“Hello. Hello?” He was anxious and it made him sound much older, crankier. He called from the 405 freeway. He was making good time.
“Good morning, Perry.”
“Now listen, I’m going to see that woman so I won’t be coming into work today.”
“Okay.” They had talked about it the day before, but Perry liked to go over these things. Ford knew Perry did this more for his own memory than Ford’s benefit.
“If Gwen calls, tell her I’m in the bathroom then hang up and call me so I can call her back. Understand?”
“Got it, Perry.”
Sure enough, around noon Mrs. Goldstone called. With consistency and civility, her calls got to the point faster than Ford had previously thought possible. In less than twenty seconds she could greet him politely, ask him about his day, learn the whereabouts of her husband, and effortlessly excuse herself from the conversation. Ford stared at the call’s time: nineteen seconds. After sitting for a beat in awe of the speed and deft with which Gwen Goldstone had handled him, he picked up the phone and called Perry. Perry didn’t pick up and Ford let it ring its way to voicemail. Two hours later Perry called back.
“Did my wife call?”
“She did. I called you and left a voicemail.”
“Shit! All right, I was having a nice conversation with the woman. She knows I’m married and she doesn’t like it when I talk about my wife.”
“I wouldn’t expect so.”
“If your wife calls later, should I say you’re in the bathroom again?”
“No. Say I’m at lunch.”
Ford looked at the time on his computer. It was two-thirty. “Okay, Perry.”
Laddy trudged across the carpet and stood next to Perry. Perry continued to pet him while he growled at Ford. Perry didn’t seem to notice the growling and Laddy didn’t seem to notice he was being pet.
“So how was your trip this time?” Ford asked optimistically.
“It was fine,” Perry crossed his legs and readjusted in his seat. “You see, her daughter was there. We all had lunch—a very nice lunch—in Newport on the peninsula. Her daughter doesn’t like me and when this woman is around her daughter, she doesn’t like me either.”
“How old is her daughter?”
“Forty maybe? Forty-five, I don’t know. Unmarried, of course. Both of them are. That’s the problem.”
Ford nodded, but it was tough for him to imagine anyone chasing after a woman who had a daughter in her forties. When Perry first started mentioning this woman, Ford imagined a Julianne Moore type, but now he pictured Joan Rivers. Sometimes Ford forgot how old Perry was, mostly because of the way he talked about women as if they were still uncharted territories to be studied, marveled at, and criticized from a distance, but never understood. This reminded Ford of the way, when they were freshmen at Doheny High, he and his friends used to talk about the senior girls.
“Anyway,” he sighed, “they weren’t very pleasant. I don’t think I’ll see her anymore.”
“That’s too bad,” Ford said.
“No,” he laughed. “It’s fine. I can get yelled at by my own wife and daughter right here if I miss it.” He scratched his head and leaned back in his chair. “What’s sad or maybe just too bad about the whole thing is love doesn’t exist at my age. All of the fun is over. I went and visited this woman because when I was younger I was in love with her. I could’ve married her, but I married Gwen instead. I don’t regret marrying Gwen. In fact, I enjoyed our marriage up until 1972 or so.”
“What happened then?” 1972 didn’t mean much to Ford.
“What happened?” he smiled. “We got old is what happened. We had Beth, bills, violin lessons, put on weight, and had to start taking pills for everything. That’s what happened!” He shook his head, “It didn’t all happen at once, but it all eventually happened. And love? Love is something that can and does only exist at a certain age.”
“Because when you’re in love your brain is on drugs. You might be on actual drugs too, but your brain is out-of-whack. You can’t be out-of-whack in love when you’ve gotta drive your daughter to ballet class. You can’t be out-of-whack and make the mortgage payment every month and it’s that mortgage—that check you send off—that’s the roof over your wife’s head, your kid’s head. You can’t be out-of-whack when you’re trying to make enough money to send your kid to summer camps and private schools. You have to be something else.”
“A husband,” Ford offered.
He kept his eyes above the TV. On the shelf was half-a-century’s worth of pictures blockading books that apparently no one read.
“At your age, when you’re in love you can sit down on a bench and your mind will drift off to the most beautiful places in the world.” He grinned. “And in that mind of yours you might even drift off with the girl you love. But when you’re older you start to panic. When your mind drifts off you think about the bank taking your home, your wife taking up with a man who can provide better. You think about your daughter hating you for what you couldn’t give them and when some asshole honks his horn or your phone rings and you’re sent back to reality, you hold it against them. You’re mad at them for even thinking, in your daydream, of leaving you—of treating you that way after all that you’ve done for them. So the love is extracted. It’s extracted so we, as men, can provide for our families’ survival.”
Perry stopped talking and stared past Ford. He might have lost his place or just been stuck in it. Ford surveyed the room and thought about what survival meant. A home, well kept, with floors stained a shade of plum brandy. A bathroom with a full soap dispenser and extra towels for guests who never come. A climate-controlled three-car garage so you can enjoy the comfort of a sixty-eight degree walk from the kitchen to your car. An unmarried, forty-something daughter who lived five miles away. A wife who – well, Ford didn’t know anything about Mrs. Goldstone. Perry only spoke about her when he was plotting around her. If she was his enemy, he certainly had respect for her, but this was the man’s wife. Ford had to believe that there was more than respect to a relationship that old.
“Shit, what I’m talking about might not even be love. Just a chemical imbalance.” There was a fish-eye portrait of the two of them in the TV’s reflection—fifty years and three feet apart. “When we talked over the phone I guess I felt a little of that. It made me feel like I was a young man again and even though I know I’m not, it made me get in my car, lie to my wife, and drive to see her. It made me feel really good to have that. To have a chance to begin again. To know that at the end of the line there was someone who could do that to me. I mean I’m an old man. I can’t do everything I used to, but I’ll tell you, I jumped at the chance to feel that way again—to not think straight. How many more times could that happen to me? It probably won’t ever happen again and it makes me sad because that’s the best thing about love. The way you think changes. I guess that’s what I was chasing after.”
He hung his head and chuckled. “Then I got there—there wasn’t a pretty girl waiting to see me. There was an old lady just like my wife, looking at me just like my wife does. Maybe there isn’t any difference between them. When they’re your age, Ford, they’re all beautiful. In bathing suits getting tan in the summer. Pink cheeks and cold lips wrapped in scarves in the winter. Smiling even when they’re not happy. At that age, the face of women and girls it just does something that makes me smile. At my age their face sulks. Disappointment tugs at their jowls.” He pulled at his skin and exaggerated his own. “Stress pinches their crow’s feet lined eyes. Credit card bills put bags under their eyes. Unwed daughters put weight on them when they’ve got no appetite.” He rubbed his thumb against the butt of his chin. “There’s no hope for what I’m after. Not at my age.” He laughed. “I guess that’s why my friends keep telling me to go to Thailand.” He shook his head, “If only my wife would let me.” He chortled at his predicament. An old man in the house he built acting like a prisoner when he was the only one home. “Anyway, I wanted to tell you we won’t be seeing each other at the pool anymore. I’ve quit the gym. Gwen says we can’t afford the membership anymore.”
Dylan Tanous lives and writes in Hollywood. By day, Tanous splits his time between his first novel, his lurid blog and a slew of scripts. By night, he politely informs the patrons of his bar that he’s not an aspiring actor. The patrons don’t believe him.