inside; telling ourselves it was coming to her. But we were all sure to give her a piece of mind. Mindy added in
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her phrase about the carelessness of men, like she always did. We didn’t speak to that old man for a while, at least not in front of Phyllis’ company. She couldn’t believe how he had treated her. Carol was the first to talk to him after that. She learned that they worked two blocks from each other on 7th Ave. Irwin offered to buy her a cup of coffee sometime. Most of us were complaining about another asshole man or bitchy woman. Irwin didn’t seem to have a problem with anyone. When we asked him for advice, it was because we assumed he had been through it all. But he hadn’t, and only acted like he had. We felt like out of everyone there, he was the biggest mystery. Only small details were clear, but never did he mention the essentials in his life. We were left hanging with stories about his war days in Germany and his schizophrenic sister. Most of us just expected him to be like the other older men who kept to themselves. But there was something he wasn’t telling us, it was on his ring finger and in his leather wallet. One of the guys, Steve, saw him out of the norm one day. He was in his car with a woman around his age at his side. Her hair was graying. Steve wasn’t sure that it was Irwin, but nevertheless it was big news the next day. Irwin had to be married, we all thought. At least it was a good guess; most of us just assumed he lived a quiet life alone. Carol would have to break off the coffee date and Phyllis would have to forgive him. They felt guilty, but they had no reason to be. He dreamed to be a part of us, but he was out of reach. Carol secretly wanted him, we all knew, even though she tried to be grossed out by his mysterious wife. Twenty seven years younger, she was sick of men her age, so she kept the coffee date with Irwin. We all warned her not to go. Begged, cried, frightened, pulled, but she was unwell. She
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went anyway, of course. And the next day he cornered our poor Carol. He didn’t know he was talking into the loud speaker, but we all heard him. Somehow we heard the whole thing loud and clear. “Carol, will you….”

Chapter 2 Go Back to Sleep
Walk into the apartment with the jammed door. The light is flickering from the glass chandelier in the first hallway. It smells like air freshener or perfume, maybe it’s the roses that are sitting on the table against the wall. The wall is old, dust living in the crevices, it feels like there used to be beauty here, but now it is only possible to remember those times when the walls were new and the table wasn’t refinished and the bulb wasn’t flickering. Walk a few feet in and turn to the right, into the kitchen straight out of a Real Housekeeping magazine. Flowers encircle the room and pink wallpaper that used to be warm but is now cold and dark. Open the refrigerator and notice the lack of edible food. A cup of coffee in a paper cup. A pickle emerged in vile juices. Open the top compartment. A glass of ice sits next to a readymade dinner. A pint of frostbit chocolate Ben and Jerry’s. Nothing else. Close the door with the magnets from Paris, London, Venice, Jerusalem and Rome. Walk further into the kitchen and open the sparkling dishwasher. Admire the glass dishes with the blue roses, surprisingly clean. Close the dishwasher door and walk further in, towards the sink.
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Turn the water on and run your hands under the warm stream. Splash some in your face and blink. Walk forward into a room without a door, but clearly a different room, entirely covered in white marble tiles. The table sitting in the middle used to be white, but now it is the color of age. The floor tiles all cracked long ago. The chandelier hits your head as you walk by. Make a left into the room full of cow hide. The shaggy carpeting traps your feet and all the dust living on the shelves, on top of the TV, in the black and white photo of two girls, the older behind the other. A picture of a brunette woman smiling and a dark haired man standing behind her, is hung next to the other. Turn around and face the window. Watch the dust in the air, so visible, so clear. The only light in here is from the morning sun. There is a chair, sunk deep into the structure of the room. Leather strips lay on the warm seat They smell factory fresh. But the room’s odor is old and traps your nostrils. Leave this room, for it is unbearable. There is a mirror on the far end. The image you see in it appears to be a man in dark pants and a white shirt. He has a bald scalp with hair surrounding the center. Wrinkles cover his face and he looks tired, depressed, lost, confused, frozen. He is standing still ten feet away from the mirror. You cannot look anymore, so you make a sharp right on a hall of bookshelves. More dust, more memories, more age. Pass the encyclopedia from 1978 and the endless love novels. Look ahead towards the open door and the open closet. Peek your head into the room. Touch her blouses, her office suits of different solid colors. Look to the floor, bend down and pick up a shoe that is familiar, one of the shoes she wore last night. Put it down and look at the door. There is a calendar from November 1984 with some picture of a hairsprayed, squinting man. You look at the man in the picture; run your nails along his face. Slam the closet shut. There’s a sudden shriek from behind the cabinet. Heart jumps. Tiptoe around the cabinet. Look for the brightly colored blanket. Watch further down—the blanket messily covers her small
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body and you slow down with one eye over the side of the cabinet, peering at the back of her head of hair. She turns over, her closed eyes look at you and she stretches. She opens her mouth and licks her lips. You feel her warm breath, bending down to her level. Her head goes back into her pillow. Don’t touch, only look. Wake up, Carol. It’s time to go. Come with me. It’s time to leave. We have to go. Now. Carol. You need to come with me. The alarm clock goes off. Beep. Beep. Beep. Beep. Beep. Beep. Beep. She moves over. Now get to the side so she doesn’t see you. Her blanket comes off and she walks out of bed. Her eyes are closed. She turns off the alarm clock and turns around towards the mirror on the wall. “Irwin? So nice to see you!” She turns around, with open arms ready to embrace, but there are loud steps running away. She walks towards the cabinet and the air is full of his smell. But he’s gone. The door slammed shut. Go back to sleep.

Chapter 3 He and She
Welcome to Long Beach. They passed an arched road sign with scripted letters and a sun setting in the background. He was driving Her to the Seder at Her sister’s house, nine months prior to My conception. It was the spring before His layoff and not long after Her pains began. A man in his first blink of realization at the age of 62 should be well past the epiphanies of college aged
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lovers, but as He got farther from Queens, His head started to drive forward, towards the future. He almost called Her angel, like He did his own daughter. But He knew He couldn’t feel the same way about this 20 something year old girl who had breasts of only the young seeking experience, hungry for adventure. She had to go where Her breasts took Her. She had to plunge forward into His arms and sit in between His legs like She did when She was a baby-faced cutie. They drove on and suddenly a jolt forward—more like a plunge, pushed the car and the older man and the young woman and their clasped hands and Her breasts and His crooked nose, through the front window. Lying on the wet pavement, She looked over at the man with His eyes closed and cried through painted eyes, “Daddy, oh, Daddy” while He thought about what He would tell His wife, daughter, family about this girl next to Him with the humps any man would fuck and the heart only He could love. Now. He is buried. Long after He buried his wife—days after Passover started. Only kept the ring He forced onto her plain fingers. He later told me it was just the right time for a fire. With tears swimming down His age old rusting face, He wanted to tell me I wasn’t the first one to call Him Dad. He knew it my whole life. I wasn’t the first He tucked in, or the first He read The Cat in the Hat to, or even the first to send off to college. The car accident is now well in the past. Back when His other family was still alive. He met Her at the gym. She was New. He was Old. Her parents wanted Her out of their hands.
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His wife wanted him out of her hair. She didn’t want to let go of their firm grip. He didn’t think He would ever get out of her hair. It was the first Passover He wasn’t spending at home with His wife and daughter and their family. That morning they were fighting over money and overcooked toast with spoiled milk curdled in their cold coffees. He stated that He didn’t think He could make it to the first night of Passover and His wife was okay with that. “All you’re going to pass over the table is grief and regret and some crap about work.” She shrieked with the anxiety of an old and worn out woman, as she bent down into the vanity of the kitchen sink to check for where the leak was coming from. Rain was dripping from the ceiling. Wet marks were developing around the edges of the house. From outside, the house still looked like the Victorian style villa Marcia wanted to raise her daughter in thirty years ago. The mortgage was paid off and if anyone asked Him if He still liked the house, He would tell them, “Absolutely, even though my wife is losing memory, she still puts her whole heart into this house. I will admit I never loved the house, but I sure as hell love my wife.” People would answer with a “How sweet, that’s what true love is all about.” He had no choice but to keep the smile on, a veil He put on for the neighbors, His clients, His family, even His little angel, Lara, back then a junior at Georgetown. They met for lunch at The Diner. She readjusted Her bra just a little bit too much. Was She selling herself to Him? She thought of it as if She was just highly desirable and told herself She needed to have a little bit of fun at the gym. She knew she was hot. She told herself she knew all the guys wanted her, why not go for the guy nobody thought would get any satisfaction. Why not start a ruckus? The dropped piece of paper near the water fountain with the time, place, and a lipsticked kiss mark was enough for her and more than enough for him.
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Of course he picked it up and looked back at her legs as she turned around the corner towards the sauna. There was nothing that could be done about their distance. He was running toward Her. Everyone flipped their heads around to see where Irwin was going. The other guys joked. The girls shook their heads. Those droopy, tired eyes could fool anyone. Except Her, who saw the blue orchidaceous sparkle behind His wrinkles. He kissed the paper’s red smooth indentation and dreamed of Her soft voice He hadn’t even heard yet. Around a month after their date, it felt like a new chapter was opening in His life. He wanted to always be with Her. She was bringing him to meet Her family. He hadn’t told His family yet, but there wouldn’t be time for that. The pains were starting and Her appetite had never been weirder. He couldn’t leave her now. At 62 He had planted life inside a beautiful woman more than thirty years His junior. Gross is what everyone thought, but congratulations is what everyone said. Her daddy hugged Her and told her it would all be okay, like She was having one of Her childhood nightmares. But She didn’t make it to Passover that night and He didn’t make it home to His stale wife, or to Passover. They spent the night totaling the car and cleaning up bruises in an ambulance. They didn’t call anyone besides 911. She had Him wrapped around Her body and that was more than enough. They were bound by Her expanding stomach. It forced Him to start smoking and accidentally, but subconsciously and purposefully burn down His house at four in the morning in the middle of Her second trimester. His wife was gone, like that. The year was 1992. His now burned wife was 62, as was He, high school sweethearts back in the forties. But investigators never found His wife’s body or any trace of His existence in the house. They couldn’t distinguish the ashes of the burned toast from the crumbs of fallen doors and stairways.
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Tomorrow I will start smoking. My mother, Her, has Her eyes set on another Him.

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