Sep 17, 2009

We are sitting on an island in their kitchen, the classic California kitchen, which bleeds into all other rooms. The husband is in his late 60s, tall, hair dyed shoe-polish black; his wife just turning 50, her hair cut short. In the last 10 months she has begun to feel cute again. She was born in Beirut, and would have you believe she was a starlet. She appeared in a Fellini movie as a child, but you have to stop the movie to see her.

He was born down the peninsula, went to Harvard and Stanford and has underachieved ever since. He was once a well known architect, but then something happened, no one knows, but he left the profession. Then he began dabbling at being an "artist". He and his wife own rental properties, which is their real income. He had a stroke some time ago and has limited mobility, and limited stamina. And now he's in a downward spiral. He says he wants to get back to riding a motorcycle and a horse and playing tennis. It will never happen, but conceivably it could if he had the will to pull himself up and out of his chair and to start walking. He can walk but it's difficult. He could even walk to a nearby store but he says the grade is too steep. What about a cane? "No, it wouldn't be strong enough." You could take a walker. "No, that would never work, I couldn't lift it. What if it fell over?"

"You could try... "

No, you don't understand. I couldn't."

No, he would rather dream, he would rather jail himself. Frankly, the man is spoiled and his pessimism is contagious. I would never have agreed to go have dinner at all but my wife insisted. She is always trying to save people. And what about his wife? lately strange things have been happening. Three times in the last months he's called 911 to have police come over and "save" him.

The couple has three daughters; two are in college in New England. A third is 15 and lives at home. She's unusually bright and stars in Physics. She's also very direct. I have never seen her be devious. She is usually shy but lately she seems much more outspoken. She has a very pretty smile, and permanent. But as you look at her you realize the smile has different meanings.

So here's what's happening to this man and his family. One afternoon the police arrive and this father says that his 15-year-old daughter refuses to open a bottle of wine for him, which he can't do himself because his left hand is so gnarled. The police are puzzled: the man is not drunk. He seems absolutely sincere. They call social services. A week later he calls again and says his daughter won't help him get downstairs, which everyone knows he can do himself, although with effort. He tells the police it's a case of elder abuse. Two weeks later he calls still again, this time because his daughter has left him alone for several hours. Why didn't he make the charge about his wife, you wonder. Eventually, a representative of social services arrives. A week after that his daughter overhears him making plans to hire a prostitute.

So here we are on an island in their kitchen. Here is the father sitting in his customary chair, his wife is slicing onions with a 14-inch cutting knife. She cuts slowly and carefully, even sensuously. Her husband is talking about his therapy.

"You like that one, don't you," his wife says, referring to one of the women who gives him a massage.

"Actually, there are two of them," he says.

His wife smiles. She never takes her eyes off the onions. "Two, even better."

Her husband is encouraged. "Yes," he says, "she reminds me of my first girl friend. Very beautiful. Maybe the most beautiful woman I've ever known. She was Brazilian." He went on to talk about how he met this woman, how she was a twin, how he used to go bike riding with her in Rio.

This marriage is over, but he doesn't see it. In that sense he is pitiful.

"I'll never have that again," he says and orders his daughter to get him the wine bottle at the other end of the counter. She does it.

"So what you are going to do," asks his wife.

"You'd like it if I killed myself, wouldn't you?"

"There's a gun upstairs," says the daughter, with her permanent smile.

His wife stops cutting and looks at her guests. Everyone is smiling, even the father.

1 comment:

Anjuli said...

My heart goes out to the 15 year old daughter. Also, I salute the wife- let me tell you, if I was cutting an onion with a sharp knife and my husband started talking about his massage therapist reminding him of his beautiful Brazilian girlfriend...and her twin...well, let us just say, there would need to be emergency surgery done on a very important part of his male anatomy.

so kudos to his wife for her self restraint in this situation!!