Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Names Without Faces

Try as I might, I could not remember their faces. I could remember certain things about each one. The dimple in April’s cheek. Gina’s smile was like a ray of sunshine. I remembered the green of Sarah’s eyes and how Michele’s laugh sounded like tinkling bells.

The door creaked open and interrupted my mental reverie.

“Hey, Colin, we’re almost ready for you man.” His name was Mike. I had only known him for two days. He looked at me expectantly with hazel eyes, his curly mop of hair spilling over one eye. Haley had curly hair just like that.

“Colin?” he prompted me. I had forgotten to answer him.

“Oh, yeah. Yeah, I’m ready to go. Whenever.”

“Awesome, dude.” He closed the door and went off whistling to do whatever it is that he was supposed to be doing. He was a young guy, just turned nineteen. So carefree. So full of life and expectancy. I envied him slightly. Not that I was old, really. Only thirty-five. Probably seemed old to him.

I ran my fingers through my thick black hair and tried to smooth it. My first wife, Alaina, had always smoothed my hair back from my face when we were alone. It was her way of showing affection. She had been my high school sweetheart. I felt a pang of remorse, but quickly pushed it away. I couldn’t change the past.

I tried to think about Courtney, the woman I was about to marry. I tried to imagine her face, thinking maybe this time I could somehow etch her features into my mind and it would be different for me. Even now, minutes away from our ceremony, I couldn’t picture it. How odd. I only knew she had long, slender fingers and played the piano beautifully.

Julie, my third wife, had also been a musician. She played the cello. I could still remember the grace and elegance of her posture sitting in a chair to play, and the way her hand moved as she pulled the bow across the strings. Again, I felt a twinge of loss that I would never have that beauty as part of my life again.

With each one of them, I had become a different person. The person that they needed, the person they wanted me to be. I had changed my personality so many times, I barely even knew myself anymore. When I told Kat I loved The Beatles, was it true, or did I say it just to win her over? Did I really like my coffee black, or did I drink it to accommodate someone else’s preferences? Did I even like coffee to begin with? was another question that flitted through my mind from time to time. I found I would rather not dwell on it.

The door squeaked again. Courtney’s mom this time. She was probably the nicest woman I had ever met. Her fluffy blond hair poufed around her head and her figure was nicely rounded. She always looked put together and was fond of wearing little scarves around her neck. Today it was pink, Courtney’s color.

“Hey, Marina.”

“Oh, now, you know you can call me ‘Mom’,” she drawled in her southern accent.

I nodded with a shy grin and shrugged my shoulders.

“Now, sweetheart,” she began, “we’ve got about fifteen more minutes. Courtney’s had a tiny bit of a wardrobe issue, but we’ll just resolve it and be right back on track.” She gave me a huge smile. “Alright?”

“Sure. Hey, if Court is happy, that’s all that matters. It’s her day,” I said with sincerity.

She came over and hugged my neck. “Oh, aren’t you the sweetest thing!” she said, giving me a squeeze. “Court is so lucky to have a guy like you. You two are going to be just wonderful together.”

“I hope so,” I told her.

“Oh, don’t go gettin’ cold feet now. You’ll be fine.” She breezed back to the door.

“Thanks, Mom.” I said as she was going out. She turned and beamed at me before closing the door again.

In some ways, it was Marina even more than Courtney that caused me to hope this marriage wouldn’t end as the others had. I had never had such a kind and lovely mother-in-law. It made me wish I was a different person, that I wasn’t compelled to act as I had always acted in the past. I briefly dared to hope, but I knew, deep down, it could only end, and end messily.

I was always careful not to tell each woman about the other wives I’d had. I knew it would only hurt my cause, and I was sure that if they did find out, I could easily excuse myself. Only one time had it been a problem.

Michele was my fifth wife, and when she found out, she was not happy about it. She came home one day and threw all my stuff in the hallway outside of our apartment. She never even gave me a chance to explain. We had been married only three months. I was sorry for it to end, but I had no choice. It was too bad, she was really such a beautiful woman. I think.

That was the problem, really. It was always only a matter of time. I had been to see a shrink about this. My seventh wife insisted. Lane was a Psychology major. She all but forced me to talk to Dr. Bell, her own psychiatrist as soon as she realized that I had been married before. Multiple times. So, I went. I was not opposed to trying to save the marriage, I just knew that it was going to be a fruitless effort in the end. In retrospect, I have my doubts about Dr. Bell being very good at what she does, because she ended up being my eighth wife. It’s a shame really. Not only did she not help me save my marriage with Lane, she was then also unable to save my marriage with her. That was Tanya. I actually moved to the other side of the country after that one. She was…bitter.

A short knock, and then the door swung open once more. It was Sylvester, my best man. Courtney’s cousin. We had become somewhat close in the last few months. Closer maybe than any other person I had called friend. We shared a love of racquetball and literature, especially Edgar Allan Poe. Two loves I knew were really mine. I was pretty sure they were, anyway.

“Col, it’s time.” He was always very direct. I think that’s part of why I like him. In the midst of all my subterfuge, here was an honest man.

I stood. “I’m ready.” I wiped my sweaty palms on the front of my pants.

“Follow me,” he said, gesturing with his hand.

As we walked down the hall, I tried to make small talk. I was nervous. I told him so.

“You’ll be fine. It’s not like you haven’t done this before.”

I shot him a look. “Where did you hear that?”

I stopped in the hall, and so did he. He stared blankly past me as he quoted ‘The Tell-Tale Heart’. “’I heard all things in the heaven and in the earth. I heard many things in hell…”

I kicked him in the shin. “You stop that!” It was childish, but I was feeling overly anxious already without having to wonder if he knew something, and in that case, if Courtney knew something too.

“Ow!” He grabbed his shin. “Geez, man! I was only kidding around!”

“It wasn’t funny,” I told him. “What did you mean when you said, ‘It’s not like you haven’t done this before’?”

“I was being sarcastic. Obviously, you never have done this before, or you wouldn’t be so damn touchy. Lighten up,” he growled in exasperation.

“Sorry. Wedding jitters. I…sorry.” I offered my hand. “All’s forgiven?”

He took my hand reluctantly. “Yeah. Of course.”

We continued down the hall, and I began to review my past once again. I had never had any children with any of them. I felt oddly grateful for this. It wasn’t that I didn’t like children, or even that I didn’t want to have a son or daughter of my own. But how cruel to introduce a child to a world like this, a world like…mine. There had been two close calls. Out of all those marriages, only twice did I come close to being a father. But, as God, or Fate, or whatever, would have it, both were miscarriages. I admit, at the time, I was both relieved and disappointed. Who knew but that a child might have the power to bind me in a way that even my marriage vows hadn’t? Regret felt like a cloying glob, bittersweet and choking me. I cleared my throat as we entered the sanctuary.

The pastor shook my hand and looked me dead in the eye. For a moment I felt panic, I felt he could see right through me. I stood anxiously at the front of the room, waiting for my bride to enter. Even though I had done this many times before, I still felt nervous. I think it was the crowd. My heart was beating so loud, I thought the whole room could hear it. I ran my hand over my face and then clasped them in front of me. The doors opened. There was Courtney, on the arm of her father. She looked so beautiful, I felt tears come to my eyes. Guilt swarmed me, as it always did, knowing that even while I said the vows and meant them, I also planned to break them. I would leave. I always did. It was destiny for me. I could not stop myself from getting married, over and over. Neither could I stop myself from leaving every one of them.

As Courtney came to stand beside me, and we began the ceremony that would join us, I admired the long chestnut hair cascading down her back. It reminded me of my mother. She’d had long, shining hair like that, just a shade darker. I still missed her. She had left when I was three years old. I remembered little things about her. The sound of her voice. The song she sang to me when I was sick. The color of her eyes. I remembered that she played the violin. She loved the violin. I could remember the way she flipped pancakes, and the feel of her hand on my brow when she would tuck me in at night. I remembered many things….

But I couldn’t remember her face.


I sat at the antique oak dining table alone, sorting the mail of the last week. Most of the envelopes said, “Margaret Hargrave”. Bills. I put them in a pile to the right. A few were larger, more of a square shape. These read, “Maggie,” or “Mag,” or “Granna,” for the first name. Birthday cards. I had turned 64 this year. I put them on the left. After that, there were still a few that were addressed to “Percival Hargrave.” Civ. Those went in the trash. They were from people who didn’t know him, didn’t know that he couldn’t get the mail anymore. Didn’t know that he was dead. I sighed. I hated sorting the mail for that very reason. The heart attack that took him was so sudden. It had already been a year since he died, but I still felt like he was just on a business trip or something. At any moment he would come home. But that wasn’t the case.
I set my grim thought aside and set myself to the task of opening Birthday cards. One from an old friend who lived in another state. Several from my children. And one from my great-nephew, Shane. I chose that one to open. Shane was my favorite, and more like a son or grandson to me than my own sons and grandsons were. He was an ecologist, and had lately spent most of his time in the Peruvian jungles. He was coming soon for a visit, I expected that he would stay for a few weeks and then go back to Peru or some other exotic place. I perused his scratchy handwriting on the inside of the card.
“Happy Birthday, Granna Mag! Looking forward to seeing you in three weeks to give you your Birthday present. I’m a great nephew, aren’t I? Love, Shane.”
He ended all his cards and letters like that, “I’m a great nephew, aren’t I ?” He had ever since he was a little boy. His parents died in a car accident when he was ten, and he came to live with me. We both knew it was cheesy, but it was a running joke now and he knew it would make me smile, as I was now. I wondered what his present would be this time. He always got me something unusual. Last year he tried to take me deep sea fishing. That was before Civ died—oh, he got a kick out of that! He tagged along just to watch me trying to catch a shark, laughing the whole time. He had a great laugh. Thankfully, I caught nothing.
This time I had a surprise for him. He was 35 and still single, and I had plans for that to change. My new neighbor was a lovely young lady named Emily Norton. She was short and petite, with pretty auburn curls and freckles. I had noticed that she had quite a collection from traveling all over the world, and I thought she might be just right for him. Shane expressly prohibited it, so I had never done this before. “I’ll find her when I find her,” was his response to those who asked when he would get a wife. He wanted no interference. But Emily was special and I couldn’t leave it to chance. I would have to be subtle, but I was determined they should meet.

Several weeks later, there was an expected knock at my door. It was Shane. I gave the spaghetti sauce I was cooking one last stir with the wooden spoon before going to answer the door. My spaghetti sauce was Shane’s favorite--he asked for it every time he came to visit. I put down the spoon and hurriedly walked to the door. It had been a while since he last visited, and I hadn’t realized how lonely I was without Civ. I opened the door with a big smile on my face, which faded in amazement as I was confronted with a giant birdcage which contained a beautiful Blue and Gold Macaw. I had never seen anything like it this close.
Shane popped his head around the corner. “Happy Birthday, Granna!”
“Happy Birthday!” The bird echoed.
I was speechless.
“we’ve been working on that for weeks!” He looked at me anxiously, but still grinning. “Don’t you like it?”
I took a breath. “Why…yes…I….What…?”
“Oh, Granna!” he said as though I was being silly. “It’s a Macaw. His name’s Riccardo.”
“Is…is this my Birthday present?” I asked incredulously.
“Happy Birthday!” the bird shrieked again, while Shane said, “Of course!”
He had really topped himself with this one.

The next day I stood with Shane examining the bright bird whose cage now occupied my living room.
“Where am I going to put him?”
“You can put him right in here.”
“I’ve got a crush on you,” croaked Riccardo.
I looked at him doubtfully.
“No really, it’ll be great. We can put him right over here in the corner by the window. He’ll practically be like a piece of art. Great conversation starter.”
“Hello, Sweetie!” said the bird.
Shane was so enthusiastic, I began to think it was a good idea. But what was even better was that it gave me an idea.
“You know Shane, I don’t even know how to take care of a Macaw.”
“Oh, I’ll show you. You’ll be fine.”
“Yes, but Shane, I really worry that I won’t do it right.”
“Well, Granna, I can give you the guidebook I bought and you can learn all about him.”
“But surely he is so much more comfortable with you. Couldn’t you stay for a while and help him adjust to being here?”
He looked at me for moment, then slowly comprehension crept over his face.
“You’re lonely, aren’t you?” he asked quietly.
I hadn’t quite expected that. The kid was too smart for his own good. I decided that if playing the lonely card would get him to stay longer so he could meet Emily, I would do it. Not that I wouldn’t enjoy his company as well. I tried to put on a “I’m-a-poor-lonely-old-woman” face.
“Well, since Civ died, I just….” I let my sentence trail while looking down in a wistful manner.
“Oh, Granna! Of course I’ll stay with you! I don’t really need to work until the fall, so…how ‘bout if I stay the rest of the summer with you? Would that help?”
“Oh, yes, Shane, that would do my heart a world of good,” I said truthfully.
“Then it’s settled.” And it was.
Now to get him and Emily to meet.

I had a plan. Shane was a good-hearted person and he loved me, but I knew that after a while he would become restless staying at my house. It only took about two weeks, and I was honestly surprised he lasted that long. He had, by that time, fixed almost everything that could possibly need fixing around the house and I knew if I didn’t find something to distract him he would soon be talking me into some wild scheme. I had no desire to go ice fishing in Alaska or snorkeling in Florida. Again.
I found him moving things around in my garage.
“Shane? What are you doing?”
“I’m gonna paint your garage, Granna. This thing hasn’t been painted in years. Look at it! It’s disgraceful,” he announced.
“How long will that take?”
“Oh, just a day or two.”
“And what will you do after that?”
Well, I’ll…um…well, I’ll think of something.”
I smiled and shook my head. We were both silent for a time as I looked around the garage and he continued moving everything to the middle.
“You know, Shane,” I began casually, “I have a new neighbor who just moved in a few weeks ago. I bet she could use some help.”
“Hmmm,” was all he said.
I decided not to push it right then. I waited for a few days. He soon finished the garage, and unbeknownst to him, I had an appointment at the vet for Riccardo that afternoon. He would be all alone with nothing to do. I thought this would be an opportune time.
“I’m taking Riccardo to the vet this afternoon.”
“Why? He’s not sick.”
“No, but I want to make sure he’s doing alright and doesn’t get sick.”
“Okay. Well, what time do we leave?”
“Well, I thought I’d go alone this time. To bond with Riccardo, you know. I read that Macaws need to bond with their owners. Besides,” I continued. “You won’t be around forever. I’ve got to learn to take care of him on my own.”
“Okay…um, well…okay, then,” he seemed at a loss.
I waited.
“Yes, Shane?”
“What should I do?” He asked, just like he had when he was a boy.
I pretended to think about it. “Why don’t you go over to my neighbor Emily’s house and see if you can help her with anything? I’m sure you could at least mow the lawn for her—have you looked at it lately? The grass is getting obscenely tall.”
“Hey, that’s a great idea!” he seemed relieved. “I’ll do it!”
“Great. I’ll go call Emily.”
A short time later, after I had called Emily and sent Shane over to meet her, I got into the car with Riccardo to go to the vet. I smiled happily, thinking my plan was going quite well. Before long we arrived at the veterinary office. I pulled Riccardo out and checked us in at the front desk. We sat waiting in a plain two with two other “patients”. One was a tall man with a fluffy white toy poodle and the other a fat woman and her hamster.
“Ms. Hargrave?” Called the receptionist.
“Dr. Morrison will see Riccardo now.”
“Thank you.” I followed her through the swinging door to the examining room at the back. The doctor was a tall man, broad of shoulder and gray of hair. He looked about my age, actually. I was surprised. I wondered at him still working when most men would have already retired.
“Hello,” he said in pleasant voice, “I’m Dr. Kenneth Morrison. It’s nice to meet you.” He held out his hand.
“Margaret Hargrave. Maggie,” I said as I shook his hand.
“This must be Riccardo,” he said looking at the bird.
He carefully checked him over, and then took some blood samples, just to be careful. He wrote a prescription for a supplement that I could give him if I wanted to, if I was worried about him.
“We’ll call you if there’s any problems with the blood samples,’ he told me.
“Thank you, Dr. Morrison.” I turned to leave.
“You can call me Kenneth,” he said to my back.
I stopped and looked back, surprised. “What?”
“Kenneth. You can call me Kenneth. Or Ken.”
I must have looked baffled because he hurriedly continued.
“It just seems silly for you to be calling me ‘Dr. Morrison’ when we are so close in age. I mean, I assume you’re close to my age. Maybe I’m wrong. Err, how old are you?”
“Now, Doctor, don’t you know it’s impolite to ask a woman her age?” I asked sternly, but was inwardly amused.
“I’m so sorry!” He apologized, aghast.
“How old are you?” I fired at him. I was curious.
“Sixty-five!” he exclaimed without thinking, still embarrassed by his faux pas.
“Yes. A sixty-five year old man ought to know better.”
“I’m so sorry!” He said again.
“I accept your apology,” I said gravely.
“Thank you,” he said, with obvious relief.
“Well, then. I suppose we’ll continue to come here for Riccardo’s checkups.” I turned again to leave.
“And Doctor?” I called over my shoulder.
“Yes,” he replied soberly.
“You can call me Margaret.”

When I came home I put Riccardo back in his cage and went looking for Shane. I found him in the kitchen, eating ravioli.
“So, how did it go?” We both spoke at once.
“What?” I said, confused.
“What?” He seemed confused, too.
“Uhhmm…” I began.
“How did the appointment go?” He broke in.
“Oh! Great. It went great. Um, Riccardo is just fit as a fiddle as far as Kenneth can tell, and—“
“Kenneth? Who’s Kenneth?”
“Oh,” I felt myself blushing. How ridiculous, at my age! “I meant Dr. Morrison. His name’s Kenneth. He said I could call him Ken.
He raised his brows at me.
“I’ve got a crush on you!” I could hear Riccardo from the other room. Apparently his previous owner had liked Frank Sinatra.
“Now, now. Don’t get any ideas. It’s just that he’s about my age and it seemed silly for us to be so formal.”
“I see.” I think he saw a little too much.
I quickly changed the subject. There was absolutely no reason to be talking about Ken. Dr. Morrison. Kenneth.
“How did it go with Emily?”
He seemed startled by the question, but said in a rather absent way, “Oh, fine. Fine. Nice girl.”
“Well, what did you do?”
“Hmm? Oh! I mowed the grass for her and fixed a valve on her toilet. Nothing big. Tomorrow I’m going back over to help clean the garage and fix the door. She was going to go buy a brand new door, but I told her there was no need, I could take care of it.”
“Where did you get the ravioli?” I knew I hadn’t made it, and Shane was rather lacking in the cooking department.
“Emily made it. Really good, too. You want some, Granna?”
“No, no, I’m fine, thank you.” I wanted to know more about what he thought of Emily, but I decided it was better not to push things too quickly.

One week later, I found things progressing quite nicely. Shane had been over to Emily’s every day since the first day. As soon as she was home from her job at the Rec Center at five o’clock he was right there. He was there, in fact, right now. While I didn’t doubt that she really did need his help around her house, I dared to hope that there was a little more to it than that. I was washing dishes and musing over my hopes when I noticed my cell phone beeping. Someone must have called while Shane and I were weeding the garden earlier and left a message. I finished washing the last dish, shut the water off and dried my hands. I dialed my voicemail and listened.
“Hello? Ms. Hargrave? This is Kenneth. Dr. Morrison? I’m calling about Riccardo’s blood tests. One of them came back a little, um, abnormal. Please call me at the office as soon as you have a chance.”
I put a hand over my fluttering heart. Riccardo’s blood test abnormal? I grabbed the handset and looked up the number in the little phone book I kept nearby. I glanced at the clock as I worriedly waited for someone to pick up. It was six o’clock. Past closing time. My heart sank as I got their messaging system. I told their machine why I was calling and hung up. What was wrong with Riccardo? I hurried to the living room where he sat in his cage. I was growing to love this crazy gift of Shane’s. I didn’t want to lose him. I didn’t want him to be in pain. I open the cage door and reached for him.
“I’ve got a crush on you!” he squawked. He stepped onto my forearm, and I took him next door to see Shane. I wanted to tell him about the call. When he saw me with the bird, he stopped what he was doing and came over to us.
“Everything alright, Granna?”
“Oh, Shane! Dr. Morrison called! He said Riccardo’s blood test was ‘abnormal’.”
He put his arms around me, awkwardly because of Riccardo perched on my arm. “It’s okay, Granna. It’ll be fine. I’m sure it’s nothing big. Tomorrow you can call them and find out what’s going on.”
“How can I wait that long?” I knew I was slightly overreacting to my bird being sick, but I couldn’t seem to help myself.
“Well, what if you call ‘Kenneth’ at home? If he’s willing to let you call him by his first name, I’m sure he won’t mind if you call him at his house.”
“You think so?” I asked doubtfully.
“Absolutely. Here, I’ll go with you. Let me just tell Emily what’s going on.” He ran into the house and was back just as quickly, Emily with him. “Emily wants to come too. Is that okay?” I told him it was.
We all stood in the kitchen around the phone book, Shane, Emily, Riccardo, and me, while I looked for Dr. Morrison’s number. I found it and dialed, waiting while it rang. Soon, a male voice answered.
“Hello, Dr. Morrison? Um, Kenneth?”
“It’s Margaret Hargrave. You called about Riccardo’s tests?”
“I didn’t get the message until after your office was closed, but I couldn’t wait until tomorrow. Doctor, what’s wrong with Riccardo?”
I heard him take in a breath. “Well, Margaret—if I may still call you that?”
“Of course, of course,” I told him, urging him on.
“The truth is, Maggie, I lied about Riccardo. I figured that was the only way you’d call me back.”
The silenced stretched between us. I was stunned.
“I’m here,” I said faintly. I took a breath and asked, “Dr. Morrison, why would you lie to me like that? Didn’t you realize how concerned I’d be? I thought Riccardo was dying!” Shane and Emily were looking at me with perplexed expressions. I turned from them to look at the kitchen cabinets.
“I…I’m sorry!” He bumbled. “I just…well, I wanted to see you. I mean, I wanted to ask you to dinner.”
“What? Why didn’t you just call and ask me out like a normal person?” I heard Shane in the background at this comment, but I waved him off and walked into the other room.
“I was nervous. It’s been a long time since I’ve asked a woman on a date. When I got your voicemail, I sort of panicked.”
“Are you insane? Why would you think that telling me my bird is ill would make me want to go out with you? That doesn’t even make sense. You’re a doctor, for crying out loud!”
“I know. I know. I realize now that it was a very bad idea and it was very, very wrong. I’m so sorry to have upset you like this. It definitely wasn’t my intention. It’s just…my wife and I were married for thirty-two years before she passed away from liver cancer. It’s been three years now, but this is the first time I’ve even had the desire to even try to have another relationship. I’m really nervous. I’m sorry.”
I pursed my lips, and then let out a sigh. “It’s okay. I forgive you. I guess it’s kind of sweet, in a really bizarre way.”
He was quiet a moment, and then, “Margaret? I know that there’s probably no chance you’ll say yes, but if you would let me make it up to you, I would love to take you out for dinner on Friday.”
This man was crazy. But I could tell he meant no harm, and I felt bad for him. Without really thinking, I said yes. He was overly ecstatic, and told me he’d come by my house around 7:30 on Friday. I said goodbye in a daze. I put my finger to my eye to stop the twitching, closed my cell and slipped it back into my coat pocket. I moved slowly into the kitchen, where Shane and Emily stood talking quietly while Riccardo moved up Shane’s arm, across his shoulders and down his other arm.
“Hello, Sweetie!” he called out to me.
Shane looked up and immediately came over to me. “Granna, what’s going on?”
“He asked me out.” I said, almost surprised to hear the words coming out of my mouth.
“He asked me out,” I repeated. “He only said that about Riccardo so I would call him back.”
“What? That’s crazy! What did you say?”
“I said yes.”
“You—you did?” Shane was incredulous.
“Yes,” I told him, abashed. He must think I was losing my mind. I waited for him to tell me I was crazy, that there was no way I should go, that Kenneth was crazy. Instead he was grinning.
“Granna, that’s wonderful!”
“It is?” I wasn’t sure.
“Of course! You need someone in your life, Granna. You shouldn’t be alone like you are. You are too wonderful, you deserve to have someone to appreciate you.”
“Well, let’s not get ahead of ourselves. It’s just one date. I’m only going so he can make it up to me, really. The man clearly has issues.
“Sure, Granna. Of course,” he said with a placating tone.
“My funny valentine…” Riccardo mumbled.

Friday came all too quickly. Emily came over beforehand to help me get ready, in womanly tradition, for my date. I nervously paced in the living room. What was I doing, going on a date? My husband barely in his grave a year, and here I was, going on a date with an odd, bumbling doctor. He was so unlike Civ. Civ was easy going, but he always had it together. He always looked just so, always had the right thing to say. He would never have bungled things the way Kenneth had. It was a new experience, and a strange one after being married to Civ for so long.
Ken pulled up to the house in a red sports car. I was a bit amused. I walked out to meet him before he could come to the door.
“Really?” I asked, gesturing to the car.
He blushed a bit. “Hey, it’s every man’s dream. Can you blame me?”
“A little stereotypical, isn’t it?”
“I don’t care about that sort of thing.”
“Good to know,” I approved.
We arrived at the restaurant shortly thereafter. We sat down and looked over the menus. I ordered an iced tea to drink. We talked a little about this and that. I confided my hopes for Shane and Emily. He mentioned that if it didn’t work out he had a lovely granddaughter that Shane could meet, and we laughed about that. They brought my drink and we ordered our dinner. He told me about his wife. They brought our food, and I told him about Civ. The waiter began to clear the dishes and asked if we wanted any dessert. We didn’t. The silence stretched between us. I was searching for something to say, when he spoke up.
“Did you know I have a blue and gold Macaw just like Riccardo?”
“Uh…no. You never mentioned that.”
“Her name’s Ginger.”
“Ah.” I drank some of my tea.
“Maybe sometime she and Riccardo should meet. It’s good for birds to socialize, you know.”
“Is that true or are you just saying that so you can have an excuse to see me?” I accused him.
“Oh. Um, I didn’t…no. I mean, yes, it’s true. But it’s not an excuse to see you. I mean, I would like to see you again, but not like that. Not because of an excuse, I mean. I’d just like to see you.”
I smiled at his fumbling for words. “I think Riccardo would like it if Ginger came for a visit.”
“Oh, good.” He seemed uncertain.
I touched his hand and he met my eyes. “I’d like it, too,” I told him gently.
He grinned at me.


I sat at my old dining table, sorting the mail. Most of the envelopes were addressed to me. Most people had stopped sending mail for Civ by now. Some were bills, some cards or letters. I chose one with handwriting I recognized and opened it. It read,

“Dear Granna,
Emily and I are having a wonderful time in Peru! She is a great help to me in organizing all of my data and research—when I get any research done, that is. We are newlyweds, after all. I hope you will think about my offer for you and Ken to come down after the wedding. It’s beautiful here.
I was very sorry not to be there for your Birthday this year. I hope Riccardo and Ginger liked the gift I sent. I’m a great nephew, aren’t I?
Love, Shane.”

I felt a hand on my shoulder, and looked up. Ken was smiling down at me.
“How are Ginger and Riccardo getting along?” I asked him.
“They’re doing just fine,” he told me. “Come and see.”
I followed him into the living room where Shane’s birthday present, a very large new cage, held two Blue and Gold Macaws.
“I’ve got a crush on you!” squawked Riccardo.
“Love me tender,” Ginger called back.
“Seems like a good match,” I commented.
“Yes, it does,” he said, looking meaningfully at me.

Monday, September 28, 2009

The Chartreuse Butterfly

“A new butterfly exhibit can be found at the Museum of Nature and Science. The Chartreuse Butterfly is the most recent discovery in butterfly species by Dr. James T. Kreppin. This amazing creature is distinguished by the brilliant color of its wings, from which its name is derived. One of the exceptional characteristics of the Chartreuse Butterfly is the eyes, which can be a variety of shades from brown to black to blue and even green, much like the spectrum of eye colors among humans. Dr. Kreppin has been awarded many honors, including the Nobel Peace Prize, for his astonishing and inspiring work with this new species.”

That sounds interesting, Claudette thought as she read the article in her local paper. She had always had a fascination with butterflies. They were so beautiful and free. She loved how they changed from ugly little caterpillars into brilliantly colored butterflies. She found the idea of metamorphosis so appealing and intriguing.
She looked at the clock. It was ten am. She had just enough time to go to the exhibit before work at one that afternoon. She quickly hopped up from the little round table in her breakfast nook and sped to the bathroom to get ready. She quickly ran the blow dryer through her long honey brown locks, combing them with her fingers. Once her hair was dry she took some time to put on some eyeliner and lip gloss. That was really all she needed. Claudette was one of those women who would look beautiful even if they did nothing but step out of bed in the morning. She was tall and slender, with a glowing complexion and perfect proportions. She was very pretty, but in such a way that she wouldn’t have stood out among the throngs of other attractive women in the world, except for one thing. Claudette had one remarkable feature, and that was her eyes. They were the most beautiful shade of amber. Except for her mother, she had never seen anyone else with eyes that color, and she liked to accentuate them as much as she could. Thus, the eyeliner.
Quickly, she slipped into a dress so she would be ready to go straight to her job after the exhibit. She worked as a receptionist at an architectural firm downtown. She walked around her room, looking for the shoes that went perfectly with the golden brown of her dress. She owned a lot of clothing in that color—she had found it emphasized the unusual color of her eyes. Ah, there they are! She reached under the bed and snatched them out. Without looking in the mirror, she expertly twisted her hair up and pinned it with a little amber bejeweled hair clip. All ready, she thought with a satisfied nod. She grabbed her keys, purse and a light sweater and she was out the door.
It was a thankfully short drive from her apartment to the Museum of Nature and Science. She wanted to have plenty of time to look at the butterflies before she had to leave for work. Fortunately, work was just around the corner in the Shipley Building.
Inside, Claudette bypassed all the other interesting exhibits and went straight for the butterflies. She didn’t want to have to rush once she got to what she considered the main attraction. She was very excited about seeing the new species—the Chartreuse Butterfly. They sounded so beautiful and exotic. After stopping twice for clearer directions, she found the Butterfly Exhibit on the third floor. She paused briefly at a few of the other butterflies, but soon went straight to the new species.
There they were! Such a brilliant yellow green! She looked carefully through the glass. There were at least a dozen floating around the miniature habitat that had been set up for them. She wanted to see one up close and look at the eyes to see if they really had all the different eye colors like the article said. A small butterfly with delicate wings and a black fuzzy body settled on a branch close to the glass. She bent and looked closely, but was disappointed. From what she could see, its eyes were black and she could barely see them. Straightening in disappointment, she frowned.
“Is something wrong, miss?” said a deep voice at her shoulder. Startled, she gasped and turned.
“Oh! Um, no,” she blushed and looked down as she found a very handsome man standing next to her.
“Are you sure? You were frowning. Not the reaction I would expect to see at a display such as this,” he remarked with a smile in his voice.
“Well,” she began, “I was hoping to see the eye color—I read an article in the newspaper that said—“
“Ah, yes, the eyes. Here,” he put a hand on her back and guided her back to the exhibit. They watched for a moment until one landed nearby. “Look again,” he told her.
She stooped and looked closely at the little butterfly on the twig. This one had a golden torso and large wings. It eyes were like little blue sapphires.
“Amazing,” she breathed. She looked at the stranger who had helped her and smiled. “Thank you. I never knew there could be such variety in butterflies. I can’t believe how beautiful its eyes were!”
The man was looking at her intently and didn’t reply for a moment. “You’re welcome—forgive me for saying so, but…I couldn’t help but notice your eyes. They’re quite beautiful as well. I’ve never see that color before.”
“Special genes, I guess,” she laughed, feeling stupid. Special genes? More like special ed! She felt very, very warm. “Um, you have nice eyes too.” It was true. His eyes were a deep blue like the ocean. He was silent, still staring at her eyes like one mesmerized. It was making her feel a little lightheaded, having a good looking man admiring her so closely.
“Well, I should really get going,” she said after a minute, even though she really had plenty of time. But she lingered.
“Wait!” he said giving his head a little shake as one coming out of a daze. “I’m sorry for staring. I hope I didn’t make you uncomfortable. I must confess, I was a bit lost in those bewitching eyes of yours. I was wondering. I know you don’t know me, but would you let me take you to dinner tonight?”
“I might if you’d tell me your name first,” she told him.
He looked slightly abashed. “Of course. It’s James. James Kreppin.” He offered his hand.
“I’m Claudette Munroe,” she said, taking his hand. “Wait—James Kreppin? Dr. James Kreppin? The James Kreppin that discovered the very butterflies we’re standing next to?”
“Yes, that’s me,” he said grinning. “I’m pleased that you like them.”
“Are you kidding? I love butterflies, and yours are some of the most interesting I have ever seen. I would love to go to dinner with you tonight,” she gushed.
James laughed aloud. “Well, I hope it’s not just for the sake of the butterflies. How about eight o’clock then? If you want we could come back here and I could show you my lab and my work afterward.”
“I would love that. Thank you—what an honor.” She quickly gave him her number and left.

Ordinarily she would have liked to have stayed longer with the butterflies, but since she was getting a personal tour with the Dr. James Kreppin later….she was too excited to hang around any longer. She hurried out of the building and, realizing she still had an hour before her job started, she dropped by a nearby deli for a sandwich first. She stood a few moments looking over the menu, trying to decide what to eat. Ham and cheese? Turkey on wheat? Maybe some soup. Her internal debate was interrupted by one of the employees leaving the morning shift.
“See ya later, Sam!” the girl said to the man behind the counter.
“See ya, Janie—oh, hey, you be careful going home. I don’t want my best employee snatched off the street by some crazy,” the man said half-seriously.
“Oh, Sam, I’ll be fine. You worry too much.” She put on a newsboy style cap and left with a final wave.
Sam turned his attention to Claudette. “Can I help you, miss?”
She had decided. “A ham and cheese with a small soup on the side, please.” She looked out the window while he got her order ready. She wondered where the doctor would take her for dinner. He was very handsome. She thought of his wavy brown hair, curling boyishly around the edges. It was so thick, she would love to run her fingers through it. Run my fingers through it? Get a hold of yourself, Claudette! You barely know the man.
“Here you go,” said Sam, handing her the food.
“Thanks!” She said as she counted out the amount from her purse and headed for the door.
“You’re welcome. You be careful too, miss. There’ve been some disappearances in the area, you know.”
“Oh. I hadn’t heard. Yes, I will be careful. But don’t worry, I’ve got pepper spray in my purse,” she said with a wink as she paused at the door.
“Good to hear,” he responded. “By the way, you have the most unusual eyes I’ve ever seen. Very pretty.”
“Well, thank you,” she said, nodding goodbye as she went through the door.
She walked briskly toward her building. She would eat at her desk. It was Saturday, and only a few people would be around. She only had to be there in case her boss needed her while he met with an important client from South Africa. As she walked she started thinking about her handsome doctor again. My handsome doctor? she thought. I’m really getting ahead of myself…but I don’t care! She liked how tall he was. It made her feel petite and feminine. Nice broad shoulders, too.
Too soon, she was at her desk. She still couldn’t believe he had asked her to dinner. Claudette barely tasted her lunch as she spent the entire time daydreaming about her date with James that night.

Later, after work was over, she went home to get ready. James had called and said he would meet her at Le Croque Monsieur at a quarter of eight. She was so excited—it was one of the nicest restaurants in town! She had never dated anyone who took her anywhere so nice before.
Even though she had already showered that day, she took another one. She felt like she wanted to look and feel fresh and beautiful. She took her time getting ready, instead of her usual short routine. She put on eye shadow, lipstick, mascara, the works. She was aiming to dazzle this gorgeous, intelligent man. Even though she had only spoken to him those brief moments, she felt they had a special connection. She didn’t want him to get away.
One last glance in the mirror told her that if he didn’t like her tonight, he wasn’t going to at all. She had never looked better and she knew it. She was wearing a wine red strapless dress, stiletto heels, and her mother’s diamond heirloom earrings. She had curled her hair so that it fell down her back in graceful waves. To finish it off, she held it back with a small butterfly pin. Here I go, she thought.
Soon she found herself seated at a table in the most romantic restaurant in town, with the most handsome man she had ever seen. He had been very gracious and polite, and she was sure that he was interested in her. He told her to order whatever she wanted and not to worry about the expense. Indeed, she couldn’t have even if she wanted to because it was the type of restaurant that didn’t list the prices. She ordered the duck l’orange, and he had the lobster. They both drank several glasses of wine and were laughing and talking like they had known each other for ages. She tried to ask him about the butterflies, but he insisted on saving it for when they got back to his lab so she could see firsthand what he was talking about. Instead, he changed the subject,
“Tell me about your parents,” he asked. “Do they live nearby?”
“Oh…no,” she sighed. “My parents are both gone. My mom died of cancer a few years ago, and my dad in a car accident not long after. He wasn’t the same man without her. Since then I’ve pretty much been on my own.”
“Sounds lonely,” he commented.
“Well, yeah, sometimes,” she admitted.
“I’m sorry,” he said, reaching for her hand. He took it and gently rubbed her fingers. She appreciated his compassion, but felt a little uncomfortable with the whole subject. As she was about to try to lighten things up with another topic, he lifted her chin with his fingertips so he could look right into her eyes.
“Maybe we can change that,” he said softly. She swallowed. She felt like every nerve in her body was electrified. She had never felt so, aware, before. He let go of her hand and leaned back, smiling. She lifted her hands to her cheeks to cover the blush she felt rising there.
“I…I’d like that,” she whispered. “Not being alone anymore.”
“I don’t want to presume too much, Claudette. But I can say with certainty that I hope you’ll be with me for a long, long time. I’ve never met anyone like you. You’re beautiful and smart…those eyes! You’re incredible. I hope I’m not moving too fast.”
“Maybe some people would think so…but…I feel the same way about you,” she said, beaming at him.
Soon they left the restaurant in a haze of romantic euphoria, holding hands. They took a cab to the Museum, which was where his lab was at the time. It was late and no one else was around. It was strange to walk through the museum when it was empty of people, so silent, like time was frozen. It had a sobering effect on Claudette. Dr. Kreppin’s lab was through a door in the wall by the Chartreuse Butterfly exhibit. As James unlocked the door, Claudette looked into the glass case where the butterflies usually were. It was empty. How strange, she thought.
“Where are the butterflies?” she asked.
“Here, I’ll show you,” he said, opening the door and leading her through.
“We keep them in individual cages at night. These particular butterflies need a certain amount of isolation. And they sleep at night, just like we do.”
“Wow. That’s so interesting.” She began to walk around looking at everything. First she walked up to one of the glass butterfly cages. It was labeled, “Mary.” She smiled at him.
“Oh, how cute—you named them!”
He grinned sheepishly at her.
Claudette turned and walked over to look at another part of the lab. Next to his desk was a mini fridge.
“Are you thirsty?” he asked her.
“Not really,” she answered.
“Are you sure? I have a special drink that I made in there. It’s pretty good—would you like to try it?”
“Well…if it’s something you made…I guess I could try it,” she agreed.
“Great!” He said enthusiastically. He walked over to the fridge and took out a key. There was a padlock on the door. He noticed her curiosity. “If I don’t keep it under lock and key, people would just come in and take it,” he explained.
“It’s that good, huh?”
“I think it’s pretty amazing,” he said as he reached in and pulled out a huge pitcher of some kind of yellow-green liquid.
“Hey, same color as the butterflies!” she commented.
He gave a little laugh and said a bit nervously, “They’re my inspiration….” He poured some into a clean beaker that was sitting by the sink.
If Claudette had realized what the chartreuse liquid was, I’m certain she would have left the vicinity as quickly as her long, perfectly tanned legs could carry her. But she didn’t, so she took a sip.
“Hey, that’s pretty good,” she told him.
“Have some more,” he said eagerly.
She took a long drink.
“I think I like that,” she said. She was feeling a little giddy and wondered if this was an alcoholic drink.
She looked at him slyly and said with a smirk, “You never mentioned there was a ‘special’ ingredient.
“Oh. Uh…you can tell?”
“I’m feeling a little tipsy…” she giggled in a sing song voice. She drained the last of the beaker. “That’s really quite good. Sort of a lime banana flavor. More?” She tried to hand the beaker to him, but couldn’t quite seem to get it in his hand. Why does he have three hands? She wondered. Which one do I put the glass in? She felt rather silly. She took a step.
“James…I’m feeling a little strange.”
And then she collapsed.

Sam stood in front of the huge butterfly display with his hands pressed against the glass. The exhibit had been out for a few weeks now, ad he had finally decided to get out of the deli to come and see it. He bent down and looked closely at a pretty little butterfly that had landed close to where he stood. It had a brown body and, of course, those brilliantly colored chartreuse wings. He squinted at it. He had heard about the unusual eye colors. This one had a color that was unusual for butterflies and humans. It reminded him of a customer that came into his shop from time to time.
It’s eye was like a tiny jewel, the color of…amber.