Matt Domino shares a short story for some reason.
Hello my Puddlers.
I'm throwing a slight missive out on this Sunday evening while listening to Procol Harum's 1969 album, A Salty Dog, which I am very soon going to write a lengthy essay on, an essay filled with fleeting memories and far-fetched theories (what other kind of essay is there?!), because it is shockingly fantastic.
But, because I haven't published any kind of article or essay or blog post in awhile, I don't want anyone out there in the world thinking that I've dried up or forgotten about what I love. I've been writing and performing sketches (still, yes...), and pitching around the manuscript From Here to The Last Mound of Dirt for a final round. If that doesn't work out, I'll probably hang that one up and keep working on another novel manuscript I've started.
This third (yep, I'm going to see if I can fail at writing a novel for the THIRD time) one came from a lengthy digression in a previous version of From Here to the Last Mound of Dirt. It's about a man who teaches English at a community college and runs a limousine service. His daughter has moved across the country to live with her boyfriend for seven years and they've become estranged. Now, when the boyfriend contacts the man to tell him that his daughter has run away, the two must come together to find her. This ain't some mystery story, though—you get the daughter's perspective and inner thoughts. She didn't get kidnapped or anything nefarious like that, she's just confused like the rest of us and looking to figure out what her heart is telling her.
But, since none of my fiction has seen the light of day in awhile, and all of the stuff I'm saying here sounds like wild and far-fetched plans and dreaming (what else is new?), I'm including a short story at the bottom. This one has been kicking around for a bit. It's quiet and nothing much really happens in it like most of my stories. So, to quote my friend (and talented musician), Erik Gundel, read it "if you like that kind of thing."
DEATH OF A SON
It was a shock to hear that Lynn Colosi’s son had killed himself. Martin had always been an upstanding boy. Though he’d been a little artistic, a little outside-the-box, there was never anything dark or sinister about him. In fact, growing up, most of the kids had said he was one of the kindest boys in school. Everyone agreed it was a terrible tragedy to fall upon any mother, but especially Lynn.
Cold, heavy mist lay across the harbor as Cynthia Wolf and Mrs. Schwartz eased down the final descent of Sand Street’s hill and into the village. The women were silent, each looking out the windows at the thick mass that covered the marshes and abandoned boats. Earlier, they had both commented that the weather was certainly fitting for a funeral.
Mrs. Schwartz drove the champagne sedan past the wood-sided storefronts of the village. Driving a low car again had been an adjustment after all the years of chauffeuring her kids around in an SUV. Her two daughters were now married and her son, Josh, lived in Vermont and worked as a ski instructor. Josh and Martin Colosi hadn’t been extremely close, but they had been friends in elementary school, which was how Mrs. Schwartz had come to know Lynn for so many years.
They pulled into the parking lot of the Inn and, passing one of the rows of cars, Cynthia Wolf limply raised her hand and thin arm.
“There’s Ellen’s car. And I see Linda’s too.”
“They must have missed all the lights,” Mrs. Schwartz said.
“Park further away. We can get a little exercise.”
Cynthia Wolf was a taut woman. She and her husband Ron had come to Long Island for work after they had graduated from Ohio State. They were Midwesterners through and through: both fit and almost supernaturally healthy with three sons who were all excellent athletes. Ron was prone to drink, but he was a gentle man with a loud laugh and no one really worried about it. Cynthia was typically reserved, but whenever the women got together, she displayed her sharp tongue. Her middle son, Aaron, a standout baseball player, had been one of Martin Colosi’s best friends.
As they stepped away from her car, avoiding puddles and small potholes, Mrs. Schwartz tried again to remember the last time she had even seen Martin Colosi in person. It must have been at some point when the boys were all in college. She specifically recalled that his hair had been short, which surprised her since he’d had long hair and a decidedly shaggy appearance during high school. Even though he played baseball and basketball, all the mothers and fathers in town accused him of dealing marijuana. Mrs. Schwartz couldn’t piece together her last memory of seeing Martin, but came to the conclusion that it must have been eight or ten years earlier. She was getting old.
They entered the front door of the Inn—which was nothing more than an old, converted colonial home—stepped through the “mud room” and into the warmth of the main dining room of the restaurant. The hostess greeted the two women and walked them to their table. Mrs. Schwartz swore she was somebody’s sister.
Their party was already at the table, sitting somberly in black or other dark shades of grey and navy. Linda Gibert, Ellen O’Rourke, and Robin Andrews were all sitting next to each other at the round table. Each woman already had a glass of white or red wine standing in front of her. Mrs. Schwartz and Cynthia Wolf sat down at the end of the table across from Linda, leaving just one empty chair. Linda was wearing a trim black sweater and white pearls. Her sharp nose and cheekbones lent her an Eastern European air (her family was from the Czech Republic or Croatia, Mrs. Schwartz couldn’t remember which). Linda’s hair was cropped and shorter than it used to be and the blonde was slowly being overtaken by complete grey. It appeared that she was letting herself age gracefully. Linda was a notorious organizer and had been the head of the PTA when all of their kids were in school.
“We’re waiting for Jeanette,” Linda Gibert said. “She had to pick up her dog.”
Mrs. Schwartz ordered a white wine while Cynthia Wolf asked for a martini. The late, grey winter light was fading over the harbor and Cynthia said that the cocktail would help warm her spirits. The rest of the women quietly laughed and took deliberate sips of their wine.
“It’s a shame that this is how we all get together now,” Robin Andrews said, adjusting one side of her thick, brown hair. She had raised three sons and one daughter, who had just graduated college and was living at home. Robin’s grey was starting to show in streaks along her temple, but she remained in good shape. She’d been a dance teacher for years. “We used to do this kind of thing all the time.”
They all nodded in agreement.
“At least everyone looks great,” Linda said.
The women looked around, smiled and assented. The waiter brought Mrs. Schwartz and Cynthia Wolf their drinks and all the women toasted to the departed Martin Colosi.
“He was such a nice boy,” Ellen O’Rourke said. “He used to come over for a while there right when they started high school. I think he and Jessica were ‘dating’ at that point.”
“That’s what everyone thought,” Mrs. Schwartz said.
“That they were dating?” Ellen O’ Rourke asked.
“No, that Martin was a nice boy,” Mrs. Schwartz said.
“Oh, yes,” nodded Ellen O’Rourke. Round and somewhat mousy, she taught fifth grade at an elementary school in a neighboring district for almost thirty years. At the thirty-year mark, she would receive a substantial raise in pay, so she was patiently waiting to reach that milestone before retiring. Inevitably, the subject of her impending retirement came up in all of her conversations.
“Lynn was holding up well,” Linda Gibert said. “I don’t know how.”
“I can’t even imagine what it must be like,” said Ellen O’Rourke, shaking her head.
“If you can’t imagine it, then don’t,” Cynthia Wolf said.
Robin Andrews laughed, “You’re still so tough, Cynthia.”
Cynthia Wolf tapped a finger on her chin. “I didn’t mean it to be harsh,” she said. “I just personally believe that.”
“What is that?” Ellen O’Rourke asked.
“That if you can’t fully comprehend something—a tragedy—then its better not to try and empathize. It doesn’t come off well.”
Mrs. Schwartz adjusted her dangling silver wristwatch and took a drink.
“I don’t know, Cynthia,” Linda Gibert said. “It’s just an expression. I think it’s all right.”
“Everyone is entitled to their own opinion; especially in these cases,” Cynthia Wolf said.
“How are all the boys, though?” Linda Gibert asked. “Aaron looked very handsome. He said he flew in from Germany?”
“He probably told you more about his life than he tells me,” Cynthia Wolf said.
“Justin is like that with me too,” Linda Gibert said.
“How is he?” Mrs. Schwartz asked. “I saw that photo on Facebook of you with him and his fiancée. She’s very pretty.”
“He’s working long hours at the firm, but he likes the partners and he was able to buy her a beautiful ring. Even I was impressed!”
All the women laughed.
“No, but she’s a sweet girl. We love her. The parents are a little overbearing when it comes to the wedding plans.”
“I know how that is,” Ellen O’Rourke said. “Jessica’s mother-in-law had to be consulted on every little decision. And yet, her husband wasn’t really opening his wallet. I mean we paid for almost everything!”
“It’s amazing that all these kids are starting to get married,” Robin Andrews said.
“Speak for yourself,” said Cynthia Wolf. “I don’t know when my boys will ever settle down.”
“And it’s all old hat for you, Eileen,” Linda Gibert said, turning toward Mrs. Schwartz. She flashed a smile that matched her pearls and Mrs. Schwartz wondered if she had gotten cap work done. “You’ve been through it with your daughters. I don’t know how Alan is still standing.”
“Well, he doesn’t do much around the house.”
They all laughed, took drinks and commented on what their husbands did or didn’t do around their own homes.
“No, but for all the stress or whatever little disagreements you have with the in-laws, its all so beautiful and memorable. I’ll never forget those wedding days.”
“It’s true,” said Ellen O’Rourke. “And at least Lynn still has her daughter.”
“Let’s toast to her,” said Linda Gibert.
“Who? Lynn’s daughter?” Ellen O’Rourke asked.
“No,” said Linda Gibert. “To Lynn.”
“Should we wait for Jeanette?” Robin Andrews asked.
“No,” Cynthia Wolf said flatly.
Everyone raised his or her glasses to Lynn Colosi in respect for the profound loss she was going through. Mrs. Schwartz held her glass in her hand and felt for a moment like crying. Lynn had been a good friend to her for twenty years. Lynn was extremely social and throughout their friendship had always pushed Mrs. Schwartz to attend PTA meetings, ladies nights and jewelry parties. For a long time, they had a standing date to go walking every Saturday morning by the water. So it was difficult seeing her at the funeral and trying to comprehend what kind of pain she must have been feeling. But Lynn stood there in her black dress and persisted with her positive attitude, asking about Josh and the girls and remembering some bad joke that Alan had made years ago. She stood there with her impossibly welcoming smile, her gently curling copper hair, and her small eyes that had such an odd, childlike quality to them even as she approached sixty.
The waiter, noticing the commotion, came over and asked the women if they were ready to order. Linda Gibert told him that they were still waiting for one more, but that everyone might want another drink. She scanned the table and all of the women agreed another drink would be fine.
“It really is a shame,” Ellen O’Rourke said. “Their grade had such a bond.”
“Yes,” agreed Mrs. Schwartz. “Even though Josh and Martin ran with different crowds when they got older, Josh always said they could talk at parties or if they had classes together. And even when they were back on breaks from college.”
Linda Gibert nodded. “There was something special about that year. I think we deserve partial credit.”
“I’m not holding my breath,” Cynthia Wolf said.
The waiter came back and distributed the drinks around the table.
“Lynn’s husband must be devastated,” Robin Andrews said. “I knew they were very close.”
“They were,” Mrs. Schwartz said.
“It seemed like he’d lost a lot of weight since the last time I saw him,” Ellen O’Rourke said.
Robin Andrews grabbed Mrs. O’Rourke’s forearm. “I know. I ran into him at the Starbucks a month or so ago and couldn’t believe it.”
“What was his name again?” Ellen O’Rourke asked.
“Charles,” Cynthia Wolf said quietly. Mrs. Schwartz could tell that she was biting her tongue.
“He was always a bit quiet,” Linda Gibert said.
“You had to get to know him,” Mrs. Schwartz said. “Cynthia, Lynn and I used to all go out together with our husbands two or three times a year and we always had a lot of fun.”
“What does he do?” Ellen O’Rourke asked.
“He owned a sunroom business. All Seasons Sunrooms. They put sunrooms in houses all over the Island,” said Mrs. Schwartz.
“Charles used to send Martin out with the crews during the summers when they were in high school,” Cynthia Wolf leaned back in her chair, balancing her drink. “Aaron helped him for one whole summer.”
“That’s right. I remember now,” Ellen O’Rourke said. “He wasn’t very talkative.”
Around the table, the women looked at their drinks.
“I think we should order dinner,” Linda Gibert said.
“Little early to eat,” Cynthia Wolf said, looking at Mrs. Schwartz. “It’s not Florida.”
The women stifled their laughter. Linda Gibert ignored the comment and surveyed. “What do you all think?”
“Shouldn’t we wait for Jeannette?” asked Robin Andrews.
“She can order something when she gets here,” Linda Gibert said. She took a drink of her wine, turning her head slightly. It was dark outside over the harbor and her nose pointed sharply in the growing dining room light. Mrs. Schwartz remembered sitting across from her at other gatherings like this, or watching her hold court over the evening PTA meetings in the cafeteria, the floors freshly waxed from a day’s worth of dust and smashed lunch food. Mrs. Schwartz could still recall the damp, stale smell of the school and the buzzing of the lights in the quiet halls at that hour of the night. For the most part, she did not miss that era of her life, but the fact that the memories felt so far away—even though some of the sensations remained with her—caused a profound and unwanted sense of longing to grow in her chest.
The next time the waiter passed, Linda Gibert caught his attention. He disappeared and returned with menus. The women looked over the choices and discussed what dietary limitations they were on. Robin Andrews did not eat carbs. Cynthia Wolf had already had her carbs for the day. Linda had been a vegetarian for two years, while Mrs. Schwartz and Ellen O’Rourke just tried to be smart about what they ate. They all agreed that it was lucky none of them had the inconvenience of being, or deciding to be, gluten-free. Once they were ready, Linda again caught the waiter’s attention and they each placed their order. He vanished once more and then reappeared with a basket of assorted warm breads.
Mrs. Schwartz grabbed a small pumpernickel roll and began buttering it. “I was hungrier than I realized.”
“See,” Mrs. Gibert said, also reaching for bread. “And it’s amazing what they’ve done to this place over the past year or so.”
“I couldn’t believe the renovations the first time I came back,” Ellen O’Rourke said, adjusting herself from side to side in her chair.
“Still overpriced,” said Cynthia Wolf.
Linda Gibert shrugged and buttered, her pearl necklace slightly moving along her chest.
“I hate to broach the subject,” Robin Andrews said, taking a sip of wine. She leaned into the table. “But does anyone know what really happened?”
Mrs. Schwartz glanced over to Cynthia Wolf who was looking, distantly, off to her right. She moved her eyes across the table to Linda Gibert who held her glass up in front of her as though she had found a stain.
“Yes,” said Ellen O’Rourke, “I don’t know anything at all. Had he been depressed?”
Mrs. Schwartz cleared her throat as if she were preparing to speak. She didn’t intend to say anything, but she hoped that one of the women might take it as a cue. It didn’t seem right to be talking about Martin so soon after they had paid their respects to him—and to Lynn.
“No,” Linda Gibert said. “He hadn’t been.”
The women all looked at Linda Gibert. Mrs. Schwartz felt her pulse beating in her temple. She took a sip of her wine and eased back into her chair.
“Then what was it?”
Linda Gibert looked around the table. “That’s it. No one really knows.”
“Not even the friends?” Robin Andrews asked. “I mean, Cynthia, Aaron didn’t even know?”
“No,” said Cynthia Wolf. “He wouldn’t have told me anyway.”
“It’s hard to believe there were no signs,” Robin Andrews said.
“I still talk with Lynn fairly frequently,” Linda Gibert said expertly. “And she said that Martin hadn’t shown any signs of depression. He shared a lot of his personal life with Lynn and never said anything about that kind of thing. You all know he was trying to be an actor, well he was having trouble with it and was becoming discouraged, but she said that he still ran almost every day, still went out with his friends.”
“Did he have a girlfriend or anything?” asked Ellen O’Rourke.
“No,” said Linda Gibert. “He never really had a serious girlfriend. Lynn said he didn’t like to talk about his dating life”
“He was always a unique kid,” said Robin Andrews.
“Do you think he could have been gay?” asked Ellen O’Rourke.
Mrs. Schwartz took a drink of her wine. As she brought the glass to her lips, she could see Cynthia Wolf discreetly roll her eyes.
“No,” said Linda Gibert. “I don’t think it was anything like that, or at least Lynn doesn’t. He was just very smart and I think he put too much pressure on himself. Lynn said he was living a very ascetic lifestyle the last time they had visited his apartment.”
“Ascetic?” Ellen O’Rourke said.
“Yes, you know—bare-bones.”
“What? Was he poor?” asked Ellen O’Rourke. “Why would he jump in front of a subway just because he was poor? I’m sure Lynn and her husband would have helped him.”
“No,” Cynthia Wolf interjected. “He wasn’t poor, and being ascetic is more than just being ‘bare-bones.’ I think maybe we should change the subject.”
“I’m sorry, Cynthia,” said Linda Gibert. “I didn’t mean to upset you.”
“It’s fine, Linda. I just don’t think it’s appropriate to be talking about right now.”
“Right,” Linda Gibert said. “What should we talk about then?”
Cynthia Wolf shrugged and she motioned for the waiter. “I’ll have another martini. Anybody else want anything?”
“Well,” said Robin Andrews, “what else is new with you, Eileen? I didn’t even know that both of your daughters had gotten married until Linda told me earlier.”
“Oh, things are fine,” Mrs. Schwartz said. “We’re just keeping our fingers crossed that Josh doesn’t get hurt up at the mountain. He’s been lucky so far. Truthfully, Alan isn’t happy that he’s still working there. He was hoping it would only be a temporary thing for Josh, but it’s been about six years now.”
“What do you think about it?” Robin Andrews asked.
“I don’t know. He seems happy. He’s been seriously dating one of the other instructors for awhile, so I figure that he’ll propose sooner or later.”
“That’ll be cute,” said Ellen O’Rourke. “A ski wedding.”
“I’m not pressuring him, though,” said Mrs. Schwartz.
“Jeannette just texted me,” Linda said, “She’s not going to make it. She had to meet her husband for dinner.”
“Oh well,” said Cynthia Wolf.
The waiter brought their dishes to the table and the women began to eat. They talked about the economy. Robin Andrews’ daughter was finding it impossible to land any kind of job that was worthwhile. Robin was very worried that her daughter might have to live at home with her indefinitely and miss out on the independence of post-graduate life. Linda Gibert unfortunately agreed and said that it was lucky that the majority of their kids had found decent jobs right out of college and, in the case of Mrs. Schwartz’s daughters and Ellen O’Rourke’s daughter, married people with on secure, upward swinging career paths. Though they all realized that even a lawyer or an investment banker could lose their job overnight. Mrs. O’Rourke said that once she hit her thirty-year mark, that she and her husband were both going to retire in Florida and were looking forward to it, regardless of Cynthia’s remark. Cynthia Wolf nodded and said that kind of life just wasn’t the thing for her.
They finished dinner and decided to pass on dessert. It had been a long day and they all wanted to get back home to their husbands and get into comfortable clothes. So they left the table carrying their leftovers and headed toward the door.
“I’m going to quickly stop off at the restroom,” Cynthia Wolf said to Mrs. Schwartz. “The rest of you ladies all take care.”
The women hugged and wished each other well and they promised that they would try to get together in the same way, though under better circumstances, at least once a year. As Linda Gibert was heading out the door with the other women, Mrs. Schwartz stopped her.
“Can I ask you something, Linda?”
“Sure, Eileen,” Linda said, holding her coat to her chest.
“Did Lynn really tell you all that about Martin?”
“Yes, she did.”
“How often do you guys talk?”
“I don’t know. About once or twice a week. Sometimes we get dinner with our husbands.”
“I haven’t talked to her or seen her as often as we used to,” Mrs. Schwartz paused and glanced at the hostess who was playing with her phone. “As you know, she and I were close for a long time.”
Linda Gibert sighed. “It’s tough when the kids are out of the picture, but its good to have friends and stay in touch with everyone. It gives you something to do.”
Mrs. Schwartz nodded, but she felt as though Linda were lecturing her. It was the same tone Linda had used at PTA meetings or other gatherings when she tried to push her agenda for what was best for the kids, what was the best way to use the budget. She was always holding some kind of fact or personal knowledge over your head. Whether it was a piece of business jargon she had picked up from her financial analyst husband, or some intimate secret another person had told her. Mrs. Schwartz looked at Linda Gibert: the slim, stylish black sweater, the immaculate pearls, the perfect, almost artificial balance of grey to natural color in her hair; she was still very beautiful to look at. She would probably continue to age well until the day that she died. Yet, everything about Linda Gibert seemed so unnatural, so forced. Mrs. Schwartz felt her face grow flush. She had to say something now—if not for Lynn Colosi, then for her own sanity.
“Don’t you think you should’ve maybe kept that information about Martin private?”
“What?” Linda Gibert said.
“It’s not anything scandalous, Eileen. I’m Lynn’s friend and it’s going to become common knowledge eventually. Martin killed himself. It was a terrible way to lose a child but no one knows why he did it. Not even Lynn.”
“That doesn’t mean we have to talk about it.”
“It doesn’t mean we don’t have to.”
Mrs. Schwartz didn’t say anything. She just looked at the pine wreaths that were wrapped around the Inn’s doorway.
“I’m going to go, Eileen,” said Linda Gibert. “I’m sorry if I offended you. Maybe if you stayed in touch with Lynn you wouldn’t feel so hurt.”
Linda Gibert flashed a small, almost cruel smile, slipped on her on her long, black wool coat and turned towards the door.
“Maybe Lynn didn’t even want to tell you the truth,” said Mrs. Schwartz. She could hear her pulse in her temple. “Because she knew you would talk about it to everyone right away.”
Linda Gibert walked out the Inn door, its bell jangling as it closed. Cynthia Wolf emerged from the bathroom and looked at Mrs. Schwartz’s red face.
“Are you all right?”
“Yes, I’m fine.”
The two left the Inn and walked back across the parking lot in the damp, cold night. They got into Mrs. Schwartz’s car and drove through the village, passing the glowing electric lanterns and the darkened storefronts. As they proceeded up the hill away from the hub, Cynthia Wolf said: “I’m glad you let Linda have it a little bit.”
“You heard that?”
“She deserved it,” Cynthia said, gazing out the passenger window.
“I don’t know what got into me.”
“It’s true, though. Everyone talks.”
“Everyone talks and everyone gets old and everyone loses touch with one another.”
Mrs. Schwartz shook her head. “How can you be so blunt about it?”
“Well, I’m not moving to Florida.”
Mrs. Schwartz laughed. She didn’t want to, but she couldn’t help it. They reached the top of the hill and continued to move through the dark streets, passing underneath the bare, stretching branches of trees. They drove by homes with their living rooms and dining rooms lit and shining white; homes with candles still twinkling from second floor windowsills; homes with blinding spotlights perched above their garage doors. She dropped Cynthia Wolf off at her home.
As Cynthia was getting out of the car, she looked, somewhat sadly, over the large collar of her black and grey-checkered coat and said, “I feel terribly for Martin.”
“I do too,” Mrs. Schwartz said.
Cynthia closed the door gently behind her and began walking toward her garage, her shoes mashing against the gravel. Mrs. Schwartz waited until she disappeared into her house—a habit that had stuck with her from dropping the kids off—and pulled out from the driveway. She began to feel guilty about what she had said to Linda. Cynthia Wolf was right: everyone talked. She shouldn’t have lost her composure. She shouldn’t have felt the need to protect Lynn’s honor—if that was what she was even protecting. No, it was more that she was trying to protect the memory of her friendship with Lynn, a friendship that had undoubtedly cooled in the past decade or so since the kids had all moved on and gone away.
At a nearby stop sign, Mrs. Schwartz watched as a sedan, with its headlights beaming, turned into a small, stone-lined driveway. The car’s lights illuminated the side of a blue colonial home. She looked at the clock. It was almost eight. Perhaps the driver of the car was a husband just arriving home from work, tired and preparing to greet his family; or maybe it was a mother bringing her sons back from basketball practice, or her daughter back from a winter recital or after school hangout with friends. She imagined that the home contained a family in the peak of their activity, a family with a full and chaotic schedule—arguing, laughing, taking vacations, fighting, showing the smallest acts of kindness and cruelty. She didn’t know anything about their lives, but she was jealous of them all. None of them knew what they had, and for the first time in her life she was overcome with the desire to do anything possible to get that all back. No one needed to her to pick them; no one needed her to drive them anywhere. The headlights from the car shut off and the driveway was filled with winter darkness once more.
Mrs. Schwartz resumed driving and wondered what she and her husband were going to do that weekend. There was always so much time to kill.