I was typing away, answering the usual morning emails, trying to politely turn down unsolicited plot ideas that I "do not believe I can do justice to." You know the kind: "dear mr vargas I want u to rite me a story about me and my mama, like we r both left handed and..."
I was about to do the same with a rather nice request from the Edgewaters when I read closer. The happy couple were about to celebrate 25 years of married bliss. George wanted an erotic story to give his wife as the beginning of a night of hot anniversary sex. Well, I thought if they get excited enough, they might have a little "accident." How could a writer like me turn down such an opportunity?
And thus we have:
I didn't like Fred at first and the feeling was mutual. He thought I was too "prissy" for Ralph, too much a party girl. He should have heard what my family said about him. I was Jersey Shore money, thought few dared ask Papa where it came from. Ralph was working class scholarship at Georgetown where we met. Martha, on the other hand, could see immediately that I wanted to put my wild past behind me and commit myself to Ralph, truly wanting to settle down as a good wife and mother. I loved her from the beginning.
My opinions of Fred changed when Martha became ill. They were living in Florida by that time. NYC firefighters don't get paid enough for risking their lives, but if they survive, they can sell their Brooklyn row houses and retire early with a nice pension. Fred took care of Martha in their Florida condo as long as he could. When she went into the nursing home he visited her every day, spending almost all his time at her side. It must have been hard for him seeing her go downhill so rapidly, her body becoming frail and contorted. We were there when she died. While Ralph mourned the passing of his mother, I cried with Fred, "Dad," for the loss of his wife.
Now we were coming for our first visit in over a year since Martha's death. Both Ralph's career at a Manhattan law firm, my teaching Spanish in the local high school, a house in Bergen county, and a teenage boy, Kevin, kept us busy. In the last year I had grown close to Dad. Often he called me just to talk or to ask my advice -- Ralph was always far too busy. Dad was very much impressed by my college degree, as he had been of Martha's. From his calls and letters, Dad appeared to be doing well. Not long ago he told us he was dating a Cecilia Corsillo, a medical technician, originally from El Salvador, he had met at the nursing home where Martha had resided. She was divorced and had two boys, but sounded very nice.
Ralph was contemptuous, almost angry. "How can Fred be making a fool of himself over a woman young enough to be his daughter!" he fumed. I defended Dad, thinking it a tribute to Martha that he still loved women, although I did feel strange thinking about Dad with a woman younger than I.
Maybe I was also a little envious of Dad's new girlfriend. Ralph had not been "making a fool of himself" over me for some time. I guess we had been passionate enough when we were first married, but he seemed to change when I became pregnant with Kevin. Always having wanted lots of children, I was overjoyed that it had happened less than a month after our marriage.
I made a ritual of informing him: a candle-light dinner and my EPT tied up in a little box like a gift from me to him. I expected my young husband to want to celebrate by re-enacting the exact circumstances of the conception. Instead he was cautious, only wanting to talk about the problems this would create -- loss of my time from work, a new house, day care. He did not seem to appreciate that I had chosen him to be the father of one of my few chances to pass my genes on to the next generation.
The pregnancy was a nightmare. Oh I didn't suffer more than my share of the normal physical inconveniences, nausea, aversions to food and odors, swollen ankles, backache, just not being able to move freely. But I suffered them pretty much alone. Ralph never said it, but his attitude seemed to be, "You fucked up in your bed, now sleep in it." Other men, especially older men, told me I was beautiful, but Ralph did not. The other difficult thing was that my libido went through the roof. I wanted Ralph, I needed Ralph to make love to me. Or if he didn't want to make love, just to fuck my brains out. He wouldn't even cuddle.
Kevin was the end of our romance. Ralph and I still made love, but it was predictable and he was always cautious about the "danger" of my becoming pregnant again. I could not take the pill, but he was careful always to use a condom and usually restricted our lovemaking to days near the tail end of my cycle when I was feeling less amorous. There were no intimate dinners, we never went dancing, nothing that might start something he did not want to finish. Once burned, twice shy.
When the man you love, or did love, is indifferent to your sex appeal, it's hard for you care. Over the years I put on a lot of weight. But when a 5 foot 3 inch woman hits size 16, she knows something has to change. I guess Martha's death was a catalyst. By a combination of rigorous dieting and working out with a personal trainer, I had in the last year settled in at a curvy size 10, not that Ralph seemed to care anymore. Still, my remaining pounds seemed to be in the right places; I was getting hungry looks from men again and I liked the feeling.
It was about that time that I noticed a change in the letters from Dad. They became taciturn and, very significantly no longer mentioned Cecilia. Ralph would have been pleased, if he had noticed. So it was I who then decided that we really needed to go down to Florida to visit Dad. By pointing out that Disney World was in Orlando, only a couple of hours from where his grandfather lived, I enlisted Kevin in my campaign. Ralph agreed without enthusiasm.
Dad's condo was a small two bedroom apartment nowhere near a beach, although there was a pool. Kevin groused a bit about having to sleep on the couch in the living room, but then he realized that Grandpa had some cable channels that Ralph did not allow at home (and that Dad my not have known he had). Dad had moved himself into the second bedroom, not wanting to sleep in the bed that he and Martha had shared before she became ill. That left Ralph and me with the master bedroom, which was only a little larger than the other one. The bed was queen size, however, which gave Ralph room to curl up on his side away from me. It had been years since I had tried to sleep in his arms. I remembered bitterly how joyously we had snared a single bed when we were dating, our movements choreographed all night to keep us coiled together.
Men have their ways of bonding. Ralph and Dad talked business, managing some of Dad's small investments. They went over the advantage and disadvantages of buying a house or another condo vs. continuing to own this one. I piped up that the apartment needed to have someone come weekly to clean it, something Dad could not afford, but Ralph and I could help with. They got into arguments over politics of course. Dad, after a dalliance with the Republicans in the Reagan years, had returned to his family and ethnic trust in the Democrats. Ralph had never wavered in the allegiance to the Republicans that he adopted when he went to work for big law firm. I bided my time, letting them talk.
Two days about exhausted these topics and I could see that Ralph was growing bored. Kevin was climbing the walls, there being only so much a fourteen year old boy can do in a 12' pool when the youngest female resident in the complex is 55. I supported Kevin's plea to be taken to Disney World. Ralph was happy to get out of the apartment and a Friday-to-Monday excursion was mapped out. Ralph assumed that Dad would come along, but he really had no interest in standing in line to see Pirates of the Caribbean. I begged off as well, saying I would stay with Dad.
As soon as Ralph and Kevin had left I clapped my hands and twirled, making the hem of my short yellow sundress billow out and up. "OK, Dad! We are going shopping!"
Shopping wasn't much further up Dad's list of preferences than standing in line for Pirates of the Caribbean, but he had the company of me, his vivacious daughter-in-law. And I knew that men like to shop, too, just for different things. Because Ralph and Kevin taken our rental car, Dad and I got in his Taurus and headed toward an obscenely large home improvement store. I happily followed Dad up and down the aisles as he planned projects that would never happen -- new tile for the bathroom, a redwood banister for the balcony, tools to make easy, jobs that would never be undertaken. In the end Dad bought a new tool box and enough replacement light bulbs to last years.
Dad was beaming and I could tell I had now accumulated enough credit to drag him to a mall. Besides, given what I was going to be shopping for, this would not be at all painful for Dad. Although he had not said anything, I could tell by the way he looked at me, Dad had noticed the change in my measurements. Dad wouldn't know dress sizes, but a deep instinctual part of his brain registered a woman who once again had the proportions males were hard wired to appreciate, my husband being a possible exception.
.... There is more of this story ...