by Wayne Scheer
It had been over sixty years since Alec kissed a woman other than Miriam. As a young man, he had only kissed a couple of girls. Two, to be exact. Helen Goldberg and Ruth Bellows. Now Miriam was gone, and he was sitting with Sylvia Sapperstein on her couch in her apartment. She had made him a meal – a pot roast, almost as good as Miriam’s, with carrots and potatoes and string beans. They even had a drink that went straight to his head, wine with a little seltzer.
He found himself chattering about whatever passed through his mind. It embarrassed him to talk so much, but he feared silence more than what he might say.
“When Miriam died, I thought I’d be dead within a year. My children, they thought I’d shoot myself. But where would I get a gun. I’d probably just put a hole in my foot.” He paused to wave his hands. “Pills. Acchh. How could I take more than I take now. Cancer is what I thought. I’d develop cancer and die. Just like that.”
“Shh,” Sylvia said, putting a finger to his lips. “Enough already with your talk. You’re still young. What are you – seventy-eight? I’m the same age. Ira died almost four years ago and still I don’t have the cancer. You know why. Because I don’t have time for it.” She took Alec’s hand. “There are still things I’d rather do than die.”
Her hand was soft, softer than Miriam’s. Alec wanted to kiss her. At least then he’d stop talking. And why was he going on about Miriam and how he planned on dying. Conversation like this you weren’t supposed to have on a date. That much he knew.
Was this a date? Oy Gut, a date. He had known Sylvia and Ira for fifteen years, ever since he and Miriam sold their little grocery store in Brooklyn and moved to Florida. The four of them had been best friends. Ira, the truth was, he never cared for. He told the worst jokes and laughed like a hyena. But Sylvia he liked. Always the lady. He recalled how she had convinced him and Miriam to take ballroom dance lessons. Ira refused, which was probably why Alec agreed. They never learned the steps, but the three of them always went out for a meal afterward.
Now he was on a date with Sylvia. What would Miriam think?
“Date shmate,” Miriam would say. “She made a pot roast and invited you to join her. You both had to eat, no?
Miriam had never been one to look for what she didn’t see. Trusting to a fault is what she was. Of course, he had never given her reason to doubt him. Sixty years, and he never strayed. But why should he? He had it so good at home, what kind of putz would look someplace else? It would be like looking for your car keys after you found them.
But now all he had at home were memories. And quiet. He never knew what a racket the refrigerator made. He put on the TV as soon as he walked in the apartment. It didn’t matter what was on, as long as it made noise.
So when Sylvia called and invited him for supper, who could blame him for accepting? She had called before to see if he wanted to go to a movie or a show, and he refused. It was too soon. But this time he said yes.
So this was a date. Miriam would laugh if she knew he was on a date. He missed the way her whole body shook when he made her laugh.
“Remember the ballroom dancing?” Alec asked, surprising himself. “Maybe we could go dancing sometime?”
“You want to go dancing. We could go dancing.” She smiled, displaying a mouth full of perfect white teeth.
Dentures, Alec thought. A good set, too. She always looked good, so trim. And she smelled like shampoo and pot roast. How could a man resist?
“So what’s the name of your dentist? Your teeth, they look so natural. Mine are yellow. I should be embarrassed to open my mouth.”
“Then stop talking already.” She moved closer to him. “And kiss me.”
That was almost how it had happened with Miriam the first time. He was going on with his jokes, like he could personally save vaudeville, when Miriam grabbed him by the back of his head and planted a big one on his lips.
“Ah, Miriam,” he mumbled, as he felt soft, moist lips on his. He closed his eyes, but the taste was different. Minty. Miriam never liked mint.
He heard Sylvia laugh. “So you thought that was Miriam?” Instead of acting angry, she kissed him again. This time on the cheek.
“I’m sorry,” Alec said. “I was thinking and then we were kissing.”
“Don’t be sorry. The kiss, it was nice?”
Alec nodded his head. “Very nice.”
“Then we should kiss again.”
He woke up in Sylvia’s bed. At first, he thought it was a dream and Miriam slept beside him. But as his head cleared, he remembered what had happened. Sylvia lay next to him wearing a pink nightgown. He was relieved she wasn’t naked. Not that she didn’t look good. Thinner than Miriam, maybe a little too thin, but she looked nice. Still, he would have felt embarrassed if she wasn’t covered. He wore his boxers and, to his shame, his black socks.
Not like in the movies, he thought.
“What?” Sylvia rolled towards him. “Did you say something?”
“If I did, I was talking to myself.” He reached towards her to push back gray hair that covered her eyes.
“Sorry to interrupt a conversation between two such learned men,” she said.
Alec laughed. “I hope I didn’t snore. Miriam used to tell me my snoring was like sleeping with a bear.”
“She slept with bears? For fifteen years I was her friend and she never told me.”
“I apologize,” Alec said, feeling his face flush. “I shouldn’t talk about Miriam after what we just did.”
“No apologies. It’s only natural we talk about Miriam. And Ira, too.” She pointed to his picture on her nightstand. “The past, it’s still with us. But we can’t live there.” She kissed Alec on the forehead. As she did, he could see the outline of her breasts under her nightgown. He reached for them.
“What. You want more. Maybe you are a bear. For now, I think a shower and breakfast would be better.” She rolled away and slipped out of bed. He heard her feet slide, flat-footed, along the hardwood floor.
In the darkened room and with his glasses on the nightstand, he imagined what she looked like naked. Of course, after last night, that wasn’t difficult. Still, he thought of Miriam. If she could see him now it would kill her. He would have laughed had it not been for the tears in his eyes.
When he got out of bed, he put on pants and patted his bare stomach. Flat like a teenager’s, it’s not. But it’s not round like an old man’s, either. His back ached, but all things considered he felt pretty good. In fact, he felt fantastic.
He had gone from tears to exhilaration in a matter of seconds. This could only mean one thing.
“In love?” Sylvia had prepared oatmeal and a scrambled egg on toast. “Kids fall in love. We just don’t want to be alone.”
“Maybe you’re right. But I feel like a kid again, a new man.” He ate quickly.
The coffee tasted good, not as strong as what Miriam used to make. A spoon could dissolve in it, he would tell her.
“Good. You should wake up every morning feeling like a new man. Just don’t confuse it with love.” She patted his hand. “At our age, we don’t have time for love.”
“So, tell me. What we did last night. That wasn’t love?”
“That was two lonely friends sharing a bed for a night. Love is sharing a life.”
He nodded his head. There was so much he wanted to say to her and to Miriam, so much he was feeling, but he had no words. Alec Fineman without words. Now that was a first.
They finished breakfast in silence, both lost in their thoughts and memories. He helped her clear the table, just like he used to do with Miriam. As Sylvia rinsed the dishes, he pecked her on the cheek. “So, tell me, how did you get so smart?”
“Time. After Ira died, I moped around like you, like a ghost. I had to decide would I live or die. I chose to live.”
“I’m happy you made such a choice,” he said, kissing her again, this time a noisy one on the lips. “Would it be all right if I call you? But maybe we could skip the dancing and go for supper.”
“You make me laugh, Alec. I need that. And you better call. You think I’m some one-night stand, Mr. Big Shot?”
For the first time since Miriam’s death, Alec realized he no longer felt guilty for being alive. As he walked back to his apartment in the morning sun, he imagined Miriam laughing with her whole body. He knew she felt happy for him.