Note – This was the first story I wrote as part of my rediscovery of writing. I originally wrote it in November of 2009, almost exactly 9 years ago. I wasn’t very happy with the end, but I had thought about expanding it to novel, or perhaps just novella, length. I never did and haven’t touched it since February of 2010. I hope you enjoy!
Mitch Longing was up early, well before 6, and witnessed the golden rays of sunlight as a new day unfolded across the crisp, stark November landscape. A whiff of Indian Summer was in the air. It will be a beautiful day.
The little nook on the second floor of Mitch’s house was a perfect spot for breakfast, a perch that overlooked the whole village, letting him see the people, following the sun’s invitation, start to stir and buzz around town.
Mitch’s across the street neighbor, Jim Hawton, who looked as if he had been lost trying to navigate through his mid 30s and had only recently been found wondering about in the territory between his late 50s and early 60s, was standing looking at the remnants of his garden. You would be excused if at first you mistook him for an old scarecrow waiting patiently for its owner to take it down for the winter, his back arched up as if on a pole, dark eyes staring across the garden. He stood unmoving, hoping somebody would come by to ask him what he was doing. He so much wanted to say, “Watching the frost sublimate”, but nobody asked, so Jim continued to stand and stare, his 20 foot shadow slowly shrinking down to 12 feet.
It’s not that Mitch could read Jim’s actual thoughts; it’s just that Jim’s thoughts were very predictable. If he wasn’t watching the frost sublimate, he’d be watching the pumpkins oxidize or be thinking of aerating his garden’s soil, though on a day like this Mitch bet on the sublimation of frost.
Jim seemed to enjoy the little odd jobs that constituted his work day, but wanted to let people know he could have been something more, something grander. If he had really wanted to. If he wasn’t busy doing other things. Not that he’d ever use those words – he considered himself far too clever. So this clever man with his deep thoughts about technical terms found in an eighth grade science book stood over his garden, staring and waiting.
With a slight chuckle Mitch turned from the window to finish his breakfast. 15 minutes later he was heading out the door. He yelled his hello to his scarecrow neighbor on his way by and received a grunted reply.
It’s going to be a gorgeous day! Stephanie Mooring tapped her breaks as she came around the corner toward the village. The car in front of her, turn signal beating the tempo of the opening of Mahler’s Sixth, came almost to a stop before inching into Jim Hawton’s drive.
Old Lady Fields, thought Steph as she came up behind, obviously picking Jim up to do work around her house. Poor Jim: not how I’d care to spend the day.
She could see Jim standing like a tattered conductor in his little bit of garden, seeming not to notice Mrs. Fields’ ancient Buick creaking into his drive.
Steph came to a stop, waving to Mitch Longing to go ahead and cross the road. He smiled, waving as he did a quick jog in front of her car. Once he reached the other side of the road he gave a final thank-you wave. Trying not to look obvious, Steph eased past Mitch, watching while pretending not to stare. Now past she could see him in her mirror watching her watching him. A little embarrassed Steph picked up her speed.
Steph had learned that Mitch was just under 30 when he moved into town about a dozen years ago. He barely looked 30 now! He had slightly long chestnut hair, say Beatles in early ’64, neatly combed yet with a few youthful shocks going their own way. His strong yet gentle jaw wasn’t enough to make him the Hollywood leading man ideal, but he was somehow much more real, much more sensual. The passion in his eyes when she’d seen him play the Kreutzer sonata! Definitely not a professional violinist, but he had that something that demanded attention.
Why does he refuse to play, being forced out of his shell only that once to play at the school’s charity program all those years ago?
She stopped again and let the Smith kids pop in front of her car, making an early start towards the school. The town was busy this morning, Steph thought as she waved at Mrs. Perkins and Mr. Jensen. She had to swerve a little as Scott Lawson jogged by. Reaching the highway she was a little proud that of the almost a dozen people she had seen this morning, she only had to fumble on 2 names. Not bad for only four years.
Only 3 cars were waiting to turn onto the highway ahead of her. A very good day. Some mornings she’d be stuck behind a dozen or more. When her turn came, she floored it into the small opening, the big Lexus not complaining as it eased into the hole. Quiet. Efficient. That’s what she liked.
Steph popped in the Carmen CD and turned it up. For the next 20 minutes she wouldn’t think about boardrooms or meetings, customers or suppliers, employees or budgets. For the next 20 minutes it would be just her and Bizet and a man-eating little tramp. And then she would arrive at work and become the man-eater herself. But for now she let the music wash over her.
The young lady didn’t flinch, nor did her eyes move at all when Mitch entered the store. She was someplace in her early twenties, too old to be thought of as a “kid” and yet too young for most of the villagers to really take too seriously as a woman.
Mitch smiled and said hi, not expecting an answer. He wasn’t disappointed when she totally failed to acknowledge his existence, a perfect mannequin seated on a stool behind the counter. He took a quick look as he walked past. Her porcelain fair skin was made to look even paler due to her lack of makeup and unnaturally dark hair. Well, she did wear some makeup – her heavy mascara reminded Mitch of some forgotten late ‘60s supermodel. There was nothing else, though: no blush or lipstick, nothing but pale skin to offer any counterbalance to the heavy eyes. And her hair wasn’t totally coal black – she had a purple patch that seemed to be in exactly the wrong place. As Mitch made a cup of coffee he mentally moved the triangular purple patch around, trying to figure out what the ‘right place” would be for such a tuft. After a minute he was startled to realize that it wasn’t the position that was wrong but the color, a color he thought of as “pretty preteen princess purple”.
He grabbed a copy of the Times and another of the Globe as he came up to the counter. “Hey Morgan, I got the usual,” he said as he pulled out his money and laid it on the counter. “Is Mrs. B. in?” He gestured towards a door in the back.
“No.” Morgan’s eyes didn’t leave the book or notice the handful of bills and quarters on the counter.
“Well, hey, enjoy the day; it looks like it will be beautiful.”
He was almost out the door when he heard Morgan’s voice, barely above a whisper, “she left a note for you, though.” Was Morgan playing a game with him? Did it matter if she was?
“Thanks.” He let the door close again as he turned back to the counter.
Morgan had bright, cornflower blue eyes that seemed to sparkle with electricity. The spark entered his own eyes and continued as a shiver down his spine. Had he even seen her eyes before? She always seemed to be looking down, never at him. He had never really noticed how pretty she could be if she wasn’t trying her hardest to be shockingly ugly. And those eyes – magnetic.
He took the proffered sticky tab with a thank-you-smile. She smiled warmly back and then, as if embarrassed to show any feeling, quickly sat back and focused again on her book. His hand tingled for a moment where her finger had brushed against him.
“Mitch, in my office @ 10:30. El”
“Thanks for remembering. Seeya around.”
Why did Mrs. Barrows want to see him? He was thinking of asking for a week’s extension in his rent, but she couldn’t have known. What was wrong? His lease was coming to an end – was she going to kick him out after all these years? Not that it mattered too much…
A realization hit him like a bolt out of the blue and he stopped dead just outside the door. Morgan’s “pretty” purple patch was the perfect complement for her cornflower eyes.
“You have an 8 o’clock meeting with the sales group, the usual 8:30 then a 9 with Mr. Barton from Norbert and Fitch. At 10, Mr. Willis is stopping by to discuss the Firlate contract. You meet your sister for lunch at 11:30. The afternoon is open until 4, though there will most likely be another sales meeting and engineering wants some time with you. Mark left a stack of papers on your desk and Mr. Lehey called.”
“Tell Scott to call him when he gets here.”
“Scott’s out sick today.”
“Today? It’s going to be sunny and 70. Oh well, get Mark on it then. All of the info should be on Scott’s desk.”
Steph stepped behind her desk and slumped down in her chair for a second before sitting up bolt-straight while grabbing the new stack of papers off her desk, her hand unconsciously starting her computer. Looks slow now, but it might be a busy day. Gotta be ready for anything. She started humming Mozart. Deeply engrossed in the papers, she almost didn’t notice Tam coming back into her office, though when she reached her hand out the new cup of coffee was exactly where she expected it to be. Her computer up and e-mail started she put the papers to the side, Susanna’s aria coming to an end.
“Dockers.” She was almost unaware that she had said anything.
Half way through the minutes of yesterday’s 8:30 she said “Dockers” again. She stopped herself. What in the world are Dockers? A vision of Mitch’s backside as he walked across the road in his khakis and lightweight fall jacket ran through her mind. Dockers are a brand of casual pants. “Dockers” she repeated as the various suites she would see today paraded through her mind. The memory of Mitch’s smile made her feel warm all the way through.
“It’s 7:52. You should have started reading the sales briefing 2 minutes ago… Oh, sorry, I didn’t mean to disturb you.”
Steph looked up, startled. Tam was starting to back out of the room, slightly red in the face. A little confused Steph suddenly realized that, though her right hand was on her mouse, her left was pressed against her crotch.
Getting up, brushing herself off, Steph said, casually in passing, “Sorry Tam, I was so busy planning the Norbert and Fitch meeting that I missed hitting the ladies room this morning. Please have the sales brief in my place by 7:55. I will be in right behind you.”
Damn. Never let your mind wander even for a second, not for a second, she thought. Keep the killer instinct at all times. They can’t see me weak. She walked boldly into the ladies room.
“Innovative Designs” the sign boldly proclaimed in its geometric pattern.
Not a very innovative name, though, thought Mitch. And that graphic looks like some type of Frank Lloyd Wrong Reject. This had become a daily routine with only slight variation. Mitch opened the door, made his way around the desk and flopped down into the chair, his hand hitting his computer’s power on the way down. He aimlessly looked around as he waited.
To his right was a battered old drafting table, covered in ink stains made years before he was born, some flowing down in grand Rorschach patterns. Various pencils and tools were scattered about, seemingly defying gravity of the slight tilt. An old bookshelf, impossibly full, was almost leaning against the drafting table. Not that the shelf helped as there were piles of books and magazines all around the room, some to dizzying heights, creating strange angular shadows. A rusty old filing cabinet blocked one of the doors into the closet at the far end of the room. A drawer was half open, some papers sticking randomly out. A plotter monopolized most of his space to the left, a plotter and a large color printer, but a couple of chairs were somehow jammed in. A door to the small bathroom broke the monotony of the left wall.
The computer was still booting.
This room was once the master bedroom of a 3 bedroom apartment that occupied the floor above the general store. Shortly before he moved in it had been divided into 4 offices. He had seen all sorts of businesses come through over the years, from artists to attorneys. Now all of the other offices were empty.
That’s it! She wants to make this back into an apartment. She could get at least a grand a month out of it, maybe fifteen hundred. Anything would be better than the measly 300 she was getting out of me.
Why did he pay it? He had plenty of room in the house now. He could hide 3 offices like this the house and be much more comfortable. But then I wouldn’t be going to work when I went to the office.
A login box finally came up. He quickly pounded in his password and hit enter. Now for another wait.
He thought of blue and purple, a pretty purple next to an electric, cornflower blue. The colors resolved into Morgan with her amazing eyes. She was friendly this morning. More than friendly…
Stop that! She’s half your age and you’re a happily mar…
The word froze in his mind as a numbness stole over his body. He had forgotten for a minute. He hadn’t forgotten her, but he’d forgotten that Shelley was no longer there.
The pain and emptiness started to come back, so he quickly picked up the stack of mail he had tossed onto the desk unopened yesterday afternoon. A catalog. A bill. Two more catalogs. Some junk mail. More junk mail. Another catalog. Still no checks. He hadn’t seen any yesterday, but you never know, one may have materialized over night. He had 3 checks outstanding and was pretty much frozen until they came in. Note to self – start working on some letters demanding payment. He wasn’t very good at demanding anything. Never was.
One problem was that most of his clients didn’t think he needed any money. That big house at the edge of town with its second floor breakfast nook overlooking the village – he had to be independently wealthy to live there. Oh, I wish!
Desktop up and no more hour glass: time to start e-mail.
Suddenly Stephanie Mooring came to mind. She was checking me out! Stephanie Mooring! Checking me out! Steph had been very active in town from the day she moved in almost 4 years ago. She wanted to prove that she was a good neighbor and wasn’t just some rich bitch that wanted to take advantage of the town’s peace and quiet. To most it seemed a little false, but at least she made the effort.
Mitch had talked to her a few times and had found that, under her harsh exterior, she could be a warm, caring person when it suited her. She wasn’t bad looking, either. In fact, she could be downright hot.
Mitch smiled, sipping his coffee and savoring the image in his mind. Let’s not go shooting for the stars, now. This one is a little out of your league.
So which should it be, the little goth girl or the high powered executive?
He shook his head. Shelley came to mind for a second as he started into his work.
2 minutes before the scheduled time to leave for the next meeting. 2 minutes with nothing on the itinerary. 2 dead minutes.
When was the last time that had happened, 2 whole unscripted minutes?
Steph stopped pretending to read her e-mail. Finger on the call button she remembered that she had sent Tam on an errand.
The beginning of Beethoven’s Fourth Symphony kept running through her mind. Not the very beginning, the slow introduction, but the upward bursts followed by the energy draining downward phrase that make up the start of the first main theme. Rocketing up and then settling down, over and over in her mind.
Unbidden Mitch entered her mind, his presence fitting the optimistic music. She shook her head, as if to shake him out of her thoughts and then reached with her right hand for the notes to the next meeting, her left grabbing her glass of water. The water was empty, as was the pitcher. Where was Tam? Had she ever let the pitcher go empty before?
Oh yes. Steph had sent her into Boston this morning. Somebody had to go. With Scott out sick and Mike working with Mr. Lahey Tam was the only one she could trust.
Note to self – give Tam a bonus.
30 seconds before the schedule calls for leaving the room. Not enough time to fill the pitcher. Steph suppressed the urge to get up. Timing is everything: too early and they’ll think I’m eager while too late and I’ll be rude. I must be punctual to the second.
In her mind Mitch was laughing at her. 10 seconds.
“You’re 3 minutes early.” Her sharp words matched her hatchet face.
“I’m sorry Mrs. Barrows. I left myself 5 minutes when I got up from my desk…”
“How long does it take you to walk down a flight of steps?”
Elisabeth Barrows inspected Mitch as if he were some new and exotic insect that had crawled into her office. She was a sharp and focused 70. She had seemed to be a sharp and focused 70 back a decade ago when Mitch had first rented the office. In fact, talking to his neighbor, Fran, Mrs. Barrows had looked a sharp and focused 70 for at least 25 years when Fran used to work with her. Nobody in town remembers if there really ever was a Mr. Barrows.
Mrs. Barrows relaxed very slightly. “No matter, you are here, ungodly early as you may be, and so we shall start. What exactly is it that you do, Mr. Longing?”
“I’m a graphic designer.”
“Of course you are, but what do you do?”
“Well, I do some desktop publishing. I make designs and graphics for ads as well as general ad layouts. I…”
“So you’re in advertising?”
“No, I work with people who are. I do layout and graphics. Photos, pictures, illustrations. I also do the same with web sites and general web site layout.”
“A website designer then, maybe a content provider?”
“Well no. As I said, I do photos, pictures, graphics, layouts and other such things. I rarely have my own project; I usually contract with others on their projects.”
“Can’t see that you’d be paid very much.”
“I pay you every month, don’t I?”
“Yes, but I can’t see how you can afford that house of yours. Why’d you choose to live there anyway?”
“Um, well, when Shelley and I moved in it seemed a very good idea. Um, it seemed perfect. It, um…”
“What’s it been, four years?” she almost barked.
“3 years, 7 months and 21 days, but who’s counting?”
Her eyes narrowed as if trying to decide if he were being fresh, not a hint of pity on her face. “So, a huge insurance windfall paid for your house?”
He looked back at her cold eyes. “No, the “huge insurance windfall” almost covered the medical bills. I had a little left over to refinance, which helped. It’s still difficult.”
She continued to stare him down. “So why do you waste money renting here instead of opening an office in your house? It’s zoned for a business like yours.”
“I need to go to work every day. If I worked from home, I’d be home, if you get my meaning, and might end up wasting too much time. I need my routine.”
“What do you know about me, Mr. Longing, what I run and what I own?”
The question took Mitch totally by surprise. “Well, you own this building and one other on Main Street. You also own two mill buildings in town. I think there are studios and shops in them. I don’t know, maybe something else?”
“I own 8 buildings in town. It’s not a secret. Materdel is also mine.”
“You’re a partner or something?”
“No, I own it.” She smiled in a way that made him think of a cat smiling to a mouse. “Why does this surprise everyone? It’s public record. I run it from this office – I don’t want my very competent CEO to look like a straw man, he needs power. However, he knows enough to be very frightened if my shadow happens to cross his threshold.”
A shiver went down Mitch’s spine. Frightened indeed. “I’m sure he runs a very efficient business, Mrs. Barrows.” He left unasked “why am I here?”
Almost as if catching the unasked question, Mrs. Barrows changed the direction of the conversation. “What did you do down at Foresters?”
“Oh that. I changed the layout to make their workflow more efficient. Mr. Forester says it saves them almost 10% on every unit.”
“So you are in industrial design.”
“Not really. I work in colors, lines and shapes. I made each process a different color and changed the shapes to make the lines on the floor plan come out with the most efficient pattern.”
“You did the same with Andersons?”
“Their shop was so cluttered you couldn’t see their product. I just reduced it a bit, made it feel friendly and inviting, gave a sense of purpose to the layout. You know, I made it breath….”
“So you should be running some sort of engineering firm or architectural firm”.
“Well, I’m not an engineer or an architect. I’m an artist and a graphic designer.”
Mrs. Barrows got a little hot. “Do want to see an artist and an architect? Look no farther than my idiot niece out there. She wanted me to waste my money sending her to some fancy art school in New York. For my money she had to do something practical. Yes, she has a degree in architecture and has been rotting in my shop for 2 years because she refuses to get a good job in her chosen field.”
“I’m sorry.” Actually, Mitch felt more sorrow for Morgan, but this was the most emotion he had seen from Mrs. Barrows. Ever.
“Mr. Longing, I have a proposal for you.” She had obviously turned the page, maybe a little embarrassed with her little outbreak. “I am starting up a new business. Actually, this is going to be a subsidiary of Materdel. We are going to produce solar cells. Actually, we are going to design and make them. One of the engineers at Materdel is a genius and has some great ideas.”
“Congratulations on your new, timely venture. Good luck with it.”
She smiled and nodded. “My proposal is that I want you to design the layout of the factory floor. The factory and the lab, that is. I have the basic set up, but the architects I’ve been working with are bigger idiots than my niece. Don’t say anything now. I’ll send up material tomorrow morning. You can use the office next to yours rent free for this project. Give me a few ideas on the 21st and we’ll discuss money. Be sure it will be lucrative, very lucrative indeed.
“Good day Mr. Longing.”
Mitch was being ushered out before he even had time to absorb half of her proposal and was left breathless outside the office door.
As he walked over to the store counter Morgan looked up at him.
“I have a silly question for you – Why that particular shade of purple?”
She smiled. “The pretty purple?”
A voice came from the back of the store, “If you’re flirting with my idiot niece, I over estimated your abilities. Maybe you’re not right for the job.”
“I wasn’t flirting; I was conducting a job interview.”
“How’s that?” Mrs. Barrows came a little closer.
“You might think your niece looks the way she does just to spite you, but there is a method to her madness.
“Morgan, look at your aunt and then explain the color purple.”
Morgan stood up straight, turned and looked Elisabeth directly in the eyes. “This color is a perfect match for my eyes.”
“And why that shape, the triangle?”
“It is similar in the geometric sense to the triangle made by my nose pins.”
“Which is similar to…?”
“Which follow the angles formed by my eyes and the center of my lips.”
Turning towards Mrs. Barrows, “I understand the world in line, shape and color. If I’m going to work with an architect on your project, he or she must be able to relate to the world in much the same way.”
Mitch turned back toward Morgan. “The job’s yours, if you want it.”
“Ha.” Mitch, jumping at the sound, turned to face Mrs. Barrows. She gave him an icy stare for a second before the sudden thaw. Shaking with laughter, Mrs. Barrows went back into the office, closing the door silently behind herself.
“When is the last time you just let yourself go and had some fun, laughed out loud?”
“Oh come on Lid, I’m not that boring, am I?” Steph looked over at Lidia Stevens, head slightly cocked and a questioning smile.
“OK, so when was your last vacation?”
They were sitting at the only table on the sidewalk in front of Francesco’s Italian Restaurant, the rest having been taken in for the winter months ago.
“You know that – I went with you guys to the Cape last year!”
“Two years ago and you never dug your nose out of your laptop for a second.”
Steph looked at her sister with a sheepish grin on her face. Lidia was 2 years older, but a bystander wouldn’t be able to tell if she were 5 years older or 10 years younger. Lidia was a good three inches taller and perhaps 50 pounds heavier. Not fat, by any stretch, but full.
Full of life.
She was slightly disheveled, particularly compared to Steph, who never had a hair out of place. Her face had more lines of care and she had more grey in her hair, but she also looked more lively, more approachable, friendlier. Younger. Younger not so much in age but in disposition. She was as fresh as the pop tune you heard in the car on the way to the restaurant while Steph was an ageless classic.
“OK, you got me. But what of it? I wouldn’t give up my life for anything!”
Lidia gave her a big-sister-knows-best look. “Stephanie – you are not getting younger. Someday you will turn around and discover life has passed you by and that you haven’t taken the time to live. Where are your memories? Are the only good memories you have really mine? Think about it.”
Steph looked down at her empty plate, chewing on her lip. She can’t understand my life. She dances to one melody while I march to a different drummer.
Lidia looked on with some sympathy. “But I do understand,” she said quietly.
Steph jumped, hearing her thought echoed.
“I could have had a high powered life. I was drawn to it, same as you. And even now… I could easily spend 60 hours, 80 hours a week and still feel I will never catch up, but I don’t. Jason’s old enough to take care of himself and with Mellissa out of the house, it should be easy to stay at work, but it isn’t. Home is where love is.”
“I hope Mellissa’s classes are going well…”
Lidia refused to take the bait. “Do you ever go out with friends? I don’t mean business dinners or the town events you seem to like. Is there some guy in your life?”
Steph blushed and turned away. “I’m sure Mellissa will pull in straight A’s. She gets her smarts from her Aunt Stephanie.”
“Aha! So who is he? Have I met him? Not one of those slaves you have in your office, is it?”
Steph looked into the air, talking to the warm breeze in a sing-song voice, “Nobody. A passing fancy. I didn’t know he existed yesterday, he’ll be forgotten tomorrow.”
She looked directly at Lidia. “What would people say if the state’s most successful business women went out with the state’s least successful business man?”
“They would say ‘Thank God, she’s human after all!’. I’m intrigued. Who is this, um, ‘loser’?”
Steph smiled. “I was serious. I saw a neighbor on the way into work this morning and have been obsessed ever since. Maybe you’re right, it must be too much stress.”
Lidia looked at her with some concern – Steph had never used the word “stress” when talking about herself. “Honey, take a day off. Don’t shake your head. OK, a half a day.”
Steph laughed. “One of my ‘slaves’ called in sick today. He’s a big hiker and today is…” She held her hands up and looked around. She didn’t need to say any more – it was as if an early September day had gotten lost and landed in mid November.
“If I call him on it I’m sure he will get his doctor boyfriend to write a note.”
“Well, he’s smarter than you, and not just because he has a doctor for a boyfriend. He’s absolutely right – today is a day to enjoy. Take the afternoon off. At least leave early.”
Lidia suddenly looked down at her watch and gasped. “I know I’m being a hypocrite, but I’m late – back to the ol’ grind. Hey, thanks for lunch.” She came around the table, gave Steph a peck on the cheek, whispered a quick “love ya” and was gone.
Steph leaned back a little, finishing her wine, watching the waves of traffic –a burst then stop, a burst, stop. She began to notice the pedestrians going by, politely not staring, the thought It’s not that warm plain to see in their eyes.
She’s right. I’ll leave a couple hours early today. The world won’t come to an end.
Mitch’s world had been seriously shaken. The planets didn’t seem to line up quite right any more.
What am I doing? Have I been asleep the last 4 years?
This was the first time he really questioned his business model in years. The first time he’d questioned his life.
On the other hand, as far as life goes, well, he felt attractive for the first time in years. Morgan made it pretty obvious that he only had to ask. But, no matter how young and pretty he found her, and now that he looked closer he decided she really is pretty, he was no longer tempted.
For some reason Stephanie Mooring kept coming to mind, her long, steamy stare this morning.
In desperate need of a break, he walked down to the post office. There were 3 plain envelopes in the business box. He pulled them out. His three checks. His lifelines. If he said “no” to Mrs. Barrows, he could survive for at least a few months.
He started back towards the office, deep in thought.
“Hey Mitch, I was just thinking about you.”
He spun around as Stephanie ran up to him. “Oh, hi! I didn’t see you there. Hope they were good thoughts.”
“Actually, I was thinking of when you played, what was it? Opus 47? at the school. Anyway, I was struck to the core and often… What’s wrong?”
Mitch became very pale and turned away, hunched over on himself. He flinched slightly when her hand gently came to rest on his shoulder. “Sorry. That performance… Well, we had promised to do it, see? She was very sick but insisted. Her performance was flawless, which lead me to believe she might have been improving. I tried to soar along with her… But it must have been too much… She must have used too much energy. She went to the hospital the next day. She never left again. I haven’t touched the violin since.”
“Oh my God, I am so sorry! But I am not sorry for what I am about to say!”
Mitch felt himself turned towards her, and looked up into her eyes. Her usually hard eyes were now a warm brown, swimming in a pool of tears.
“I’m not nearly the musician you are, but I know enough to know how it must have felt – you felt more a part of her than when you were intimate. I know because I could feel it in the audience. How you could touch a person like that and want to throw it away? If I was your wife and I knew I was leaving this earth, I’d insist you continued to play! If it made you think about me? So much the better! She didn’t become sicker because she played so well, she played so well because she knew she was sick. She knew it might be the last time. That she wanted to spend one last special night with you. Yes, you need to heal, but you can’t chop a part of yourself off and let it rot! Think of her and play! Think of the world and play! You have a gift and an obligation to society to share this gift! She would have wanted it.”
She dropped her hand and looked at the pavement. “I’m sorry. I guess I got a little carried away.” She started to walk back to the post office.
She stopped, slowly turned around and looked back.
Drying the last of his tears he smiled. “Have you been to that new restaurant in Milsbourough? What is it, Standish Inn or something? It’s supposed to be pretty good.”
She mirrored his smile. “Actually, no. I have heard good things about it, though.”
“If you’re not busy tonight, would you care to join me there? Just to check it out, just to see, of course…”
“I’d love to. Pick me up at 6?”
“Sure. I’ll call for 6:30 reservations.”
“Great! I’ll see you in a little bit, then.”
“…in a bit…”
She turned and went back to the post office. He watched her go in and then turned towards home. He definitely won’t get any more work done today!
Did I just ask her out on a date? Stephanie Mooring?!? Did she really say yes?
A thrill went through him that he hadn’t felt since…
He stopped for a second.
…that he hadn’t felt in a really long time. Too long.
She fumbled with her key in the box, having trouble keeping her hand steady.
Did he just ask me out on a date? Did I really say yes?
A fire raced through her body. I don’t remember the last time I had a date. The fire settled in her womb.
Or the last time I was intimate.
Jim was back standing in his garden, pretty much in the same place Mitch left him as he headed off to work, looking pretty much as before but in his short sleeves.
Mitch, feeling like a million dollars, couldn’t help calling out, “It was such a sublime morning! Must have been great watching the pumpkins oxidate. Oxidize.”
Jim looked up at the smiling and waving Mitch.
“Hey Jim, it’s been a beautiful day!”
Jim looked back down wordlessly, so Mitch continued on. Just as he was starting to head up the steps towards the front door he heard Jim call out.
“Hey Mitch, what do deep thinkers think about?”
Mitch stopped, stunned. “What?”
“What do deep thinkers think about?”
Mitch re-crossed the street to join Jim. “I don’t know, I guess the ultimate questions of life and death. What does it all mean? Why are we here? What, ultimately, is in store for us? Fun things like that.”
“Can you give me an example?”
Mitch thought a minute.
“Remember the guy down south who killed 5 of his coworkers last week? Well, most people would ask what could motivate him to do such a horrible crime. What caused it? Was he teased and snapped? Others may ask why it had to happen. Why did God let such things happen? Why, oh why? A deep thinker might ask these same questions yet go further. Is there something inside all people that would allow them to kill their coworkers? Is there a breaking point for everyone? Is humanity and civilization just a veneer on our true, bestial selves?”
“Wow, Mitch, that’s pretty scary. Are deep thinker scary people then?”
“I wouldn’t know Jim – nobody’s ever accused me of being one. And they don’t call them the hard questions for nothing. I don’t know. Why’d you ask?”
“Mrs. Fields called me a scattered brain idiot. When I told her I was a deep thinker, she asked me what I think about. I told her that just this morning I was watching the frost sublimate. She laughed at me.”
Mitch felt slightly uncomfortable at how close his guess had been. “Well, you just forget it. Mrs. Fields is just a mean old lady. She must have been feeling awfully rotten today and wanted to make sure you did too.”
“How come you laughed at me too, then?”
“What do you mean?”
“Come on Mitch, I know why you said it was a sublime day. You knew what I was doing this morning.”
“No, I didn’t. You never told me,” Mitch feebly protested.
Mitch looked Jim straight in the eye. “You know, I guess I was teasing you a little bit with that line. I am very sorry. I didn’t mean any harm; I was just trying to be friendly. Just think Jim, I have been talking to you, answering your questions, for almost 10 minutes now and have been very serious the whole time, not laughing at you one bit, but respecting you. Respecting your thirst for knowledge.”
“Why is it funny that I watch the frost sublimate?”
Mitch heaved a heavy sigh. It wasn’t going to be easy. “You see, Jim, if somebody asked me what I was doing this morning, I might have answered ‘enjoying the sun’. I might have tried to spout off poetically and said, ‘basking in the cool morning light, breathing in the Indian Summer vapors.’ If I had said the first, people might have smiled and wished me a good day. If the later they might have chuckled at my feeble attempts at the poetic and then wished me a good day. Both of the phrases are meaningless, but they are what’s expected – niceties about the day.
“You sometimes want to say something clever. Usually it ends up being just as meaningless, but it’s not expected. Or it shouldn’t be expected. But it is.
“At least from you.
“It never comes off just right and the impact is greatly reduced for being so expected, for all of us having heard it before. I’m not sure what else to say… Actually I do – Throw everyone for a loop tomorrow and just tell them that it’s a jolly good morning and you are enjoying the weather.”
Jim mulled this over for a minute. He finally looked up at Mitch. With a “Thanks. Good day,” he turned around and went into his house.
Mitch climbed up into his house. He wanted to sit down for a bit then shave and shower. He didn’t want to be late.
The doorbell rang. Steph looked at the clock – 5:57. He’s early! She swore under her breath and went to the door.
Mitch was standing there, dressed pretty much as he had been earlier in the day but with a tweed jacket in place of the light fall breezer. He had a single rose in his hand. “Mitch! Come on in. You’re a minute or two early. Let me get a bud vase for that.”
Steph looked so different that Mitch couldn’t help but follow her with his eyes as she finished getting ready. She was medium short, about 5’ 5”. Short, thin yet curvy. Surprisingly curvy. Her business suits were cut to give her a masculine appearance while she usually wore sweats to town functions. He had never seen her form. Her shape. Her lines. She had let her dark hair out of its tight prison, letting it relax down by her shoulders. It bounced a little as she busied herself instead of staying frozen in place as usual.
Jacket on, she slipped on some shoes, grabbed her handbag and gave him a warm smile as she lead him from the house.
He opened the passenger door to his Civic and handed her into the seat, “careful, it’s pretty low.”
Once in the car he eased out onto the street.
“You know, I tuned my violin this afternoon. You’re right; I need to start playing again. Shelley would be pleased.”
Steph smiled, “I’m glad.” Please let this be the last time tonight I hear that name.
They continued in silence for a minute.
He couldn’t help but to compare her to Shelley. Not because they were so similar, but because they were so different. Shelley, at just under 5’ 10”, was tall, thin and hardly had any curves. She was very Nordic; very blond. Yet she was all fun. She liked to use her girlhood nickname “Shelley” as a shortened form of Michelle because it fit her bubbly personality so well. Of course there was nothing wrong with Stephanie, she was just different. He was very conscious of her curvy form just inches away, as conscious of her sitting there as if she were on fire. And she is. Or at least I am…
He looked over, “It was a beautiful day.”
“Gorgeous!” she agreed. She had been watching him, trying to read his thoughts, trying to understand her feelings.
The car slowly made its way to the highway.
Mitch gave Steph a hand out of the car. They walked slowly, silently, arm-in-arm over to her front door. They stopped, facing each other.
“Well…” He found himself kissing her.
She returned the kiss for a minute and then pulled gently away.
“Thank you Mitch! It was a wonderful evening. We’ll have to do this again. Soon!”
“Thank you! It’s been years since I’ve felt this good, this alive.”
She smiled, “Bye now. Have a safe drive back.”
She walked into the house and thought, Good old Mitch. Mitch. Mitch, pitch, Fitch. She started thinking about Norbert and Fitch.
She had a new idea.
Voice recorder out the words flowed like a stream. If this works her career will be moved to new level. She almost didn’t hear the phone ringing.
Mitch walked into his house. He had barely noticed all of the lights over at the Hawton place. He saw them without noticing them when he went by earlier as he headed up the hill to bring Steph home.
He grabbed his phone and dialed her number. Not answering – she must be in the bathroom or something. Then “Hello?”
“Hi Steph? This is Mitch. Just wanted to say again how good of a time I had. And to say thank you. So, thank you!”
A short pause.
“Mitch? Yeah, I had a great time too, but…
“It’s funny, I think I’m beginning to fall in love with you, which makes it more imperative that we don’t see each other again. As in dating – we can obviously…
“Mitch, you there?
“It’s just that I realized how different our worlds are. It wouldn’t be fair to you to become my boy toy… Mitch, I hope you understand. Let’s think it through at least. Give it a rest for a day or two? OK? Talk to you soon.”
She started crying, shaking uncontrollably. She hadn’t planned this, it had just come out. It was going to be a tough night.
Mitch slowly hung up the phone. He was numb.
He walked over to the front door and opened it, only then becoming aware that somebody had been knocking on it for a while. Officer Bartlow, the police chief was there.
“Mitch? You’ve been out all evening? Where’ve you been?”
“I had dinner with Stephanie Mooring at the new restaurant in Milsbourough.”
“Wow, lucky you, I hear it’s really good. Look, I don’t know how else to tell you, so I’ll spit it right out. Jim Hawton killed Rosemond Fields and then committed suicide.”
“He’d left his jacket up there today and she brought it down to him. When he opened his door, bam! he hit her with a big carving knife a few times. He drug her out to his compost pile, walked into the house, called 911 and said something strange, something like, ‘Mrs. Field’s oxidizing outside with the pumpkins.’ He then walked out and slit his own throat. He was gone by the time we got here, couldn’t help him. You didn’t see anything or know anything, did you?”
“Oh my God! I can’t believe it! Jim?!? No. No, I was out and didn’t see anything. I knew Jim was mad at her, but I didn’t know he was mad enough to…”
“Anyway, thought you might know something. A note on his table says, ‘Ask Mitch. He knows why.’ You were seen talking to him today. Did he say anything? Did you?”
Jim’s mind was racing. What did he say? Some philosophy? “Um, I think I asked him if civilization were nothing more than the veneer over otherwise barbaric people. If everyone had the capacity to commit hideous crimes. Something like that.”
“He asked me about philosophy and he kind of corralled my words into that. Something like that.”
“Wow. OK, I’ll have an officer come over in a few minutes and take a statement. Try to relax. It’s just one of those awful things. Jim was always a little off and Rosemond was…” He left it at that – everyone knew how Mrs. Fields was.
Civilization. As he closed the door Mitch thought about his perfectly civil evening. He thought about his and Steph’s conversations. Was it just veneer? He fumbled with the phone, thinking of calling someone, anyone, longing for some human touch. Steph’s number was half dialed when he threw the phone down and started to cry softly. Flipping the on TV just to fill the void with some noise, he just couldn’t pay attention to the weatherman.
After a warm night, seasonal temperatures will return in the morning. Cool the next few days. Possible flurries over the weekend.